Saturday, November 19, 2016

Neuromancer, Leary's S.M.I L.E. and the 23 Enigma

"Technology invariably trumps ideology.  We develop ideologies as a way of coping with technologies; technology as drivers, ideologies as attempts to steer."

 - Mass Consensual Hallucinations with William Gibson  

The previous post gave information on the technology of Orb Running; more generally, it gave information on a technology for transformative brain change.  S.M.I.2L.E., an acronym devised by Timothy Leary, formulates an open-ended, endlessly ramifying ideology for the future: Space Migration + Intelligence Increase + Life Extension. It serves as a practical formula for individuals on any kind of evolutionary trajectory as well as providing a conceptual basis for the advancement of collective human endeavor; a reach for the stars.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson, gives a compelling and visceral literary expression of the S.M.I.2L.E. paradigm.  For example, the book populates the L4 and L5 orbital belts, where Gerard K. O'Neil and Timothy Leary wanted to establish space colonies, with worlds that resemble Leary's High Orbital Mini Earths (H.O.M.E.s), but with a realistic, gritty, human portrayal as opposed to Leary's more utopian vision.  That covers Space Migration in the conventional exterior sense. Space Migration also gets implied in the interior sense through the characters adventures in cyberspace.  Life Extension turns up in two prominent ways. The power-elite clan, the Tessier-Ashpools, keep their own meat carcasses frozen in cryogenic suspension with timed intervals of reanimation in order to extend their physical life span.  Online immortality gets a play through the character of Dixie Flatline whose mind and personality managed to get downloaded onto a storage device before his meat carcass died in a cyberspace misadventure.  Dixie seems mentally as sharp as ever when the personality/mind  recording  (a soul recording?) from his deceased body gets uploaded back into the matrix.  He frequently becomes Case's (main protagonist) guide and informant in the cyberspace realm whenever Case jacks into the matrix. Both of these forms of Life Extension get a dystopian treatment in Neuromancer, a radical departure from Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson's hyperbolic optimism on the subject.  The Tessier-Ashpools complain of the cryogenic cold they can feel, the patriarch ends up committing suicide to get away from it.  They are the richest, most powerful family and they are also the coldest.  They're almost all cold.  No social/political/economic metaphor there! Dixie Flatline hints at some dark existential suffering and asks Case to delete him after his duties have been discharged.

The central part of the S.M.I.2L.E. formula, Intelligence Increase, seems the least obvious, the most occult and hidden in the book, yet also the most optimistic.  Most of the events in Neuromancer get put into motion by a huge Artificial Intelligence named Wintermute, a veritable V.A.L.I.S. - a Vast Active Living Intelligence System.  In this regard, it's interesting to hear Gibson in a 2010 interview with Steve Paikin suggest that Google is an Artificial Intelligence; "[it's a] vast hive mind that consists of us."  Wintermute was designed and put into existence by one of the Tessier-Ashpools (3Jane if I remember correctly) to mute the winter, the incessant coldness that seeps into the bones of the cryogenically frozen.  This coldness seems more than physical discomfort and pain, a sense gets conveyed of emotional and existential coldness as well.  That the AI Wintermute becomes a solution to this problem implies that whoever designed it can transfer their awareness and cognitive abilities out of their frozen meat carcasses and into its vast active living intelligence system.  I would call that an increase in intelligence to have that ability.

Gibson borrows the idea of I.C.E., which stands for Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, from fellow science fiction writer, Tom Maddox, to protect the architectonic structures of propietary corporate data.  To penetrate any large system of data in cyberspace you first have to cut through the ICE.  Qabalistically speaking, ice is frozen water and water always relates to emotions.  In this light, ICE becomes a metaphor for Wilhelm Reich's concept of emotional armor.  The name Wintermute suggests a shedding of this ice, this emotional armor, on a vast scale. Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics seems one of those puns with two completely opposite meanings.  The intelligence increase communicated in Neuromancer primarily concerns emotional intelligence of the higher kind; what Leary and Wilson refer to as circuit 6 in their model.  This emotional intelligence appears refreshingly free of sentimentality; sentimentality = sense the mental, not real emotional intelligence at all.

