Dreyfus’ On the Internet stresses the importance of embodiment, as well as the risks of disembodiment in a future with increasingly present technological advances. Through the story of Case in Neuromancer, I believe that William Gibson also stresses the same arguments that Dreyfus presents. In order for true learning to take place, one must be physically present and take risks in learning.
Case used to be known as one of the greatest data thieves in the Matrix until his ex-employer poisoned his nervous system with a mycotoxin. [Gibson back page summary] It is alluded to in the book, but Case clearly got his abilities by learning from people who already knew how to jack into the Matrix. He was personally taught by McCoy Pauley aka Dixie Flatline. [Gibson p. 49] “He’d spent most of his nineteenth summer in the Gentleman Loser, nursing expensive beers and watching the cowboys. He’d never touched a deck, then, but he knew what he wanted. There were at least twenty other hopefuls ghosting the Loser, that summer, each one bent on working joeboy for some cowboy. No other way to learn.” [Gibson p. 77] Case was Pauley’s joeboy, or sort of an apprentice, as I understand it. Case only became on the greatest data thieves of all time by learning from someone who was already proficient in that field. This is just like Dreyfus’ argument in the entire second chapter. He describes six stages of how a student learns and how the student can reach each stage. The first three levels: novice, advanced beginner, and competence can be reached with distance learning. However, proficiency, expertise, and mastery can only be reached with an embodied presence. [Dreyfus chapter 2] Without the guidance of Pauley, Case could only become competent, and follow sets of rules, even when there might be exceptions which would yield better outcomes.
To go along with this idea, the risk of embodied learning is what truly allows for real growth and advancement. For example, a student could face the risk of proposing and defending an idea while a teacher could be asked a question and risk not knowing the answer. [Dreyfus p. 33] It is this inherent risk of embodied learning that leads to emotional involvement in the topic. It might seem as though emotional detachment is the best way to go about mastering something by not letting gut feeling interfere with facts or statistical advantages, the opposite was found to be true in a study of nurses in each stage of skill acquisition. [Dreyfus p. 32] Even though Case is jacked into the Matrix, his physical body can still be affected by his actions. This is seen when he takes the risk of taking a pass by the AI Wintermute. [Gibson p. 115] The AI catches him and Case’s physical body flatlines for a while. In the meantime, Wintermute is generating a dreamlike state for Case based on his memories through the simstim unit that was wired into his deck. After briefly encountering Linda in the arcade, Case spoke with Wintermute (embodied by Julius Deane) and Case ends up shooting it in the head. This encounter with the AI really affected Case and although he knows that he didn’t actually kill Deane, “Deane’s death kept turning up like a bad card.” [Gibson p. 125]. He also has a feeling that Deane might have killed Linda on Wintermute’s orders. I think it is his emotional connection to these people that make him learn from this encounter and be able to complete the even more difficult tasks ahead of him that Armitage/Corto assigns him.