"HOMO DEUS" by YUVAL NOAH HARARI
THOUGHTS (it's good)
this book is super good. YUVAL basically tries to give the reader an idea of where the world is going based on patterns observed from the history of the world and what is going on right now. he makes it very clear that science is here to stay and it is the current religion that runs the world. towards the end of the second part of the book, he goes into a lot of detail about how religions don't hold the same power they used to over the world. some of the points he makes may offend people who are attached to whatever religion they practice. but everything he says is essentially claims based on objective observations. the WEST runs the world, and they have completely rejected GOD. i don't think religions are absolutely irrelevant. they just used to have power over the world (e.i. Catholicism), and they used to be more tied to the government in the past than right now (like at a certain point in time, not being Catholic was illegal and punishable by death). i think that's what YUVAL is saying in this book. he raises super interesting questions later in the book when he explores free-will and how we don't really have that and he explains it through scientific research. the book doesn't really care about sugar coating anything and tells you that what is happening right now is evolution, and you have two options: join in or go extinct.
CHAPTER ONE — THE NEW HUMAN AGENDA
for the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. in the early twenty-first century, the average human is far more likely to die from bingeing McDONALD'S than from drought, EBOLA, or an AL-QAEDA attack.
The Biological Poverty Line
mass famines still strike some areas from time to time, but they are exceptional, and they are almost always caused by human politics rather than natural catastrophes. there are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines.
in most parts of the planet, even if a person has lost his job and all of his possessions, he is unlikely to die from hunger.
in 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight, compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030.
until the early twentieth century, about a third of children died before reaching adulthood from a combination of malnutrition and disease.
for example, a global campaign of smallpox vaccination was so successful that in 1979 the WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION declared that humanity had won, and that smallpox had been completely eradicated. it was the first epidemic humans had ever managed to wipe off the face of the earth. in 1967 smallpox had still infected 15 million people and killed 2 million of them, but in 2014 not a single person was either infected or killed by smallpox. the victory has been so complete that today the WHO has stopped vaccinating humans against smallpox.
despite the horrendous toll AIDS has taken, and despite the millions killed each year by long-established infectious diseases such as malaria, epidemics are a far smaller threat to human health today than in previous millennia.
the same tools that enable doctors to quickly identify and cure new illnesses may also enable armies and terrorists to engineer even more terrible diseases and doomsday pathogens.
Breaking the Law of the Jungle
nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. in consequence, the word ‘peace’ has acquired a new meaning. Previous generations thought about peace as the temporary absence of war. today we think about peace as the implausibility of war.
whereas in 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7,697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. for the average American or European, COCA-COLA poses a far deadlier threat than AL-QAEDA.
in essence, terrorism is a show.
in most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves.
history does not tolerate a vacuum. if incidences of famine, plague and war are decreasing, something is bound to take their place on the human agenda.
when the moment comes to choose between economic growth and ecological stability, politicians, CEOs and voters almost always prefer growth. in the twenty-first century, we shall have to do better if we are to avoid catastrophe.
the most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more. humans are always on the lookout for something better, bigger, tastier.
having 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.
The Last Days of Death
humans always die due to some technical glitch. The heart stops pumping blood. the main artery is clogged by fatty deposits. cancerous cells spread in the liver. germs multiply in the lungs. and what is responsible for all these technical problems? other technical problems.
some experts believe that humans will overcome death by 2200, others say 2100. KURZWEIL and DE GREY are even more sanguine. they maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a healthy bank account in 2050 will have a serious shot at immortality by cheating death a decade at a time. according to KURZWEIL and DE GREY, every ten years or so we will march into the clinic and receive a makeover treatment that will not only cure illnesses, but will also regenerate decaying tissues, and upgrade hands, eyes and brains. before the next treatment is due, doctors will have invented a plethora of new medicines, upgrades and gadgets.
so long as no bomb shreds them to pieces or no truck runs them over, they could go on living indefinitely. which will probably make them the most anxious people in history. for starters, family structure, marriages and child-parent relationships would be transformed. today, people still expect to be married ‘till death us do part’, and much of life revolves around having and raising children. now try to imagine a person with a lifespan of 150 years. getting married at forty, she still has 110 years to go. will it be realistic to expect her marriage to last 110 years? in truth, so far modern medicine hasn’t extended our natural life span by a single year. its great achievement has been to save us from premature death and allow us to enjoy the full measure of our years.
