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VWN Book Quotes Database - Mona Lisa Overdrive, Page: 116
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Book Quotes: Death Through Unplugging?

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Source: Mona Lisa Overdrive, Page: 116

"Listen, buddy," Cherry said, "you interrupt his input, you maybe kill 'im; his autonomic nervous system'll go tits-up.

Our Thoughts on this Quote

A cautionary quote, referring to a discussion in the book concerned, about unplugging someone who is in long-term interface with a full virtual reality, envirronment, to the point that their body's needs are being cared for by the computer systems practically built around him.

`In other words, the most realistic solution to the needs of the body whilst the mind is in simulation have been applied here. Two system,s working in tandem. One, the simulation, has its hooks into the mind of the person using it. Every thought, every nerve impulse, interfaces with the system in one way or another, and their somatosensory system is completely slave to this internal reality.

That is fair enough, and exactly what we would expect from an ultimate VR interface - no concept of the outside world enters the user's brain at all, unless the system allows it.

However, it is the secondary system which is more interesting. Normally if your mind is absent from the needs of your body for long periods, problems start to develop. The needs to eat, to drink, to pee or dispose of other waste matter are the first to come to mind, but there are many others.

rest in the same position for too long and pressure sores will soon develop. These will soon turn into open wounds, and over time the tissue will literally fall apart around them. In RL cases where someone is stuck in one position for weeks or months, their flesh falls apart entirely; even exposing unbroken bones to the outside world - even in some cases, the spine - whilst they live on, in unspeakable pain.

Pressure sores are not the only enemy either. You have cleanliness and the itching, aching sores that may follow if that is not kept up. Hair growth and matting, creating breeding grounds for parasitic mites and other insects to thrive. Muscles atrophy if they are not used long term, wasting away until there is practically nothing left.

In short, whilst the mind is away, slowly but surely, the body dies.

In order to prevent that whilst still being in VR, you need a second system quasi-separate to the first. Whereas the first looks after the mind, the second looks after the body. It sees to all needs, exercises the muscles, moves the body's position regularly to avoid pressure sores forming, and keeps things clean. Maintains things in a holding pattern until the mind returns.

More advanced systems than this basic type (which itself is far beyond us), would care for the body in every way, slaving the autonomic systems into itself. So, if in the user';s mind their simulated heart feels like it is about to explode, there is no danger of the brain sending signals to the physical heart, thinking its having a heart attack. Instead, whilst the user is plugged in, everything running down the vagus nerve is nice and quiet. Well regulated and properly behaved.

Therein also lays the problem. Under such a system as described above, if the user is forcibly disconnected from the system, then they are not just disconnected from the simulation, but from the computers keeping their body alive and their needs managed, as well. So, suddenly, the heart and diaphragm go from nice, regular, soothing instructions, to absolutely nothing at all.

Yes, the brain will take over eventually, but you've just pulled it from a simulation against its will and totally unexpectedly. So, rather than a gradual wake-up where the brain is prepared both by itself and by the simulation software, to resume its old duties - perhaps embodiment in a virtual body more closely aligned to their physical one - the mind is instead plucked wholesale from whatever they were inhabiting, and dumped back home.

If the body they were controlling in the VR is too far removed, too alien compared to the one the mind naturally controlled, then the brain has become used to controlling that body and needs a few minutes to figure out what to do in this one.

Unfortunately, with the input savagely pulled, during those few minutes, the body is receiving either no instruction at all, or more likely, very random and unpredictable instructions from the brain. In layspeak then, their autonomic systems crash, with no support whilst the brain figures out what to do.

With no medical support on hand, and no help from the monitoring computer - which has just been thoughtlessly unplugged - the most likely outcome is that the user simply dies. The same as a fish out of water, suddenly thrust on land, it would by no means be a pleasant, or peaceful death either.

The more heavily the base functions are integrated with any control system, the more careful you have to be when taking that control system away.

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About the Book 'Mona Lisa Overdrive'
By William Gibson
Produced By Spectra

Mona Lisa Overdrive, penned in 1988, is the third and final book of William Gibson?s Sprawl trilogy, and also, his third book. Following on the heels of Neuromancer and Count Zero, Overdrive is by far the most lightweight of the trio, basing more in reflected glory from the other books, than attempting to stand on its own.

Set in the same world as the other two, some twenty years after Count Zero, it has lost the feeling of fast-paced change, as both technologically and culturally it feels almost stagnant, unchanging.

Borrowing heavilly on past character ...
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