Gibson seems so tuned in and turned on to Leary's vision that I attempted to find out what kind of influence Leary had on him before he wrote the book.  I couldn't find any evidence that he'd ever read Leary or Wilson, but also didn't have much time to research it. Leary and Gibson certainly bonded after Neuromancer published.  Leary developed the video game Neuromancer based on the book.  He also included the two obvious life extension methods Gibson put in the novel in a 1991 essay for Magical Blend magazine: 22 Alternatives to Involuntary Death.  This got expanded and is currently available as the book Alternatives To Involuntary Death.

In an interview Leary did with Gibson, the good doctor mentioned that the only book he'd ever annotated besides Neuromancer was Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  He went on to relate how he'd received Gravity's Rainbow in prison after a long spell of no books in solitary confinement; like eating an incredible meal when starving.  No wonder he took a strong imprint with that book.  Gibson related that when he got Gravity's Rainbow he retired from all other activity for several days to read and reread it; voluntary solitary confinement.  Neuromancer and Gravity's Rainbow are two very different books, but what they both have in common is the frequent and visceral portrayal of death, so much so that you could say it becomes a character or an underlying omnipresent condition.  Neuromancer (the name of the book, but also the name of an AI character in the book, Wintermute's twin, thus revealing the book as a form of AI) gives it away in the first sentence, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."  Leading with, "The sky," ending with "dead channel" suggests viewing death as a transcendent change as opposed to an absolute nihilistic end or some other terrible thing.  The title Gravity's Rainbow commonly gets explained as indicating the rainbow-like trajectory of the V-2 rocket as gravity pulls it to Earth.  Pynchon, known for his multiple meanings and levels of writing as well as his expertise in qabalah (see Against the Day), could just as well have named it Gravity's Rainbow to indicate the trajectory of a person's life as it's brought back down to the ground through gravity of death.  In popular mythology, rainbow means God's promise or just hope, so if we see it as the gravity of death, then the rainbow indicates some kind of transcendent promise or hope.  Again, death appearing as as transcendent change.

In turn, Neuromancer appears to have influenced Pynchon, particularly in his last book, Bleeding Edge, in which the internet and the deep web play as strong a role in the plot's landscape as the matrix did in Neuromancer.  The powerful antagonist putting up great obstacles in Bleeding Edge is named Gabriel Ice. Pynchon would know that Archangel Gabriel represents the element Water in qabalah; Gabriel Ice reinforces the notion of water (emotions) that is frozen.  Pynchon seems to have to same intent as Gibson did with ICE though connecting it more with the everyday human world by making it a main character. 

There are 24 chapters in Neuromancer and there are 24 stages in Leary's 8 Circuit model of consciousness as given in his book The Game of Life.  I remember Leary prefacing a lot of the stages and circuits with neuro: neurosomatic, neuroelectric, neurogenetic, neuroatomic etc. then a few years later out comes Neuromancer which seems like a doctoral thesis on S.M.I.2L.E.

I believe this illustration is by Bobby Campbell, but I'm not certain.

We see more I2 information in the names Gibson gives his characters.  One of them, Finn, is a surrogate used by Wintermute to deliver messages and help out Case.  He seems to pop up at random times throughout such that when he reappears you could say, "There's Finn again." I made the connection to Finnegans Wake in the first post, but there's more.  The initials of the main male character in Finnegans Wake is HCE, in Neuromancer it's HDC (Henry Dorsett Case). The H in Finnegans Wake stands for Humphrey.  We have Humphrey and Henry as the protagonists in the two books. We are told  HCE also stands for Here Comes Everybody in Finnegans Wake suggesting that James Joyce wrote the character to represent everyone or anyone.  Except for one instance, Case is always referred to by his last name.  The pun in his name seems obvious, Case could potentially be anyone, a test subject for the next step.  His middle name, Dorsett = door + set; that appears an obvious qabalistic reference to higher emotional intelligence; door = daleth = the letter "d" = Venus.  The difference between HCE and HDC is the letter D in the latter.  The main female character, Molly Millions, suggests Tiphareth because of the 6 zeroes in the numerical form of her last name.  Except for one mention, her last name is hidden throughout, she's only known as Molly.

