In Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" we learn that androids can commit suicide by holding their breath:

"How'll you kill yourself without it?" Rick asked. "If you fail on the test?

"I'll hold my breath."

"Chrissake," Rick said. "It can't be done."

"There's no automatic cut-in of the vagus nerve," Phil Resch said, "in an android. As there is in a human. Weren't you taught that when they trained you? I got taught that years ago."

"But to die that way," Rick protested.

"There's no pain. What's the matter with it?"

Then, Rick Deckard obtains a weapon that can temporarily stun androids by stopping them breathing. It's said that while it also works against humans, they can stay conscious without breathing for a while, long enough to give them a distinct advantage.

So, why not to test androids this way instead of using the Voight-Kampff or other empathy tests? Or is that weapon is supposed to be a fake, gave to Rick only to make him fail his mission?

2 Answers 2


An Android can hold their breath to prove that they ARE an android, because a human cannot fake holding their breath for ever.

An Android cannot use this technique to prove that they are NOT an android, because they can fake the gasp.

  • I like this answer more than the other one because it's based on the motivation an androidone has to take any test - to prove he is/isn't a human/android.
    – Kalissar
    Jul 8, 2014 at 16:17
  • You could developp on how/why one would fake being a human/android with the Voight-Kampff test though.
    – Kalissar
    Jul 8, 2014 at 16:35

The "hold your breath until you die" trick seems to only work if there's a conscious intention to commit suicide.

Deckard later makes it clear that while an 'andy' might lack as dramatic a vagus response as a normal human, they certainly have one.

"Is this it?" He held up a metallic sphere with a button-stem projecting.

"That cancels an android into catalepsy," Rachael said, her eyes shut. "For a few seconds. Suspends its respiration; yours, too, but humans can function without respiring — perspiring? —for a couple of minutes, but the vagus nerve of an andy — "

"I know." He straightened up. "The android autonomic nervous system isn't as flexible at cutting in and out as ours. But as you say, this wouldn't work for more than five or six seconds."

As far as using it as a test is concerned, asking an android to hold their breath until they lose consciousness would be totally pointless since they could simply fake a gasp.

Using Rachel's device to render the andy unconscious would be similarly pointless since androids do have a vagus response and would start breathing shortly after being zapped.

At best, you'd be able to use this test to rule out those people who have an above average gasp response.

As to the second part of your question, there's no good evidence that Rachel's device is a fake. It appears to simply be a miniaturised version of his own "Penrose wave transmitter";

Best to get him from out here, he decided. Setting down his weapons kit he fumbled it open, got out a nondirectional Penfield wave transmitter; he punched the key for catalepsy, himself protected against the mood emanation by means of a counterwave broadcast through the transmitter's metal hull directed to him alone.

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