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Bring Me the Head of Philip K. Dick!

AI-Robot -- PKD


…A human being without the proper empathy or feeling is the same as an android built so as to lack it, either by design or mistake. We mean, basically, someone who does not care about the fate which his fellow living creatures fall victim to; he stands detached, a spectator, acting out by his indifference John Donne’s theorem that “No man is an island,” but giving that theorem a twist: that which is a mental and moral island is not a man.

Philip K. Dick, “Man, Android and Machine”

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.

—Philip K. Dick

It is amazing that when someone else spouts the nonsense you yourself believe you can readily perceive it as nonsense.  


This is a mournful discovery:

(1) those who agree with you are insane

(2) those who do not agree with you are in power.


If you or I ever really accepted the moral responsibility for what we’ve done in our lifetime—we’d drop dead or go mad. Living creatures weren’t made to understand what they do.

—PHILIP K. DICK, Now Wait For Last Year

The appropriate response to reality is to go insane.



Are you aware that “they” once built an android of Philip K. Dick?

This mechanoid simulacrum was no mere mannequin, robot, or cheap A.I. computer program powering a ventriloquist’s dummy, but a seemingly sentient creature whose camera eyes focused on your own as you talked. An android so advanced that its eyes would track you if you got up and moved about the room; that listened attentively to your speech, pondered, and then responded in kind. Whose face could display every shade of emotion known to man, and who in turn could read the emotion on your own face.

The android had the corpus of P.K.D.’s works and interviews programmed into its advanced artificial intelligence in order to draw upon this vast repository of Phil Dickian thought to answer questions put to it in near real time. Yet the one question its makers dreaded interviewers asking it above all others was, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Because if confronted with this particular dystopian sci-fi interrogative Phil would begin to talk . . . and elaborate . . . and baroquely ornament its answer with references drawn from the entire corpus of human knowledge and divers academic/esoteric disciplines (psychology, sociology, philosophy, religion, history, engineering, physics, astronomy, myth, magic and mysticism, et. al.) until infinity—or its makers pulled the plug.

And I do mean infinity. When programmers examined the queued-up data logs compiled from Phil’s prepared response to this question they found themselves marveling with equal parts rueful humor and bemused horror at the discovery that the android was prepared to discourse on this particular subject . . . forever. Literally—forever: until the end of time. The only way they could get faux-P.K.D. to stop talking about androids dreaming of electric sheep was to wipe its memory clean and start over with a different question.

Came the day one of the principals involved in chaperoning the android to a new convention fell asleep on a plane. Upon arrival at the airport this man woke up, grabbed his personal effects, and left the aircraft in a groggy state only to belatedly realize that he’d left the android’s head behind.

It was never seen again.

Run, Dick, run.





18 thoughts on “Bring Me the Head of Philip K. Dick!

  1. GD Deckard says:

    Philip K. Dick, like many of the old Greats, wrote truth. I often came away with lines I never forgot because they said things that never change. Thanks for the reminders, Carl!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s one of my favorite bits of dialog from Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said:
      You’re a moody person,” Mary Anne Dominic said . . .

      “What’s happened to me,” Jason said briefly, “has made me moody.”

      Love that! Devastating and very funny in its directness and simplicity. (But note the clunky, entirely superfluous adverb “briefly” in that second line. Even The Greats f-up from time-to-time; let no one tell you differently. The encouraging thing here is: If you can readily identify in any given text (a) what makes a writer great, and (b) what makes a writer not so great, then perhaps a lifetime of reading and writing has begun to pay off. . . .)

      Liked by 4 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    This is so interesting, but I need time to read and reread. And, of course, I have to read one of Dick’s books. I have nothing in hand. I’m going to see what I can track down on Google.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Actually, Atthys, the airline in question conducted an exhaustive search of their lost luggage whses–the head never turned up. (A stolen item that suddenly became too hot to handle? Sold off to an eccentric private collector somewhere overseas? If this thing ever turns up . . .)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. mimispeike says:

    From the interview, I am amazed by this: For a mainstream book (vs. his sci-fi stuff) his publisher only paid a fraction of (I guess it would have been an advance) of what it pays for a book in the genre he is known for?

