In ...Electric Sheep it is clear that everyone has great reverence for actual living creatures on Earth.

In the films, Rachel's Voight-Kampff answer "I'd kill [the wasp]" is the expected human answer... Why kill a wasp which can only inconvenience you?

Similarly, in 2049 the grubworms are not treated with any great reverence. In fact the suggestion seems to be it is worms that are cooking on the stove.

When Decker has his breakthrough about the flake found in the tub, he pulls a fish scale off the stranger's dish to his right. Why would people be eating real fish? Or are replicant fish used for food?

Meanwhile, in another Voight-Kampff question, a meal of oysters is expected to be shocking.

What am I missing?

  • Updated my answer to address the scale in the bathtub portion that I neglected before. Jan 23, 2019 at 15:42

4 Answers 4


The Voight-Kampff test as it appears in the book and the movies comprises a series of questions designed to elicit an emotional response intended to measure empathy. The 'machine' is just intended to measure the involuntary response, in a similar way to a polygraph today.

It's not entirely clear from the list of questions which ones 'score' more highly than others when it comes to assessing the subject's empathy. I think Deckard is slightly surprised with how quickly and emphatically she says she would kill the wasp, but it's not definitive that this alone would be so unusual as to mark her as a replicant in the society of the movie.

In terms of the question about the banquet, you've only referred to part of the situation, the full quote is:

You’re watching a stage play. A banquet is in progress. The guests are enjoying an appetizer of raw oysters. The entree consists of boiled dog.

I think we're meant to presume that it's the 'boiled dog' that is meant to elicit the strongest response to that situation... not the oysters.

As you point out, it appears that protein in the form of fish (in 2019) and worms (in 2049) are used in food, but I don't think we can say this is inconsistent with the expected empathy towards higher life forms such as dogs or sheep.

  • @PeterTaylor ... ha ... good catch
    – iandotkelly
    Sep 7, 2019 at 19:51

There are a couple of premises I'd dispute there.

In the book, the reverence for living things is because they are so rare and don't exist any more. There is a longing for contact with real life, so part of that desire and longing is because they are so rare.

"I'd kill the wasp" is not, actually, the expected answer. The answer is irrelevant. The response is blood flow, pupil dilation.... physiological and emotional responses to the questions. The Nexus models up through 7, though physically and intellectually powerful, are emotionally stunted because they have almost no time to learn and develop normal human emotions. The test is looking for exaggerated or inappropriate emotional responses. The actual verbiage of the response is irrelevant. Also, since pretty much all animal life forms seem to be of synthetic origin, I'm not sure why you'd make the assumption that the hypothetical wasp is non-synthetic.

Tyrell: "Capillary dilation of the so-called 'blush response', fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation of the iris."

Deckard: "We call it Voight-Kampff for short."

Oysters are long rumored to be an aphrodisiac. There is probably some sort of decadent sexual or sensual implication in the setting of the scene that is supposed to provoke a reaction, more than oysters as a life form.

Scientists say raw oysters are really an aphrodisiac - Telegraph (UK)

It's not a fish scale, and not an organic scale, either. He finds the scale, which has a origin code embedded on it, and tracks it back to the person who makes artificial snakes. That person tells him who he sold it to, which is how he tracks down the replicant, Zhora, who is working as an exotic/erotic dancer where, apparently, she uses the snake in graphic ways as part of her act.



An aquarium full of fish, weird looking fish, the kind that might eat each other. They're gliding in sinister clusters like Doberman pinschers with gills.

The CAMBODIAN LADY is a withered woman in black. She's got a lens in her eye and she's looking at the flake which is on the tip of her finger.

CAMBODIAN LADY: Not fish! Snake !



We are looking at a huge enlargement of a snake scale seen through a microscope.. but we don't know that. It's just a grand abstract weirdness blurring and sharpening and changing.

EGYPTIAN (OS): The finest quality, yeeeeeeessssss. Perfect workmanship. Geniune artificial snake.

The flake becomes a landscape of forests and moonscapes. Buried deep in the texture of the thing is a serial number.

EGYPTIAN (OS): Serial Number 99069745xb7Y. That would indicate a Crotalus Atrox......

Dailyscript.com: Blade Runner (screenplay, not transcript)

And from a script that more matches the final movie....

[Deckard returns to Taffy's] Announcer: Ladies and Gentlemen. Taffy Lewis presents Miss Salomé and the snake. Watch her take the pleasures from the serpent that once corrupted man.

Script: Blade Runner

The grubs are specifically raised/generated/farmed as a biologically efficient protein source. They were made to be eaten. It's this particular solution and technique that made Wallace the uber-wealthy savior of humanity. Since the grubs raised on the farm are made for human consumption, eating them is not somehow out of character for anyone.

  • Thank you for your insightful answer! I never realized the answer is unimportant... in the films it almost always seems the androids are so emotional and empathetic - so much more than the Earth bound humans. EXCEPT in the Voigt-Kampff test context, where I was baffled at the mixture of emotions. Your answer finally puts this mystery to rest for me. Oct 30, 2017 at 20:36
  • Also I' argue the "I'd kill it" answer (and the underlining involuntary reaction of disgust to the creature) is one of the answers that pinpointed Rachael as a replicant to Deckard (note that though it took three times as many questions as with other replicants he still recognized her as one).
    – mzywiol
    Nov 22, 2017 at 16:03
  • 2
    By the way, in the film Decker DOES pull a fish scale off the plate of food from the stranger next to him. The film suggests this is an inspiration to him in terms of how to research the snake scale from the tub. Jan 24, 2019 at 6:45
  • @DouglasHeld - Ah, I totally misread that part of your question. Jan 25, 2019 at 17:55
  • Oh, I guess I was not completely correct. According to youtube.com/watch?v=SIEn4LEMYuc it is a "deleted scene", so this probably appears in some editions and not in others. Jan 25, 2019 at 22:56

The lack of organic creatures in Electric Sheep is a function of increased radiation general levels on earth. (Men wear lead codpieces to try and remain fertile.)

