Thursday, January 30, 2014

Implications of "Neuromancer" Through Heidegger

“Neuromancer” by William Gibson is extremely concerned with technology. The setting of this science fiction novel is in some future world where there is more advanced, complicated, and abundant technology. It is easy to see this narrative as a novel that is imaginative and unlike anything we have seen before. But this world is not far off from our own. Technology, especially modern advances, is developing rapidly, and we often don’t know what it is capable of. Martin Heidegger wrote an essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”, over fifty years ago, but his ideas about modern technology are still extremely applicable. He says, “…Technology is the fate of our age, where “fate” means the inevitableness of an unalterable course” (Heidegger 13). Technology has become so much of a part in the characters of “Neuromancer’s” life, and Heidegger’s essay suggests that our world can become like this in the future.
The world in 2014 may have the means to create a scene like that of “Neuromancer”, but has not embraced the resources and knowledge we have now in order to create it. In his essay, Hiedegger mentions that knowledge to create technology is around much earlier than it is actually created: the ideas are just waiting to be uncovered. He says, “Hence physics, in all its retreating from the representation turned only toward objects that has alone been standard till recently, will never be able to renounce this one thing: that nature reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remains orderable as a system of information” (Heidegger 11). People have recently discovered the capability of bringing technology with them everywhere, and a next logical step is making it part of our bodies. In “Neuromancer,” many people have had surgery to make it so. An example is Molly’s glasses, as well as many other parts of Molly. Not only are they permanently implanted on her face, but they can do advanced things such as show her the time (Gibson 32). Case experiences the matrix through Molly and through his own mind, not on some device separate from him. Technology has become an even bigger part of their everyday lives than it is now.
Technology can also become out of control of the people developing it. Halfway through the novel, we have become introduced to an artificial intelligence called Wintermute. When Case comes in contact with it through the matrix, it makes him flat line (Gibson 121). When the intelligence has control over his mind, it tells him that it has coaxed the person who is now known as Armitage back to health, and seems to be mostly in control of his thoughts and actions (Gibson 120). At this point in the novel, the readers do not know exactly what Wintermute is capable of. In his essay, Heidegger discusses technology getting out of control of its human inventors, “Since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is never human handiwork, any more than the realm through with man is already passing every time he as a subject relates to an object” (Heidegger 8-9). Heidegger implies that people are not in control of what they are developing, that it is fated and destined to happen. It is possible, with modern/ future technology, to develop an artificial intelligence capable of controlling a human. People are and want to continue to be in control of the Earth, though, and the idea of an artificial intelligence controlling us is undoubtedly threatening.
Throughout the novel, the readers are slowly introduced to what modern technology is capable of. At first, we see how deeply technology is rooted in the lives of the characters and how they experience the world through it. We are then introduced to a seemingly extremely powerful artificial intelligence. In his essay, Heidegger tells us that technology like this may be fated to be invented. Looking at both “Neuromancer” and “The Question Concerning Technology”, we can find possible implications of technology in the world we live in today. As readers, this should concern us. The world of “Neuromancer” is not one that seems as enjoyable to live in. Is there anything we can do to stop modern technology from taking control of our lives, like it has in “Neuromancer”?

Works Cited

Gibson, Willam. Neuromancer. New York: Berkely Group, 1984. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. "The Question Concerning Technology." Technology Studies. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1-23. Web.


Adam said...

I think that fate (whether in a Heideggarian sense or not) is a good thing to think about in *Neuromancer*, so I do like the topic. I do think there's some odd slippage in your introduction, though - just because a work is about the future doesn't necessarily mean that it's concerned with fate, does it? If you want to argue that Neuromancer is focused upon fate, you should do so more explicitly, I think.

I don't understand what you are doing with H. in the 2nd paragraph. Heidegger here is interested in the fact that physics has certain assumptions which are *fundamental* to it, and that it therefore cannot abandon or get outside of - in particular, the idea that objects, forces, and their interactions are always calculable. I don't understand what this has to do with the ubiquity of technology in *Neuromancer*. Maybe you are implicitly assuming that Heidegger is interesting in the ubiquity of physics/calculation - but he's interested in something beyond that: its totalizing worldview.

The third paragraph seems to move in the direction of arguing that Wintermute has something to do with the fate of technology (or of the essence of technology?). I'm fine with this approach - I like it, even - but it needs to be handled more rigorously, through details. This essay, then, could/should be about the idea that Wintermute = technological destiny. That would be a rather difficult and ambitious argument, but also focused and very interesting.

Overall: Sometimes you move toward making a specific argument about Neuromancer. To me, you seem to be edging toward an argument about fate & technology. But sometimes you retreat into something much vaguer and less interesting - the simple and familiar observation that technology has a lot of control over our ideas. If you revise, you want to strip out all the generalizations and really draw out the more interesting & precise ideas which are beginning to emerge here.

Brendan Demich said...


To improve your argument, consider the quote you use from “The Question Concerning Technology” The quote you use doesn’t quite introduce you thesis or support it strongly. To remedy the problem, you would either need to use a different quote, or make the rest of the paper more relevant to this quote. Another way to improve your argument would be to focus on how it is significant that our cybernetic world could become like the Neuromancer universe, as oppose to centralizing that it could.

What I would want to see more of in your paper is developing the examples you introduce. For example, you would want to expand on the topic of the public having a permanent connection to technology and the web. I appreciate that you help introduce your interpretation of Heidegger’s quotes. I would want to see more relation between what you interpret from Heidegger, and what you associate it with in Neuromancer and the real world.

Something you should cut back on is the points you are making in the first paragraph. Perhaps you could use your examples, but you will need to refine the associated argument to fit what you to argue.

Some final notes I have are…

Your conclusion really helped me to figure out what you wanted to argue. I could see how you were close to arguing it, but you will need to work on making the whole paper towards one argument

Your conclusion is fairly strong. I’m not saying to ignore revising it, especially if you refocus your argument on something else.

Good luck with your revision