David Kopacz, MD
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What Does it Mean to Be Human?
The Role of Psychiatrists in Philip K. Dick’s Life & Writing

Presented at The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
Annual Conference
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia | May 24, 2012

Abstract: Philip K. Dick was a prolific author of over 50 novels. Many films have been based on his work, including Blade Runner, Minority Report, Adjustment Bureau, and the upcoming Radiofree Albemuth. His continued relevance seems due to the timelessness of his two main themes: “what is human and what is real?” In the course of living these questions he was prescribed most classes of psychiatric medication, took street drugs, routinely consulted psychotherapists and psychiatrists, and was psychiatrically hospitalized several times. Not surprisingly, psychiatrists often appear in his writing, sometimes as humanizing forces but also as forces for dehumanization. 

Dick called dehumanization, “androidization,” where a human being becomes a machine: obedient, predictable, and lacking independent thought. When psychiatric interventions are applied without thought and without appreciation of the humanity of the recipient, the psychiatrist can be seen as an “android” who is trying to turn the patient into an “android” as well. 

In Dick’s life and work, psychiatrists also act as human beings, with concern and empathy to empower the humanity of the client. Although Dick developed extensive, elaborate theories about the question of ultimate reality, his litmus test for humanity is much simpler – is one kind to other beings? Kindness is the hallmark of whether one is acting as a human or a machine. This presentation will examine Dick’s concepts of the android and the human in the context of contemporary debates regarding the recovery movement and the role of the psychiatrist as an evidence-based technician and/or as a humanitarian. 

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