Book Review: Quantum Night

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Quantum Night is the latest from Canadian sci-fi author Robert Sawyer. In it, two researchers independently discover two techniques to identify psychopaths objectively, and they come together to try and figure out the implications of their discoveries.

Some interesting themes raised in the book:

What struck me about this book is how “un-fictiony” it felt for sci-fi. I am glad that Sawyer took on the topic of psychology which is extremely relevant in today’s society.. In the age of Brexit and the post-factual democracy, human psychology has been harnessed/exploited by corporations, politicians, algorithms, military, and on and on.. It can get a little depressing to think about, knowing we are mostly helpless agents against ourselves. Of course there are good guys working other angles too (e.g. Nudge).

Although it is possible to become self-aware of our own individual psychological tendencies, and to recognize if someone is using questionable tactics to convince us of something, this takes a lot of effort, and thus it’s practically impossible to completely eliminate our innate tendencies entirely. Even if one person could do it, it’s certainly not possible to achieve this at the larger level of a society. Ultimately, then, I think our society is bound to suffer further Brexit and Trump-like eventualities, until such time we consciously reorganize our institutions (political systems, corporations, etc) to properly take into account the fallibilities of human psychology and put in guards against their exploitation.

It sounds a bit crazy, but machines might actually be able to help us here!

PZs

Another topic raised in the book is the concept of “pz’s” as Sawyer called them, people who act and behave just like normal people but internally (unbeknownst to anyone), are not actually conscious. While these people were viewed with horror and disdain (at least by the characters in the novel), it did occur to me that this notion of a clear mind / living entirely in the moment, is something of an achievement if you are an existentialist or a Buddhist. There are people actively trying to blot out their consciousness for a few moments of zen. So maybe a lifetime of pz would represent the ultimate fulfillment? Or does it only count if you consciously surrender your consciousness? ;)

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed the book although the ending felt a little rushed, and I kept hoping for one final twist that never came.

One thing I love about Sawyer’s novels are the education factor. While you keep turning the pages to see how the story unfolds, there are plenty of interesting ideas and references scattered throughout, bread crumbs to return to later and revisit should you wish.

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