If you have many unread books in your library like I do, reading a book twice may not be something you do. But this provocative new book by Yuval Noah Harari took an exception.
I liked Noah’s previous book, Sapiens, which gives a brief (443 pages, how’s that brief?) history of our species. I liked it primarily because it challenged a few of my assumption about the God of the bible, the Genesis creation account, science and faith. I’ve written a short review here. So when Homo Deus came out earlier this year, it was top on my reading list.
It’s obvious from the pages of Yuval’s books that he doesn’t think much of the Christian religion. In fact, he treats every organized religion with equal disdain. Interestingly, this doesn’t prevent me from reading his books. For two reasons: one, the Christian faith was never meant to be a religion. 2000 years ago, the man Jesus started a movement. The movement we now call the church. This movement was really never about religion. Religion is man-made. This movement was about something he liked to call the Kingdom of God. He said the Kingdom of God has come to earth. It was a political movement. It was radical. He said so himself. Why should we insist on disagreement with the founder?
But I digress. The second reason I choose to read Yuval Noah’s books is because I am training myself to be able to learn from anyone. I think the art of learning – especially from those we might disagree with – is a learned and essential life skill. Besides, God has been known to speak through the mouths of babes and suckling. So why not?
Back to the book. While Sapiens takes a look back at where we are coming from, Homo Deus tries to imagine the future we might be headed. Interestingly, Mr. Harari thinks the efforts of certain scholars to predict how the world will look like in 2100 is a waste of time, yet this is the very thing he sets out to do in the book. Predict the future.
Noah argues that we’ve manages to rein in the three biggest threats to our existence – famine, plague and war. Having done this, he thinks we must now set our eyes on the quest for immortality, bliss and divinity. He thinks the biggest project of human kind in the 21st century will be to acquire for ourselves divine powers of creation and destruction and upgrade Homo Sapiens into Homo Deus. Upgrading humans into gods. Think Greek gods and Hindu deities. These “godlings” will still have their foibles but with a much grander capacity to create and destroy. Interesting sturvs yeah?
And then there’s the yin and yang of privacy and efficiency. He delves into how the interplay of these principles might affect the outcomes of our attempt to upgrade humans into super humans. He explores the various implications of the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology and artificial intelligence. As more and more people give their cell phones more and more permission over their lives, we are well on our way.
Even in a world without hunger, disease or war, we would still retain our communal values. Human interactions, helping and caring for each other will still be vital. But Mr. Harari thinks this world would be governed by a new religion he called Dataism. A world where people trust algorithms more than their feelings and emotions.
The future Homo Deus envisages for our species is not a rosy one. However, he admits that his extrapolations of the future are just that – extrapolations. They are not set in stone. After all, what’s the point of a prediction if nothing can be done about it?
Homo Deus is painstakingly up to date, mind blowing and mind boggling. It is easily one of the most fascinating and stimulating books I’ve read in a long time. I am very impressed with Yuval Harari’s authorship and the attention he’s paid to every sentence in this book. While I do not agree with everything he has to say, I will recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the news a little better.
The elite of the 19th and (most of) 20th century were the people who had easy access to a lot of information. In the 21th century, the elite will be those who know what information is worth their attention. This, is a worthy saying. Selah!
As I concluded my first reading of Homo Deus, this verse of the bible stayed glued to my heart: Ecclesiastes 3:11 [NLT] “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” I’d like to know what Noah Harari thinks about this verse.