The people who remain on Earth live in cluttered cities where radiation poisoning causes significant illness and gene damage. All animals are endangered. Owning and caring for an animal is considered a civic virtue and a status symbol, depending on the rarity of the species. Animals are bought and sold according to the price of the latest Sidney's Catalog, extinct animals are listed at the price of the last example sold. Some people who cannot afford an animal choose to buy an artificial, robotic animal to maintain social standing. The protagonist Rick Deckard owned a sheep, which died of tetanus and was replaced by an electric replica to maintain the illusion of animal ownership.
SOURCE: Bladerunner Wiki, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, "Concepts and back story"

  • The reverence is based on the near-extinction of nearly all species, but the veneration is debased in that ownership and care of living animals is primarily status-oriented.

Farm-raised grubworms wouldn't have fetish value b/c as an industrially-raised food product, they are not endangered. (Also see iandotkelly's point about higher life forms. In terms of fish, it's unclear whether the are natural or artificial, but fish can also be farmed.)

The grubworms appears to be a recent addition to the mythos, and are very likely a comment on real life overpopulation and concerns over protein scarcity in the future.

One of the major ideas in the book is that "life is life", regardless of whether it is engineered or organic:

[Deckard] walks up a hill in the manner of Mercer and is struck by a rock, whereupon he quickly returns to his car and finds a live toad (presumed extinct) buried in the sand. Back at the apartment his wife Iran finds a control panel on the toad's underside, revealing that it is synthetic. Surprisingly, Deckard does not seem to mind. After he has gone to sleep, Iran orders a batch of synthetic flies for the synthetic toad.
SOURCE: Bladerunner Wiki, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, "Storyline"

But the reverence for life is not so straightforward. There is a distinct caste system and hard economic value to various forms of life:

On post-war Earth life forms, natural and artificial, are classified on hierarchies. Animals are considered endlessly precious, humans are considered less so and androids are considered meaningless.... The three groups are also sub-classified. Sidney's Catalog gives the exact worth of every type of animal, humans are divided between those who can immigrate off-world and those who can't ("chickenheads") and new androids, that are superior to previous models, are constantly produced.
SOURCE: Bladerunner Wiki, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, "False hierarchies and divisions of life"

Matters can get even more complicated:

After their sexual encounter, Rosen explains this to Deckard, “That goat. You love that goat more than you love me, more than you love your wife probably”
SOURCE: Bladerunner Wiki, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, "False hierarchies and divisions of life"

The movies are more stripped down in terms of exploration of themes, but the book is highly nuanced. Nothing is straight-forward, including identity. (Deckard himself is unsure if he is a replicant or human!)

If life is so precious, why are hordes of children allowed to be enslaved in recycling sweatshops in Bladerunner 2049?

  • Reverence for life is juxtaposed with with great inhumanity in both the film and the books. This is a core theme.

This includes the exploitation murder of sentient (albeit artificial) humans, a theme currently being explored in HBO's Westworld.

  • You KNOW if they got David Lynch to direct the film, the overwhelming feature/takeaway would have been "lead codpieces." Jun 9, 2022 at 18:06

As the OP noticed, quite a few questions in the Voight-Kampff test revolve about animals: Rachel has questions about "raw oysters appetiser" and "boiled dog" main course. Leon was asked about "tortoise baking in the sun" and in the "Blade Runner" video game there were a few more made in a similar fashion (pinned butterflies, real leather jacket etc).

One of the thing that differs humans and replicants is animal empathy: humans can bond with animals. But at the same stage, this empathy can be selective: we love dogs but we eat pigs; we cuddle with cats but kill rats; we admire butterflies but run away from wasps. Of course, the reaction differs from human to human - you can be Saint Francis loving all "little brothers", cold-blooded butcher or even animal abuser, but in all cases, this is your natural, empathetic reaction. Replicants lack those and have to improvise using intelligence.

When Rachel says that she "would kill a wasp" she does two things: She plays Deckard: "Look at me, I'm a cold-blooded replicant!", which is for her a fun thing to do (since she is probably annoyed at the whole test and find it preposterous that someone could think, that she is not a human) and at the same time avoids the real, empathetic answer. But when she has to start thinking about raw oysters and boiled dog.... well, in fact, she has to start asking the same question as the OP: why do I have to treat one animal favourably and another not, where is the border? Vegan would be disgusted at both, average western meat-eater would accept raw oysters but not boiled dog while someone from a culture, where dogs are accepted as food would be happy with both of them. But which one is she? Too much to compute and the V-K machine notices that this reaction is not natural.

  • Wow, thanks for your insight. You say "the V-K machine notices that this reaction is not natural," but isn't it heavily implied that Rachel passed the test? Jan 24, 2019 at 6:42
  • @DouglasHeld no, she didn't pass. The "boiled dog" question marked her as replicant, hence in the next scene Deckart and Tyrell comment talk about her implanted memories, which made her fail after over 130 questions (usually Blade Runners need less than 30) and later on Rachel shows up with "proofs" that she is human.
    – Yasskier
    Jan 24, 2019 at 19:23
  • @DouglasHeld you can see the scene here: youtube.com/watch?v=-tPwEK-YH_A . The meter above the camera goes above the scale towards red.
    – Yasskier
    Jan 24, 2019 at 19:26

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