[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Quantum Night > Further Reading


Further Reading

Copyright © 2016 by Robert J. Sawyer. All Rights Reserved.

[Quantum Night Cover]
SPOILER ALERT: This annotated bibliography of 52 books contains several references to the plot of Robert J. Sawyer's novel Quantum Night. It's best consulted after you've finished reading the book. (This bibliography is included as an appendix to the novel.)
"Sawyer has certainly done his homework."
Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths

As the quote from David Chalmers at the front of this novel (taken from an interview with him in the Summer 1998 issue of the excellent magazine Philosophy Now) says, "It may be a requirement for a theory of consciousness that it contains at least one crazy idea." Throughout this book I put forward a theory that, at first blush, might seem to contain rather substantially more than just the requisite one crazy idea, so let me share this list of some of the nonfiction reading that informed my thinking.

First and foremost, this novel hinges on the notion that consciousness is fundamentally quantum mechanical in nature. The seed for this comes from two books by Sir Roger Penrose:

Penrose, Roger. The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Penrose, Roger. Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

The first one outlines Penrose's logic (based on Gödel's incompleteness theorem) for why human consciousness has to be quantum mechanical. When Penrose first put that idea forward, he had no idea where the quantum-mechanical processes might be taking place. But anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff had the notion that they were occurring in the hydrophobic pockets of microtubules; Penrose elaborates on that thought in the second book, and the two of them have collaborated on several papers since. A recent one that provides a good overview is:

Hameroff, Stuart, and Roger Penrose. "Consciousness in the Universe: A Review of the 'Orch OR' Theory." Physics of Life Reviews 11 (2014) 39-78.

And for a recent update on the whole notion of quantum processes in biological systems, see:

McFadden, Johnjoe, and Jim Al-Khalili. Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology. New York: Crown Publishing, 2015.

My novel also hinges on the notion of the philosopher's zombie, an idea most associated with Australian philosopher David Chalmers, who discusses it many places, including in these excellent books:

Chalmers, David J. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Chalmers, David J. The Character of Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

(I've had the great privilege of getting to know both Stuart Hameroff and David Chalmers. Stuart and David long co-chaired the biennial Science of Consciousness Conference, and, when I gave a keynote address there in 2010, it was Dave who introduced me to the audience.)

Although I'm sure he wouldn't frame it this way, if you want empirical evidence that there really are multitudes of p-zeds mindlessly following authority figures, check out the work of Bob Altemeyer, a now-retired professor of psychology coincidentally at the University of Manitoba (where my character Jim Marchuk teaches). His free PDF ebook available here is compelling:

Altemeyer, Bob. The Authoritarians. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006.

The audio version, with a comprehensive introduction written by former Nixon White House counsel John Dean and updates and reflections added by Altemeyer, is even better; you can get it at Audible.com.

(And for more on Altemeyer's work, see my blog entry here.)

For ways in which our complex behavior could be the result of things other than self-aware consciousness, see:

Duhigg, Charles. Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House, 2012.
Gigerenzer, Gerd. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. New York: Viking Penguin, 2007.
Hood, Bruce. The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Koch, Christof. Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012.
Lieberman, Matthew D. Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. New York: Crown, 2013.
Miller, Peter. The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done. New York: Avery, 2010.
Morse, Eric Robert. Psychonomics: How Modern Science Aims to Conquer the Mind and How the Mind Prevails. Austin: Code Publishing, 2014.
Pagel, Mark. Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.
Pentland, Alex. Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread. New York: Penguin, 2014.
Smart, Andrew. Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing. New York: OR Books, 2013.
Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.
Wilson, Edward O. The Social Conquest of Earth. New York: Liveright, 2012.

I mention mirror neurons as one of the mechanisms supporting the notion of mindless behavior. For a good introduction to them by one of their discoverers, see:

Iacoboni, Marco. Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

For an opposing view see:

Hickok, Gregory. The Myth of Mirror Neurons. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Unlike Chalmers's thought-experiment zombie world, where no one has real consciousness, I posit a three-state model, with each level showing progressively more complex consciousness in successively smaller cohorts. So, cheek by jowl with my p-zeds are legions of psychopaths — and there's an enormous amount of nonfiction written about them. The seminal texts are:

Cleckley, Hervey. The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality. Various publishers; five editions from 1941 to 1984.
Hare, Robert D. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York: Atria, 1993.

One of Hare's last graduate students has a fascinating (and more recent) book, from which I drew the notion of damage to the paralimbic system being a correlate of psychopathy:

Kiehl, Kent. The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience. New York: Crown, 2014.

Meanwhile, Jon Ronson looks into Hare's famed Psychopathy Checklist - Revised in this popular account:

Ronson, Jon. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. New York: Riverhead, 2011.

