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I have watched different versions the movie and read the book a number of times, and I still can't decide: was Deckard a replicant? I know that he has an emotional reaction to the question of how he feels about killing androids while attached to a Voigt-Kampff machine, but I feel the book is ambiguous about whether or not the Voigt-Kampff tests are even accurate.

My question is: in the original Dick story, were we supposed to believe that Deckard was a replicant?

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  • In the film Ridley Scott made, he states in an interview that Deckard is certainly a replicant. Well, that's that debate settled if you have only seen the film. Now, Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Does anyone really know if the author has said publicly if Deckard is an android?
    – Deckard
    Jun 10, 2017 at 18:26
  • 1
    The aforementioned video interview - while it lasts on YouTube
    – TML
    Jun 11, 2017 at 14:21
  • 3
    The book is explicitly clear that Deckard is not a replicant. For a while, the androids try to make him think he is a replicant, and fail.
    – SteveED
    May 11, 2018 at 23:19
  • @SteveED - although of course Dick wasn't afraid of playing with the idea of his protagonists discovering they are replicants.
    – Jules
    May 12, 2018 at 14:39

5 Answers 5

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I believe that the title, while seemingly sort of silly, is a stand in for the real question. Could an android ever experience dreams and emotions the way we do? If they did, what would that mean? Would they really be any different than us? Aren't we just biological machines, a complex chemical reaction, fundamentally no different from a mechanical machine with electric impulses? Dick blurs the line further by making the replicants partially organic.

I think you're supposed to struggle with those questions and believe whatever you want to believe at the end. I doubt Dick even had an opinion on whether Deckard was a replicant.

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  • 2
    I struggled with which of these to accept - they're basically the same answer - but in the end I think this one captures the essence a bit more clearly.
    – TML
    Aug 11, 2011 at 4:23
  • 5
    +1. I think you're supposed to finish the book thinking about that question. The answer is not that important in the end.
    – eugen
    Aug 11, 2011 at 20:42
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Philip K. Dick stated in an interview (see 1) that Dick created Deckard as a human character who is gradually dehumanized through his violence towards replicants.

"The purpose of this story as I saw it was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized. At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Finally, Deckard must question what he is doing, and really what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?

In the book, we learn that replicants are becoming more human. This juxtaposition of the arcs of technology and humanity is one of the compelling subtexts which makes the book a modern classic in my opinion.

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  • If that quote can be directly sourced, then this would be the answer for me. I tried clicking the link to view the quote but I got a certificate error and backed out. Feb 14, 2017 at 15:18
  • @Withywindle it's cited and attributed to PKD in the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? comic book omnibus, on page 572. Aug 9, 2017 at 16:53
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    also this academic paper has a direct Dick quote from a making-of: "the theme of the book is that Deckard is dehumanized by tracking down androids". Aug 9, 2017 at 17:00
  • 1
    This is an excellent answer and spot on. In the novel Deckard is not a replicant. It becomes apparent in the discourse when Deckard is 'arrested' and ends up in the alternate police station (Chap. 10 talking to Garland). I believe there is also a dialogue that infers this between Deckard, Resch, and Luba Luft (Chap. 12). Also, replicants cannot use the 'empathy boxes', and Deckard uses his in the opening of the book (with his wife).
    – wcullen
    May 12, 2018 at 14:56
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    @Integration I realize it's been 5 years since this discussion, but I finally tracked down the original interview and linked it through the Internet Archive.
    – TML
    Feb 15 at 17:21
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I haven't read the K. W. Jeter sequels, but I assume this question would be addressed in them. If we're only talking about Dick's novel, though, I don't believe there is an answer. It's deliberately ambiguous to illustrate the lack of distinction between Android and Human. I don't think Dick wanted us to walk away wondering "Was Deckard an android or a human?", but rather "Can we ever really distinguish between the two?" He simply uses Deckard as an example. I don't know about you, but I was emotional about him killing the androids. Does that make me a replicant?

