Homo Deus –– Yuval Harari

Other highlights: [[Highlights from Homo Deus]]

The New Human Agenda

  • Humans are (or were) largely concerned about three things particularly: famine, plague and war.

    • "For generation after generation humans have prayed to every god, angel and saint, and have invented countless tools, institutions and social systems - but they continued to die on their millions from starvation, epidemics and violence."
    • "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".
    • War is possibly the only thing that's still around, with political agendas and more. But this was before #covid-19. I wonder how Harari's thoughts have changed since the epidemic.
    • Up until now the human agenda was: don't die, procreate, protect your tribe. The new agenda considers how we can become Gods. We want more power, more money, and we want to live forever. We're just fighting death - even though we may call it famine, plague or war. The real enemy is death and the way we'll fight against it is by extending life span.
      • "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."
  • What happens when we become immortal or live much longer than we do today?

    • A large part of our artistic creativity, our political commitment and our religious piety is fuelled by the fear of death.
    • #comment
      • There is so much wrong with the idea of mortality. Isn't the fear of death what keeps us going and what provides us with a reason to live and do things?
      • What are the consequences of everyone being immortal? Our resources aren't enough to feed 7 billion people, let alone everyone who has ever existed. We don't have space for immortality, we don't have resources or technology for immortality. And more important, if we begin to value equality, immortality doesn't become an option. The gap between the rich and the poor will only begin to increase. The elite will get access to the better technology, making them do worse things and making them superhumans, while the poor will remain.. human
    • The evolution of ideas might slow down the longer we live, though.
    • The biggest competition to us is technology, and it only accelerates. But it seems like we're moving in opposite directions, because the acceleration of technology is what makes us live longer. But if you live longer, you're somehow less fit to compete with technology since your ideas evolve more slowly and are based in older times.
  • In truth, we will actually be a-mortal rather than immortal. Future "superhumans" could still die in war, accidents and nothing can bring them back. However, they wouldn't have a "natural" expiry date unlike current humans.

    • You don't consciously want death but at the same time, you do.
    • "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. Even if we now overcome cancer, diabetes and the other major killers, it would mean only that almost everyone will get to live to ninety – but it will not be enough to reach 150, let alone 500. For that, medicine will need to re- engineer the most fundamental structures and processes of the human body, and discover how to regenerate organs and tissues. It is by no means clear that we can do that by 2100."
  • When we take into our account our belief in the sanctity of human life, our belief in the scientific establishment, and top it all with the needs of the capitalist economy, a relentless war against death seems to be inevitable. The pie just needs to keep growing for us to keep going.

    • "But if and when science makes significant progress in the war against death, the real battle will shift from the laboratories to the parliaments, courthouses and streets."
  • The more we try to move towards utopia, the more chaos we end up creating. Our quest for order, equality and happiness is the natural course for entropy.

  • [[Happiness]]

    • 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.

      • Our quest for happiness has turned into a universal right to happiness, and anyone who stands in our way should be blamed. But the truth is, it's the quest for happiness and the belief that it is our right to be happy which stands in our way of attaining happiness. Then, we just resort to substances or alcohol for temporary relief or we are inevitably unhappy when we aren't granted that "right".
        • "Even if famine, plague and war become less prevalent, billions of humans in developing countries and seedy neighbourhoods will continue to deal with poverty, illness and violence even as the elites are already reaching for eternal youth and godlike powers."
    • "When Epicurus defines happiness as the supreme good, he warned his disciples that it is hard work to be happy."

    • "Bentham's successor, John Stuart Mill, explained that happiness is nothing but pleasure and freedom from pain, and that beyond pleasure and pain, there is no good and no evil."

    • [[Buddhism]] "Buddha had made an even more radical claim, teaching that the pursuit of happiness is in fact the very root of suffering."

      • According to biochemistry, too, we learn that pleasant sensations disappear just as quickly as they arise. As long as people crave pleasant sensations without actually experiencing them, they remain dissatisfied.
      • "According to Buddha, we can train our minds to observe carefully how all sensations constantly arise and pass. When the mind learns to see our sensations for what they are - ephemeral and meaningless vibrations - we lose interest in pursuing them. For what is the point of running after something that disappears as fast as it arises?"
    • Humans now want endless happiness and zero suffering, though we have not evolved for something like that. Perhaps this is why we also have a mechanism to make ourselves miserable even when things are going right - or perhaps the exact opposite.

