William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' and the relation between mind and body

Term Paper, 2002

14 Pages, Grade: 1 (very good)



0 Introduction

1 The content in short

2 The technical possibilities of body augmentation in Neuromancer
2.1 Drugs
2.2 Implants
2.3 Simstim
2.4 The Cyberspace
2.5 The total transcendence of the body

3 The evaluation of mind and body in Neuromancer

4 Conclusion


In the following pages I will interpret some features of the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson. Unfortunately this is my first essay about a work of literature, so it was a little bit hard for me to decide, e.g. whether I can take it for granted, that my reader has read the book. This and other formal questions came up in my work and I hope you can excuse that I may not have guessed always the most popular answer. Enjoy reading it.

0 Introduction

After hours of operation, Linda woke up. Everything felt strange and seemed new. The anesthetics had left a weird numbness in her limbs. A doctor, who was forced into slow-motion, approached her bed. “There were no complications. Do you want to have a look?” he asked. In spite of being tired, a strong feeling overwhelmed her and she agreed. The doctor took a mirror and placed it in front of her. Curiously she glimpsed at the picture inside. There she was. A beautiful young woman looked back at her. Nothing was left of the bulge on her nose. When she looked downwards she realized, that she looked much thinner and had an attractive flat belly now. The feeling was smashing.

Nowadays many people undergo cosmetical surgery. The technology of manipulating the human body gives us the possibility to correct irregularities in our physical appearance. We can cut off body fat and reshape parts of the face. But these are by far not the only manipulations the modern bodies participate in. Athletes take drugs in order to improve their fitness for a short period. Disabled persons can get mechanical implants, like a pacemaker or an artificial hip or even natural organs can be transplanted to increase the patient’s life-expectancy.

In his novel “Neuromancer” William Gibson picks up this topic and creates a world, where even far more powerful tools of body alteration or body augmentation are used in everyday’s life. But he doesn’t only describe the outcoming possibilities of that technology; he also gives an insight in the effects on the evaluation of mind and body. In the following pages I’ll try to find out, what value mind and body have in the presented world and what evaluation the text suggests.

1 The content in short

Before I can go on talking about the topic itself, I have to introduce a few main characters to you.

The protagonist of the story is Case. In his past he worked as a Cyberspace-Cowboy. This means he stole information from companies via cyberspace.[1] The word cyberspace was used first in this novel, but the idea of cyberspace is older. It represents at the same time the perfection of an interface with the computer and a simulation of an artificial world. The output of the computer reaches the user through all possible senses. If all senses, say all input organs, of the human are fed with computer-generated data, then the illusion of being in another space can be created. Since Neuromancer this computer-generated virtual space is called cyberspace.

This had been the working area for Case until he made a serious mistake. He stole from his employers. When he was caught, “they damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin“[2] so he wouldn’t be able to enter cyberspace again.

Being incarcerated in the flesh of his own body Case finds the help of Armitage. Case has been a very good cyberspace-cowboy, so Armitage, who can afford the best doctors, repairs his nervous system in exchange for a job he would do for him in cyberspace. In that operation, Case is also implanted a new pancreas, which makes him unable to absorb drugs like alcohol and pills.[3] In order to make sure that Case is highly motivated on doing the jobs he also gets to know, that little bags containing a certain poison have been inserted into his veins. Those bags are slowly dissolving and if Case doesn’t have a certain substance infused before the poison escapes from the bags then the poison will undo the effect of the nerval operation[4]. In this way Case becomes dependent on Armitage. With his new partner Molly, a physically improved woman with artificial eyes and razor-blades in her fingers, he carries out the two jobs for Armitage. At first they break into the Sense/Net-company and steal Dix, the flatline construct.[5] Dix is indispensable for the main job of entering the database of a mighty society called Tessier-Ashpool and stealing a password. In the real world of Neuromancer, most of its members are cloned, cryogenetically frozen or have medically altered DNAs. The fact that these technologies are very expensive shows the incredible richness of the society.

