Category Archives: Sapiens

Book Review: Homo Deus

414jwlgtxgl

Homo Dues is Yuval Harari’s follow-up to Sapiens, which was excellent.

I. Book Summary 

The Past 

For most of time, humans struggled to overcome three evils: famines, plagues, and wars.

In part because humans really had no good answers to these problems, God became the center piece of coping with this evils. It was God’s will, rather than human agency, that was the causal foundation for what happened on Earth.

The Turning Point 

The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution changed all this – rationality and science allowed humans to begin taming famines, plagues, and war – which also eroded God’s standing.

The Present 

Together, the emergence of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – as well as the decline of religion – led to a very turbulent 20th century, where numerous countries and societies experimented with new social structures.

Ultimately, capitalistic welfare states won out on the economic front, and Humanism (seeking meaning by looking inward rather than by following God’s will) is winning out on the social / spiritual front.

Because we’ve made so much progress defeating famine, plagues, and war – we’re now turning our attention to achieve immortality, happiness, and, ultimately, god like abilities.

The Future

Humanistic capitalism will be threatened by the rise of robots / computers that will undermine the foundations of both humanism and capitalism.

Because machines will be become more advanced than us, it won’t make sense for human intuition and reasoning to be the foundation for morality; and because machines will takeover the human economy, human centered capitalism / welfare states will no longer be the optimal way to structure an economy.

The two most likely futures are: techno-humanism (humans become part machine) or data-ism (humans become functionally obsolete and are replaced by intelligent machines that will likely not be conscious).

Harari indicates that techno-humanism would likely collapse on itself pretty quickly and that data-ism is our more likely future.

II. Harari is a Great Writer and Historian

It’s hard not to envy Harari as a writer: he’s logical, funny, insightful, and has an uncanny ability to elucidate complex subjects through pithy one-liners, stories, and thought experiments.

We’d all be a lot smarter if more non-fiction writers wrote with his intelligence.

Harari also does an incredible job of identifying and explaining the drivers of human material and cultural development.

III. Harari Adds Little to Futurism

Most of the main ideas in Harari’s analysis of the future can be found in deeper and more expansive works (writers along the lines of Ray Kurzwel, Robin Hanson, etc.)

While Harari’s writing and analytical abilities make him a first class historian, these skills do less work in enabling him to make insightful predictions about the future.

What I would have thought would be obvious topics of deep exploration – such as technical analysis of the computing power needed for a singularity type event, as well as the underpinnings of consciousness – receive very little treatment.

Harari just argues that data-ism will likely occur and that we can’t really predict what that will be like.

I would have loved to read a much deeper analysis of on how and when data-ism might occur, as well as some hard thinking about what economics and values might govern this new world.

Sapiens is required reading.

Homo Dues is worth reading, but, unfortunately, it’s not groundbreaking.

Wheat Enslaved Us. We Escaped. But What is the New Wheat?

wheat

In Yuval Harari’s book, Sapiens, he argues that wheat conquered humans.

His argument:

  • Humans learned how to grow wheat.
  • This allowed our population to expand.
  • This caused us to grow more wheat.
  • This required us to work long hours doing backbreaking labor. This made many of us miserable.
  • Ultimately, both wheat and humans expanded their populations, but, for humans, it was at the expense of our happiness.

I find this to be fairly convincing. Basically, wheat shifted humans into a high-growth, low happiness equilibrium that was hard to escape (it took the industrial revolution to get us out of it).

This got me thinking: what’s the new wheat? What in our lives do we have little chance of getting rid of but is arguably not making us any happier?

Some possibilities:

1. Sugar: It causes us to become obese and eventually die.

2. Sexual Media: From fashion magazines to commercials to pornography, it causes us to obsess over un-winnable games, likely causing depression and other mental disorders.

3. Alcohol: It causes us to kill each other and become depressed.

4. Economic Growth: This addiction may lead us to make Earth uninhabitable to humans.

I’m sure one could up with others. But all of the above have reached massive scale, have proven extremely difficult to curb, and, either already (sugar, media, alcohol) or may (economic growth) cause severe unhappiness (or extinction).

The common theme here is that humans are increasingly struggling with abundance. This is not surprising given that our brains evolved to operate in environments where scarcity was the norm.

What is the marshmallow test?

The marshmallow test is a test that measures how well any given human can operate in a world of abundance.