"Conscious and Unable to Think"

Alexander Rosenthal '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

In William Gibson's futuristic novel, Neuromancer , the protagonist, Case, develops a strong, life-threatening drug addiction to cope with his separation from the Matrix. Case deplores the needs of what he refers to as "meat," his physical body, and uses central nervous-system stimulants to enhance his physical reality and at the same time supplant his thoughts with feelings. After a night of betaphenethylamine high on Freeside, Case has the following experience:

The high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh growing solid, the drug-flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He couldn't think. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to think. He seemed to become each thing he saw: a park bench, a cloud of white moths around an antique streetlight, a robot gardener striped diagonally with black and yellow...

He still had his anger. That was like being rolled in some alley and waking to discover your wallet still in your pocket, untouched. He warmed himself with it, unable to give it a name or an object. [pp. 149-150]


1. What does it mean, to be "conscious and unable to think"? Are there any times in our everyday lives we experience this?

2. Drug use occurs throughout Neuromancer , for characters including Case, Riviera, the Zionites, and Cath. Why do drugs play such an important role in Gibson's world? And why does Case have such a strong compulsion to use them?

3. Anger and hate also play an important role in the story, especially at the end. What influence do these feelings have on Case? Does Gibson advocate embracing anger and hate to improve our abilities? And how does this fixation on anger relate back to the phrase, "conscious and unable to think"?

4. How does the separation between Case's thought and feelings parallel the separation between Wintermute and Neuromancer? Can we classify Wintermute and Neurmancer by one representing thought and the other emotion, and if so, which is which?


Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.

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Last modified 14 February 2005