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addabook - Homo Deus
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Homo Deus
A Brief History of Tomorrow
Yuval Noah Harari
read on June 5, 2018

This was a fascinating book, which made very interesting points beyond the headline thesis that Harari thinks humans are moving towards developing a high-inequality super-species. Some bullets:

  • Max Plank quote: "Science advances one funeral at a time."
  • Very light, but interesting discussion on how society will change when people live longer. In contrast to the quote above, Harari comments on the rather obvious conclusion that as some people are able to extent their lives, income inequality will skyrocket, and innovation will broadly slow down.

For thousands of years, the scientific road to growth was blocked because people belived that old scriptures and ancient traditions already contained all the important knowledge the world had to offer. A corporation that believed all the oil fields in the world had already been discovered would not spend time and energy searching for oil. Similarly, a human culture that already beleived it knew everything worth knowing would not bother seraching for new knowledge. This was the position of most premodern  human civilizations. However, the scientific revolution freed humankind from this conviction. The greatest scientific discovery, was the discovery of ignorance.

 

  • Harari encapsulates social progress through time as such: Modernity is the exchange of meaning for power. This is still the case now; consciousness, free will, personal experience, brains, etc. Most poorly-understood phenomenon are still ascribed special (and often supernatural) meaning. As we progress, we will give away that meaning in exchange for more power. Once we understand more complex systems, these lose their meaning, but through our new understanding we can control them.
  • Part 3 is facinating. Narrative vs Experiential self. Peak/end average rule. Also references free will and illusion of self identity.
  • Idea that liberalism (dominance of individual liberties, expressed as democracy, capitalism) is a consequence of technology. In the 1700's, post industrial revolution, individuals came to matter more and more in the economy and on the battlefield. Because individual work is valuable, and became increasingly valuable, it came to make sense to give individuals democratic representation. How should we think about this as the 21st century unfolds, and individuals become increasingly less valuable as they are replace (in both the economy and military) by machines and algorithms? What new social philosophies (and/or religions) will replace liberalism? Is liberalism doomed? Interestingly, this book was published in 2016, just as the liberal world order fell.
  • Harari describes humanity and social structures in ways I haven't really seen before, and thought made a lot of sense - using religion as a term not necessarily about humans agreeing to worship a same god, but rather humans agreeing about how they want to organize themselves socially. He argues that 'humanism' itself is a religion in that it is an organizing principal around which individual experiences are the thing that matters, and that humanism will soon give way to Dataism, where personal experience is meaningless, and all that matters is the information attributable to that experience, and how that information is shared.

 

 

Author Bio:

Yuval Noah Harari (Hebrew: יובל נח הררי‎; born 24 February 1976) is an Israeli historian and a tenured professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of the international bestsellers Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2015). His writings examine concepts of free will, consciousness and definitions of intelligence. Harari's early publications are concerned with what he describes as the cognitive revolution occurring roughly 50,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens supplanted the rival Neanderthals, mastered cognitive linguistics, developed structured societies, and ascended as apex predators, aided by the agricultural revolution and more recently accelerated by scientific methodology and rationale which have allowed humans to approach near mastery over their environment. His recent books are more cautionary, and work through the consequences of a futuristic biotechnological world where sentient biological organisms are surpassed by their own creations; he has said Homo sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so.