      • Historically we manipulated environment to fit us. In the future it seems we will try to manipulate us to essentially transcend the environment.
      • "For example, everybody still agreed on one thing: in order to improve education, we need to change the schools. Today, for the first time in history, at least some people think it would be more efficient to change the pupils’ biochemistry"
    • How can we regulate this biochemical pursuit of happiness by separating 'bad' from 'good' ones?

      • Biochemical manipulations that strengthen political stability, social order and economic growth are allowed and even encouraged (e.g., those that calm hyperactive kids in school, or drive anxious soldiers forward into battle). While, manipulations that threaten stability and growth are banned
      • This leads to the manifestations of superhuman power with medicine.
    • Medicine always begins with helping people below the norm, but the same tools can be used to surpass the norm. (Example, people who don't need to take adderall, take adderall)

    • And therefore, if you are not cheating you are in disadvantage.

  • "In ancient agricultural societies, most religions involved not around metaphysical questions and the afterlife, but around the very mundane issue of increasing agricultural output."

  • "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."

    • "The modern economy needs constant and indefinite growth in order to survive. If growth ever stops, the economy won't settle down to some cosy equilibrium; it will fall to pieces. That's why capitalism encourages us to seek immortality, happiness and divinity."
  • Harari is extra careful in predicting the future, or disclosing what he thinks will happen. In a way, there are ways to predict the future in terms of human behaviour and psychology - but you can't predict technology and information.

      • A prediction can be a warning - once something is being talked about, it shapes the future of that thing, whether good or bad.
    • Communism example: it didn't take place effectively even if Marx predicted it. Governments who heard of his work took precautionary measure, and therefore it never happened.
      • "This prediction is less of a prophecy and more a way of discussing our present choices. If the discussion makes us choose differently, so that the prediction is proven wrong, all the better. What's the point of making predictions if they cannot change anything?"
      • We cannot really predict the future. All the scenarios presented should be understood as possibilities rather than prophecies.
      • It's a paradox: as we accumulate more data and better our computing power, events become more unpredictable and unexpected. The more we know, the less we can predict.
      • This is [[the paradox of historical knowledge]]
        • Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses it's 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.
      • [[free will]]: This is the best reason to learn history: not to predict the future, but to free yourself from the past and imagine alternative destinies. Ofcourse, this is not total freedom - we can't avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is obviously better than none.
  • [[Maya and the concept of perception]]

    • "Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams."
  • "The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings."

