Harari: 21 Lessons For The 21st Century

29 April 2019 | In the first book Sapiens, Harari convinces audience that the history of Sapiens – today human being – is made by artificial stories. The second book Homo Deus warns that the future history of the Earth will be made by artificial intelligence. The future in Harari’s story will be dominated by homo deus – an upgraded version of sapiens based on big-data algorithms, bio-engineering technology, and artificial intelligence advances. In the third book, Harari offer today sapiens 21 lessons for the 21st century.

It is critically important to note that the Harari’s lessons are based on his artificial stories. One example, one may not agree with Harari that “The Trump moment is far more nihilistic.” Is Trump nihilistic? He strongly believes in G-d.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

  1. Disillusionment: The end of history has been postponed
  2. Work: When you grow up, you might not have a job
  3. Liberty: Big Data is watching you
  4. Equality: Those who own the data own the future
  5. Community: Humans have bodies
  6. Civilization: There is just one civilization in the world
  7. Nationalism: Global problems need global answers
  8. Religion: God now serves the nation
  9. Immigration: Some cultures might be better than others
  10. Terrorism: Don’t panic
  11. War: Never underestimate human stupidity
  12. Humility: You are not the centre of the world
  13. God: Don’t take the name of God in vain
  14. Secularism: Acknowledge your shadow
  15. Ignorance: You know less than you think
  16. Justice: Our sense of justice might be out of date
  17. Post-Truth: Some fake news lasts for ever
  18. Science Fiction: The future is not what you see in the movies
  19. Education: Change is the only constant
  20. Meaning: Life is not a story
  21. Meditation: Just observe

Differences of cultures that matter

Life scientist and in particular geneticists have produced very strong scientific evidence that the biological differences between Europeans, Africans, Chinese, and Native Americans are negligible. At the same time, however, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, behavioural economist, and even brain scientists have accumulated a wealth of data for the existence of significant differences between human cultures.

The point has two implications. First, cultural setting defines the behaviors and the characters of the people who are living in the environment. Second, a cultural setting is defined by its core moral values which are rooted in families, then expand to communities, and then become common senses of society. Core moral values can be sponged through a disciplined process of mind-sponge.

AI & Upgraded homo sapiens – home deus

If some novel creed wishes to shape the world of the year 2050, it will need not only to make sense of artificial intelligence, big-data algorithms and bioengineering – it will also need to incorporate them into a new meaningful narrative.

Two particularly important non-human abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability. Since humans are individuals, it is difficult to connect them to one another and to make sure that they are all up to date. In contrast, computers aren’t individuals, and it is easy to integrate them into a single flexible network.

Hence what we are facing is not the replacement of millions of individual human workers by millions of individual robots and computers. Rather, individual humans are likely to be replaced by an integrated network. When considering automation, it is therefore wrong to compare the abilities of a single human driver to that of a single self-driving car, or of a single human doctor to that of a single AI doctor. Rather, we should compare the abilities of a collection of human individuals to the abilities of an integrated network.

When AI can do a lot of things, if not everything, better than human then replace human, how much resources does AI need to consume? The resources include materials to make chips, energy to run computer systems and data centers, and the likes – even human who work in or ‘for’ the systems and the centers.

Potential solutions fall into three main categories: what to do in order to prevent jobs from being lost; what to do in order to create enough new jobs; and what to do if, despite our best efforts, job losses significantly outstrip job creation.

Preventing job losses altogether is an unattractive and probably untenable strategy, because it means giving up the immense positive potential of AI and robotics.

Slowing down the pace of change may give us time to create enough new jobs to replace most of the losses. Economic entrepreneurship will have to be accompanied by a revolution in education and psychology.

Yet even if enough government help is forthcoming, it is far from clear whether billions of people could repeatedly reinvent themselves without losing their mental balance. Hence, if despite all our efforts a significant percentage of humankind is pushed out of the job market, we would have to explore new models for post-work societies, post-work economies, and post-work politics. The first step is to honestly acknowledge that the social, economic and political models we have inherited from the past are inadequate for dealing with such a challenge.

Big-Data Algorithms

We are now at the confluence of two immense revolutions. On the one hand biologists are deciphering the mysteries of the human body, and in particular, of the brain and of human feelings. At the same time computer scientists are giving us unprecedented data-processing power.

When the biotech revolution merges with the info-tech revolution, it will produce Big Data Algorithms that can monitor and understand one’s feelings much better than s/he can, and then authority will probably shift from humans to computers.

Algorithms will repeatedly make mistakes due to insufficient data, faulty programming, muddled goal definitions and the chaotic nature of life. But Algorithms won’t have to be perfect. It will just need to be better on average than us humans. And that is not so difficult, because most people don’t know themselves very well, and most people often make terrible mistakes in the most important decisions of their lives. Even more than algorithms, humans suffer from insufficient data, from faulty programming (genetic and cultural), from muddled definitions, and from the chaos of life.