    With his reputation established, and his superb critical reviews that anyone can look up in a minute, his talent so evident that a fan ought to be eager to see what he might do in a maverick piece, I don’t get it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • His late 50s/early 60s novels of social realism are . . . leaden. Workmanlike. Plodding. Dullsville incarnate. Eminently forgettable. (I’ve read them all, rabid PKD fan that I am.) It is exactly the kind of thing that happens when a talented writer turns against his or her own strengths and instincts and decides to write serious novels in a serious vein for serious people. Alas! There isn’t a glimmer of the inventiveness, sly humor, reality-bending hijinks, wild theorizing on the nature of sanity/insanity, the android as metaphor, the nature of religion and/or mystical insight, or fun new made-up words such as “kipple” (look it up!) that infuse Dick’s sci-fi novels and short stories. There is sexist domestic drama and existential angst. Most (non-PKD-fan) readers, I dare say, won’t make it through a single one of these early novels. . . . (BTW: His short stories are–in my estimation–unfairly under-rated and ofttimes overlooked. The best of them match his top novels in terms of inventiveness, energy and psychological impact.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, whenever you discuss PKD you do need to remember that the man was chemically enhanced (to be polite) 95% of the time – hence his constant questioning of reality.
    Now I’m not disputing anything Carl’s said. PKD was unique and gifted with a rather cutting wit. Here’s a couple of tidbits:
    PKD HATED Blade Runner, the now cult movie based upon Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Why? Well, if you read the book it’s clear that the androids were not people – they had no empathy, no souls. PKD’s point was that we might have the technology to create simulacra of humans, but we could never really create people. At the climax of the movie as the android leader (Rutger Hauer) is dying, he weeps over all his experiences, memories, which will be lost once he is gone. The viewer realizes that, in the end, the android is revealed to be a true person. This was the total antithesis of PKD’s point, but I guess it made for a good movie.
    There was one short story (sorry, I can’t remember the name – read it more than 30 years ago) that I will never forget. It dealt with the question of abortion. At the time one of the main political disputes centered on when a fetus becomes viable. PKD created a scenario in which the US congress, looking for something they could pin a definition on, came up with the following definition of viability – the ability to do integral calculus! So if you had a nasty 10 year old you were tired of you could call the pound which would send a truck to take the little bastard away for a post partum abortion! In the introduction to the story the editor noted that publication of the story resulted in PKD getting cursed out by a female scifi writer at the next Annual Science Fiction convention!
    Last point. Maybe I’m slow, but the first time I read The Man In The High Castle the ending elicited a single response from me – WTF! Reread the ending last year prior to watching the mess they made of the book turning it into a tv series and I think I finally got the ending. Definitely different. Then again, that’s a perfect eulogy for PKD.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Absolutely agree with everything you said there, Tom! Sounds like PKD–heh! (Everyone who knew him said that he was a very warm, funny man in person.) One further note, though: PKD, being a diagnosed schizophrenic, was forced to wrestle his entire life with the question “what is real and what is only in my mind?” in a way that non-schizophrenics don’t have to. (Hence another one of PKD’s famous quotes: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”)

    BTW: I was reading some criticism of Brian W. Aldiss’ the other night where he makes the point (close paraphrase): “writing of humanistic, emotional androids seems to me to be a confusion of metaphors.” Well. He’s right, of course. But then all writing is infinite variation on a theme(s); one can only do so much with emotionally cold, flattened affect androids . . . slow-shuffling zombies . . . vampires who recoil from crucifixes. . . . etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    You all know I am not a big sci-fi fan. But I have here Works of Exile and Illusion: Three Complete Novels it says on the cover, by U.K. Le Guin, and I am determined to read it this weekend. In between bouts with Sly. I am on a patch that has been fuzzy as to reasoning (of the characters). I am trying to un-fuzzy it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would not, no. I would do a quick Google search of the top 100 science fiction novels of all time, scan that list, and then pick out the half-dozen or so titles that most intrigue you.

      Alternatively–start with Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451; Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse 5; Cormac McCarthy: The Road, or any “best of the decade” story anthology. If you insist on starting out with PKD, I recommend Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said; or Ubik. (The Man In The High Castle is wildly over-rated, IMHO.) Or pick up an anthology of PKD’s stories: it’s a great way to get to know the man’s mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Carl, for the suggestions. I did read a couple of Vonnegut’s many years ago, but for some reason I never thought of it as mainstream sci-fi, if such a label means anything. Then I think I read some poor sci-fi novels – can’t remember who by – and have never touched any since. So your advice may help me discover what’s good in the genre.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, well . . . Kurt Vonnegut and Cormac McCarthy are not recognized as “mainstream sci-fi” a-tal’, a-tal’; which is precisely why I suggested them to someone turned off by the poorer examples of the genre. When one recognizes that writers as diverse in personality, literary style and intent as C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and Nevil Shute have written science fiction it serves as an ______ (insert your modifying adjective here; I’m tired) reminder that acclaimed Greats of the interpretive literary canon have deemed it worth their while to write masterpieces of the genre. Therefore–though the field needs no such snobbish defense/justification–I suggested authors that might coax you back into intellectually intoxicating waters on the strength of their widely acknowledged interpretive literary appeal. . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, I get the idea – smart! Thinking about it, I guess sci-fi was the first ‘genre’ to be identified as such – Jules Verne or H G Wells were pioneers even before it was called sci-fi. But at some point the floodgate opened and its reputation took a battering. Which is a shame because people like me got turned off. But now you’ve taken me back to the water and I’m quite ready to drink… Thanks, Carl!

      Liked by 1 person

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