Marc explores two books by Yuval Noah Harari, who came to the conclusion that “Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.”
There are not many authors who can keep my curiosity and attention for a long time; Harari is one of them. Two years ago, I read his first book, Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, as a paperback, on our holiday in Titisee, Germany.
Since its publication in English in 2014, this very readable and mesmerising book has been translated into some 45 languages. It surveys the entire length of human history, from the evolution of Homo sapiens from the Middle Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) up to the political and technological revolutions of the 21st century. The Hebrew edition became a bestseller in Israel, and generated much interest both in the academic community and among the general public, turning Harari into a celebrity. YouTube video clips of Harari’s Hebrew lectures on the history of the world have been viewed by tens of thousands of Israelis.
Reading some pages in the morning, I would spend the rest of the day chewing on his fascinating findings. He analyses the ways Homo sapiens has been defined and how we reached the understanding and meaning of being human. He explores the mystery of what happened to the several species of humans that inhabited our globe more than a hundred thousand years ago – and now as only we are left he asks what can and will happen to us.
Harari effortlessly sweeps through history and science, compares past events and developments with today’s issues. He compels the reader to look into the future as modern Homo sapiens is twisting natural laws that have been in place for the past four billion years without any idea about the impact it will have.
Not only is this a fascinating read – more than 50 photographs and illustrations / diagrams in addition to six maps support his outline and stress the question, who we want to become.
This year, I delved into his second book and best-seller, Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, on my E-reader, during our stay in the German Eifel. In this book, Harari addresses the control we try to apply over nature, seeing ourselves as gods, and creating a future full of man-made technology which will eventually control humanity. He addresses consciousness and intelligence, and what impact and automated world will have on us.
Again, I was reading in the morning, digesting the substance during the day. Rana, my companion and wife, was also reading Homo Deus on her E-reader, so we had animated conversations during our walks in nature. Especially topics about the soul kept us riveted. For example: “Life sciences doubt the existence of soul not just due to lack of evidence, but rather because the very idea of soul contradicts the most fundamental principles of evolution.”
Harari explains the journey of Homo sapiens from being victim of the forces of nature, of diseases and endless wars into what he says has been transformed into now manageable challenges. We declare ourselves masters of the world by believing in money, institutions, and religions – albeit with many seen and unseen consequences attached.
He questions where we are going from here, which destiny lies ahead of us. Will we overcome death, will we create artificial life? Or will we destroy ourselves with the powers we have developed? Harari calls this the next step of evolution – Homo deus.
What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we set out on? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century – from overcoming death to creating artificial life. He asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo deus.
Yuval Noah Harari was born in Kiryat Ata, Israel, in 1976 and grew up in a secular Jewish family of eastern European origin in Haifa, Israel. He met his husband Itzik Yahav in 2002. No officially recognised religion in Israel allows same-sex marriage, hence they married in Canada and live in Mesialt Zion, a moshav (type of cooperative agricultural community of individual farms) near Jerusalem.
Harari twice won the Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality, and was given the Society for Military History’s Moncado Award for outstanding articles in military history. In 2012, he was elected to the Young Israeli Academy of Sciences. His first book Sapiens also won the National Library of China’s Wenjin Book Award.
Harari practises Vipassana meditation for two hours every day and joins every year a meditation retreat of 30 days or longer, in silence and with no books or social media to distract. He dedicated Homo Deus to “my teacher, S. N. Goenka, who lovingly taught me important things,” and adds, “I could not have written this book without the focus, peace and insight gained from practising Vipassana for fifteen years.” He is also an assistant meditation teacher and a vegan, and regards meditation as a way to research.
Some quotes from Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow
“Religion is a deal, whereas spirituality is a journey.”
“For religions, spirituality is a dangerous threat.”
“Religions that lose touch with the technological realities of the day lose their ability even to understand the questions being asked.”
“That’s how history unfolds. People weave a web of meaning, believe in it with all their heart, but sooner or later the web unravels, and when we look back we cannot understand how anybody could have taken it seriously.”
“Whereas the Agricultural Revolution gave rise to theist religions, the Scientific Revolution gave birth to humanist religions, in which humans replaced gods.”
“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.”
“Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?”
Both books are compelling and thought-provoking reads.
Marc is a regular contributor
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