New pieces in the digital dictatorship

Digital dictatorship happens when AI can do,  know,  and even feel better than human. That is,  AI knows better which feelings is the most appropriate to a human than the the human itself. As a result,  AI leads humans to the decision and action that humans  feel the best for them without knowing that AI controls the feeling that humans should feel.

Then,  in the digital dictatorship, data replaces the important role of land in agriculture society and machine in industry society. It is noteworthy that,  according to Harari, the ownership of land and machine divide homo sapiens into different classes – for instance,  aristocrats and commoners in agriculture society,  and capitalist and proletarians. But the ownership of data divides human being into pieces – i.e,  homo sapiens and upgraded version of homo sapiens which is called homo deus

Morality Dilemma

Consequentialist thinkers such as John Stuart Mill (who judge actions by consequences) hold quite different opinions to deontologists such as Immanuel Kant (who judge actions by absolute rules).

Culture differences that matter

Life scientists, and in particular geneticists, have produced very strong scientific evidence that the biological differences between Europeans, Africans, Chinese and Native Americans are negligible. At the same time, however, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, behavioral economists and even brain scientists have accumulated a wealth of data for the existence of significant differences between human cultures.

The moral values

In light of this, the culture that nurtures and develops moral values of Jewish people is more important than the Jewish moral values themselves. “Jewish” moral values need to be incubated and grown first in families, then communities (such as companies, schools, residential areas), and then societies. There are seven core moral values of the Jewish people, including: Faith in G-d, whose representatives are the moral values, Integrity and Honesty, Hard-working, Love & Kindness, Humbleness, Gratitude, and Righteousness.

The moral values must be living. That is, communities can alter the practices of the moral values to fit in their current context. The keyword is the practices of the moral value. Without practicing, all discussion about moral values and morality is valueless. Without practicing, the moral values will sooner or later, disappear in the culture.

One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility or humbleness. National, religious and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feeling that my nation, my religion and my culture are the most important in the world –hence my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole. How can we make nations, religions and cultures a bit more realistic and modest about their true place in the world?

For example, moral values have appeared in mammal and homo sapiens societies way before the Ten Commandments and Judaism. Morality of some kind is natural. Yet though gods can inspire us to act compassionately, religious faith is not a necessary condition for moral behavior.

The third of the biblical Ten Commandments instructs humans never to make wrongful use of the name of God. Many understand this in a childish way, as a prohibition on uttering the explicit name of God (as in the famous Monty Python sketch ‘If you say Jehovah…’). Perhaps the deeper meaning of this commandment is that we should never use the name of God to justify our political interests, our economic ambitions or our personal hatreds. People hate somebody and say, ‘God hates him’; people covet a piece of land and say, ‘God wants it’. The world would be a much better place if we followed the third commandment more devotedly. You want to wage war on your neighbors and steal their land? Leave God out of it, and find yourself some other excuse.

Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands.’ It means ‘reducing suffering.’ Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering. If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from it. People nevertheless murder, rape and steal because they have only a superficial appreciation of the misery this causes. They are fixated on satisfying their immediate lust or greed, without concern for the impact on others –or even for the long-term impact on themselves. Even inquisitors who deliberately inflict as much pain as possible on their victim, usually use various de-sensitizing and de-humanizing techniques in order to distance themselves from what they are doing.

You might object that every human naturally seeks to avoid feeling miserable, but why would a human care about the misery of others, unless some god demands it? One obvious answer is that humans are social animals, therefore their happiness depends to a very large extent on their relations with others. Without love, friendship and community, who could be happy? If you live a lonely self-centred life, you are almost guaranteed to be miserable. So at the very least, to be happy you need to care about your family, your friends, and your community members. What, then, about complete strangers? Why not murder strangers and take their possessions to enrich myself and my tribe? Many thinkers have constructed elaborate social theories, explaining why in the long run such behavior is counterproductive. You would not like to live in a society where strangers are routinely robbed and murdered. Not only would you be in constant danger, but you would lack the benefit of things like commerce, which depends on trust between strangers. Merchants don’t usually visit dens of thieves. That’s how secular theoreticians from ancient China to modern Europe have justified the golden rule of ‘don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you’.

Yet we do not really need such complex long-term theories to find a natural basis for universal compassion. Forget about commerce for a moment. On a much more immediate level, hurting others always hurts me too. Every violent act in the world begins with a violent desire in somebody’s mind, which disturbs that person’s own peace and happiness before it disturbs the peace and happiness of anyone else. Thus people seldom steal unless they first develop a lot of greed and envy in their minds. People don’t usually murder unless they first generate anger and hatred. Emotions such as greed, envy, anger and hatred are very unpleasant. You cannot experience joy and harmony when you are boiling with anger or envy. Hence long before you murder anyone, your anger has already killed your own peace of mind.

Indeed, you might keep boiling with anger for years, without ever actually murdering the object of your hate. In which case you haven’t hurt anyone else, but you have nevertheless hurt yourself. It is therefore your natural self-interest – and not the command of some god – that should induce you to do something about your anger. If you were completely free of anger you would feel far better than if you murdered an obnoxious enemy.

