Artificial Dreamtime

Jonathan Wang, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

The realm of the Sprawl in Gibson's famous trilogy offers an intriguing look into the advance of technology as replacement of the human experience. Not only is the future capable of fully enhancing or recreating fractured human bodies, but also it can provide an intense stimulus for the mind, simulating a dream. People who lose their bodies, such as in Count Zero, can have them reconstructed; likewise, those lacking imagination can have that void filled with simstim entertainment.

He"d used decks in school, toys that shuttled you through the infinite reaches of that space that wasn't space, mankind's unthinkably complex consensual hallucination, the matrix, cyberspace, where the great corporate hotcores burned like neon novas, data so dense you suffered sensory overload if you tried to apprehend more than the merest outlines. [39]

Not only is the complex technology capable of compressing all space into the volume of one's brain, but it tends to push time, as well, forming a new kind of reality. Days are pressed into minutes, miles into nanometers, as the influence of cyberspace produces an artificial dream world. When Case jacks in and experiences brain death in the finale of Neuromancer, he is subject to Neuromancer's expansive cyber-construct and perceives whole days on a vast beach while actually lying still for mere minutes. The chapters spent in Case's dream are put into perspective by Maelcum's greeting upon Case's return from Neuromancer.

"Case? Mon?" The music.

"You back, mon."

The music was taken from his ears.

"How long?" he heard himself ask, and knew that his mouth was very dry.

"Five minute, maybe. Too long. I wan' pull th' jack, Mute seh no. Screen goin' funny, then Mute seh put th" phones on you."

He opened his eyes. Maelcum's features were overlayed with bands of translucent hieroglyphs. [237]

Whenever Case's cyberspace adventures are interrupted by AI, he undergoes braindeath and enters a different reality of time and space. Are the actions of the AI similar to that of a vision-granting god, as in the Australian Aborigine's concept of Dreamtime or the trances of tribal shamans in prayer? Is Case a cyber priest?

How does the drastic compression of space-time experienced in cyberspace reflect on the mentality of Gibson's universe? Does he suggest the need for escapism, or the reliance on this "consensual hallucination"? In what ways does the hallucination cease acting on a consensual basis?

Does the perceived dream blur the lines of reality for Gibson's characters? As one sphere of reality becomes steadily more important than the other, as in the case of Case or Bobby's soap-obsessed mother, does the original perception of reality invert? Does one exist more in the "space that wasn't space," and how does one know? See the famous butterfly parable of Chuang Tzu:

Are there cyberspace nightmares? Can control over the synthetic dream be totally lost, resulting in a chaotic clash of confusion, due to a glitch or an error? Similarly, can the dreamer, as in the realspace phenomenon of "lucid dreaming" and Dream Yoga, achieve total control over the cybernetic dreamworld?

Dreams are believed to be a window into certain aspects of reality, ranging from prophetic visions to a candid glimpse into somebody's inner psyche. In what ways do artificial dreams, then, interact with the real world? Does Gibson portray cyberspace similarly, as reflections of truth in the real world, or is it the other way around?


Gibson, William Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

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

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 26 September 2006