While Case and Molly are working on the two jobs, it turns out that Armitage’s psyche is the creation of the powerful AI[6] Wintermute. Before Armitage was brought into existence the original person in his body was Colonel Willis Corto.[7] As you can guess Armitage acts like a puppet controlled by Wintermute, who needs that password to illegally merge with another AI called Neuromancer. Since the Turing-police, who shall prevent AIs from getting to smart, is too weak to handle Wintermute, the password is the only obstacle for the unification of Wintermute and Neuromancer.

Unexpectedly the implanted psyche "Armitage" becomes unstable and Corto more and more regains control over his body. Consequently Wintermute kills him. From that moment Case and Molly work for Wintermute. After merging with Neuromancer, Wintermute gives Case the answer that his toxin-bags-problem has already solved itself, Molly and Case are paid and Wintermute/Neuromancer becomes the most powerful AI in the world.

2 The technical possibilities of body augmentation in Neuromancer

In Neuromancer we are pushed into a world, where the possibilities of manipulation of the body and the consciousness[8] are much more developed than today. Nearly every thinkable technology for that purpose is invented and accessible for the persons who are wealthy enough. The upgrading of the body is called augmentation and there are augmentations on five different levels. Starting from simple drugs at the first level, which for example can inhibit pain effectively, the augmentations at the highest level transcend to human body completely. I will come back later to what that means.

2.1 Drugs

“‘Little problem with the natives. Think one of them broke my leg.’ [...] She was leaning against the wall, taking all of her weight on her right leg. She fumbled through the contents of the suit's kangaroo pocket and withdrew a sheet of plastic studded with a rainbow of dermadisks. She selected three and thumbed them hard against her left wrist, over the veins. Six thousand micrograms of endorphin analog came down on the pain like a hammer, shattering it. Her back arched convulsively. Pink waves of warmth lapped up her thighs. She sighed and slowly relaxed.“[9]

In spite of being far more powerful, the drugs in Neuromancer have roughly the same effects as the drugs used today. Besides the traditional way of injection[10], smoking[11] and swallowing the drug, the possibility exists of taking drugs by using plasters called dermadisks or just derms. Drugs are body augmentations on a first low level. Drugs can be used, to perform actions without caring pain and tiredness. Drugs help Molly to complete her mission of burgling the Sense/Net company and stealing the flatline construct even though her leg was broken.[12] Drugs aren’t a permanent alteration of the body. They just influence the awareness and the control of it for a short time.

2.2 Implants

Much deeper interventions in the functions of the body are surgical operations, which are very common in Neuromancer. Nearly everyone is cosmetically improved[13] and many people possess natural or technical implants to improve their abilities.

Molly for example has movable razor-blades beneath her fingernails[14] and wears fixed glasses, which touch up her vision and display additional information in her field of view. This operation made it necessary to re-route her tear ducts back into her mouth. That has the slight side effect that she has to spit, when she cries.[15] Other examples of body forming I’ve already mentioned are Case’s toxin bags and his cyberspace-interface.


[1] see Gibson, 1984, p.12

[2] Gibson, 1984, p.12

[3] see Gibson, 1984, p.44

[4] see Gibson, 1984, p.60

[5] I’ll come back later to what Dix, the flatline construct means. At the moment you can regard Dix as a person lock up in a box for shoes or even something smaller.

[6] AI means Artificial Intelligence

[7] see Gibson, 1984, p.101-102

[8] I don’t want to refer to possible religious connotations the word "consciousness" might induce in some readers. With "consciousness" I simply mean the fact of being aware of something.

[9] Gibson, 1984, p.83 no fat marked words in the original.

[10] see Gibson, 1984, p.132

[11] see Gibson, 1984, p.42 Yeheyuan are a sort of cigarette.

[12] Gibson, 1984, p.83-88

[13] see Gibson, 1984, p.9

[14] see Gibson, 1984, p.220

[15] see Gibson, 1984, p.219

Excerpt out of 14 pages


William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' and the relation between mind and body
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Cyborgs (WS 2001/2002)
1 (very good)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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565 KB
This paper is about William Gibson's 'Neuromancer'. Neuromancer was the book that initiated the cyberpunk debate, which was very influential in culture studies. The paper explores Gibson's position towards the mind-body-problem, i.e. the relation between mind and body.
William, Gibson, Neuromancer, Cyborgs
Quote paper
Franz Wegener (Author), 2002, William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' and the relation between mind and body, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/37565


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