Part 1: Homo Sapiens Conquers the World

  • Key Questions:
    • What is the difference between humans and other animals?
    • How did our species conquer the world?
    • Is Homo sapiens a superior life form, or just the local bully?
  • This first part seems like a summary of [[Sapiens - Yuval Harari]]
  • Humankind is looking to replace natural selection with "intelligent design", and to extend life from the organic realm into the inorganic.
  • While animists saw humans as just another kind of animal, the Bible argues that humans are a unique creation, and any attempt to acknowledge the animal within us denies God's power and authority.
  • Animal suffering, and the case for vegetarianism:
    • "Alas, domesticated species paid for their unparalleled collective success with unprecedented individual suffering."
      • Animals suffer greatly, yet they live on and multiply. Doesn't that contradict the most basic principles of natural selection? The [[theory of evolution]] maintains that all instincts, drives and emotions have evolved in the sole interest of survival and reproduction.
      • 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. Animals still feel despair and depression when they're not met with their subjective needs.
    • "What makes the fate of domesticated farm animals particularly harsh is not just the way they die but above all, the way they live."
    • " '[[Algorithms]]' are arguably the single most important concept in our world. If we want to understand our life and our future, we should make every effort to understand what an algorithm is, and how algorithms are connected with emotions."
      • "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 that calculation."
      • These algorithms undergo constant quality control by natural selection. Only animals that calculate probabilities correctly leave offspring behind.
    • An experiment that comes up in a lot of other podcasts, books and articles: When given a choice between a metal dummy mother fitted with a milk bottle, and a soft cloth-covered dummy with no milk, the baby monkeys clung to the barren cloth mother for all they were worth.
      • What Harry Harlow did to a few hundred monkeys, the meat and dairy industries are doing to billions of animals every single year.
    • The founding idea of humanist religions (liberalism, communism, even nazism) is that Homo Sapiens has some unique and sacred essence that is the source of all meaning and authority in the universe. Everything that happens in the cosmos is judged to be good or bad according to it's impact on Homo sapiens.
      • Even non-humanist religions seem to have stolen this idea, for their benefit.
      • They justified the agricultural economy through new cosmological myths.
      • Christianity, for example, maintained that humans hold a sway over the rest of creation because the Creator charged them with that authority. God gave an eternal soul only to humans.
      • Humans thus became the apex of all creations, while all other organisms were pushed to the sidelines.
    • Other [[religion]]s, particularly Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, have demonstrated even greater empathy towards animals. They empathize the connection between humans and the rest of the ecosystem, and their foremost ethical commandment has been to avoid killing any living being. Whereas the biblical 'thou shalt not kill' covered only humans, the ancient Indian principle of ahimsa extends to every sentient being.
      • But every religion takes these "rules" for granted, and bends it until their needs are met. Hinduism, for example, considers cows sacred and forbids anyone from eating beef, but has also provided the ultimate justification for the dairy industry, saying that cows are generous creatures and want to share their milk with human kind.
      • Humans therefore committed themselves to an "agricultural deal". According to this deal, cosmic forces gave humans command over other animals, on condition that humans fulfilled certain obligations towards the gods, towards nature and towards the animals themselves.
