Technoscience / Ecomateriality / Literature

Neuromancer Novel Response

September 8th, 2014 | Posted by David Builes in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Although interacting with the DiVE was certainly an eye-opening and exciting new experience, as our class pointed out, it did have a number of shortcomings, including poor graphics, lack of stimulation of all five senses, and the fact that only one person was really interacting with the environment at a time. However, it did serve as a good starting point for a discussion on the limitless possibilities that virtual reality and technology in general can potentially have for us in the not so distant future. Neuromancer depicts a future that is so immersed in the digital and the virtual that it is at times hard to separate which parts are “real” and which parts are “merely virtual”. One fascinating example of how virtual reality is used in Neuromancer is known as the “simstim”, a piece of technology that is perhaps one of the best examples of the blending of the real and the virtual. It allows the user to experience a reality that is not merely “invented”, like that of the DiVE and other contemporary virtual reality systems, but is the reality behind the eyes of someone else. The first time this is used in Neuromancer is when Case uses the simstim to experience the world from Molly’s eyes as she goes to meet a man named Larry, a member of the Panther Moderns, in order to successfully infiltrate Sense/Net to get the ROM housing Dixie Flatline. The vividness of the simstim is made clear by Case’s first reaction to using it – “for a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger behind her eyes” (Gibson 56). The exciting thing about this brain-to-brain connection is that it doesn’t seem at all farfetched given what is going on today. In fact, we have made some inroads into brain-to-brain connections between animals already. According to our reading in Neurofutures, “the Nicolelis lab has experimented with transferring the brain state of an animal – in this case a hooded rat – to another rat through a direct brain-to-brain interface” (Lenoir 12). The example of the simstim is also interesting to apply to Hayles’ reading. According to Hayles, “embodiment then takes the form of extended cognition, in which human agency and thought are emeshed within larger networks that extend beyond the desktop computer into the environment” (Hayles 3). The simstim is a particularly good example of embodiment since through it, our cognition does not only extend out to our surrounding technological enviornment, but it can even extend to be inside the cognition of someone else! It turns out that applications of virtual reality in the future might even force us to give up the one place we feel we will always have privacy – inside our own minds.

Works Cited

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2012. Print.

Lenoir, Tim. Neurofutures. Open Humanities Press.

The DiVE is a cube made of movie screens, and into which an entirely new experience can be projected. While I was in there, I felt as though that if we could get better graphics and more biointeraction with the scene that was being projected, it would be very easy to forget that what was being projected onto the screen was not real life, but instead a program that our senses and mind are bring tricked into believing. That being said, while reading Neuromancer, it made me wonder, “Is Armitage nothing but virtual reality taken one step further, into virtual mentality?” In Neuromancer, we are given a short blurb about Armitage’s past, as Corto. “Case watched Corto work corporate defectors in Lisbon and Marrakesh, where he seemed to grow obsessed with the idea of betrayal, to loathe the scientists and technicians he bought out for his employers…[he] had been taken to a Paris mental health unit and diagnosed as schizophrenic,” and then “[he was] provided with microcomputers and encouraged, with help from students, to program them. He was cured, the only success in the entire experiment (Gibson).” Basically Corto goes crazy after Screaming Fist, and as a cure he undergoes an experimental treatment that bestows a new personality upon him. The DiVE came so close to tricking us into believing that we were in a different place then we really were—is it possible that it could progress to the level where it tricked us into believing we were totally different people, and change all of our Cortos into Armitages? There is an entire episode of “Futurescape” that talks about the idea of preserving interactive personalities on computers, a similar concept to the ROM, and then being able to still maintain a relationship with a person long after they have passed away. So then, is it so unreasonable to think that we can reverse the process and take a personality from a computer and put it into a person? Of course, the original personality will still be there, and if the artificial one fails, like it did with Armitage, then what? Do we have a Jekyll and Hyde situation, where one personality tries to kill another and ends up damaging the person? Or is it a battle of man vs machine, where one wins and the other has to succumb?

If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want to know the answers. Its scary to think of the implications of programmable personalities. For some reason, this reminds me of slavery—how hard would it be to just program a group of people to be submissive and obedient? And then, if they “want” to be in the position they’re put in, is it wrong to put them there? If we’re programmed, is our right and wrong just 0’s and 1’s?


All text references from the E-Copy of Neuromancer:

From Pooja: “My favorite documentary about future technologies and how they affect what we do: Futurescape: Robot Revolution”

See full episode here:

Thanks, Pooja!



Stay tuned…the students will be blogging here soon