“I have seen myself backward.” Philip K Dick, A Scanner Darkly

In Hampton’s Fancher’s original screen adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick, Rick Deckard, a ‘blade-runner’ or police assassin hired to hunt down rogue ‘replicants’ or androids, is instructed to go to the Tyrell Corporation headquarters to test their latest model, the Nexus 6. His task is to find out whether his equipment, the Voight-Kampff machine, still works on a state of the art replicant produced by a corporation whose motto is ‘More human than human’. Has the difference between android and human now narrowed to the point where it can no longer be detected? Can technology still distinguish between natural human and designed humanoid?

Rachael Illustration by Paul X. JohnsonAt the huge, pyramid-shaped Tyrell Corp building, Deckard is greeted by a poised, beautiful young woman and escorted into the presence of the CEO of the corporation, Dr Eldon Tyrell. The great man requests that Deckard run a control test on a human subject first. His assistant Rachael will oblige.

The Voight-Kampff test consists of a series of questions designed to elicit an emotional response. Rather like a lie-detector, the machine correlates questions and answers to involuntary physiological responses, in this case by detecting micro-movements of muscles around the eye, and measuring capillary dilation, fluctuation of the pupil and dilation of the iris.

The test on Rachael takes much longer than usual, suggested by the use of montage. At the end of it, when Deckard finally switches off the machine, Tyrell immediately asks him for his conclusion, and the two men proceed to discuss Rachael’s identity in front of her, with brutal insensitivity to her feelings. Rachael has been revealed – if the machine still works – to be a replicant. This is a devastating revelation to Rachael, who thinks she is a real person, with her own memories and dreams.

“Deckard moves the adhesive discs from her cheeks and switches off his beam. 

DECKARD Lights please.

The lights come on.


DECKARD If she is, the machine works.

TYRELL The machine works. She is.

Rachael sits very still. Except her eyes — they go to Tyrell and hang on. 

He stares back at her as he speaks.

TYRELL How many questions did it take?

DECKARD Thirteen.

Rachael sits rigidly in her chair, as the ground crumbles around her, her big mermaid eyes locked with Tyrell. His voice is quiet and strong, mesmerizing. She’s hanging by a thread.

Deckard watches with a bad taste in his mouth.

DECKARD She didn’t know?

TYRELL Memory implant. She was programmed. But I think she has transcended her conditioning. I think she was beginning to suspect.

Rachael nods fixedly. Careful not to let go her grasp.

TYRELL How many questions does it usually take, Mr. Deckard?

DECKARD Five, maybe six.

Slowly, carefully, Tyrell unlocks his gaze from Rachael and turns towards Deckard, who is starting to put away his equipment.

Rachael sits there very pale and expressionless, her feet flat on the floor; alone is the word.”


After seven months of script development (prolonged by ongoing industrial action at the studio) the relationship between Hampton Fancher and director Ridley Scott, two brilliant but demanding men, had deteriorated to the point where the writer walked off the project. At that point Scott called in David Peoples, a screen-writer with a long list of credits, to complete the changes that Scott still thought necessary.

Peoples found the script quite brilliant, and retained most of it as it stood. The changes he did make are all the more interesting because they are relatively few. This enables us to look closely at the difference between a brilliant newcomer and an experienced professional in the medium.

Sometimes Peoples added a line or two of killer dialogue, such as the additional question in the Voight-Kampff test undergone by the replicant Leon in the opening scene.

HOLDEN Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about… your mother…

LEON’s famous response, fully developed only in the shooting script, is perfect:

My mother? Let me tell you about my mother. 

leon-kowalski-brion-jamesExplosive gun-shots, deafening in the confined space, confuse us for a moment, and Holden is already reeling backwards in his chair before the viewer realizes what has happened. Now Leon stands, and puts another bullet in him.

