Essay: Film Blade Runner in Connection With Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy

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Blade Runner and Descartes' Meditations

Some comparisons can be made between Blade Runner and Descartes' Meditations. This paper will show how certain scenes link up to Descartes' Meditations, which deal with the problem of knowing oneself, knowing reality, and knowing that God and truth exists.

"How can it not know what it is?" asks Decker when Tyrell confirms for him that Rachel is a Replicant (adding that she doesn't know it -- though he believes she is beginning to suspect it). Whereas doubt is the first step towards knowing reality in Descartes' Meditations, in Blade Runner doubt for Replicants is the first step to knowing that they are not real. This is the irony of the film: consciousness does not bring one to fulfillment but to a greater sense of emptiness and horror, for the Replicant is like Frankenstein's monster: he is soulless; his memories are fabricated; his life is programmed by man rather than by God (Who Is the Ultimate Reality for Descartes). The film raises questions: what it does it mean to be human? What does it mean to "exist"? These connect on a deeper level to Descartes' queries in the Meditations. On the surface level of film, however, one is dealing with a strange, futuristic universe in which the line between the human and the automaton is blurred. (More compassion is felt for the Replicant Rachel who weeps upon realizing that her memory of a childhood is nothing more than an implant: but is this a trick? If a robot weeps, is it not real?).

The motto of Tyrell Corp. is, after all, "More human than human" -- so, the question is raised in this introspective Ridley Scott sci-fi film based on the short story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Philip K. Dick: what is reality? A corollary accompanies it: is an android real if it has a human consciousness? (a reader of Frankenstein might just as well ask if the monster isn't more human than the man who created him). Just as Mary Shelley played with the effect of Romantic/Enlightenment doctrine on the human psyche, Scott plays with the epistemological, existential ideas of the 20th century, depicting how the Voight-Kampff tests whether an individual is a human or an android: androids are confounded by questions meant to trigger an emotional response (but, of course, they do show emotion: annoyance -- Leon kills the tester when asked about his mother, crying, "I'll tell you about my mother!" And opening fire; Rachel rolls her eyes and answers with a strange vehemence when asked about pornography and dog meat). What would Descartes say about this test? Are emotions what make humans "real"? For Descartes, it is the intellect -- not the emotional capacity of a person -- which allows him to know both himself and reality. Doubt is the first proof of existence (Descaretes 2.3). Even Pris (the android played by Daryll Hannah) quotes Descartes to Sebastian: "I think, therefore I am." Still, her problem and Roy's (and Sebastian's) is not the conundrum that Descartes faces (whether or not he can "know" what is true); their problem is "accelerated decrepitude": they have 4 years to live and they want more time. Sebastian has a genetic disorder that is robbing him of life, as well. Thus, humans and "thinking" androids are one: both must suffer death. Death for Sebastian is the separation of soul from body -- so what is death for the androids?

Blade Runner does in fact seem to suggest that because the androids "think" -- as Descartes does -- that they can, in turn, be sure that they exist. While this problem of knowing whether one is real apparently preoccupies Rachel (she does turn up at Decker's to try to persuade him that she is not a Replicant but a real human being), it is not necessarily the main preoccupation of Roy, who wants to find Tyrell in order to be given a greater longevity (more life span). Roy (like Frankenstein's monster) knows that he has done some "questionable" things. Is he hinting at an awareness of or acknowledging a higher law? Roy and Pris may be "aware" androids, but they somewhat superficial in that their primary concern is selfish. Descartes' concern is with otherness. His intellect is directed primarily outside himself: he bases all his affirmations on the existence of God, Who is separate from him. Roy and Pris think only of satisfying themselves. They are, as the film suggests, "bad" androids. (Tyrell defends them -- and here a reversal can be seen: Frankenstein hunts the monster; here the monster hunts Frankenstein).

Roy's killing of Tyrell (whom he calls Father) may be likened to the philosopher's denial of God. Roy cannot get what he wants from his Father, so he throws him off. The philosopher cannot get what he wants from God, so denies His existence and refashions reality according to his own rules. This is not what Descartes does. Descartes begins with a submission to God. He does not demand anything from his Father Creator; instead, he reasons that what his Father Creator has given him is good. Now, one cannot equate Tyrell with God, but the relationship between Tyrell and Roy and God and Descartes is a similar (if defective) one. The problem with Roy's Meditations is that they are too self-obsessed. They do not strive for first principles; there is no humility in his quest -- at least, at the point at which he kills Tyrell. But Roy's Meditation is not over yet.

But let us return to Decker, for the moment. He continues his hunt for the runaway androids, but he is troubled or haunted by some doubt. He may be said to be at Descartes' second stage of meditation -- the stage at which he begins to analyze his nature. This is Descartes' second Meditation: he knows that he exists, but he cannot say for certain "what" he is. The same with Decker: he knows he exists, but "what" is he? He dreams of a unicorn (a recurring dream) and ponders a photograph. Are these things real -- or are they deceptions? Is he so different from the android Rachel, whom he is beginning to love? (She seems to show more compassion than real humans; she does save him from Leon, after all). To know for certain, Decker must for the moment turn away from his perceptions and examine his mind, his intellect.

Descartes in his third Meditation states that he can know something is true if he can clearly and distinctly perceive it (3.2). Descartes is assured of this because he believes that a good God, Who cannot deceive (because it would be against His nature) made man to know truth and to know reality and to be able to perceive truth and reality through his senses (and to be able to interpret correctly these sense perceptions with the aid of his intellect).

Rachel asks Decker if he has ever taken the Voight-Kampff test himself, but he is sleeping. She takes off her jacket, plays the piano, lets her hair down, the saxophone music grows more forceful; clearly, sexual chemistry is budding. If Decker perceives the sex instinct clearly and distinctly, does it mean anything? To Descartes, it would mean that he is attracted to an android. To Decker, it means that perhaps whether one is an android or a human doesn't much matter: both seem to be possessed of that which makes life worth living -- soul. Why does Roy, for the time being, seem to lack this soul?

Let's return then to Roy. At the end of the film, Decker is dangling from a rooftop and Roy stands over him with a gloating expression on his face: "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it?"… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Film Blade Runner in Connection With Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy.  (2013, May 14).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/film-blade-runner-connection-descartes/6827951

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"Film Blade Runner in Connection With Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy."  14 May 2013.  Web.  22 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/film-blade-runner-connection-descartes/6827951>.

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"Film Blade Runner in Connection With Descartes Meditations on First Philosophy."  Essaytown.com.  May 14, 2013.  Accessed July 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/film-blade-runner-connection-descartes/6827951.