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I just finished William Gibson's Neuromancer and I'm still puzzled by the famous password that Lady 3Jane is the only one to know, the password needed to remove the restraining bolt on Wintermute.

It's not stated clearly :

and his voice the cry of a bird
unknown,
3Jane answering in song, three
notes, high and pure.
A true name.

I thought about Wintermute or Neuromancer, but both have 4 syllables.

2
  • 7
    Finnally, a cyberpunk question :) Oct 26, 2011 at 0:08
  • 15
    I only count three syllables in "Wintermute."
    – Pixel
    Jan 28, 2012 at 20:31

2 Answers 2

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William gives his answer here.

As to what the word is, well, I never considered it to be a word, really, though 3Jane, teasingly, calls it one. It is in fact three “notes”, something akin to birdcall. The key to the cipher, that is, is revealed as being purely tonal, musical, rather than linguistic.

4
  • Thanks! I was disappointed with the answer... No great mystery after all. Feb 4, 2013 at 22:07
  • @IgalZeifman it would be more disappointing if he had declined to answer, because (as long as he's making it up completely, not drawing from some other reference). At least we know the truth this way :). Well, maybe--"a true name"? What's that part supposed to mean? True names are tones? If you want mystery, you could wonder if there's some meaning here that he's sidestepped revealing.
    – msouth
    Oct 2, 2014 at 7:13
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    "True name" is a magical idea, maybe Gibson was just referencing this since it seems sort of related to a special word that will "let the genie out of the bottle" so to speak.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 23, 2015 at 1:00
  • "True Names" is also the title of a Cyberpunk novel by Vernor Vinge (1981), published the same years Gibson came up with Burning Chrome. It basically transposes the magical idea into the "computer space" (do hacker handles come from this juvenile but joyful idea?). Neuromancer is from 1984. May 23, 2020 at 22:02
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By "true name(s)", I think Gibson is referring to the AI having "true" names that are not their Turing codes (they are registered under the monikers 'Wintermute' and 'Neuromancer', respectively - but they also possess their own names, presumably, to which we are not privy). Case asks both the AI for their names but we never learn them. It makes a certain kind of sense that something inhuman would not be named according to linguistics.

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    Whilst a nice theory it is worth noting that the accepted and top answer has the author’s word on what they are. It doesn’t necessarily contradict your answer but it is worth keeping in mind.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    May 23, 2020 at 18:55

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