Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Yuval Noah Harari

Notes and tidbits on FB and Twitter. Part 58

Camp David of (Clinton, Arafat and Ehud Barak) had 3 premises for a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestinians. Jerusalem: “What is Arab is Palestinian and what is Jewish is Israel” Israel picked up on that premise and Israel decided to fail the negotiation and pressured Clinton Not to pursue it: 20 years later, Israel hoarded lands inside and around Jerusalem, by all means.

Palestinians in Jerusalem won’t find a piece of land for a municipality. 

Yuval Noah Harari in his latest book “Homo Deus” argues that humanity’s progress toward bliss, immortality, and divinity is bound to be unequal—some people will leap ahead, while many more are left behind

Maimez-vous? Ce qui veut dire: voyez-vous la meme vérité? Par occasion, quand ta vérité me convainque

Suppose “Elite” class worldwide with plenty of money, privileges, connections…manages to give birth to totally healthy babies, healthy till late age, live without daily worries though “third party” and AI robots… what kinds of purposes could they invent for their life?

Elite class will get addicted to something like gambling, hard drugs, “immoral behaviors”, indifferent opinions, serial murderer of everyone disturbing their comfort zone, getting favourite seats to every event, driving like crazy on closed circuits, bungee jumping everyday, sky diving, acquiring more wealth by aggressive financial risk taking and monopolies in order to head the list of the richest families…

But this is Not the future the way elite classes abuse of their privileges: It has been going on for more than a century.

La catastrophe des galleries de mines de Courriéres ensevelie 1,100 mineurs. La mére de Louise Weiss dit au pére: Qu’attend-tu pour partir ? (le pére etait ingénieur des mines). Le pére: Je ne tient pas de l’administration l’autorité nécessaire. La mere: Il n’y a pas d’administration qui tienne quand les vies humaines sont en jeu. Le pére: Les ingénieurs qui se trouve en place peuvent réussir mieux que moi. La mere: Il ne suffit pas que tu le crois.

La mere: J’ai pris ma part de responsibilite’ professionnel en t’épousant. Et elle l’accompagna á la gare du Nord. Le pére réussit a extraire 14 mineurs en pregnant la direction des ingénieurs désorientés et affaiblis.

Qatar is drinking from the same poisonous cup that It made Syria drink: Soon, Qatar might be kicked out of the infamous and useless “Arab Summits”

Girls go into frequent accelerated terrible and painful physical metamorphoses than boys go through. The nervousness accompanying this mind-boggling growth is contagious to the entire family. Girls must be informed early on what to expect and consequences.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they have been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” #Muhamad_Ali #Respect

Is “Homo Deus” is explaining how global “Elite” class will behave in the future?

But It is still behaving the same in last century.

Yuval Noah Harari in his latest book “Homo Deus” argues that humanity’s progress toward bliss, immortality, and divinity is bound to be unequal—some people will leap ahead, while many more are left behind.

As if those “left behind” is Not the fact every since history of societies was told

Yuval Noah Harari is re-telling us how the new biological and technological breakthrough has benefited the well-to-do. Bill Gates argues that new vaccines have been spread in less developed States a year after their discovery, just to refresh our memories that foundations are at work and mean to do good to humanity at large.


Suppose “Elite” class worldwide with plenty of money, privileges, connections…manages to give birth to totally healthy babies, healthy till late age, live without daily worries though “third party” that save them to stay in line for public transaction and AI robots to take care of domestic maintenance… what kinds of purposes could they invent for their life?

Get addicted to something like gambling, hard drugs, “immoral behaviors”, indifferent opinions, serial murderer of everyone disturbing their comfort zone, getting favourite seats to every event, driving like crazy on closed circuits, bungee jumping everyday, sky diving, acquiring more wealth by aggressive financial risk taking and monopolies in order to head the list of the richest families…

Do you believe that we really have organized to meet basic human needs: being happy, healthy, and in control of the environment around us?

Mind you that China alone has a middle class far numerous that the combined middle classes in the world. The same reality is at work in India.

May be the hotbeds for the coming revolutions against inherited, and unwritten entitlements will surge from these two most populated nations.