The Right to Happiness
when Epicurus defined happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy. Material achievements alone will not satisfy us for long. indeed, the blind pursuit of money, fame and pleasure will only make us miserable. EPICURUS recommended, for example, to eat and drink in moderation, and to curb one’s sexual appetites. in the long run, a deep friendship will make us more content than a frenzied orgy.
and even if we have overcome many of yesterday’s miseries, attaining positive happiness may be far more difficult than abolishing downright suffering. it took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful. how do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?
it appears that our happiness bangs against some mysterious glass ceiling that does not allow it to grow despite all our unprecedented accomplishments. even if we provide free food for everybody, cure all diseases and ensure world peace, it won’t necessarily shatter that glass ceiling. achieving real happiness is not going to be much easier than overcoming old age and death. we don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. the bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon. according to the life sciences, happiness and suffering are nothing but different balances of bodily sensations. We never react to events in the outside world, but only to sensations in our own bodies. Nobody suffers because she lost her job, because she got divorced or because the government went to war . . . losing one’s job can certainly trigger depression, but depression itself is a kind of unpleasant bodily sensation. perhaps the key to happiness is neither the race nor the gold medal, but rather combining the right doses of excitement and tranquillity; some 2,300 years ago Epicurus warned his disciples that immoderate pursuit of pleasure is likely to make them miserable rather than happy. a couple of centuries earlier Buddha had made an even more radical claim, teaching that the pursuit of pleasant sensations is in fact the very root of suffering. such sensations are just ephemeral and meaningless vibrations. even when we experience them, we don’t react to them with contentment; rather, we just crave for more. hence no matter how many blissful or exciting sensations I may experience, they will never satisfy me.
if I identify happiness with fleeting pleasant sensations and crave to experience more and more of them, I have no choice but to pursue them constantly. when I finally get them, they quickly disappear, and because the mere memory of past pleasures will not satisfy me, I have to start all over again. even if I continue this pursuit for decades, it will never bring me any lasting achievement; on the contrary, the more I crave these pleasant sensations, the more stressed and dissatisfied I will become. to attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it. no matter what monks in their Himalayan caves or philosophers in their ivory towers say, for the capitalist juggernaut, happiness is pleasure. period. with each passing year our tolerance for unpleasant sensations decreases, and our craving for pleasant sensations increases. both scientific research and economic activity are geared to that end, each year producing better painkillers, new ice-cream flavours, more comfortable mattresses, and more addictive games for our smartphones so that we will not suffer a single boring moment while waiting for the bus.
The Gods of Planet Earth
the upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of nonorganic beings. bioengineering is not going to wait patiently for natural selection to work its magic. instead, bioengineers will take the old Sapiens body, and intentionally rewrite its genetic code, rewire its brain circuits, alter its biochemical balance, and even grow entirely new limbs.
cyborg engineering will go a step further, merging the organic body with non-organic devices such as bionic hands, artificial eyes, or millions of nano-robots that will navigate our bloodstream, diagnose problems and repair damage.
divinity isn’t a vague metaphysical quality. And it isn’t the same as omnipotence. when speaking of upgrading humans into gods, think more in terms of Greek gods or Hindu devas rather than the omnipotent biblical sky father. our descendants would still have their foibles, kinks and limitations, just as ZEUS and INDRA had theirs. but they could love, hate, create and destroy on a much grander scale than us. Can Someone Please Hit the Brakes?
when people realize how fast we are rushing towards the great unknown, and that they cannot count even on death to shield them from it, their reaction is to hope that somebody will hit the brakes and slow us down. but we cannot hit the brakes, for several reasons. first, nobody knows where the brakes are. while some experts are familiar with developments in one field, such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, big data or genetics, no one is an expert on everything. no one is therefore capable of connecting all the dots and seeing the full picture. different fields influence one another in such intricate ways that even the best minds cannot fathom how breakthroughs in artificial intelligence might impact nanotechnology or vice versa. nobody can absorb all the latest scientific discoveries, nobody can predict how the global economy will look in ten years, and nobody has a clue where we are heading in such a rush. since no one understands the system anymore, no one can stop it.
secondly, if we somehow succeed in hitting the brakes, our economy will collapse, along with our society. as explained in a later chapter, the modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. if growth ever stops, the economy won’t settle down to some cozy equilibrium; it will fall to pieces. that’s why capitalism encourages us to seek immortality, happiness and divinity. there’s a limit to how many shoes we can wear, how many cars we can drive and how many skiing holidays we can enjoy. an economy built on everlasting growth needs endless projects – just like the quests for immortality, bliss and divinity.
once it becomes possible to amend deadly genes, why go through the hassle of inserting some foreign DNA when you can just rewrite the code and turn a dangerous mutant gene into its benign version? then we might start using the same mechanism to fix not just lethal genes, but also those responsible for less deadly illnesses, for autism, for stupidity and for obesity.
