Neuromancer Background Information

Dean Taciuch
George Mason University

The main character, Case, is a "cowboy"
cowboys=hackers. Reference to hacker subculture of 1980s. The term was used rather differently than today. The hackers of the 1970s and 1980s were computer geeks, programmers, engineers, tinkerers. They were strongly anti-authoritarian, with roots in the 1960s counter-culture. Many of their activities were technically illegal, but the general public had not taken to the 'Net yet, so hackers were not a threat to most. Many hackers saw networks as places to explore; network security measures were challenges. Many times, hackers would break into a system just for the bragging rights. Most did no harm, but a few were more than mere pranksters.

For more information, I recommend Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown.

Gibson popularized the terms "cyberspace" and "the matrix" (in reference to cyberspace)

The novel takes place in a post-industrial world: Chiba, Night City, "The Sprawl" (BAMA: Boston Atlanta Metro Axis)

It is also a post-human world: extending human senses and agency via technology. This was noted by the early Cyberneticists like Norbert Wiener. As posthumanist critic N. Katherine Hayles points out, the cyborg is not a futuristic concept: a blind man with a cane is a cyborg who uses the cane as an extension of his senses. Telephones, radio, and obviously the Internet allow us to extend the reach of human agency.

The posthuman future envisioned by Gibson radically extends human agency. Via cyberspace, individuals can experience another person's "sensorium." The sensorium is not Gibson's term, but a term from the field of phenomenology, the philosophical study of human experience. One's sensorium is the totality of one's immediate sensory experience. In the novel, when case experience's Molly's sensorium, he sees what she sees, feels what she feels (pain, pleasure), but doesn't apparently, have access to her memories or emotions.

Memories and emotions are not part of the sensorium. Raw sensory data is unprocessed; the sensorium contains sensory data before it is perceived.

What is Gibson's concept of cyberspace? Is it a place? No. It is a "consensual hallucination," a representation of the data matrix of the world's computer networks. This graphic representation of the matrix of data can be accessed via brain implants and a deck (computer). The experience is a type of virtual reality. In the novel, it is a development of the WWW, computer games, and military experiments.

Nearly everyone in the novel is a cyborg, a fusion of man and machine. Molly is an obvious example, but Case has bio-implants, the Panther Moderns have cranial slots for their microsofts (how did Gibson not get sued for this?), etc. It is commonplace, like the WWW today.

The culture of Neuromancer doesn't fear the cyborg. They do, however, fear AIs. Even Case admits that the Turing police are "bad heat." (Notice, he has no fear of the Soviet police or the Yakuza). Rather than being fascinated with AIs, Case accepts that they are beyond his reach. The AIs are protected with "black ice," a deadly program which kills via neural feedback. Only the Turing police control the AIs, by regulating how intelligent they can be. That is, they (whoever they are) have placed limits on the technology. Why?


Cyberspace vs meat space: Cowboys such as case are dismissive of "meat" space, the physical world of the body and bodily sensations. They dislike SimStim, for example, as they see it as a multiplication of meatspace.

Dualistic--the self is not part of the body (meat) but is information or data, and can be transferred (as in the case of the Dixie Flatline) or otherwise recreated (Case and Linda on he beach chapters 21-22).
Cartesian dualism: I think, therefore I am. The "self" is that which thinks (the mind).
Mind-body problem: the mind is not part of the body (matter), though the brain is.
Gnostic dualism: The Fall in most Gnostic systems is the fall into matter. The divine spark, the true self, is imprisoned in the body.

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