A recurrent theme within Neuromancer is the nature of life. Can a program be alive? What provides a being with its identity? Does identity demand a body?
Case resents his physical body, and is plagued by its shortcomings. He suffers from a physical dependency on stimulants, SAS when arriving in space, and all the natural limitations of a corporeal body. He resents this “meat” that he is contained within, suggesting that his identity is defined by his mind, and his body is an accessory. And yet, for most of the novel, Case cannot escape from his body. He is still affected by adrenaline, still feels the aftershocks of his stimulant hangovers, still risks critically damaging his brain. No matter how he dissociates, he remains tied to his body. It is, after all, the vessel his brain was built to fit.
But what about a being which has no body? Neuromancer exists only as a sea of information, yet he insists that he has developed his own identity. He and the personalities he cultivates are able to grow and develop, to think independent of the parameters established around them. They are certainly closer to human than the Dixie Flatline, who cannot create new ideas or store long term memory. Even the Flatline is on the cognitive level of some humans following serious injury. We dismiss him as a program because we know why he cannot create or remember, but he appears by all rights to have a sense of identity just as a human would. He thinks, he remembers, he even desires to be erased. Whether or not these things are human, it is obvious that they are cognizant entities, discrete from the world around them. That could be justification enough to call them life.
And indeed they appear to be as real within their world as the flesh of ours. It is while trapped in cyberspace with Neuromancer’s Linda that Case rekindles ties with “the meat” which he so often dismissed.
“It was a place he’d known before; not everyone could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something he’d found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew– he remembered–as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond know- ing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.”
As he is rekindling these feelings, supposedly unique to flesh and bone, his physical body is in fact dead. It is unlikely, then, that Case’s physical body is reacting to this at all. Neuromancer built his world from people’s memories, so it stands to reason that what Case is feeling originates from something he once felt in the physical world. But if an AI can recreate even these most “human” aspects of life and emotion so convincingly that Case himself cannot tell the difference, then what, if anything, differentiates these entities from humans? Would an existence in that world be any less fulfilling than the physical world we inhabit? Perhaps the entities are simply new life, with new minds housed within new bodies of data. Who are we to judge?