The Paradox of Knowledge
This is the paradox of historical knowledge. knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. but knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance. the more data we have and the better we understand history, the faster history alters its course, and the faster our knowledge becomes outdated. our new-found knowledge leads to faster economic, social and political changes; in an attempt to understand what is happening, we accelerate the accumulation of knowledge, which leads only to faster and greater upheavals. consequently, we are less and less able to make sense of the present or forecast the future. A Gun in Act I
while the attempt to upgrade humans into gods takes humanism to its logical conclusion, it simultaneously exposes humanism’s inherent flaws.
you want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins. people are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. but the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.
PART I: HOMO SAPIENS CONQUERS THE WORLD
CHAPTER TWO — THE ANTHROPOCENE
our televisions, books, fantasies and nightmares are still full of them, but the Simbas, Shere Khans and Big Bad Wolves of our planet are disappearing. the world is populated mainly by humans and their domesticated animals.
at present, more than 90 percent of the large animals of the world are either humans or domesticated animals.
instead of fearing asteroids, we should fear ourselves. our impact is already on a par with that of ice ages and tectonic movements. within a century, our impact may surpass that of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Ancestral Needs
why do modern humans love sweets so much? not because in the early twenty-first century we must gorge on ice cream and chocolate in order to survive. rather, it is because when our Stone Age ancestors came across sweet fruit or honey, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as much of it as quickly as possible. why do young men drive recklessly, get involved in violent arguments and hack confidential Internet sites? because they are following ancient genetic decrees that might be useless and even counterproductive today, but that made good evolutionary sense 70,000 years ago. a young hunter who risked his life chasing a mammoth outshone all his competitors and won the hand of the local beauty; and we are now stuck with his macho genes.
this is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped thousands of generations ago continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present.
Organisms are Algorithms
‘Algorithm’ is arguably the single most important concept in our world.
an algorithm is a methodical set of steps that can be used to make calculations, resolve problems and reach decisions. an algorithm isn’t a particular calculation, but the method followed when making the calculation. for example, if you want to calculate the average between two numbers, you can use a simple algorithm. the algorithm says: ‘first step: add the two numbers together. Second step: divide the sum by two.’ When you enter the numbers 4 and 8, you get 6. When you enter 117 and 231, you get 174. Five Hundred Years of Solitude
Would it be okay, for example, for an artificial intelligence to exploit humans and even kill them to further its own needs and desires? If it should never be allowed to do that, despite its superior intelligence and power, why is it ethical for humans to exploit and kill pigs?
CHAPTER THREE — THE HUMAN SPARK
there is zero scientific evidence that in contrast to pigs, Sapiens have souls. Why the Stock Exchange Has No Consciousness
the mind isn’t some mystical eternal entity. nor is it an organ such as the eye or the brain. rather, the mind is a flow of subjective experiences, such as pain, pleasure, anger and love.
The Equation of Life the better we understand the brain, the more redundant the mind seems. if the entire system works by electric signals passing from here to there, why the hell do we also need to feel fear? if a chain of electrochemical reactions leads all the way from the nerve cells in the eye to the movements of leg muscles, why add subjective experiences to this chain? what do they do? consciousness may be a kind of mental pollution produced by the firing of complex neural networks. It doesn’t do anything. it is just there. if this is true, it implies that all the pain and pleasure experienced by billions of creatures for millions of years is just mental pollution. this is certainly a thought worth thinking, even if it isn’t true. for all you know, the year might be 2216 and you are a bored teenager immersed inside a ‘virtual world’ game that simulates the primitive and exciting world of the early twenty-first century. The Self-Conscious Chimpanzee
another attempt to enshrine human superiority accepts that rats, dogs and other animals have consciousness, but argues that, unlike humans, they lack self-consciousness. They may feel depressed, happy, hungry or satiated, but they have no notion of self, and they are not aware that the depression or hunger they feel belongs to a unique entity called ‘I’.