A number of Peoples’ changes consist of breaking up longer scenes into shorter ones and interleaving scenes to ‘delay the pay-off’. Rachael’s Voight-Kampff test is a case in point. As brilliantly as Fancher evokes Rachael’s sensations as she learns the truth about herself –- that she is not, as she thought, a real human, but rather a designed commercial product –- he does it mainly in his narration. For Peoples it won’t do, dramatically. For one thing, the impact of the revelation is entirely internal, conveyed through Fancher’s narrative. The emotional impact needs to be externalised somehow, or go to waste. Secondly, this moment, the intense pathos of the replicant’s epiphany, is just too beautiful to consume in a single scene. It must be savored a little longer, dramatized, made more playable.

So at the end of the test Peoples has Tyrell ask Rachael to leave the room before any more is said. Looking somewhat offended, she wordlessly complies, the rhythm of her high heels on the floor loud in the silence. Now the creator and the natural enemy of this beautiful golem will discuss her in private, and the combination of her hurt expression as she leaves and Peoples’ crisp, rich dialogue conveys the pathos of her situation as fully as the original, without yet revealing her own response.

DECKARD She really doesn’t know?

TYRELL She’s beginning to suspect, I think.

DECKARD Suspect! How can she not know she is?

TYRELL Well, we began to notice in them a strange obsession.

Tyrell is pacing now, lecturing.

This obsession, he goes on to explain, is with the past, with memories as the source of identity. But replicants (as we have already learned) have a life-span of only four years, so that they do not have time to develop dangerous emotional responses to their situation.

After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past… we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions… and we can control them better. […] In the case of Rachael, I simply copied and regenerated cells from the brain of my sixteen-year-old niece. Rachael remembers what my little niece remembers.

As Deckard points out, we have come a long way from Dr Frankenstein.

Memory implantation and erasure is a motif in Philip K Dick’s science fiction, associated with a powerful theme of identity – and the breakdown of identity – throughout his work. The theme finds its most powerful expression in A Scanner Darkly, about a drug-addicted police informer and his coterie of drug-addict friends. It is pervasive in the novel from which Fancher distilled his original ‘Dangerous Days’ screenplay which eventually became Blade Runner. 

Dick was fascinated by parahumanism and as such stands in a long line of artists who have developed the theme – and not just from Frankenstein onwards, either: as that novel’s alternative title, The New Prometheus, indicates, science fictional examples are a modern take on a fully fledged archetype with deep roots – not forgetting the Jewish golem legends, of course. In fact the latter provide a more illuminating ancestry, because then all the examples are of human creating human. The older story of Prometheus is a creation story, not a golem story. A Titan is a god, though a survivor of a defeated generation. The interest of the Prometheus story to my mind is the fact that the gods themselves – in the form of their king, Zeus – oppose the creation of humanity and fear its potential to one day overthrow them. He eventually relaxes when he realizes that humans will first destroy each other, and after that derives entertainment from tormenting them, raping them, and playing games with them.

Dick’s original vision was broader in the novel than Fancher has time to include in his screenplay. There was a state religion, a whole culture built around simulation, and the main development in the plot was that Deckard came to realise that he wasn’t just pursuing a handful of rogue androids: that in fact the city had been completely infiltrated by replicants, who had duplicated its key institutions. There was a police department and a replicant police department, a City Hall and a replicant City Hall, and so on. Dick’s vision then was of a dizzying parahuman world in which there is two of everything. And if there’s two of everything, but the same premise there’s four of everything. And eight. Fancher’s script had to cut most of this material and try to leave enough to make this replication continue in the mind of the viewer, and to radically focus these ideas into a cinematically engaging plot.

What he actually does is hang the story on the narrative archetype of Comedy: that is, the love story, as in La Comedia Divina de Dante, in which the anima-figure leads us on a journey through many hells which brings us ultimately before the face of God. This is the genius of Fancher’s screenplay: the original novel has a much lighter archetypal anchor, and drifts badly, as a result. Fancher reached into that mess and pulled out a plot well known in theatre from Roman times. Two lovers meet and yearn to be together but they cannot, usually for reasons of who they are, and usually enforced by a dark, unrelenting father or other patriarchal figure. One is from the wrong class, or the wrong family, or is poor, or a slave. Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Avatar. More promiscuously, the ‘Songs and Sonets’ of John Donne: lots of sneaking around at night and being given away by your perfume. Lots of intrigue, lots of disguise, lots of crazy shit. Playing rich, playing dead, playing blue. That’s how it is when you’re in love with the wrong person, and you have to laugh sometimes, because it is all so deliriously ridiculous.