Do you think it is right to underpay workers from a decent living wage so that wealthy owners or planning to be wealthy people achieve some kind of dreams? Is this Not Capitalism entitlement at its ugliest level?

That a large pool of poor people must be maintained to serve those with money, privileges and entitlement?

But this is Not the future: It has been going on for more than a century.

Note: Bill Gates wrote that “Rather than looking back, as Sapiens does, Homo Deus looks to the future”. As if what Yuval describes in “Homo Deus” is different of what we have been observing for more than a century.

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.

Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters.

When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals.

This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.

Friday 25 September 2015

Pig carcasses hanging in an abattoir

‘The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.’ Photograph: John Eveson/Rex

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals.

Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens.

In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire.

Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone.

Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.

The next major landmark in human-animal relations was the agricultural revolution: the process by which we turned from nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers living in permanent settlements. It involved the appearance of a completely new life-form on Earth: domesticated animals.

Initially, this development might seem to have been of minor importance, as humans only managed to domesticate fewer than 20 species of mammals and birds, compared with the countless thousands of species that remained “wild”.

Yet, with the passing of the centuries, this novel life-form became the norm. Today, more than 90% of all large animals are domesticated (“large” denotes animals that weigh at least a few kilograms).

Consider the chicken, for example. Ten thousand years ago, it was a rare bird that was 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 animal kingdom has known many types of pain and misery for millions of years. Yet the agricultural revolution created completely new kinds of suffering, ones that only worsened with the passing of the generations.

At first sight, domesticated animals may seem much better off than their wild cousins and ancestors. Wild buffaloes spend their days searching for food, water and shelter, and are constantly threatened by lions, parasites, floods and droughts.

Domesticated cattle, by contrast, enjoy care and protection from humans. People provide cows and calves with food, water and shelter, they treat their diseases, and protect them from predators and natural disasters. True, most cows and calves sooner or later find themselves in the slaughterhouse.

Yet does that make their fate any worse than that of wild buffaloes? Is it better to be devoured by a lion than slaughtered by a man? Are crocodile teeth kinder than steel blades?

What makes the existence of domesticated farm animals particularly cruel is not just the way in which they die but above all how they live. Two competing factors have shaped the living conditions of farm animals:

on the one hand, humans want meat, milk, eggs, leather, animal muscle-power and amusement;

on the other, humans have to ensure the long-term survival and reproduction of farm animals.

Theoretically, this should protect animals from extreme cruelty. If a farmer milks his cow without providing her with food and water, milk production will dwindle, and the cow herself will quickly die.

Unfortunately, humans can cause tremendous suffering to farm animals in other ways, even while ensuring their survival and reproduction. 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 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 animals suffer greatly, yet they live on and multiply.

Doesn’t that contradict the most basic principles of Darwinian evolution? The theory of evolution maintains that all instincts and drives have evolved in the interest of survival and reproduction. If so, doesn’t the continuous reproduction of farm animals prove that all their real needs are met? How can a cow have a “need” that is not really essential for survival and reproduction?

It is certainly true that all instincts and drives evolved in order to meet the evolutionary pressures of survival and reproduction. When these pressures disappear, however, the instincts and drives they had shaped do not evaporate instantly. Even if they are no longer instrumental for survival and reproduction, they continue to mould the subjective experiences of the animal.

The physical, emotional and social needs of present-day cows, dogs and humans don’t reflect their current conditions but rather the evolutionary pressures their ancestors encountered tens of thousands of years ago.

Why do modern people love sweets so much? Not because in the early 21st century we must gorge on ice cream and chocolate in order to survive. Rather, it is because if our stone age ancestors came across sweet, ripened fruits, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as they could as quickly as possible.

Why do young men drive recklessly, get involved in violent rows, and hack confidential internet sites? Because they are obeying ancient genetic decrees. Seventy thousand years ago, a young hunter who risked his life chasing a mammoth outshone all his competitors and won the hand of the local beauty – and we are now stuck with his macho genes.

Exactly the same evolutionary logic shapes the life of cows and calves in our industrial farms. Ancient wild cattle were social animals. In order to survive and reproduce, they needed to communicate, cooperate and compete effectively. Like all social mammals, wild cattle learned the necessary social skills through play.