The Clever Horse
when i donate money to a beggar, am i not reacting to the unpleasant sensations that the sight of the beggar causes me to feel? do i really care about the beggar, or do i simply want to feel better myself?
the crucial factor in our conquest of the world was our ability to connect many humans to one another. humans nowadays completely dominate the planet not because the individual human is far smarter and more nimble-fingered than the individual chimp or wolf, but because Homo sapiens is the only species on earth capable of co-operating flexibly in large numbers.
if cooperation is the key, how come the ants and bees did not beat us to the nuclear bomb even though they learned to cooperate en masse millions of years before us? because their cooperation lacks flexibility. bees cooperate in very sophisticated ways, but they cannot reinvent their social system overnight. if a hive faces a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot, for example, guillotine the queen and establish a republic.
Long Live the Revolution!
if you want to launch a revolution, don’t ask yourself, ‘how many people support my ideas?’ instead, ask yourself, ‘how many of my supporters are capable of effective collaboration?’
Beyond Sex and Violence
as long as all Sapiens living in a particular locality believe in the same stories, they all follow the same rules, making it easy to predict the behaviour of strangers and to organize mass-cooperation networks. sapiens often use visual marks such as a turban, a beard or a business suit to signal ‘you can trust me, I believe in the same story as you’.
The Web of Meaning
there is a third level of reality (after objective and subjective realities): the intersubjective level. intersubjective entities depend on communication among many humans rather than on the beliefs and feelings of individual humans. many of the most important agents in history are intersubjective. money, for example, has no objective value. you cannot eat, drink or wear a dollar bill. Yet as long as billions of people believe in its value, you can use it to buy food, beverages and clothing.
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. in the twenty-first century fiction might thereby become the most potent force on earth, surpassing even wayward asteroids and natural selection. hence if we want to understand our future, cracking genomes and crunching numbers is hardly enough. we must also decipher the fictions that give meaning to the world.
PART II: HOMO SAPIENS GIVES MEANING TO THE WORLD
CHAPTER FOUR — THE STORYTELLERS
like pharaoh, ELVIS was a story, a myth, a brand – and the brand was far more important than the biological body.
as bureaucracies accumulate power they become immune to their own mistakes. instead of changing their stories to fit reality, they can change reality to fit their stories.
But It Works!
the cause of war is fictional, but the suffering is 100 per cent real.
corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; how come we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?
CHAPTER FIVE — THE ODD COUPLE
myths continue to dominate humankind. science only makes these myths stronger. instead of destroying the intersubjective reality, science will enable it to control the objective and subjective realities more completely than ever before. thanks to computers and bioengineering, the difference between fiction and reality will blur, as people reshape reality to match their pet fictions.
Germs and Demons
defining religion as ‘belief in gods’ is also problematic. We tend to say that a devout Christian is religious because she believes in GOD, whereas a fervent communist isn’t religious, because communism has no gods. however, religion is created by humans rather than by gods, and it is defined by its social function rather than by the existence of deities. religion is anything that confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures. it legitimises human norms and values by arguing that they reflect superhuman laws.
If You Meet the Buddha
the assertion that religion is a tool for preserving social order and for organizing large-scale cooperation may vex many people for whom it represents first and foremost a spiritual path. however, just as the gap between religion and science is smaller than we commonly think, so the gap between religion and spirituality is much bigger. religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey.
this is a legacy from ancient dualist religions that believed in the existence of two gods, one good and one evil. according to dualism, the good god created pure and everlasting souls that lived in a wonderful world of spirit. however, the bad god – sometimes named SATAN – created another world, made of matter. SATAN didn’t know how to make his creation last, hence in the world of matter everything rots and disintegrates. in order to breathe life into his defective creation, SATAN tempted souls from the pure world of spirit, and locked them up inside material bodies. that’s what humans are – a good spiritual soul trapped inside an evil material body. since the soul’s prison – the body – decays and eventually dies, Satan ceaselessly tempts the soul with bodily delights, and above all with food, sex and power. when the body disintegrates and the soul has a chance to escape back to the spiritual world, its craving for bodily pleasures draws it back inside some new material body. the soul thus transmigrates from body to body, wasting its days in pursuit of food, sex and power.
spiritual journeys are fundamentally different from religions, because religions seek to cement the worldly order whereas spirituality seeks to escape it. often enough, the most important demand from spiritual wanderers is to challenge the beliefs and conventions of dominant religions. in ZEN BUDDHISM it is said that ‘IF YOU MEET THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD, KILL HIM.' which means that if while walking on the spiritual path you encounter the rigid ideas and fixed laws of institutionalized Buddhism, you must free yourself from them too.