For some people, a strong belief in a compassionate god that commands us to turn the other cheek may help in curbing anger. That’s been an enormous contribution of religious belief to the peace and harmony of the world. Unfortunately, for other people religious belief actually stokes and justifies their anger, especially if someone dares to insult their god or ignore his wishes. So the value of the lawgiver god ultimately depends on the behavior of his devotees. If they act well, they can believe anything they like. Similarly, the value of religious rites and sacred places depends on the type of feelings and behaviors they inspire. If visiting a temple makes people experience peace and harmony – that’s wonderful. But if a particular temple causes violence and conflicts, what do we need it for? It is clearly a dysfunctional temple.

Secularism

Not visiting any temples and not believing in any god is also a viable option. As the last few centuries have proved, we don’t need to invoke God’s name in order to live a moral life. Secularism can provide us with all the values we need.

Few people would adopt such a negative identity. Self-professing secularists view secularism in a very different way. For them, secularism is a very positive and active world view, which is defined by a coherent code of values rather than by opposition to this or that religion. Indeed, many of the secular values are shared by various religious traditions. Unlike some sects that insist they have a monopoly over all wisdom and goodness, one of the chief characteristics of secular people is that they claim no such monopoly. They don’t think that morality and wisdom came down from heaven in one particular place and time. Rather, morality and wisdom are the natural legacy of all humans. So it is only to be expected that at least some values would pop up in human societies all over the world, and would be common to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and atheists.

If they are loyal to scientific truth, to compassion, to equality and to freedom, they are full members of the secular world. 

It takes a lot of courage to fight biases and oppressive regimes, but it takes even greater courage to admit ignorance and venture into the unknown. Secular education teaches us that if we don’t know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging our ignorance and looking for new evidence. Even if we think we know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of doubting our opinions and checking ourselves again. Many people are afraid of the unknown, and want clear-cut answers for every question. Fear of the unknown can paralyze us more than any tyrant. People throughout history worried that unless we put all our faith in some set of absolute answers, human society will crumble. In fact, modern history has demonstrated that a society of courageous people willing to admit ignorance and raise difficult questions is usually not just more prosperous but also more peaceful than societies in which everyone must unquestioningly accept a single answer. People afraid of losing their truth tend to be more violent than people who are used to looking at the world from several different viewpoints. Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.

Secular education does not mean a negative indoctrination that teaches kids not to believe in God and not to take part in any religious ceremonies. Rather, secular education teaches children to distinguish truth from belief; to develop their compassion for all suffering beings; to appreciate the wisdom and experiences of all the earth’s denizens; to think freely without fearing the unknown; and to take responsibility for their actions and for the world as a whole.

If you really want truth, you need to escape the black hole of power, and allow yourself to waste a lot of time wandering here and there on the periphery. Revolutionary knowledge rarely makes it to the centre, because the centre is built on existing knowledge. The guardians of the old order usually determine who gets to reach the centres of power, and they tend to filter out the carriers of disturbing unconventional ideas. Of course they filter out an incredible amount of rubbish too. Here is an implication in the mindsponge mechanism: innovation and new business appear in the periphery. Those who are seeking innovation have to get out of the comfort zone.

Groupthink vs. individual ignorance

Modern human being is able to access to more information. Thus, they may be easy to make a mistake: considering themselves much more intelligent than their ancients. It is noteworthy to remember Albert Einstein’s quote “Information is not knowledge.”

The fact is, today human depends much more on knowledge of the others. Most of our views today are sharped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we hold on to these views out of group loyalty.  Bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance is likely to backfire. Most people don’t like too many facts, and they certainly don’t like to feel stupid. People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.

A typical example is extremist groups. The extremists believe when they die as suicide bombers they will go to heaven. If going-to-be suicide bombers are killed their fellows also believe that the killed will go to heaven because they have committed to die for their belief. Then the remaining fellows call for revenge attacks on anti-terrorism societies. Some things are wrong here. If the counter-terrorism forces send terrorists to heaven why the surviving terrorists should revenge.

Justice

Justice demands not just a set of abstract values, but also an understanding of concrete cause-and-effect relations.

Fake news

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month –that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years –that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it ‘fake news’ in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath).

A wise old man was asked what he learned about the meaning of life. ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I have learned that I am here on earth in order to help other people. What I still haven’t figured out is why the other people are here.’

Story vs. Reality

Whenever politicians start talking in mystical terms, beware. They might be trying to disguise and excuse real suffering by wrapping it up in big incomprehensible words. Be particularly careful about the following four words: sacrifice, eternity, purity, redemption. If you hear any of these, sound the alarm. And if you happen to live in a country whose leader routinely says things like ‘Their sacrifice will redeem the purity of our eternal nation’–know that you are in deep trouble.

If you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is.

The answer isn’t a story.

Meditation is a tool to observe directly your own mind, not your brain. This way may tell you the real story of you, or the story of real you?! 

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