At some point toward the end of my most recent voyage through Neuromancer I began to wonder if Gibson had ever read Robert Anton Wilson.  I knew he was very influenced by William Burroughs, it becomes quite obvious at times. The 23 Enigma represents one clear point of conjunction between Wilson and Burroughs.  Burroughs first noticed the coincidence of the number 23 in relation to two disasters, a ferry boat sinking and a plane crash he heard about on the radio.  No record of that plane crash has been found so it's possible he made the whole thing up or was implanted with a false memory to get the information out.  It certainly didn't stop synchronicities with 23 from wreaking ontological havoc with many otherwise skeptical minds.  Not long after I began this wondering, actually almost instantly, I came across the following passage on p. 189:

She smiled, but it was gone too quickly, and she gritted her teeth at the stabbing pain in her leg as she began to climb.  The ladder continued up through a metal tube, barely wide enough for her shoulders. She was climbing up out of gravity toward the weightless axis
Her chip pulsed the time.

The character climbing up is Molly, with Case there virtually.  He has a device that lets him switch from the matrix to jack into her nervous system and experience everything she does. This is the first instance we see a time readout, it recurs about 4 or 5 more times though never again with a 23. I couldn't tell if Gibson was hip to the 23 phenomena until I read the first sentence of chapter 23. Most people, after they get afflicted by this condition, ask, "what does it mean, all these 23s?" Wilson writes in Cosmic Trigger, " I accepted the 23 engima as something I should attempt to decipher."  If we consider that this is one of those 23s and that it relates to her climbing out of gravity then a meaning is suggested that connects 23 with some kind of greater or lesser transcendent experience, climbing up the ladder one rung at a time.  I consider it a good sign when I encounter synchs with 23.

The opening sentence of Chapter 23 reads:

Molly fished the key out on its loop of nylon.

I could compose a whole 'nother blog about the qabalistic correspondences in this densely informational innocent looking sentence, but I'll try to restrain this tendency.
fish = Nun = death
both "out" and "on" represent different magick formulas in Crowley's language.
the key = death  ("fished the key") ???
the key = "out" ( the formula of OUT gets explained in Chapter 23 of The Book of Lies) ???
the key = "on" ( see the listing for 120 in 777) ???
the key = out on ???
All of the above, some or none of the above???
Robert Anton Wilson states unequivocally that 23 became an important key for him.

The single name Case always goes by reminded me of Neo from the Matrix trilogy. Case as a prototype, Neo as a prototype.  Molly and Trinity could be twins.  The blatant connection, besides the name, is a Rastafari one: the last human city in the Matrix is Zion, the name of Jah's promised land.  Zion is a small Rasta space colony in Neuromancer.  It's head operator, Maelcum, gives Case much help, eventually rescuing him.  Case has a death/rebirth experience at the end of Chapter 23:

And he woke again thinking he dreamed, to a wide white smile framed with gold incisors, Aerol strapping him into a g-web in Babylon Rocker.
And then the long pulse of Zion dub.

Again, some amazing qabalah.  For instance, "strapping him into a g-web" indicates the path of Gimel which connects Tiphareth and Kether; the heart with Zion.  The High Priestess becomes the guide for that path, in Thelema she is called Babalon and she does become a rock of stability through the nebulous, treacherous terrain of the desert Gimel passes through.  Molly Millions plays  the role of Babalon, the High Priestess, in Neuromancer.  Her last name gives it away. 

Interestingly, Gibson has said that he doesn't care for didactic science fiction stories.  In a 2012 interview with UNCUT posted on YouTube he discusses his writing process:

My job when I write a book is to access a lot of parts of myself that are magical, and they're not particularly remarkable, but they're not available to me ordinarily, they became available to me through the process of writing the book. So I sometimes get the strange sense of sitting there and watching it happening, which is great!  It's good work when you can get it.  I don't get it that often.


  1. Interesting throughout, as always, Oz. Thanks! That last quote from WG was one I hadn't seen but reminded me of other lines from WG when he talked about his writing process. I think "the strange sense of sitting there and watching it happening" is the reason I blog (when I do).

    In Cosmic Trigger Vol III, the essay "Horseman, Pass By," RAW writes about how he got turned on to Gibson by a brilliant gay friend of Arlen and RAW, who later died of AIDS:

    "Don helped turn me on to the rapidity of the computer revolution and the fact that even I could afford a home computer to write my books. He introduced me to networking. He also called to my attention several important writers, including William Gibson, and I rekindled his interest in James Joyce." - p.120

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.