Puppies, kittens, calves and children all love to play because evolution implanted this urge in them. In the wild, they needed to play. If they didn’t, they would not learn the social skills vital for survival and reproduction. If a kitten or calf was born with some rare mutation that made them indifferent to play, they were unlikely to survive or reproduce, just as they would not exist in the first place if their ancestors hadn’t acquired those skills.

Similarly, evolution implanted in puppies, kittens, calves and children an overwhelming desire to bond with their mothers. A chance mutation weakening the mother-infant bond was a death sentence.

What happens when farmers now take a young calf, separate her from her mother, put her in a tiny cage, vaccinate her against various diseases, provide her with food and water, and then, when she is old enough, artificially inseminate her with bull sperm?

From an objective perspective, this calf no longer needs either maternal bonding or playmates in order to survive and reproduce. All her needs are being taken care of by her human masters. But from a subjective perspective, the calf still feels a strong urge to bond with her mother and to play with other calves. If these urges are not fulfilled, the calf suffers greatly.

This is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped thousands of generations ago continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present. Tragically, the agricultural revolution gave humans the power to ensure the survival and reproduction of domesticated animals while ignoring their subjective needs. In consequence, domesticated animals are collectively the most successful animals in the world, and at the same time they are individually the most miserable animals that have ever existed.

The situation has only worsened over the last few centuries, during which time traditional agriculture gave way to industrial farming. In traditional societies such as ancient Egypt, the Roman empire or medieval China, humans had a very partial understanding of biochemistry, genetics, zoology and epidemiology.

Consequently, their manipulative powers were limited. In medieval villages, chickens ran free between the houses, pecked seeds and worms from the garbage heap, and built nests in the barn. If an ambitious peasant tried to lock 1,000 chickens inside a crowded coop, a deadly bird-flu epidemic would probably have resulted, wiping out all the chickens, as well as many villagers. No priest, shaman or witch doctor could have prevented it.

But once modern science had deciphered the secrets of birds, viruses and antibiotics, humans could begin to subject animals to extreme living conditions. With the help of vaccinations, medications, hormones, pesticides, central air-conditioning systems and automatic feeders, it is now possible to cram tens of thousands of chickens into tiny coops, and produce meat and eggs with unprecedented efficiency.

The fate of animals in such industrial installations has become one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, certainly in terms of the numbers involved. These days, most big animals live on industrial farms. We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world.

The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.

In 2009, there were 1.6 billion wild birds in Europe, counting all species together. That same year, the European meat and egg industry raised 1.9 billion chickens. Altogether, the domesticated animals of the world weigh about 700m tonnes, compared with 300m tonnes for humans, and fewer than 100m tonnes for large wild animals.

This is why 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 which live and die on an industrial production line. Forty years ago, the moral philosopher Peter Singer published his canonical book Animal Liberation, which has done much to change people’s minds on this issue. Singer claimed that industrial farming is responsible for more pain and misery than all the wars of history put together.

The scientific study of animals has played a dismal role in this tragedy. The scientific community has used its growing knowledge of animals mainly to manipulate their lives more efficiently in the service of human industry. Yet this same knowledge has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that farm animals are sentient beings, with intricate social relations and sophisticated psychological patterns. They may not be as intelligent as us, but they certainly know pain, fear and loneliness. They too can suffer, and they too can be happy.

It is high time we take these scientific findings to heart, because as human power keeps growing, our ability to harm or benefit other animals grows with it. For 4bn years, life on Earth was governed by natural selection. Now it is governed increasingly by human intelligent design. Biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence will soon enable humans to reshape living beings in radical new ways, which will redefine the very meaning of life.

When we come to design this brave new world, we should take into account the welfare of all sentient beings, and not just of Homo sapiens.

Buy Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage) or Animal Liberation by Peter Singer (Bodley Head)






If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?

Note: I watched a documentary on robotized industrial plants yesterday. Japan is the leading nation for 3 decades in manufacturing robots of all kinds and exporting about 180,000 industrial robots.