    • Industrial farming has no real interest in animals, which don't share the sanctity of human nature. And it has no use for gods, because modern science and technology give humans powers that far exceeded those of the ancient gods.
  • Life sciences doubt the existence of a soul - not just because there isn't any evidence, but because the most fundamental principles of the [[theory of evolution]] contradicts it. And it's this contradiction that is responsible for the hatred inspired by devout monotheists.
  • [[The Self]]
    • Most people think that even though my body and brain undergo a constant process of change, as neurons fire, hormones flow and muscles contract, my personality, wishes and relationships never stand still, and may be completely transformed over years and decades. But underneath it all, I remain the same person from birth to death - hopefully beyond death as well. But this is rather naive as evolution rejects the idea of a true self and an "eternal essence".
    • "Evolution means change, and is incapable of producing everlasting entities. From an evolutionary perspective, the closest thing we have to a human essence is our DNA, and the DNA molecule is the vehicle of mutation rather than the seat of eternity. This terrifies a large number of people who prefer to reject the theory of evolution rather than give up their 'souls'."
    • "Once you acknowledge the mere feasibility of this scenario, mathematics leads you to a very scary conclusion: since there is only one real world, whereas the number of potential virtual worlds is infinite, the probability that you happen to inhabit the sole real world is almost zero."
    • Acknowledging the existence of other minds is merely a social and legal convention.
  • [[mind vs soul]]
    • Mind is something very different from the soul. The mind isn't some mystical 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 or love.
    • When reflecting on it, we often try to sort the experiences into different categories, such as sensations, emotions and thoughts, but in reality, they are often all mingled together.
    • "This frenzied collection of experience constitutes the stream of consciousness. Unlike the everlasting soul, the mind has many parts, it constantly changes and there is no reason to think it is eternal."
  • Scientists don't know how a collection of electric signals creates subjective experiences. And more than that, they don't know what the evolutionary benefit of such a phenomenon could be.
  • [[The More We Know, The Less We Know]] The more we understand the brain, the more redundant the mind seems. If the entire system works on electric signals passing from one place to another, why do we also need to feel fear?
  • You might argue that we need the mind to store memories, make plans and autonomously spark new images and ideas. It doesn't just respond to stimuli. But where do these thoughts, images and ideas exist? They don't exist in some higher immaterial field, but are also electric signals fired by billions of neurons.
  • "Mind or [[consciousness]] for modern [[religion]] is the equivalent of the soul for ancient ones. "
  • Some scientists concede that [[consciousness]] is real and may actually have moral and political value, but it fulfill no biological value. Consciousness is instead a biologically useless by-product of certain brain processes.
    • "We cannot prove or disprove many claims of consciousness, because there are in fact variations on the Problem of Other Minds. Since we aren't familiar with any algorithm that requires consciousness, anything an animal does can be seen as the product of non-conscious algorithms rather than of conscious memories and plans."
  • A crucial factor in our conquest of the world was our ability to connect many humans to one another. Why are humans able to construct such large and sophisticated social systems?
    • Any large scale cooperation is ultimately based on our belief in imagined orders. [[Sapiens - Yuval Harari]]
    • [[Intersubjective Entities]]
      • ""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.""
    • "Life meaning exists only within the network of stories we tell one another."

