Book Review: Love And Other Thought Experiments

…she took her ID and prepared herself for the retinal scanner. She wondered what the computer saw as the reader slid across her face. Pattern recognition or something more? Humans stared into each other’s eyes for lifetimes, trying to gauge what the other was thinking, feeling. Will you be faithful to me? Will you be kind? The machine verified your identity in seconds and determined if you were trustworthy in a few more. The questions weren’t so different…

Sophie Ward’s Love and Other Thought Experiments started like an innocent novel. Rachel, and Eliza are thinking of having a baby, and that’s when an ant enters Rachel’s eyes. Despite the blurbs on the back which scream that Love and Other Thought Experiments is a philosophical fiction, and the ideas explored in the book are wild, I still presumed that the book was going to follow their relationship, but I couldn’t have been more wrong than that. The book is so compelling that it’s been a day since I finished reading but it continues to linger in my mind, and offers meaning for the parts I couldn’t fathom when I read the book. Imagine this: you go to bed, have bizarre dreams, and wake up with a faint memory about the dream. You do that the next day. The next day. You repeat for 10 days, and you are left with a bouquet of dreams but you don’t know what they would mean if they were stitched together. On the 11the day, the dreams come together, divulging the great design that they produced. Reading Love and Other Thought Experiments is akin to the process of dreaming and collecting dreams, and finally being told what the dreams signify. But the book is even beyond that. It’s just not about a bunch of vignettes being braided together in the last chapter. The book is about how each chapter stands on its own even when the significance of its existence is open to interpretation, and how all the chapters form something beautiful when they finally meet. Quite like the human life itself, perhaps?

Each chapter begins with an epigraph. In her own words, Sophie Ward tells me about thought experiments which deepen the understanding of the human nature. I had heard of some of the experiments, and I was new to many of the ideas, but that didn’t ruin the experience for me. Sophie Ward removes the layers on the ideas, irons them out, places her people on that philosophical landscape, and then tells me their story without ridiculing me for not knowing being philosophical and sciency. Her stories come from many places — love, loss, grief, marriage, relationships, consciousness, artificial intelligence — and they travel from one country to another, one part of the world to another, and one part of the universe to another. As the stories move from one terrain to the next one, the genre bends. At one point in time, the book is a literary fiction. It later morphs into a philosophical fiction. And then it quietly becomes a science fiction. For me, that’s not a complaint. I had invested in her people so much that I was ready to follow them, even to a moon. My tour around the Internet made me realise that the book is detested for how it changes its avatar in the last chapter, and how what was believed to be the ‘big reveal’ was a disappointment. I only wish that the book took some more pages to justify the end. But I can’t imagine an another end.

Love and Other Thought Experiments asks many an important question. What is reality? What does it mean to be alive? What is death? What does it mean to romanticize the past? What is our future? What is technology doing to us? Who is the Creator? What is consciousness? Even when all the questions are answered, would you be happy with the answers? And what helps you on your quest? What is the role of love? Do you get to choose the answers?

I saved the best part of the book for the last paragraph — Sophie Ward’s writing. It’s breathtaking. What could have easily become conceited is rescued by Ward’s confident words, detailed imageries, and earnest effort to make complex concepts accessible in her stories. I vividly remember the chapter on Ali, and the one narrated by the Ant herself. The book’s golden wisdom is unearthed in that chapter. Through the surest words of the ant, I understand the beauty and contradictions and struggles of being human. And I shouldn’t be judged for hoping for a moment that I had an ant in my head, and that she understood me more than I can possibly imagine. The Internet tells me that the ant who lived in Sophie Ward’s keyboard ended up starring in her book. From now on, when I look at ants, I have another reason to smile. And let me borrow a word which the book borrowed from James Joyce, and change its meaning to its actual sound to record my feeling about the book. Ameising.

She wondered if she could even be considered the same person now that every cell in her body had been replaced, more than once. It didn’t seem to matter so much when the effect was growth and health but now that shrinkage and damage were the order of events, it mattered a lot. Was it possible that her mind could escape the same process? Those connections had also been replaced, many times over. Her memories, too, were different, shaded by the events that had taken place since. If you were made of remembrance and your memories changed, did you, who remembered, change too?

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