from a historical perspective, the spiritual journey is always tragic, for it is a lonely path fit for individuals rather than for entire societies. human cooperation requires firm answers rather than just questions, and those who foam against stultified religious structures end up forging new structures in their place. it happened to the dualists, whose spiritual journeys became religious establishments. it happened to MARTIN LUTHER, who after challenging the laws, institutions and rituals of the CATHOLIC CHURCH found himself writing new law books, founding new institutions and inventing new ceremonies. it happened even to BUDDHA and JESUS. in their uncompromising quest for the truth they subverted the laws, rituals and structures of traditional HINDUISM and JUDAISM. but eventually more laws, more rituals and more structures were created in their name than in the name of any other person in history.
though science indeed deals only with facts, religion never confines itself to ethical judgements. religion cannot provide us with any practical guidance unless it makes some factual claims too, and here it may well collide with science. the most important segments of many religious dogmas are not their ethical principles, but rather factual statements such as ‘GOD exists’, ‘the soul is punished for its sins in the afterlife’, ‘the BIBLE was written by a deity rather than by humans’, ‘the pope is never wrong’. these are all factual claims. many of the most heated religious debates, and many of the conflicts between science and religion, involve such factual claims rather than ethical judgements.
when we leave the ethereal sphere of philosophy and observe historical realities, we find that religious stories almost always include three parts:
1. ethical judgements, such as ‘human life is sacred’.
2. factual statements, such as ‘human life begins at the moment of conception’.
3. a conflation of the ethical judgements with the factual statements, resulting in practical guidelines such as ‘you should never allow abortion, even a single day after conception’.
thus the factual statement ‘GOD wrote the BIBLE’ all too often mutates into the ethical injunction ‘you ought to believe that GOD wrote the BIBLE’. merely believing in this factual statement becomes a virtue, whereas doubting it becomes a terrible sin.
even universities and laboratories need religious backing. religion provides the ethical justification for scientific research, and in exchange gets to influence the scientific agenda and the uses of scientific discoveries.
The Witch Hunt
religion is interested above all in order. it aims to create and maintain the social structure. science is interested above all in power. the uncompromising quest for truth is a spiritual journey, which can seldom remain within the confines of either religious or scientific establishments.
CHAPTER SIX — THE MODERN COVENANT
modern culture rejects this belief in a great cosmic plan. We are not actors in any larger-than-life drama. life has no script, no playwright, no director, no producer – and no meaning. to the best of our scientific understanding, the universe is a blind and purposeless process, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. during our infinitesimally brief stay on our tiny speck of a planet, we fret and strut this way and that, and then are heard of no more.
if modernity has a motto, it is ‘shit happens’.
on the practical level, modern life consists of a constant pursuit of power within a universe devoid of meaning.
Why Bankers are Different from Vampires
of course, some ecological realities are more complex, and not all survival struggles are zero-sum games. many animals cooperate effectively, and a few even give loans. the most famous lenders in nature are vampire bats. these vampires congregate in their thousands inside caves, and every night they fly out to look for prey. when they find a sleeping bird or a careless mammal, they make a small incision in its skin, and suck its blood. not all bats find a victim every night. in order to cope with the uncertainty of their life, the vampires loan blood to each other. a vampire that fails to find prey will come home and ask for some stolen blood from a more fortunate friend. vampires remember very well to whom they loaned blood, so at a later date if the friend comes home empty-handed, he will approach his debtor, who will return the favour.
however, unlike human bankers, vampires never charge interest. if vampire A loaned vampire B ten centilitres of blood, B will repay the same amount. nor do vampires use loans in order to finance new businesses or encourage growth in the blood-sucking market – because the blood is produced by other animals, the vampires have no way of increasing production.
The Miracle Pie
modern politicians and economists insist that growth is vital for three principal reasons. firstly, when we produce more, we can consume more, raise our standard of living and allegedly enjoy a happier life. secondly, as long as humankind multiplies, economic growth is needed merely to stay where we are. For example, in IINDIA the annual population growth rate is 1.2 per cent. that means that unless the indian economy grows each year by at least 1.2 per cent, unemployment will rise, salaries will fall and the average standard of living will decline. thirdly, even if Indians stop multiplying, and even if the indian middle class can be satisfied with its present standard of living, what should INDIA do about its hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken citizens? if the economy doesn’t grow, and the pie therefore remains the same size, you can give more to the poor only by taking something from the rich. that will force you to make some very hard choices, and will probably cause a lot of resentment and even violence. if you wish to avoid hard choices, resentment and violence, you need a bigger pie.
unlike other religions that promise us a pie in the sky, capitalism promises miracles here on earth – and sometimes even provides them.
