The book’s conclusion:
‘The world is changing faster than ever before, and we are flooded by impossible amounts of data, of ideas, of promises and of threats. Humans relinquish authority to the free market, to crowd wisdom and to external algorithms partly because they cannot deal with the deluge of data. In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. People just don’t know what to pay attention to, and they often spend their time investigating and debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore. So considering everything that is happening in our chaotic world, what should we focus on?
If we think in terms of months, we had probably better focus on immediate problems such as the turmoil in the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Europe and the slowing of the Chinese economy. If we think in terms of decades, then global warming, growing inequality and the disruption of the job market loom large. Yet if we take the really grand view of life, all other problems and developments are overshadowed by three interlinked processes:
1. Science is converging in an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing.
2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.
These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book:
1. Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?
2. What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?
I read the book Homo Deus is the sequel of, Sapiens, in audiobook form last year. It kept me eloquent, rational company in my first months in the Greek Army, an organisation that likes to think it possesses those qualities in abundance, but is frightfully misguided. I liked Sapiens a lot, but I think my inability to take notes diminished my enjoyment and what I truly got from it in the end. So I decided to properly read the sequel by holding it in my hands and taking notes as I went through it.
Even though I like underlining my books, I have to admit that I rarely go back to actually reading the parts that stood out for me. However, that is precisely what I did now, just before writing this review. I thought it would help me write a more accurate representation of how I feel about it, but the only feeling I’m noticing at the moment is my powerlessness to convey the sheer sense of awe Mr. Harari has impressed on me. Hm, perhaps that description is pretty accurate in the end!
Mr. Harari has brought together consciousness science, religion, informatics, ethics and more, to write a revealing, interconnected history of all these fields and paint a convincing picture of what could be the true challenges humanity will face in the 21st century. All the while, his writing is incredibly lucid, easy to understand and follow, and extremely quotable.
I was actually tempted, as I have done for some of my other reviews in the past, to fill this one with whole passages on amazing, perspective-shifting facts about the world today and leave it that, but it was just too difficult to choose and make it seem as coherent as Mr. Harari has woven his book together to be.
This is obviously a very intelligent man, but what I found most interesting about his writing is that, despite his extremely rational way of thinking, he wasn’t afraid to write about spirituality, consciousness and religion.
Even if I don’t agree with some of his conclusions or fundamentals, such as the inexistence of an immaterial component of consciousness, or a soul, I can appreciate how he writes rationally about the topic within the given materialist paradigm without ever turning into a dogmatic academic – he even admits, on the book’s acknowledgements, that he would have never had the clarity of mind to write this book without having practiced Vipassana meditation for more than fifteen years.
Even if I also disagree with him about our chances of having the raw resources or the social cohesion in the future to meaningfully reach for the revolutions that will give us human godhood, I can only say that this is an open-minded, clear-headed, spiritual intellectual, and Gods know we need more of his type. Also, he raises some of the strongest points against animal cruelty I have yet to see, which counts for a whole lot as far as I’m concerned.
This is a book for the reader who’s thirsty for meaning and ready for contemporary intelligent insights into our chaotic world; insights that convincingly connect history with the present to create predictions and guidelines for life in the 21st century.
Reading this right after The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight just feels so right.