The word “psychopath” strikes terror. While most people imagine psychopaths to be extremely rare serial killers, in fact, most psychopaths are not murderers, but exploitative and terrorising managers, bosses, politicians, drug dealers, pharmaceutical CEOs, family members, clergy, atheists, police, teachers, and others we’ve met and under whom we’ve suffered.
The Canadian researcher Robert Hare is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of psychopathy; he developed a screening test called the Psychopathic Check List (Revised) or PCL-R, and estimates that approximately one percent of people, or around 70 million humans, are psychopaths.
But Robert J. Sawyer thinks otherwise. Sawyer is one of Canada’s most celebrated novelists with endless awards and accolades. His carefully-researched science fiction novels have earned acclaim across the globe. And his latest novel, Quantum Night, theorises that psychopaths aren’t one percent of humanity, but two-sevenths—that is, about two billion people.
And wait: it gets worse. That another four billion people are not figuratively, but literally mindless—so-called “philosopher’s zombies” or P-Zeds who speak and act just like we do, but who have no interior life whatsoever: the talking dead.
Sawyer’s latest novel—which I regard as his best ever—is as intellectually provocative as it is chilling, and as he revealed to me before any other media source, it may be his final one. The book is about a Canadian psychologist, Jim Marchuk, who realises that psychopathy may be a quantum mechanical event that will end the world—unless he can end it first.
Rob Sawyer spoke with me by Skype from his home outside Toronto on February 23, 2016. We discussed:
Along the way, I cite the DSM-V, or the fifth edition of the North American “bible” of psychological diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Full disclosure: Rob Sawyer and I have been friends for over a decade.
We began by discussing the novel’s fascinating and disturbing central idea: that psychopathy and intelligence itself arises from a quantum-mechanical setting in the microtubules of neurons.