of empaths and androids

i’ve been getting a little app-happy lately, and today i downloaded the comics app so that, on May 26, I can get the prequel to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Wired’s piece on it the other day inspired me to prepare for the first issue to drop.
this paragraph stopped me:

“The sophisticated mechanisms used by Rick Deckard in Dick’s novel have not yet been developed, so Victor is paired with Malcolm Reed,” Roberson says. “Before the war, Reed was a schizophrenic with an affective disorder who was unable to experience his own emotions or understand the emotions of others. The dust caused him to grow an ‘empathic node’ in this brain that allows him to feel what people around him are feeling. Since androids don’t have emotions of their own, it’s Reed’s job to identify anyone in a crowd from whom he can’t pick up any emotions. Then Victor ‘retires’ them.”

it’s a pretty common trope in scifi to employ empaths – the concept of being able to feel other people’s feelings, and that this can be used as a tool or as a weapon, is a heady one. we often feel disconnected from other people, wonder what is true and what is false, whether someone feels as we do. we rely on each other to articulate feelings through words and deeds. and we often discover that words and deeds don’t align. but there is still some comfort to be taken in the notion that, even if these feelings are not perceptible to us, they exist.


[it’s important to distinguish between empaths and telempaths – though we often treat them as similar in fictional settings.  but it’s telling that we treat lying and truth-telling as emotional states that can be perceived, even when we don’t know what someone is lying about, or whether truth-telling is just conviction and belief, even in something that just ain’t so.]

perhaps this is another source of The Fear when it comes to thinking about androids and robots: that they do not have feelings at all. on the one hand, this means they should be pretty easy to understand; on the other it means they are impossible to relate to. having no feelings at all, no innate sense of right or wrong, no ability to feel or empathize are, in our minds, the hallmarks of a sociopath.


but don’t we wonder, just a little, whether we’re the sociopaths, the ones with the missing parts, when we discover that we were entirely wrong about someone else’s feelings? that by misinterpreting them, or imagining them, we are simply defective? and then, don’t we wish we knew someone who could tell us not only what others feel, but whether they do, and thereby give us some idea of what we’re supposed to be feeling?

or maybe it’s just me.

Posted by Farrah Bostic via email from reminds me of robots

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