Thomas Bible and Neil Cassidy have been arguing since college as only the closest of friends can – specifically The Argument that is founded in cognitive science about the root of consciousness and free will itself. Thomas, now a professor at Columbia University, has moved on to a family life complete with an ex-wife and 2 kids. In a drunken evening Neil reveals to Thomas that he has been covertly working for the NSA in neuroscience, making unimaginable leaps in neurosurgery and cognitive understanding without the hindrance of ethical constraints. Thomas is horrified when he realizes that the Neil is essentially a rogue agent elevating The Argument to a new level and now one of the FBI’s most wanted.
For a thriller, Neuropath takes a slower pace – the entire book occurs over the course of about two weeks with only a few bursts of action. The real action occurs internally and in verbal sparring as The Argument is laid out repeatedly and the horrors of Neil’s plan become more visible, if not more clear. The appropriate twists occur along the way, calling the anticipated conclusion into question – and the conclusion itself provides the perfect ending for Bakker’s Argument, if not for a reader’s sense of mind.
Thomas and Neil’s Argument is the point of the book and Bakker’s Argument as well – an Author’s Afterward lifts the veil of fiction to the reality of modern cognitive science. Simply said (and I’m sure not very accurately said), The Argument is that consciousness and all that goes with it (such as free will) is an illusion that our brains trick us into believing. This delusion drives the actions of humanity and its many short-comings. The real kicker is that our brains’ ability to rationalize almost insures that we will never allow ourselves to believe The Argument. Neuropath lays out The Argument, all of its disturbing implications and horrific potential.
Fans of philosophy and deep intellectual debate will eat up The Argument as it consumes them – I lost a bit of sleep and have brought its implications into many a conversation since reading Neuropath. But Bakker suffers some of the flaws of a fire and brimstone preacher relentlessly pounding his point into the reader’s head. This righteous repetition eventually becomes tiresome, further encouraging rationalization of The Argument – of course I think that Bakker in all his efforts to convert the reader to the truth of The Argument is as frightened of its implications as the rest of us.
If you read other reviews and commentary of Neuropath, words like disturbing and horrific abound. The physical act of arguing The Argument does in fact horrify. At no point can I actually say that the book is overtly graphic, but Bakker brings the reader to the brink and lets them imagine the rest – which, at least in my case, does lead to horrifically graphic scenes. The direct assault on common moral code and the human condition drives the reader’s reaction and the truly disturbing horror invoked. However, for those that have followed the building buzz, disappointment may be the result of repeatedly hearing how horrific and disturbing Neuropath is.
With Neuropath Bakker succeeds in having his cake and eating too in this intellectually stimulating techno-thriller. It’s not a book for everyone, but does work on multiple levels and will be a book to talk about. 8/10