The deep theme of this archetype is always identity. If the love story doesn’t have this theme, it’s not archetypal, and will lack power. Our multiplying identity issues must be resolved. You cannot expect to find true love, to paraphrase Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots, if you don’t know who you are.

As in Blade Runner. 

She’s on his kill-list. She doesn’t know who she is. Still refuses to believe it. She comes to Deckard’s apartment to show him a photograph of herself as a little girl, with her mother. (It’s Peoples who is threading this ‘mother’ leitmotif throughout the screenplay.) And Deckard, wearily, proves to her that her life-story is not hers and she is therefore not real, by quoting examples of her intimate childhood memories to her in a beautiful passage of dialogue, ending with another little chime on the bell of the mother.

“DECKARD Remember that bush outside your window with the spider in it?

Rachael looks up at him.

DECKARD Green body orange legs… you watched her build a web all summer.


Her voice is getting very small.

DECKARD One day there was an egg in the web.

Rachel nods faintly.

RACHAEL After a while, the egg hatched and hundreds of baby spiders came out and ate her. That made quite an impression on me, Mr Deckard.

DECKARD You still don’t get it? […] Implants. They’re not your memories, they’re Tyrell’s sixteen-year-old niece’s.

Rachael doesn’t say anything, she can’t.

DECKARD He’s very proud of them. He ran them on a scanner for me.

Rachael just stares at him, stunned and barely holding on.”

And Deckard lets her run. Her disillusionment is not his problem. He’s already done her a favour by not killing her. She’s not even human, after all: a simulacrum; a replicant. A ‘relational object’. A genetically designed golem.

As she now knows. She’s had her anagnorisis. She’s staggering under it, clinging to an old photograph, knowing none of it’s real. The plot now must proceed by steps to the point where it is finally proved to Deckard, ultimately by the same means, that he too has, shall we say, identity issues.

mother & daughter

The difference between life and story is that the awakening doesn’t happen all at once. With me it took many years. The Western middle classes, I now know, are the most deluded, deceived and self-deceiving people in the world, and that’s  where I come from.

They are the nomenklatura and the tamagotchi, to steal somebody else’s mixed metaphor. The nomenklatura are people with their feet on the ladder, people with position or career and something to lose. These people may sense there’s something very wrong with the picture they have of the world, but they aren’t going to talk about it and won’t let you either if they can stop you. Everyone else is tamagotchi. They have no independent existence: they allow themselves to be fed, wound up, put to sleep, woken up, or killed off. I prefer to think of them as eloi, as in H G Wells’ TheTime Machine. 

This is where Bohemia comes into existence. You have to get away somewhere where you can embrace life, death and truth, your humanness in all fullness. You’ve got to go and live with the gypsies, make art and make love, suck up all that good opium and absinthe, and the smiles of those pretty, cheerful grisettes. But whereas the bohemianism of Baudelaire and Byron was viscerally real, a reaction to the world, that of the twentieth century was wrapped around an agenda, and handed out for free by merry pranksters at rock festivals and ‘acid tests’.

The counter-culture was not blowback, argues author and researcher Jan Irvin of Gnostic Media – it was the engineered vehicle through which ‘entheogenics’ and ‘psychedelic’ drugs (new names for psychotogenics or psychotomimetics – i.e., substances which induce or mimic the effects of psychosis) were to enter society, along with a new sexual paradigm designed to destroy the family, and aesthetics designed to debase the culture through an ‘archaic revival’ and new age mysticism.

Irvin is an ethno-mycologist, and knows what he’s talking about. He was there, to paraphrase John Lennon; he was at the Grateful Dead gigs, did acid and mushrooms, all that. Perhaps this was what took him in the direction of mycology. His life took a different turn again when, in researching the work of John Allegro, the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar whom Irvin also publishes, he stumbled across documents which revealed beyond any doubt that the banker and journalist Gordon Wassan was working for the CIA when he undertook his heavily publicised trip to Mexico to ‘discover’ the magic mushroom in 1957; Henry Luce’s Life magazine featured the adventure as its cover story, Seeking the Magic Mushroom, May 13, 1957. He was engaged in Sub-project 58 of MK-ULTRA. This was a discovery of huge significance: it revealed that MK-ULTRA was not just a project to create robotic killers, couriers and sex slaves, but something much bigger: a social engineering project on a vast scale, a project to redesign society. Jan Irvin has continued to unearth facts which force us to re-evaluate not just our concepts of government, society and culture, but our stories about ourselves.