Part 2: Homo Sapiens Gives Meaning to the World

  • Key Questions:
    • What kind of world did humans create?
    • How did we become convinced that we not only control the world, but also give meaning to it?
    • How did humanism become the most important religion of all?
  • "Writing also made it easier for humans to believe in the existence of such fictional entities, because it habituated people to experiencing reality through the meditation of abstract symbols."
    • Written language may have been conceived as a modest way of describing reality, but it gradually became a powerful way to reshape reality. When official reports collided with objective reality, it was often reality that had to give way. The truth hardly matters, what's written down is far more important.
    • In practice, the power of human cooperation of networks rests on a delicate balance between truth and fiction.
  • #religion
    • Shared mythologies and a culture of [[religion]]s allowed us to conquer the world, and live in a world dominated by Sapiens.
      • "Such self absorption characterizes all humans in their childhood. Children of all religions and cultures think they are the centre of the world, and therefore show little genuine interest in the conditions and feelings of other people. Most people grow out of this infantile delusion. Monotheists hold on to it until the day they die."
      • It is much easier for animists and polytheists to accept that mane events are unrelated to me or my favourite deity, and they are neither punishments nor rewards for my good deeds.
    • "Fiction enables us to cooperate better. The price we pay is that some fictions also determine the goals of our cooperation. So we may have very elaborate systems of cooperation, which are harnessed to serve fictional aims and interests. Consequently the system may seem to be working well, but only if we adopt the system's own criteria."
      • Blind faith in these stories meant that human efforts frequently focused on increasing the glory of fictional entities such as gods and nations, instead of bettering the lives of real sentient beings.
    • Human cooperative networks usually judge themselves by yardsticks of their own invention and, not surprisingly, they often give themselves high marks.
      • In particular, human networks built in the name of imaginary entities such as gods, nations and corporations, normally judge their success from the viewpoint of the imaginary entity.
      • A religion is successful if it follows divine commandments to the letter; a nation is glorious if it promotes the national interest; and a cooperation thrives when it makes a lot of money.
    • Religion is created by humans, rather than gods. And it is defined by its social function rather than by the existence of deities.
      • Moreover, [[religion]] asserts that humans are subject to a system of moral laws that we did not invent and cannot change. It offers us a well-defined contract with predetermined goals.
    • #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. As individuals, scientists and priests may give immense importance to the truth; but as collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth.
    • [[religion]]s 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 [[religion]]s.
      • From a historical perspective, the spiritual journey is always tragic, for it is a lonely one fit for individuals rather than for societies. Human cooperation requires firm answers rather than just questions, and those who foam against religious structures end up forging new structures in their place.
  • [[Religion and science]] religion provides the ethical justification for scientific research and in exchange gets to influence the scientific agenda and the uses of scientific discoveries.
    • Both [[religion]] and science are interested in the "truth" - but each upholds a different truth and therefore are destined to clash.
    • #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. As individuals, scientists and priests may give immense importance to the truth; but as collective institutions, science and religion prefer order and power over truth.
    • [[religion]] has nothing to say about scientific facts, and science should keep its mouth shut concerning religious convictions. If the Pope believes that human life is sacred, and abortion is therefore a sin, biologists can neither prove nor refute this claim.
  • The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.
  • #meaning
    • Meaning and authority always go hand in hand, whoever determines the meanings of our actions - whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, etc - also gains the authority to tell us what to do, how to think and how to behave.
    • 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.
    • Since there is no script, and since humans fulfill no role in any great drama, terrible things might befall us and no power will come to save us, or give meaning to our suffering. There won't be a happy ending, or a bad ending, or any ending at all. Things just happen one after the other. the modern world does not believe in purpose, only cause.
    • We are constrained by nothing except our own ignorance. Plagues and droughts have no cosmic meaning, but we can eradicate them. Wars are not a way for a better future - but we can make peace. No paradise awaits us after death, but we can create paradise here on earth, if we manage to overcome a few technical difficulties.
    • [[Modern Manifestation of Religion]]: the modern deal thus offers humans an enormous temptation, coupled with a colossal threat. Omnipotence is in front of us, almost within our reach, but below us yawns the abyss of complete nothingness. On the practical level, modern life consists of a constant pursuit of power within a universe devoid of meaning. Modern culture is the most powerful in history, and it is ceaselessly researching, inventing, discovering and growing. At the same time, it is plagued by more existential angst
  • "Economic growth has thus become the crucial juncture where almost all modern [[religion]]s, ideologies and movements meet."
    • It may not be wrong to call the belief in economic growth a religion, because it now purports to solve many, if not most of our ethical dilemmas.
  • Nowadays it is generally accepted that some version of free market capitalism is a much more efficient way of ensuring long-term growth, hence rich farmers and freedom of expression are protected, but ecological habits, social structures and traditional values that stand in the way of [[free market capitalism]] are destroyed and dismantled.
  • [[free market capitalism]] dares to make ethical judgements, too - which makes it cross the border from the land of science to that of religion.
