Quantum Confessions – Stephen Oram (8/10)

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Imagine that just 10 years from now, a new era of politics is upon us in which a coalition dedicated to total liberalisation comes to power. Education and healthcare are put back into the hands of the people, prohibition of all drugs is abolished and campaigns are run to persuade the populace that there is no absolute truth: meaning is subjective and individuality is freedom. This has the effect of dividing people like never before. As we know them today, religion and science are most often seen as opposing and incompatible views. Yet in a world where belief in an objective reality of any sort is outlawed, these two ‘camps’ become united.

Quantum Confessions is a clever exploration of this idea, demonstrating the theoretical problems that could come of a society of individuals with little or no shared purpose. The reader is led to question: Is our innate desire to form connections with others vital to our survival? Is the joy arising from shared experiences what makes us human? How would we cope without a structure to make us feel secure, and how long would it take us to adapt if it were to be removed from right under our feet?

This is a reality lived out by characters Aled and Grey, who have alternating chapters to show different perspectives. Both have come of age during the changing political climate described above, and both are testimony to background and childhood experience affecting what we think and believe as adults. Both have difficult choices to make, battles to fight in and outside of themselves, and ultimate tests of faith to face.

Along with social philosophy, Oram bravely takes on the concept of the observer effect which is particularly relevant in modern physics. Put simply, this is the idea that the mere act of observing a phenomenon changes its effects. In the quantum world, observation changes something from a possible to an actual occurrence. Heisenberg stressed that the observer only has the function of registering decisions and not influencing them, and that it could just as easily be a piece of apparatus as a human being. But there are groups of people who have taken this scientific development to mean the observer is a subjective force in nature, consciously or unconsciously choosing the reality that is played out. These differences in belief behind what is essentially the same scientific research are illustrated very nicely in the core plot of the book.

I found it refreshing to read an intelligent contemporary novel that builds on popular theories of our time. There are some interesting thoughts about forthcoming advances in technology and culture in here, and although the story is set in the future they are all easily conceivable which makes the subject matter all the more poignant. There are some nice changes of setting throughout the story too: the contrast of a Buddhist monastery in China and the urban-dystopian streets of London is very effective.

In summary I consider this to be an exciting debut novel, dealing with several complex ideas with admirable ease. Although I didn’t come away feeling I had read anything spectacular in terms of artistic prose or structure, the impressions it left behind were meaningful and lasting. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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