Yuval Noah Harari
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Yuval Noah Harari (born 24 February 1976) is an Israeli professor of history and the author of the international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He teaches at the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Harper, 2011. ISBN 978-0062316097
- Seventy thousand years ago, homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction.
- Understanding human history in the millennia following the Agricultural Revolution boils down to a single question: how did humans organise themselves in mass-cooperation networks, when they lacked the biological instincts necessary to sustain such networks? The short answer is that humans created imagined orders and devised scripts. These two inventions filled the gaps left by our biological inheritance.
- Yet from the viewpoint of the herd, rather than that of the shepherd, it’s hard to avoid the impression that for the vast majority of domesticated animals, the Agricultural Revolution was a terrible catastrophe. Their evolutionary ‘success’ is meaningless. A rare wild rhinoceros on the brink of extinction is probably more satisfied than a calf who spends its short life inside a tiny box, fattened to produce juicy steaks. The contented rhinoceros is no less content for being among the last of its kind. The numerical success of the calf’s species is little consolation for the suffering the individual endures.
- The food surpluses produced by peasants, coupled with new transportation technology, eventually enabled more and more people to cram together first into large villages, then into towns, and finally into cities, all of them joined together by new kingdoms and commercial networks.
- Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the daily life of most humans ran its course within three ancient frames: the nuclear family, the extended family and the local intimate community.* Most people worked in the family business – the family farm or the family workshop, for example – or they worked in their neighbours’ family businesses. The family was also the welfare system, the health system, the education system, the construction industry, the trade union, the pension fund, the insurance company, the radio, the television, the newspapers, the bank and even the police.
- Buddha agreed with modern biology and New Age movements that happiness is independent of external conditions. Yet his more important and far more profound insight was that true happiness is also independent of our inner feelings. Indeed, the more significance we give our feelings, the more we crave them, and the more we suffer. Buddha’s recommendation was to stop not only the pursuit of external achievements, but also the pursuit of inner feelings.
Introduction to Animal Liberation
- Introduction to Peter Singer's Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, Random House, 2015. ISBN 9781473524422
- Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history.
- Today more than ninety per cent of all large animals are domesticated. Consider the chicken, for example. Ten thousand years ago it was a rare bird confined to small niches of South Asia. Today billions of chickens live on almost every continent and island, bar Antarctica. The domesticated chicken is probably the most widespread bird in the annals of planet Earth. If you measure success in terms of numbers, chickens, cows and pigs are the most successful animals ever. Alas, domesticated species paid for their unparalleled collective success with unprecedented individual suffering.
- The root of the problem is that domesticated animals have inherited from their wild ancestors many physical, emotional and social needs that are redundant in human farms. Farmers routinely ignore these needs without paying any economic price. They lock animals in tiny cages, mutilate their horns and tails, separate mothers from offspring, and selectively breed monstrosities.
- The fate of farm animals is not an ethical side issue. It concerns the majority of Earth's large creatures: tens of billions of sentient beings, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, but who live and die as cogs in an industrial production line.
- Doubts about the existence of free will and individuals are nothing new, of course. More than 2,000 years ago thinkers in India, China and Greece argued that ‘the individual self is an illusion’. Yet such doubts don’t really change history much unless they have a practical impact on economics, politics and day-to-day life. Humans are masters of cognitive dissonance, and we allow ourselves to believe one thing in the laboratory and an altogether different thing in the courthouse or in parliament. Just as Christianity didn’t disappear the day Darwin published On the Origin of Species, so liberalism won’t vanish just because scientists have reached the conclusion that there are no free individuals.
- In the past there were many things only humans could do. But now robots and computers are catching up, and may soon outperform humans in most tasks. True, computers function very differently from humans, and it seems unlikely that computers will become humanlike any time soon. In particular, it doesn’t seem that computers are about to gain consciousness and start experiencing emotions and sensations. Over the past half century there has been an immense advance in computer intelligence, but there has been exactly zero advance in computer consciousness. As far as we know, computers in 2016 are no more conscious than their prototypes in the 1950s. However, we are on the brink of a momentous revolution. Humans are in danger of losing their economic value because intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
- Of course, by 2033 many new professions are likely to appear, for example, virtual-world designers. But such professions will probably require much more creativity and flexibility than current run-of-the-mill jobs, and it is unclear whether forty-year-old cashiers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if they do so, the pace of progress is such that within another decade they might have to reinvent themselves yet again. After all, algorithms might well outperform humans in designing virtual worlds too. The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms.20
- ...Suppose you have two free hours a week, and are uncertain whether to use them playing chess or tennis. A good friend might ask: ‘What does your heart tell you?’ ‘Well,’ you answer, ‘as far as my heart is concerned, it’s obvious tennis is better. It’s also better for my cholesterol level and blood pressure. But my fMRI scans indicate I should strengthen my left pre-frontal cortex. In my family dementia is quite common, and my uncle had it at a very early age. The latest studies indicate that a weekly game of chess can help delay its onset.’
- Capitalism did not defeat communism because capitalism was more ethical, because individual liberties are sacred or because God was angry with the heathen communists. Rather, capitalism won the Cold War because distributed data processing works better than centralised data processing, at least in periods of accelerating technological change. The central committee of the Communist Party just could not deal with the rapidly changing world of the late twentieth century. When all data is accumulated in one secret bunker, and all important decisions are taken by a group of elderly apparatchiks, they can produce nuclear bombs by the cartload, but not an Apple or a Wikipedia.
- ...Meanwhile in the USA paranoid Republicans have accused Barack Obama of being a ruthless despot hatching conspiracies to destroy the foundations of American society – yet in eight years of his presidency he barely managed to pass a minor health-care reform.
- From a Dataist perspective, we may interpret the entire human species as a single data-processing system, with individual humans serving as its chips. If so, we can also understand the whole of history as a process of improving the efficiency of this system through four basic methods:
- 1: Increasing the number of processors.
- 2: Increasing the variety of processors.
- 3: Increasing the number of connections between processors.
- 4: Increasing the freedom of movement along existing connections.