Throughout Neuromancer, William Gibson plays with a theme of the dissociation of mind from body. Enabled by futuristic technology, characters can remove their consciousness from their bodies in a number of ways, simply by taking them out and storing them somewhere else for a while (as we see with the “puppets”), entering a completely digital world Gibson calls “cyberspace” (whenever Case “jacks in”), or even entering the body of someone else (whenever Case “flips” into Molly’s body). The theme raises the natural question of whether a body is even required in order for a consciousness to exist.
Gibson addresses this question a number of times throughout the novel, but with mixed answers. Certainly Dixie’s construct can act, think, and respond to his environment much like the original Dixie, but he also has no will to live, repeatedly requesting an erasure that he finally receives. In page 231* of the novel, Case reflects on how sex requires the body, thinking:
It was a place he’d known before… 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 knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read
A commentary made even more interesting by the fact that the sex in question was taking place not in the “real” world, but the one constructed by Marie-France. A world so so lifelike that, Neuromancer claims on page 249, it contains the independent consciousness of Linda Lee:
‘But you do not know her thoughts,” the boy said, beside him now in the shark thing’s heart. ‘I do not know her thoughts. You were wrong, Case. To live here is to live. There is no difference.’
So while the body may be a fundamental part of the human experience, in the world of Neuromancer both body and consciousness can in some sense be fully absorbed into the digital. Whether this will one day be possible for us is a question nobody knows the answer to, but we can always imagine.
*I’m using the Ace Trade Paperback Edition from July 2000