    • It did however make an important contribution to global harmony by encouraging to view the world as not a zero-sum game but a win-win situation in which one's profit is also another's._"Technology gives us a good chance of overcoming resource scarcity. The real nemesis of the modern economy is ecological collapse. Both scientific
  • "Technology gives us a good chance of overcoming resource scarcity. The real nemesis of the modern economy is ecological collapse. Both scientific progress and economic growth take place within a brittle biosphere, and as they gather steam, so the shockwaves destabilize the ecology."
    • #comment How much of this do I believe? If there aren't enough resources for everyone now, how will there be when demand skyrockets and the population grows with technology? Even if only distribution is the problem right now, how will technology solve this problem of [[resource scarcity]] if people aren't willing to?
  • [[climate change]] We're locked into a double-race. One one hand, we feel compelled to speed up the pace of scientific progress and economic growth, and on the other hand, we still want to stat ahead of ecological collapse. Managing this double race becomes more difficult by the year, because every little stride that brings Delhi slum dwellers closer to the American Dream also brings the planet closer to the brink.
    • If and when this happens, the poor are the ones who will bear the brunt of it. However, they will also be the first ones to bear the brunt of economic stagnation. In a capitalist world, the lives of the poor improves only when the economy grows - if the rich win, so do the poor. Hence, they are unlikely to support any future steps to reduce ecological threats that are based on slowing down present-day growth. Protecting the environment is a very nice idea, but those who cannot protect their present are worried more about paying rent than about melting ice caps.
  • Capitalism has repeatedly comforted us - as the economy grows, The invisible hand of the market will take care of everything. Capitalism has thus sanctified a voracious and chaotic system that grows by leaps and bounds, without anyone understanding what is happening and where we are rushing.
  • Yet the fact remains that human kind is far more peaceful than ever. How did we manage that? How did morality, beauty and even compassion survive and flourish in a world devoid of Gods?
  • [[The Humanist Revolution]]
    • In exchange for power, we can find meaning. However, there seems to be an escape clause: if humans somehow manage to find meaning without deriving from a great cosmic plan, this is not a breach of the contract.
    • It is impossible to sustain order without meaning - so the great political, artistic and religious project has been to find a meaning to life that's not rooted in a great cosmic plan. We are not actors in a great cosmic plan, and nobody cares about us or our deeds, yet we are convinced that our lives have meaning.
    • What prevents social collapse if we are not subject to the laws of God or nature?
    • 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 their inner experiences, not only the meaning of their own lives, but also the meaning of the entire universe. this is the primary commandment: create meaning for a meaningless world.
      • Humanism thus sees life as a gradual process of inner change, leading from ignorance to enlightenment by means of experiences. The highest aim of humanist life is to fully develop your knowledge through a large variety of intellectual, emotional and physical experiences.
    • The humanist revolution caused modern Western culture to lose faith and interest in superior mental states, and the sanctify the mundane experiences of the average Joe.
  • Democratic elections usually work only within populations that have some prior common bond, such as shared religious belief and national myths. How much of this applies to India?
  • [[Global Peace]] will be achieved not be celebrating the distinctiveness of each nation, but by unifying all the workers of the world; and social harmony wont be achieved by each person narcissistically exploring their own inner depths, but rather by each person prioritizing the needs and experiences of others over their own desires.
  • The rich are taught to disregard the poor, while the poor are taught to disregard their true interests. No amount of self-reflection or psychotherapy will help because the psychotherapists are also working for the capitalist system.
    • In exchange for such devoted counseling services, we will just have to give up the idea that humans are individuals, and that each human has a [[free will]] determining what's good, what's beautiful and what is the meaning of life. Humans will no longer be autonomous entities directed by the stories their narrating self invents. Instead they will be integrated parts of a huge global network.
  • Self-reflection is likely only to distance me even further from understanding the truth about myself, because it gives too much credit to personal decisions and too little credit to social conditions.
  • Whereas liberalism merged with the milder versions of nationalism to protect the unique experiences of each human community, evolutionary humanists such as Hitler identified particular nations as the entities of human progress, and concluded that these nations ought to bludgeon or even exterminate anyone standing in their way.
  • The trend towards Liberalism is a natural consequence of technological evolution.
    • What happens when we begin this phase of transcendence? Many social developments seem to be sons of the current economic forces.
    • Slavery ended and women gained the right to vote because it was better for the overall economy, not because of a genuine interest of their lives.
  • Islam, Christianity and other traditional [[religion]]s are still important players in the world. Yet their role now is largely reactive. In the past, they were a creative force. Christianity, for example, spread the heretical idea that humans are equal before God, thereby changing human political structures and even gender relations.
    • The Bible is kept as a source of authority, even though it is no longer a true source of inspiration.
  • The humanist belief in feelings allowed us to benefit from the fruits of the modern covenant without paying its price. We don't need any gods to limit our power and give us meaning - free choices of customers and voters supply us with all the meaning we require.
    • What, then, will happen once we realize that customers and voters never make free choices and we have the technology to calculate, design or outsmart their feelings? If the whole universe is pegged to the human experience, what will happen once the human experience becomes just another designable product, no different in essence from any other item in the supermarket?

