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In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, at the beginning of the book, Rachael and Eldon Rosen attempt to make a deal with Rick Deckard when Rick thinks the empathy test he was going to use (the Voigt-Kampff scale) to hunt the 8 escaped androids does not work. They will give him a “live” (but actually robot) owl in exchange for his secrecy as to the fallibility of the Voigt-Kampff scale.

Why do they do this? I thought they didn’t want him to kill the androids? Why do they want to send him on his mission using this scale? Do they want him to accidentally kill a human so that bounty hunters lose credibility? Or do they want him to doubt himself so that he ultimately gives up on his hunt, or goes mad? That seems roundabout, I don’t understand why they don’t just blackmail him into not completing his mission or force him to tell his boss that their scale is erroneous.

Obviously it turns out the scale worked fine, but I’m still confused by their actions here.

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The question says that Eldon offers Rick the owl “in exchange for his secrecy as to the fallibility of the Voigt-Kampff scale”. But this is not what the novel says:

Rachael, leaning towards Rick, said, ‘How would you like to own an owl?’

‘I doubt if I’ll ever own an owl.’ But he knew what she meant; he understood the business the Rosen Association wanted to transact.

This “business” is not specified, so we have to deduce what Rick thinks it might be. My interpretation is as follows:

Eldon’s plan is to save the Nexus-6 androids by convincing Rick that the Voigt–Kampff test is not reliable. If Rick doubts the reliability of the test, he will not be willing to “retire” the androids, for fear of killing people by mistake.

The purpose of the blackmail and the owl is misdirection as to the nature of Eldon’s plan, in order to “sell” the unreliability of the test. The idea is that Rick should believe that Eldon’s plan was to save the Nexus-6 androids by blackmailing and bribing him into abandoning the mission. (This is how I interpret “business” in the extract I quoted.) If Rick can be convinced that this was the plan, then he won’t be suspicious about the demonstration of the test’s unreliability, as that will seem to be just an incidental element of the blackmail step of the plan.

The episode dovetails with the book’s theme of reality versus appearance: here we are misled on questions including the reliability of the Voigt–Kampff test; the humanity of Rachael; the nature of the owl; and the details of Eldon’s plan.

  • That makes a lot of sense! But Rachael says “We’re satisfied ourselves that [the Voigt-Kampff test] will delineate the Nexus- 6 types and we’d like you to proceed on that basis in your own particular, peculiar work” shortly after the lines you cited. To me that sounds like she wants him to continue hunting the androids down. I guess she knows he won’t actually hunt them if he’s not confident that he won’t hurt a human, but then why doesn’t she just make it explicit that she wants him to abandon the project? – Jesse Pollack Sep 9 at 14:18
  • @JessePollack: Rachael's statement there is intended to be interpreted by Rick as the agreed cover story if he agrees to the "business": that is, if he accepts the owl and abandons the mission, the Rosens will pretend that they didn't catch him out making a mistake with the Voigt-Kampff test. Expressing it implicitly like this helps sell the idea that it is a shady deal that is not to be spoken about. – Gareth Rees Sep 9 at 14:31
  • Ah, that makes sense! Thank you so much! – Jesse Pollack Sep 9 at 14:46

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