The Ark Syndrome
the fox economy cannot grow, because foxes don’t know how to produce more rabbits. the rabbit economy stagnates, because rabbits cannot make the grass grow faster. but the human economy can grow because humans can discover new materials and sources of energy.
the greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance.
if previously it was enough to invent something amazing once a century, today we need to come up with a miracle every two years.
there is no justice in history. when disaster strikes, the poor almost always suffer far more than the rich, even if the rich caused the tragedy in the first place. global warming is already affecting the lives of poor people in arid african countries more than the lives of affluent westerners.
The Rat Race
the truth is very different. despite all our achievements, we feel a constant pressure to do and produce even more.
for thousands of years priests, rabbis and muftis explained that humans cannot overcome famine, plague and war by their own efforts. then along came the bankers, investors and industrialists, and within 200 years managed to do exactly that.
CHAPTER SEVEN — THE HUMANIST REVOLUTION
throughout history prophets and philosophers have argued that if humans stopped believing in a great cosmic plan, all law and order would vanish. yet today, those who pose the greatest threat to global law and order are precisely those people who continue to believe in GOD and His all-encompassing plans. GOD-fearing SYRIA is a far more violent place than the atheist NETHERLANDS.
the humanist religion worships humanity, and expects humanity to play the part that GOD played in CHRISTIANITY and ISLAM, and that the laws of nature played in BUDDHISM and TAOISM. Whereas traditionally the great cosmic plan gave meaning to the life of humans, humanism reverses the roles, and expects the experiences of humans to give meaning to the great cosmos. according to humanism, humans must draw from within their inner experiences not only the meaning of their own lives, but also the meaning of the entire universe. this is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaningless world.
for centuries humanism has been convincing us that we are the ultimate source of meaning, and that our free will is therefore the highest authority of all. instead of waiting for some external entity to tell us what’s what, we can rely on our own feelings and desires.
medieval scholars held on to a classical GREEK theory, according to which the movements of the stars across the sky create heavenly music that permeates the entire universe. humans enjoy physical and mental health when the inner movements of their body and soul are in harmony with the heavenly music created by the stars. human music should therefore echo the divine melody of the cosmos, rather than reflect the ideas and caprices of flesh-and-blood composers. the most beautiful hymns, songs and tunes were usually attributed not to the genius of some human artist but to divine inspiration.
such views are no longer in vogue. today humanists believe that the only source for artistic creation and aesthetic value is human feelings.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
in medieval EUROPE, the chief formula for knowledge was:
KNOWLEDGE = SCRIPTURES × LOGIC
the SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION proposed a very different formula for knowledge:
KNOWLEDGE = EMPIRICAL DATA × MATHEMATICS
However, humanism offered an alternative. As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for attaining ethical knowledge appeared:
KNOWLEDGE = EXPERIENCES × SENSITIVITY
if we wish to know the answer to any ethical question, we need to connect to our inner experiences, and observe them with the utmost sensitivity. in practice, that means that we seek knowledge by spending years collecting experiences, and sharpening our sensitivity so we could understand these experiences correctly.
The Humanist Schism
HUMANISM split into three main branches. the orthodox branch holds that each human being is a unique individual possessing a distinctive inner voice and a never-to-be-repeated string of experiences. every human being is a singular ray of light, which illuminates the world from a different perspective, and which adds colour, depth and meaning to the universe. hence we ought to give as much freedom as possible to every individual to experience the world, follow his or her inner voice and express his or her inner truth. Whether in politics, economics or art, individual free will should have far more weight than state interests or religious doctrines. the more liberty individuals enjoy, the more beautiful, rich and meaningful is the world. due to this emphasis on liberty, the orthodox branch of humanism is known as ‘liberal humanism’ or simply as ‘liberalism’.
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as humanism gained increasing social credibility and political power, it sprouted two very different offshoots: socialist humanism, which encompassed a plethora of socialist and communist movements, and evolutionary humanism, whose most famous advocates were the nazis.
however, both socialists and evolutionary humanists pointed out that the liberal understanding of the human experience is flawed. Liberals think the human experience is an individual phenomenon. but there are many individuals in the world, and they often feel different things and have contradictory desires. if all authority and meaning flows from individual experiences, how do you settle contradictions between different such experiences?
evolution didn’t stop with HOMO SAPIENS – there is still a long way to go.
