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Saturday, July 01, 2017

A brave new world none of us can see | mySanAntonio.com

Photo: Michael Gerson
"Here is a moral rule: You can either be cheery or you can describe the universe as an empty, echoing void where human beings have no inherent value" argues Michael Gerson, writer with the Washington Post Writers Group. 

In “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, the author posits that for the last few hundred years, there has been a successful alliance between scientific thought and humanism — a philosophy placing human feelings, happiness and choice at the center of the ethical universe.
Photo: Courtesy Photo

Much analysis of Yuval Harari’s brilliant new book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” focuses on the harrowing dystopia he anticipates. In this vision, a small, geeky elite gains the ability to use biological and cyborg engineering to become something beyond human.

It may “upgrade itself step by step, merging with robots and computers in the process, until our descendants will look back and realize that they are no longer the kind of animal that wrote the Bible (or) built the Great Wall of China.” This would necessarily involve the concentration of data, wealth and power, creating “unprecedented social inequality.”

“In the early 21st century,” argues Harari, “the train of progress is again pulling out of the station — and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called Homo sapiens.”
Few of us Homo sapiens are anxious to take such a trip, apart from some “dataists” who pant for the apocalypse. But, as Harari repeatedly insists, the prophet’s job is really an impossible one. Someone living in the 12th century would know most of what the 13th century might have to offer. Given the pace of change in our time, the 22nd century is almost unimaginable.

Yet the predictions are not the most interesting bits of the book. It is important primarily for what it says about the present. For the past few hundred years, in Harari’s telling, there has been a successful alliance between scientific thought and humanism — a philosophy placing human feelings, happiness and choice at the center of the ethical universe. With the death of God and the denial of transcendent rules, some predicted social chaos and collapse. Instead, science and humanism (with an assist from capitalism) delivered unprecedented health and comfort.

This progress has involved an implicit agreement, “In exchange for power,” says Harari, “the modern deal expects us to give up meaning.”

It is Harari’s thesis, however, that the alliance of science and humanism is breaking down, with the former consuming the latter. Science, argues Harari, revealed humans as animals on the mental spectrum, then as biochemical processes, and now as outdated organic algorithms. We have “opened up the Sapiens black box” and “discovered there neither soul, nor free will, nor ‘self’ — but only genes, hormones and neurons.”
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Additional resources  

Homo Deus:
A Brief History of Tomorrow
Source: mySanAntonio.com


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