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Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Encouraged by son to read this book, I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve been so thoroughly fascinated, challenged, made to feel worried, guilty, ashamed and then infuriated by my reading material, and often in the course of a page.

The sequel to his phenomenal Homo Sapiens, in Homo Deus, Harari writes about where humans were in history, what we’ve become and where we might be heading. Drawing on a range of discoveries and thoughts in fields as diverse as the sciences, economics, philosophy, psychology, politics, humanism, liberalism, religion etc. he posits a series of facts alongside possible scenarios and invites the reader to think – deeply. Going back into early history, when humans formed an agricultural and quite violent society, he takes us forward to where we are now, a species that values not just information, but our ability to access and share it. Whereas once upon a time power was contingent on having access to a range of organic and  the kind of resources that could develop strong (as in mighty) cultures, Harari argues that nowadays, alongside some traditional forms of power, knowledge is the key. He argues that historians study the past not to repeat it, but be liberated from it.

Some of the most thought-provoking and disturbing parts of the book, for me anyhow, were what he revealed about human’s relationships with animals. I felt sickened and deeply disturbed by what he reveals and I found it shored up some personal decisions. Likewise, I found his contention (based on research and scientific evidence) that humans are basically, like all sentient beings, simply a series of algorithms at once perplexing and basic, fascinating. It’s this idea, mainly (but not exclusively) that leads him to posit that the new religion of Dataism might be our future. After all, if all we are as humans is a series of sophisticated algorithms, like other creatures with which we share the planet but who we currently feel are less sophisticated than us, what’s to stop computers, those powerful processors of data/algorithms in one day governing us? Might we, as intelligence and consciousness are uncoupled, go the way of the Dodo and other animals we have helped to extinction?

It’s a scary yet real notion and one which this book puts out there, along with some other very credible ideas, for us in the here and now to contemplate. Whether we want to change what could be a catastrophic future for all the creatures who share this planet with us is, in the end, up to us. It’s a huge responsibility – are we up for the essential challenge?

Excellent brain food which I think will nonetheless give many some indigestion!

 

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