The Humanist Wars of Religion
what good is the liberty to live where you want, when you cannot pay the rent; to study what interests you, when you cannot afford the tuition fees; and to travel where you fancy, when you cannot buy a car?
Electricity, Genetics and Radical Islam
more than a century after NIETZSCHE pronounced HIM dead, GOD seems to be making a comeback. but this is a mirage. GOD is dead – it just takes a while to get rid of the body.
religion and technology always dance a delicate tango. they push one another, depend on one another and cannot stray too far away from one another. technology depends on religion, because every invention has many potential applications, and the engineers need some prophet to make the crucial choice and point towards the required destination.
what will happen to the job market once artificial intelligence outperforms humans in most cognitive tasks? what will be the political impact of a massive new class of economically useless people? what will happen to relationships, families and pension funds when nanotechnology and regenerative medicine turn eighty into the new fifty? what will happen to human society when biotechnology enables us to have designer babies, and to open unprecedented gaps between rich and poor?
you will not find the answers to any of these questions in the QUR’AN or sharia law, nor in the BIBLE or in the CONFUCIAN ANALECTS, because nobody in the medieval MIDDLE EAST or in ancient CHINA knew much about computers, genetics or nanotechnology.
in the early twenty-first century the train of progress is again pulling out of the station – and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called HOMO SAPIENS. those who miss this train will never get a second chance. in order to get a seat on it, you need to understand twenty first-century technology, and in particular the powers of biotechnology and computer algorithms.
in the twenty-first century, those who ride the train of progress will acquire divine abilities of creation and destruction, while those left behind will face extinction.
RADICAL ISLAM is in a far worse position than socialism. it has not yet even come to terms with the INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION – no wonder it has little of relevance to say about genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. ISLAM, CHRISTIANITY and other traditional religions are still important players in the world. yet their role is now largely reactive. in the past, they were a creative force.
what did priests, rabbis and muftis discover in the twentieth century that can be mentioned in the same breath as antibiotics, computers or feminism? having mulled over these two questions, from where do you think the big changes of the twenty-first century will emerge: from the ISLAMIC STATE, or from GOOGLE? yes, the ISLAMIC STATE knows how to put videos on YOUTUBE; but leaving aside the industry of torture, how many new start-ups have emerged from SYRIA or IRAQ lately? (*lmaooo harsh)
the BIBLE is kept as a source of authority, even though it is no longer a true source of inspiration.
PART III: HOMO SAPIENS LOSES CONTROL
CHAPTER EIGHT — THE TIME BOMB IN THE LABORATORY
to the best of our scientific understanding, determinism and randomness have divided the entire cake between them, leaving not even a crumb for ‘freedom’. the sacred word ‘freedom’ turns out to be, just like ‘soul’, an empty term that carries no discernible meaning. free will exists only in the imaginary stories we humans have invented.
when POLLY wants a cracker, POLLY eats a cracker. but the million-dollar question is not whether parrots and humans can act out their inner desires – the question is whether they can choose their desires in the first place. why does POLLY want a cracker rather than a cucumber?
in one kind of experiment, people are placed within a huge brain scanner, holding a switch in each hand. they are asked to press one of the two switches whenever they feel like it. scientists observing neural activity in the brain can predict which switch the person will press well before the person actually does so, and even before the person is aware of their own intention. neural events in the brain indicating the person’s decision begin from a few hundred milliseconds to a few seconds before the person is aware of this choice.
the decision to press either the right or left switch certainly reflected the person’s choice. yet it wasn’t a free choice. in fact, our belief in free will results from faulty logic. when a biochemical chain reaction makes me desire to press the right switch, i feel that i really want to press the right switch. and this is true. i really want to press it. yet people erroneously jump to the conclusion that if i want to press it, i choose to want to. this is of course false. i don’t choose my desires. i only feel them, and act accordingly.
if i choose good desires, i go to heaven. if i choose bad desires, i am sent to hell. the question then arose, how exactly do I choose my desires? why, for example, did EVE desire to eat the forbidden fruit the snake offered her? was this desire forced upon her? did this desire just pop up within her by pure chance? or did she choose it ‘freely’? if she didn’t choose it freely, why punish her for it?
in reality, there is only a stream of consciousness, and desires arise and pass within this stream, but there is no permanent self who owns the desires, hence it is meaningless to ask whether i choose my desires deterministically, randomly or freely.