As Irvin says, drugs were the counter-culture; none of it would have happened without the LSD; we already knew that Dr Timothy Leary was a CIA asset; more shockingly, we now find evidence suggesting strongly that Ken Kesey and Allen Ginsberg were ‘agents in tie-dye’ as well. There are strong suspicions that The Doors and Frank Zappa and other big names from the West coast were placements, parachuted into LA along with all the logistical support they needed. There are varying degrees of certainty about the performers and musicians who gravitated towards Laurel Canyon; and of course there are different levels of participation, witting and unwitting agents and so on. We know that the social, commercial and technological contexts (the venues and contracts and session musicians and dance troupes and FM radio and strobe lights and sound systems) sprung up around the new music with remarkable rapidity; the pattern suggests enablement by hidden influence. And we know that the scene was riddled with weird crime and cult activity, Charlie Manson’s Family et al, and also a strange military presence, not just in the family backgrounds of many key players, but physically in the form of Look Out Mountain Air Force Base, which housed state-of-the-art film studios with lavish production facilities. There is undoubtedly something very suspicious about the whole set-up. It seems the swirling creative mess of the counter-culture was not just seeding itself here but being subjected to, shall we say, guidance or steerage, and at the same time its growth and impact was being massively accelerated and amplified..

Why? To introduce psychotomimetic drugs into society; to produce dissociation, and ultimately social atomization. To ruin the anti-war movement. To isolate and target the young. To render incompetent many of the great people of my generation.

So: I am tamagotchi. I am eloi. It turns out I never rebelled, as I thought I did, but enthusiastically followed instructions – or ‘suggestions’, shall we say?

All they had to do was show me a ‘forbidden’ path, and I was gone.

And there’s the epiphany.

It’s not easy to live with. The knowledge itself is psychotogenic, you might say. I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Through drugs and music, the project altered my outlook and affected my life, reducing my effectiveness as a force for good. Turned me, though not all at once, through pseudo-psychosis and dependency, into a force for disintegration.

As Dick puts it: Substance D is for Dumbness, Despair and Desertion – desertion of you from your friends, your friends from you, everyone from everyone. Isolation and loneliness… and D is finally Death. Slow death from the head down.

Irvin’s continued research has brought even more interesting results, I believe, at the architectural level of MK-ULTRA, by mapping connections around institutions such as the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the Bohemian Grove and its sister institution the Century Club in London, and key players like Edward Bernays and Marshall McLuhan. In doing so he has made what I feel is a second major discovery, or is at least very close to proving: that right at the centre of this web, in all likelihood one of the main architects of this psycho-socio-cultural engineering project called MK-ULTRA, we find none other than Aldous Huxley.

When that sinks in, suddenly everything begins to make sense. As a kid I read 1984 and Brave New World and wondered which one would prove more prescient: brutal police state or narcotized utopia; the society ruled by the boot in face, or by bioengineering and conditioning; Hate Week or psychic driving. And I came to the conclusion that both were right: that Orwell could only see as far as a transitional phase; and that Huxley was looking further down the line. Later, I thought both might be real at the same time, for different people: Brave New World for us in the First World, 1984 for everyone else.

Aldous Huxley comes from the famous Darwin-Wedgwood-Huxley dynasty, closely associated with eugenics. His brother Julian was an evolutionary biologist, eugenicist and internationalist and one of the founders of the United Nations. Brave New World is presented by the author as a prescient warning, a prophecy of a future whose anti-human horror will be disguised by consumerism, hedonism, bio-engineering and conditioning. We’re seeing it all happening already. And in view of Jan Irvin’s MK-ULTRA revelations, we should understand that in Huxley we are not looking at prescience, exactly: unless you can call a blueprint the architect’s amazing premonition of the building.

