Off-world: The Blade Runner Wiki
This article is part of a series of essays originally published on the now-defunct Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Wiki. It has been imported here primarily for archival purposes, although it is still open for editing.

Interaction with technology has blurred the once clear distinction between the real and fake. Humans struggle with distinguishing between living creatures and products of technology as technology has advanced to almost perfectly replicate organic beings.

Humans vs. Non-Humans[]


1. Classification based on genes and mental ability/intelligence

The omnipresent dust affects the genetic makeup of humans, creating different classes of humans. Medical checkups determine whether humans are regulars or specials. Only regulars can "reproduce within the tolerances set by law," but they are not entirely safe because "continually, new specials [come] into existence, created out of regulars by the omnipresent dust" (Dick, 8). Once a human is classified as a special, "a citizen, even if accepting sterilization, drop[s] out of history. He cease[s], in effect, to be part of mankind" (Dick, 16). Specials cannot marry, reproduce, or emigrate. Effectively, laws and social prejudices classify specials as non-humans, creating an inferior class.

In addition to his distorted genes, John has failed intelligence tests, and is thus further classified as a chickenhead, a derogatory term (Dick, 19). John is ridiculed for his intelligent capabilities by other humans, including his bosses. Since he is discriminated against by humans, he can better relate to the androids' condition. When he learns that Pris, Roy, and Irmard are androids and are being followed by a bounty hunter, he vows to help because, like them, he is not treated well by humans, either (Dick, 164).

2. Classification based on capacity for empathy.


Humans are also considered superior to androids. Although androids resemble humans and are sometimes intelligently superior to humans, androids cannot replicate the empathy responses characteristic of humans. In order to precisely identify androids, Rick employs the Voigt-Kampff test, which tests the empathic response of its subjects. According to Rick, the empathic faculty is only beneficial to omnivores and herbivores, while it would hinder the ability of predators to survive. Predators cannot develop empathy for their prey or else they would starve. However, omnivores and herbivores do not have to depend on a meat diet, and so empathy will not impede their survival (Dick, 31). According to this distinction, the android "constitute[s] a solitary predator" because it lacks empathy towards others. Thus, androids usually cannot take care of animals because they cannot provide animals with "an environment of warmth to flourish" (Dick, 130).

This classification is called into question when the character of Phil Resch is introduced. Phil shows no empathy towards androids and kills them without remorse. In contrast, Rick is overwhelmed with empathy as he has to kill androids who are physically attractive like Luba Luft. Because Phil is not empathic towards androids, Rick suspects he is an android. However, the Voigt-Kampff test conclusively determines that Phil is a human. Since the test primarily focuses on the empathic response towards animals, the distinction between androids and humans can be more specifically focused on the ability to emphasize with animals. Empathy towards androids is not shared by all humans, and thus cannot be used to distinguish between humans and androids. As can be seen later in the novel when Pris relentlessly tortures a spider, only humans share a common empathy for animals.

Real Animals vs. Fake Animals[]

Electric sheep

The World War killed many species of animals, making animals extremely rare and thus prized by humans. When humans cannot afford real animals, they often choose to buy electric animals, which are much cheaper. Electric animals are designed to emulate real animals. For example, electric animals contain disease circuits, so when they have an electric short, they become "organically ill" (Dick, 71). The advanced design of electric animals often prevents humans from determining whether the animal is fake or real. John, for example, cannot recognize a dying cat as real because he knows that electric animals are designed to simulate real behavior and sicknesses (Dick, 71).

The real animal serves as both an indicator of social status and a means to preserve the empathic faculty in humans. Even though electric animals are often not distinguishable from real animals, Rick wants a real animal more than anything. Caring for his electric sheep "[has] a way of gradually demoralizing [him]" (Dick, 9). However, he continues to maintain his sheep to appear socially acceptable to his neighbors. He does not want his neighbors to know that his real sheep died, so he must continue to care for his electric animal in order to hide the truth and to preserve the appearance (Dick, 9). When Rick is finally able to afford a real animal, he uses this purchase to cure his depression. Instead of dealing with his problems, Rick uses the goat to regain his confidence and faith in himself (Dick, 170). Rick describes electric animals as similar to androids because "like the androids, [electric animals] had no ability to appreciate the existence of another" (Dick, 42). Electric animals lack the capacity for empathic response towards humans. They cannot respond to or form bonds with humans, much like androids lack a group identity and the ability to emphasize with others. Since real animals contain an empathic faculty, humans interact with real animals to maintain their own capacity for empathy.


  1. Technology and Companionship
  2. Space
  3. Binary Opposites
  4. Struggle between Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer
  5. Remediation into Blade Runner