Part 3: Homo Sapiens Loses Control

  • Key Questions:
    • Can humans go on running the world and giving it meaning?
    • How do biotechnology and AI threaten humanism?
    • What might inherit humankind, and what new [[religion]] might replace humanism?
  • "Because science does not deal with the questions of value, it cannot determine whether liberals are right in valuing liberty more than equality, or in valuing the individual more than the collective. However, like every other religion, liberalism too is based on what it believes to be factual statements, in addition to abstract ethical judgements. And these factual statements just don't stand up to rigorous and scientific scrutiny."
  • [[free will]]: decisions reached through a chain reaction of biochemical reactions, each determined by a previous event are certainly not free. Decisions resulting from random subatomic accidents aren't free either. They are just random accidents - and combine them with deterministic processes, we get probabilistic outcomes, but this too doesn't amount to freedom.
    • 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.
    • However, once we accept that there is no soul, and that humans have no inner essence called the 'self', it no longer makes sense to ask 'How does the self choose its desires?' It's like asking a bachelor, 'How does your wife choose her clothes?'. 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. #Buddhism
    • Doubting [[free will]] is not just a philosophical exercise - it has practical implications. If organisms indeed lack free will, it implies we could manipulate and even control their desires using drugs, genetic engineering or direct brain stimulation.
      • What could happen if we could rewrite our inner monologues, or even silence them completely on occasion?
  • [[experiencing self vs the narrating self]]
    • Experiencing self is our moment-to-moment consciousness. It remembers nothing. It tells no stories, and is seldom consulted when it comes to big decisions.
    • The narrating self retrieves memories, tells stories, and makes big decisions. It discounts the duration of our experiences, and adopts the [[peak end rule]] - it remembers only the peak moment and the end moment and evaluates the whole experience according to their average. Most of our critical life choices - careers, residences, holidays, partners - are taken by our narrating self.
    • The narrating self forgets the vast majority of events, remembers only a few extreme incidents and gives a wholly disproportional weight to recent happenings.
    • These two entities are intertwined. The narrating self uses our experiences as important raw materials for its stories. These stories in turn shape what the experiencing self actually feels. The experiencing self is often strong enough to sabotage the best-laid plans by the narrating self.
    • Most people identify with the narrating self. When they say 'I', they mean the story in their head, not the stream of experiences they undergo. We identify with the system that spins seemingly logical and consistent stories. We always retain the feeling that we have a single unchanging identity from birth to death, regardless of how contradictory the stories in our heads are. This gives rise to the questionable liberal belief that I am an individual, and that I possess a consistent and clear inner voice, which provides meaning for the entire universe.
    • [[Sunk cost theory]]
      • The narrating self would much prefer to go on suffering in the future, just so it won't have to admit that our past suffering was devoid of any meaning. Eventually, if we want to come clean about past mistakes, our narrating self has to invent some twist in the plot that will infuse mistakes with meaning.
      • It is much easier to live with a fantasy, because the fantasy gives meaning to the suffering.
      • "The more you've bought into it and the more you've commited to that reality, the more you are committed to making sure other people abide by it. This is the dangerous territory. "
    • What happens when the yarns spun by our narrating self cause great harm to ourselves and those around us?
    • [[The Self]], too, is an imaginary story, just like nations, Gods and money. Humans are masters of [[cognitive dissonance]], we allow ourselves to believe one thing in the laboratory and an altogether different thing in the courthouse or parliament.
  • Until today, high intelligence always went hand in hand with a developed [[consciousness]]. Only conscious beings could outperform tasks that required a lot of intelligence, like playing chess, or driving a car, or diagnosing a disease. However, we are now developing new types of non-conscious beings that can out perform us in these tasks. For all these tasks are based on pattern recognition and non-conscious algorithms may soon excel human consciousness in recognizing patterns.
    • So, which of the two is really important, intelligence or consciousness?
  • The most important question may as well be what to do with all the superfluous people. What will conscious humans do once we have highly intelligent non-conscious algorithms that can do almost everything better?
    • We might witness the creation of a new massive class of people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society.
    • Maybe technological advances will be able to feed and support the useless masses even without any effort from their side. But what will people do to keep occupied and content?
  • The new technologies of the twenty-first century may thus reverse the humanist revolution, stripping humans of their authority, and empowering non-human [[Algorithms]] instead.
  • Threats to liberalism:
    • Humans will lose their value completely
    • Humans will still be valuable collectively, but they will be stripped of their individual authority, and will instead be managed by algorithms.
    • Some people will remain both indispensable and undecipherable, but they will constitute a small and privileged elite of upgraded humans. These super-humans will enjoy unheard of abilities and unprecedented creativity, which allow them to go on making many of the most important decisions in the world.
  • The liberal solution for social inequality is to give equal value to different human experiences, instead of trying to create the same experience for everyone. However, what will be the fact of this solution once the rich and poor are separated not merely by wealth but by real biological gaps?
  • The great human projects of the 20th century, overcoming famine, plague and war, aimed to safeguard a universal norm of health, peace and abundance for all people without exception. The new projects for the 21st century - gaining immortality, divinity and bliss - also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than nineteenth century Europeans treated Africans.
  • "Since intelligence is decoupling from consciousness, and since non-conscious intelligence is developing at breakneck speed, humans must actively upgrade their minds if they want to stay in the game."