if you want to see philosophy in action, pay a visit to a robo-rat laboratory. a robo-rat is a run-of-the-mill rat with a twist: scientists have implanted electrodes into the sensory and reward areas in the rat’s brain. this enables the scientists to manoeuvre the rat by remote control. after short training sessions, researchers have managed not only to make the rats turn left or right, but also to climb ladders, sniff around garbage piles, and do things that rats normally dislike, such as jumping from great heights.
animal-welfare activists have voiced concern about the suffering such experiments inflict on the rats. PROFESSOR SANJIV TALWAR of the STATE UNIVERSITY of NEW YORK, one of the leading robo-rat researchers, has dismissed these concerns, arguing that the rats actually enjoy the experiments. after all, explains TALWAR, the rats ‘work for pleasure’ and when the electrodes stimulate the reward centre in their brain, ‘the rat feels NIRVANA’.
to the best of our understanding, the rat doesn’t feel that somebody else controls her, and she doesn’t feel that she is being coerced to do something against her will. when PROFESSOR TALWAR presses the remote control, the rat wants to move to the left, which is why she moves to the left. when the professor presses another switch, the rat wants to climb a ladder, which is why she climbs the ladder.
some of those voices [in our heads] repeat society’s prejudices, some echo our personal history, and some articulate our genetic legacy. all of them together, says SALLY, create an invisible story that shapes our conscious decisions in ways we seldom grasp. what would happen if we could rewrite our inner monologues, or even silence them completely on occasion?
people may well manipulate their brain’s electric circuits not just in order to shoot terrorists, but also to achieve more mundane liberal goals. namely, to study and work more efficiently, immerse ourselves in games and hobbies, and be able to focus on what interests us at any particular moment, be it maths or football. However, if and when such manipulations become routine, the supposedly free will of customers will become just another product we can buy. you want to master the piano but whenever practice time comes you actually prefer to watch television? no problem: just put on the helmet, install the right software, and you will be downright aching to play the piano.
Who Are I?
if you look really deep within yourself, the seeming unity that we take for granted dissolves into a cacophony of conflicting voices, none of which is ‘my true self’. humans aren’t individuals. they are ‘dividuals’.
some of the most notable studies on these split-brain patients were conducted by PROFESSOR ROGER WOLCOTT SPERRY, who won the NOBEL PRIZE in PHYSIOLOGY AND MEDICINE for his groundbreaking discoveries, and by his student, PROFESSOR MICHAEL S. GAZZANIGA. one study was conducted on a teenaged boy. the boy was asked what he would like to do when he grew up. the boy answered that he wanted to be a draughtsman. this answer was provided by the left hemisphere, which plays a crucial part in logical reasoning as well as in speech. yet the boy had another active speech centre in his right hemisphere, which could not control vocal language, but could spell words using SCRABBLE tiles. the researchers were keen to know what the right hemisphere would say. so they spread SCRABBLE tiles on the table, and then took a piece of paper and wrote on it: ‘what would you like to do when you grow up?’ they placed the paper at the edge of the boy’s left visual field. data from the left visual field is processed in the right hemisphere. since the right hemisphere could not use vocal language, the boy said nothing. but his left hand began moving rapidly across the table,
given the unbearable torments women undergo at childbirth, you might think that after going through it once, no sane woman would ever agree to do it again. however, at the end of labour and in the following days the hormonal system secretes cortisol and beta-endorphins, which reduce the pain and create a feeling of relief and sometimes even of elation. moreover, the growing love towards the baby, and the acclaim from friends, family members, religious dogmas and nationalist propaganda, conspire to turn childbirth from a terrible trauma into a positive memory.
The Meaning of Life
if you want to make people believe in imaginary entities such as gods and nations, you should make them sacrifice something valuable. the more painful the sacrifice, the more convinced people are of the existence of the imaginary recipient.
we see, then, that the self too is an imaginary story, just like nations, gods and money. each of us has a sophisticated system that throws away most of our experiences, keeps only a few choice samples, mixes them up with bits from movies we saw, novels we read, speeches we heard, and from our own daydreams, and weaves out of all that jumble a seemingly coherent story about who i am, where i came from and where i am going. this story tells me what to love, whom to hate and what to do with myself. this story may even cause me to sacrifice my life, if that’s what the plot requires. we all have our genre. some people live a tragedy, others inhabit a never-ending religious drama, some approach life as if it were an action film, and not a few act as if in a comedy. But in the end, they are all just stories.