As I make clear in my novel, psychopathy doesn't necessarily lead to crazed killing sprees. Hare and his collaborator have documented the existence of psychopaths in the workplace:

Babiak, Paul, and Robert D. Hare. Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. New York: HarperBusiness, 2006.

Also on the topic of hidden psychopaths ("sociopath," as I explain in the novel, being an essentially synonymous term):

Stout, Martha. The Sociopath Next Door. New York: Broadway Books, 2005.

And Kevin Dutton — whom I consulted with in creating this novel — contends that psychopathic traits can even be beneficial:

Dutton, Kevin. The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

When I was already well into the writing of my novel, James Fallon published a book about a real-life discovery that echoed some of what my character Jim Marchuk faces:

Fallon, James. The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. New York: Current, 2013.

And a book about the relationships between psychopathic men and nonpsychopathic women:

Brown, Sandra L. Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of Inevitable Harm with Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and Narcissists. Minneapolis: Book Printing Revolution, 2009.

The character of Menno Warkentin in this novel is an experimental psychologist. I've often said that science fiction is a laboratory for thought experiments about the human condition that it would be impractical or unethical to conduct in real life — but, in the days before informed consent, there were some doozies that put my fictional Project Lucidity to shame.

Most famous of all — and, as I argue in this novel, pretty clear evidence of philosopher's zombies in our midst — is the Milgram shock-machine obedience-to-authority study from 1961. Milgram himself recounts it here:

Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

And his life and work are explored in:

Blass, Thomas. The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

And for a largely opposing viewpoint on Milgram's work, see:

Perry, Gina. Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments. New York: The New Press, 2013.

Then there's Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Guard experiment from 1971:

Zimbardo, Philip. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House, 2007.

Milgram was influenced by this famous analysis of the trial of one of the Nazi war criminals, who, in the taxonomy presented in this novel, was almost certainly a Q1:

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking, 1963.

Two more recent books on how Q2s could influence the masses of Q1s, the latter extensively citing Bob Altemeyer:

Rees, Laurence. Hitler's Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss. New York: Pantheon, 2013.
Dean, John W. Conservatives Without Conscience. New York: Viking, 2006.

I'm often called an optimistic writer, and my visions of the future tend to shade toward the utopian. I like to think that's not simple naïveté, and this novel is my attempt to grapple with the notion of human evil, a topic explored in fascinating depth in:

Baumeister, Roy F. Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. New York: W.H. Freeman & Company, 1996.

A couple of more recent treatments, based in neuroscience:

Baron-Cohen, Simon. The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. New York: Basic Books, 2011.
Bloom, Paul. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. New York: Crown, 2013.

My character of Jim Marchuk is a utilitarian philosopher. Peter Singer is the best-known living utilitarian. His classic text is:

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics, Third Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

A good overview of his thought (including his famously controversial views on abortion, animal rights, infanticide, and euthanasia, some of which Jim Marchuk echoes in my novel) is:

Singer, Peter. Writings on an Ethical Life. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.

On the obligation Jim Marchuk discusses of utilitarians to support third-world charities, see:

Singer, Peter. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York: Random House, 2009.

And this is Singer's famous work that kick-started the worldwide animal-rights movement:

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. New York: HarperCollins, 1975.

Harvard professor Joshua Greene looks at the divisiveness in modern societies through a utilitarian lens in this excellent book, which also discusses the Trolley Problem at length:

Greene, Joshua. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: Penguin Press, 2013.

Much of my novel deals with ethics and free will (for those it asserts have it). Good reading:

Cathcart, Thomas. The Trolley Problem: Or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge? New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2013.
Churchland, Patricia S. Brain Trust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Gazzaniga, Michael. Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. New York: Ecco, 2011.
Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press, 2012.

Part of my novel deals with confabulation — or, as one of the characters so succinctly puts it, "just making shit up." In fact, much of what we believe to be real is simply stories we've told ourselves, a faculty that defines us as a species, as explored in these three works:

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Mariner Books, 2012.
Niles, John D. Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

And in what must be a case of nominative determinism for the author:

Storey, Robert. Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of Literary Representation. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996.

Finally, if you liked this novel, you might also particularly enjoy my other novels that deal with the nature of consciousness: The Terminal Experiment, FlashForward, Mindscan, Triggers and the WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder.

More Good Reading

More about Quantum Night
Research bibliography for The Terminal Experiment
Research bibliography for Starplex
Other novels by Robert J. Sawyer
Short stories by Robert J. Sawyer
More sample chapters

About Rob
Book Clubs
Short Stories
Press Kit
How to Write
Email Rob
Canadian SF



Copyright © 1995-2016 by Robert J. Sawyer.