    • The dilemma between living a simple life, far away from technology and enjoying the simple pleasures vs. coming together at a larger scale with technology to develop a better society. The question then becomes where my morals stand, and what form my values take in terms of liberalism or dataism, etc.
  • "We are acquiring the technical skills to begin manufacturing new states of consciousness, yet we lack a map of these potential new territories. Since we are familiar mainly with the normative and sub-normative mental spectrum of WEIRD people, we don't even know what destinations we aim towards."
  • We have more choice than ever before, but no matter what we choose, we have lost the ability to really pay attention to it. [[The Attention Deficit Trait]]
    • A life of resolute decisions and quick fixes may be poorer and shallower than one of doubts and contradictions.
    • We may successfully upgrade our bodies and our brains, while losing our minds in the process. Techno-humanism may end up downgrading humans - and the system may prefer these downgraded humans not because they would possess any superhuman knacks, but because they would lack some really disturbing qualities that hamper the system and slow it down.
  • Techno-humanism faces an impossible dilemma. It considers the human will to be the most important thing in the universe, hence it pushes humans to develop technologies that can control and redesign our will. After all, it's tempting to fain control over the most important thing in the world. Yet, once we have such control, techno-humanism would not know what to do with it, because the sacred human will would be just another designer product. We can never deal with such technologies as long as we believe that the human will and experience are the supreme source of authority and meaning.
  • [[Dataism]] collapses the barrier between animals and machines, and expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.
    • It gives all scientists a common language, builds bridges over academic rifts and easily reports insights across disciplinary borders. This idea is extremely attractive to most.
    • However, it also believes that humans can no longer cope with the immense flow of data, hence they cannot distill data into information, let alone into knowledge or wisdom. The work of processing this data should be entrusted with algorithms instead.
  • Capitalism uses distributed data processing, whereas communism relies on centralized data processing; all these are not competing ideologies, ethical creeds or political systems, but competing data processing systems.
    • Free market capitalism distributes the work of analyzing data and making decisions between many independent but interconnected processors. Heavy taxation means that a large part of all available capital accumulates in one place and consequently more decisions have to be made by a single processor, resulting in an overly centralized processing system.
    • In a free market, if one processor makes the wrong decision, others will be quick to utilize its mistake. But when one processor makes almost all the decisions, mistakes are catastrophic.
      • We often imagine that democracy and free market won because they were 'good'. In truth, they won because they improved the global data-processing system.
    • If in the 21st century traditional political structures can no longer process the data fast enough to produce meaningful visions, then new and more efficient structures will evolve to take their place. These new structures may be very different from any previous political institutions, whether democratic or authoritarian. The only question is who will build and control these structures. If humankind is no longer up to the task, perhaps it might give somebody else a try.
  • Mixing god-like technology with megalomaniac politics is a recipe for disaster.
  • What do we care about more, the objective truth data reality or the subjective experiences of individuals? How much of the objective truth can we even allow ourselves to see, if everything is [[Maya and the concept of perception]]?
  • Dataism began as a neutral theory, but is quickly mutating into a new religion that claims to determine right and wrong, and it's supreme value is 'information flow'. If life is the movement of information, and if we think that life is good, it follows that we should extend, deepen and spread the flow of information in the universe.
  • Freedom of information is not given to humans, it is given to information. Moreover, this novel value may impinge on the traditional freedom of expression, by privileging the right of information to circulate freely over the right of humans to own data and to restrict its movement.
  • Software eating the world. Everything is moving more and more towards algorithms. From the Data viewpoint, we can see our whole species like a single processing system. The end goal of Data is to create the Internet of all things, a completely interconnected (pure intersubjective) system of consciousness. This may render Sapiens obsolete, once we've created the IOT
  • People just want to be a part of the data flow, even if that means giving up their privacy, their autonomy and their individuality.
    • A growing number of artistic and scientific creations are nowadays produced by the ceaseless collaboration of 'everyone'. Who writes Wikipedia? All of us.
  • As we move into [[Dataism]], one by one, we see our subjective decisions into objective/data driven decisions - you'd probably start going with the data more and more.
    • As the global data-processing system becomes all knowing and all powerful, so connecting the system becomes the source of all meaning.
    • By equating the human experience with data patterns, [[Dataism]] undermines our main source of authority and meaning and heralds a tremendous religious revolution, the likes of which has not been seen since the 18th century.
    • What's the point of doing or experiencing anything if nobody knows about it, and if it doesn't contribute something to the global exchange of information?
  • Writing a private diary, a common humanist practice in previous generations, sounds to many present day youngsters utterly useless. Why write anything if nobody else can read it? The new motto says: if you experience something, record it. If you record something, upload it. If you upload something, share it.
  • Broadening our horizons can backfire by making us more confused and inactive than before. With so many scenarios and possibilities, what should we pay attention to? The world is changing faster than ever, we are flooded by the impossible amounts of data, of ideas, of promises and of threats. Humans relinquish authority to the free market, to crowd wisdom and to extend algorithms partly because they cannot deal with the deluge of data._
  • "These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book:
    • Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?
    • What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
    • What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?”