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  • 1
    "If we're only talking about Dick's novel though, I don't believe there is an answer. It's deliberately ambiguous to illustrate the lack of disticintion between android and Human." - my question very much was about Dick's novel alone, so I think this is a great answer. As for you being a replicant, I have a few more questions that will help us determine that... ;)
    – TML
    Aug 11, 2011 at 4:19
  • I don't remember the question being answered in Bladerunner 2 but then it was so bad I've mostly blocked out the memory of it. I certainly couldn't stomach the idea of reading any further.
    – Mark Booth
    May 3, 2012 at 23:44
  • "Bladerunner 2" -- that's a thing??! Oy. But they announced Bladerunner 2049 recently so I guess it was gonna happen either way.
    – jcollum
    Oct 6, 2016 at 23:34
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I thought the Dick novel was absolutely clear that Deckard was not an android. No android in the book shows any sign of empathy, but Deckard does; the androids hate and mock Mercerism (the religion of empathy with the persecuted Mercer) - but Deckard is capable of empathizing with Mercer. Some humans in the novel seem to have lost their empathy and become no better than the androids (and the androids work to encourage this), but none of the androids show any sign of growth in the novel. The movie of course reverses all this (both the novel and the movie ask what the difference is between android and human, but in the book the question is "Can humans become as bad as androids?" (Yes), while in the book the question is "Can androids become as good as (some) humans? (also yes).

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I believe that Rick Deckard is an android. At the alternate police station, while he and Garland are waiting for the other bounty hunter, Resch, to get back with testing equipment, Garland tells Rick that Resch is an android. Resch returns and kills Garland, and the following exchange takes place:

"What did it say to you while I was gone?"

"That he--it--was an android. And you--" Rick broke off, the conduits of his brain humming, calculating, and selecting; he altered what he had started to say. "--would detect it," he finished. "In a few more minutes."

Later, when Rick tests Resch, the reader is not told the result. Rick continues to believe that he himself is human; however, neurons don't hum. They have pathways, not conduits. Moreover, the novel never establishes any difference between androids and human beings. What it does do is confirm the truth of Buddhism, which is that the ego, the "I" does not have an independent objective existence, but is dependent upon something which is its own cause.

"Do Androids Dream" is like the Anatma Lakshana Sutra turned into a paperback detective novel. The title of the sutra means "Discourse on the Characteristics of That Which is Not Self." Thus we learn that form, feelings, relative knowledge, subconsciously willing things to happen, and the resultant awareness of thoughts, are not what makes up Self, or God, although none of these things would exist without Self. Dick even gives androids intuition, an attribute of Self. Therefore, Philip Dick appears to be attempting (crudely) to say that humans believe themselves to possess attributes that the entities they build can never possess--some of which are ego and some of which are Self. However, the five attributes of ego are impermanent and changing, and therefore do not exist in humans or their creations, while the attributes of Self are permanent and immutable in both humans and their creations. And this is because that which creates a human being also creates whatever the human imagines it creates.

"Mahamati, it is like Pisaca, who by means of his magic makes a corpse or a machine-man dance with life though it has no power of its own: the ignorant cling to the non-existent, imagining it to have the power of movement." The Lankavatara Sutra

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    Note that the androids are not mechanical; they are biologically close enough to human that a microscopic analysis is required to definitively identify them. Thus any reference to mechanical/electronic thinking is metaphorical, in the same way that we might speak of someone thinking so hard we can hear the gears turning.
    – DavidW
    Mar 26, 2020 at 2:58
  • Good point. I think the problem lies with the author. Although the concept is good, the execution is poor. Some things are explained as if it were a children's story and other things are not explained--such as whether Resch is an android and whether there were more than eight androids on Earth, as the scene at the police station implies. If Dick had developed this idea of androids replacing humans on Earth, had given them a longer life span and the ability to reproduce, it would have been a better novel. Instead, he reverted to the "humans are superior and androids are evil" theme at the end.
    – user127301
    Mar 27, 2020 at 14:34

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