Where can I get some of that?

When I started Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? one of my first thoughts was, “a mood organ? I wish I had one of those!”

The mood organ (or Penfield artificial brain stimulation) is an invention that allows you to “dial” a given mood or feeling. The possibilities for such a device are enormous; the possibilities of abuse are even greater. The urge for me to dial a 481– awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future– would be overwhelming and, like the novel’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, no doubt it would become a regular indulgence. An addiction.

Dick’s narrative is peppered with items, like the mood organ, that are completely saturated with potential. Not least of which is the eponymous electric sheep. It’s one of the qualities of his writing for which he’s so admired.

From the bedroom Iran’s voice came. “I can’t stand TV before breakfast.”

“Dial 888,” Rick said as the set warmed. “The desire to watch TV no matter what’s on it.”

“I don’t feel like dialing anything at all now,” Iran said.

“Then dial 3,” he said.

“I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don’t want to dial, I don’t want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine; I just want to sit here on the bed and stare at the floor.” (6)

Is a simulated emotion– by drug or by electronic stimulation– any less desirable than a genuine or honest emotion? Aren’t all emotions a response to some kind of stimulus? Does this invalidate Iran’s logic?

At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).

“If you dial,” Iran said, eyes open and watching, “for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing. Dial and see; just try me.” (4)

As amusing as this exchange is, it gives you a very good idea of how the mood organ could be misused. And rather than being a brilliant invention capable of altering our daily lives for the better, Dick shows us how every piece of technology is equally capable of altering our lives for the worst. In the first few pages of the novel he’s already illustrated this principle with a device that may be causing a symptom of mental illness en masse, what Iran calls an ‘absence of appropriate affect'(5), and the reason she so adamantly refuses to use the organ to improve her mood.

Interestingly, this symptom recurs later in the narrative, described as a ‘flattening of affect’ (37). In human individuals who engender this symptom, assumed to be schizoid or schizophrenic, Deckard fears that the Voight-Kampff scale– a test designed to reveal whether someone is human or an android– may rate them as android, rendering the test obsolete.

…If everyone is suffering from an ‘absence of appropriate affect’, there is no way of determining whether someone is real or artificial. And if there’s no difference, how does one then define ‘life’?

Still, a mood organ would certainly come in handy. Much more useful than an Ajax model Mountibank Lead Codpiece.

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