Part of the fascination of Dick is the way he knew his present time seemingly better than anyone else — presented to us futuristically, of course. But his most interesting fictions are real, a fact of which we are becoming increasingly aware: were real, already, in the fifties and sixties. What little Bluebird sang to the Horse-lover? How did Mr Fat see into the heart of the Artichoke?

Professor Darrell Y Hamamoto of UC Davis makes the point that Allen Ginsberg attended weekly therapy sessions at the Langley-Porter clinic, the elite extension of UC Berkeley Medical School, and that as a child Dick lived in Berkeley and traveled to San Francisco every week to attend the same institution. ‘Probably an early example of what later became known as the indigo children. He was a genius as a child and he was being tested very early on for possible intelligence work, just as people with extraordinary athletic ability like Eldrick (‘Tiger’) Woods was being tested very early on through his father Earl Woods, whom we know was in the intelligence area.”

Brave New World, like Blade Runner, is about the mass-production of synthetic human beings. Natural human beings are born from their culture. The culture is the mother. It evolved naturally from a particular people in a particular time and place, developed over the centuries as a collective response to nature and situation and climate and other species and other societies. And somehow, out of all the recombinant strands within the culture, randomly, miraculously, came you.

Didn’t you?

Or was the culture supplanted by something else?

And you thought you were accidental, natural. The way you are. You thought you were human.

What will you do? How do you respond to the news that you were mass-produced?

You’ve got a choice. When you find out who designed your mind, what are you going to do? You can sit rigidly in your chair while the floor crumbles around you. Or you can stare for a moment at the tinfoil unicorn in your hand, nod your head, and head for the elevator where a beautiful woman of your own kind is waiting for you.

Or you can look up and say,

My mother?

Let me tell you about my mother.



The Secret History of Magic Mushrooms

  1. R. Gordon Wasson: The Man, the Legend, the Myth. Beginning a New History of Magic Mushrooms, Ethnomycology,and the Psychedelic Revolution. By Jan Irvin, May 13, 2012

  2. How Darwin, Huxley, and the Esalen Institute launched the 2012 and psychedelic revolutions – and began one of the largest mind control operations in history. Some brief notes. By Jan Irvin, August 28, 2012

  1. Manufacturing the Deadhead: A Product of Social Engineering, by Joe Atwill and Jan Irvin, May 13, 2013
  1. Entheogens: What’s in a Name? The Untold History of Psychedelic Spirituality, Social Control, and the CIA, by Jan Irvin, November 11, 2014
  2. Spies in Academic Clothing: The Untold History of MKULTRA and the Counterculture – And How the Intelligence Community Misleads the 99%, by Jan Irvin, May 13, 2015


“The role of drugs in the exercise of political control is also coming under increasing discussion. Control can be through prohibition or supply. The total or even partial prohibition of drugs gives the government considerable leverage for other types of control. An example would be the selective application of drug laws permitting immediate search, or “no knock” entry, against selected components of the population such as members of certain minority groups or political organizations.

But a government could also supply drugs to help control a population. This method, foreseen by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932), has the governing element employing drugs selectively to manipulate the governed in various ways.” ~ Louis Jolyon West, Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory. 1975. p. 298.


3 thoughts on “DECKARD’S UNICORN

  1. I enjoyed this very much Paul. Maybe those of us who felt different even set apart from others, family, culture are the ‘ real’ ones after all. 😊

  2. (oops, pressed enter by accident or something… this comment should replace the previous)

    This is a fantastic piece of writing.

    You are a unique voice in all this forbidden literature. Pretty much everyone trying to navigate this stuff maxes out their cognitive capacity just trying to sort through alternatives, separate genuine arguments from disinfo, etc. I don’t know anyone who does that while also having so much to say about the nature of the experience itself.

    I stared at the unicorn for awhile. Heading for the elevator I think. Leon’s way wouldn’t solve anything. Now Batty’s….

    P.S. Wrote you once before, under ‘Feral Humans’, but never saw it appear there. No problem if it wasn’t of interest. Or maybe you’ve taken feral to the next stage.

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