Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, 2017

homo duesHaving secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and our current values, humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness, and divinity.  pp. 21

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Yuval argues that humanity’s next major pursuits will include ending death, ending unhappiness, and ending the limitations of human limitations on our bodies and minds.

Humanity has already made transformational changes across history, by near-total elimination of famine, pandemic illness, and war.  But changing technology and changing myths will allow us to pursue new aims.  The end of hunger, illness, and war once seemed absurd, something that only the gods could end—if they were not participating in or causing these events themselves.

Our myths shifted from god being central to humans being central.  They will shift once again, with data processing becoming central, as humans come to rely more on algorithms for advice and upgraded powers.

This book shares much with Sapiens, and it’s helpful to have read Sapiens before starting.  Especially important in both books are the power of intersubjective realities—commonly held myths that allow transactions to occur that would otherwise be impossible (e.g., trading worthless green money because everyone believes that it has value, which actually makes it valuable and makes transactions possible).

While in the past fictive gods and nations were able to “cause” pain through famine or “grant” victory through war, in the future our technology will be powerful enough to change many intersubjective realities into objective realities in much more direct and literal ways.  In the past, intersubjective realities allowed people to “live on” in heaven. In the future, intersubjective realities will foster that development of technology that will allow people to actually live on, either here on earth, or in digital worlds that make heaven a reality.

As in Sapiens, Harari discusses a broad range of interesting topics, and insightfully analyzes them on the way to cleverly revealing underlying causes or overarching connections.  At the same time, he weaves these ideas together into a coherent, entertaining, and convincing thesis about what major projects humans will pursue in the near future.

While the book’s primary thesis is interesting, the way Harari musters and presents evidence to support it is often times more interesting. As you see in the quotes below, there is a broad range of topics covered, and he pulls no punches.  I hope that in the future he writes longer explorations of some of the concepts he briefly hints at in this book.

A final point of interest is the way that Homo Deus is influenced by Buddhist principles and meditation practices.  I learned recently that Harari is a devoted meditator, meditating two hours daily, and taking annual silent retreats of forty to sixty days.  The influence of meditation can be seen in his thoughts on reality, sentience, and consciousness.

Ideas per Page:1 9/10 (high)

Related Books: Sapiens by Harari

Recommend to Others: Yes, after reading his first book. Between the two, read Sapiens

Reread Personally:  Probably not, read Sapiens again.

Quotes:

32 The right to the pursuit of happiness, originally envisaged as a restraint on state power, has imperceptibly morphed into the right to happiness—as if human beings have a natural right to be happy, and anything which makes us dissatisfied is a violation of our basic human rights, so the state should do something about it.

36 The only thing that makes people miserable is unpleasant sensations in their own bodies.   … A thousand things make us angry, but anger is never an abstraction.  It is always felt as a sensation of heat and tension in the body, which is what makes anger so infuriating.

40-1 What some people hope to get by studying, working or raising a family, other try to obtain far more easily through the right dosage of molecules.  This is an existential threat to the social and economic order, which is why countries wage a stubborn, bloody, and hopeless war on biochemical crime.

47 Yet there are no good answers to the question, “What would being with a different kind of mind do with biotechnology?”

150 Nobody in twelfth-century England knew what human rights were.  You want to travel to the Middle East and risk your life not in order to kill Muslims, but to protect one group of Muslims from another?  You must be out of your mind.

That’s how history unfolds.  People weave a web of meaning, believe in it with all their heart, but sooner or later the web unravels, and when we look back we cannot understand how anybody could have taken it seriously.

151 …this ability to create intersubjective entities also separates the humanities from the life sciences.  Historians seek to understand the development of intersubjective entities like gods and nations, whereas biologists hardly recognize the existence of such things.

152 As human fictions are translated into genetic and electronic codes, the intersubjective reality will swallow up the objective reality and biology will merge with history.

163 It may sound strange to credit imaginary entities with building or controlling things.  But nowadays we habitually say that the United States built the first nuclear bomb, that China built the Three Gorges Dam or that Google is building an autonomous car.  Why not say then, that pharaoh built a reservoir and Sobek dug a canal?

169 When schools began assessing people according to precise numerical marks, the lives of millions of students and teachers changed dramatically.  Marks are a relatively new invention.  Hunter-gatherers were never marked for their achievements, and even thousands of years after the Agricultural Revolution, few education establishments used precise marks.

170 Originally, schools were supposed to focus on enlightening and educating students and marks were merely a means of measuring success.  But naturally enough schools soon began focusing on achieving high marks.  As every child, teacher and inspector know, the skills required to get high marks in an exam are not the same as a true understanding of literature, biology or mathematics.  Every child, teacher and inspector also knows that when forced to choose between the two, most schools will go for the marks.

177 When a country suffers a defeat in war, the county doesn’t really suffer.  It’s just a metaphor.  In contrast, when a soldier is wounded in battle, he really does suffer. … This is reality.

180 It is often said that God helps those who help themselves.  This is a roundabout way of saying that God doesn’t exist, but if our belief in Him inspires us to do something ourselves—it helps.  Antibiotics, unlike God, help even those who doesn’t help themselves.  They cure infections whether you believe in them or not.

182 Religion is any all-encompassing story that confers superhuman legitimacy on human laws, norms and values.  It legitimizes human social structures by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws.

183 Every society tells its members that they must obey some superhuman moral law, and that breaking this law will result in catastrophe.

199 Religion is interested above all in order.  It aims to create and maintain the social structure.  Science is interested above all in power.  Through research, it aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food.  …science and religion prefer order and power over truth.

207 …both capitalists and communists believed in creating heaven on earth through economic growth, and wrangled only about the exact method.

273 Why did Marx and Lenin succeeded where Hong and the Mahdi failed?  Not because socialist humanism was philosophically more sophisticated than Islamic and Christian theology, but rather because Marx and Lenin devoted more attention to understanding the technological and economic realities of their time that to scrutinizing ancient texts and prophetic dreams.

285 However, if an animal ‘freely’ chooses what to eat and with whom to mate, then natural selection has nothing to work with.

360 Before the emergence of the global village the planet was a galaxy of isolated human cultures, which might have fostered mental states that are now extinct.

377 Rather, capitalism won the Cold War because distributed data processing works better than centralized data processing.


1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, 2017

  1. With regard to: “Science is interested above all in power. Through research, it aims to acquire the power to cure diseases, fight wars and produce food. …science and religion prefer order and power over truth.”

    Betrand Russell wrote: “In all forms of love we wish to have knowledge of what is loved, not for purposes of power but for the ecstasy of contemplation… Wherever there is ecstasy or joy or delight derived from an object there is the desire to know that object — to know it not in the manipulative fashion that consists of turning it into something else, but to know it in the fashion of the beatific vision, because in itself and for itself it sheds happiness upon the lover. This may indeed be made the touchstone of any love that is valuable.”

    Like

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