Soon, China is set to produce one out of 3 robots. South Korea is the leading State for adopting robots, around 450 per 10,000 employees, followed by Japan, Germany, the USA and France (barely 50 per 10,000 employees)

There is no turning back on that trend on a hard working machine that never sleep. More importantly, robotized plants generate more hiring of qualified personnel who undergo in-house education and training on the new setting.

Robin Hanson thinks the robot takeover, when it comes, will be in the form of emulations. In his new book, The Age of Em, the economist explains: you take the best and brightest 200 human beings on the planet, you scan their brains and you get robots that to all intents and purposes are indivisible from the humans on which they are based, except a thousand times faster and better.

For some reason, conversationally, Hanson repeatedly calls these 200 human prototypes “the billionaires”, even though having a billion in any currency would be strong evidence against your being the brightest, since you have no sense of how much is enough.

But that’s just a natural difference of opinion between an economist and a mediocre person who is now afraid of the future

These Ems, being superior at everything and having no material needs that couldn’t be satisfied virtually, will undercut humans in the labour market, and render us totally unnecessary.

We will all effectively be retired. Whether or not we are put out to a pleasant pasture or brutally exterminated will depend upon how we behave towards the Ems at their incipience.

We need to rethink our view of jobs and leisure|By Zoe Williams

When Hanson presents his forecast in public, one question always comes up: what’s to stop the Ems killing us off?

“Well, why don’t we exterminate retirees at the moment?” he asks, rhetorically, before answering: some combination of gratitude, empathy and affection between individuals, which the Ems, being modelled on us precisely, will share (unless we use real billionaires for the model).

Opinion on the precise shape of the robot future remains divided:

the historian Yuval Noah Harari argues, in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, that artificial intelligence robots will be the first to achieve world domination. This future is bleaker than Hanson’s – lacking empathy, those robots wouldn’t have a sentimental affection for us as their progenitors – but essentially the same.

(With the rise of totally nonsense mass killing around the world for all kinds of religious emotions… well-designed robots, which know the laws, cannot be any worse)

Harari predicts the rise of the useless class: humans who don’t know what to study because they have no idea what skills will be needed by the time they finish, who can’t work because there’s always a cheaper and better robot, and spend their time taking drugs and staring at screens.

These intricacies, AI versus Ems, AI versus IA (intelligence amplification, where humans aren’t superseded by our technological advances but enhanced by them) fascinate futurologists.

Hanson argues that AI is moving too slowly, while only three technologies need coincide to make an Em possible: faster and cheaper computers, which the world has in hand; brain scanning, which is being worked on by a much smaller but active biological community; and the modelling of the human mind, “which is harder to predict”.

But all the predictions lead to the same place: the obsolescence of human labour.

Even if a robot takeover is some way away, this idea has already become pressing in specific sectors. Driverless cars are forecast to make up 75% of all traffic by 2040, raising the spectre not just of leagues of unemployed drivers, but also of the transformation of all the infrastructure around the job, from training to petrol stations.

There is always a voice in the debate saying, we don’t have to surrender to our own innovation: we don’t have to automate everything just because we can.

Yet history teaches us that we will, and teaches us, furthermore, that resisting invention is its own kind of failure. Fundamentally, if the big idea of a progressive future is to cling on to work for the avoidance of worklessness, we could dream up jobs that were bolder and much more fulfilling than driving.

There are two big threats posed by an automated future.

The first – that we will irritate the robots and they will dominate and swiftly obliterate us – is for Hollywood to worry about. There is not much apparatus we can build in advance to make ourselves less annoying. There will undoubtedly be those who believe our obliteration is so inevitable that every other anxiety is a sideshow.

If you can hold your nerve against that, the critical question becomes: in a world without work, how do we distribute resources?

It is a question articulated precisely by Stephen Hawking last year, when he noted:Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.”

Like so many things, from debt cancellation to climate change, the reality of the situation is easily understood by scientists, academics, philosophers from the left and right, activists from within and without the establishment; and the only people who staunchly resist it are the self-styled political “realists”.

The question of how to distribute wealth in the future curves back round to meet a conundrum raised by the past: how do we remake the social safety net so that it embodies solidarity, generosity and trust, rather than the welfare state of the present, rickety with the woodworm of mutual suspicion.

The idea of a universal basic income is generally framed as a way to “shift from the Beveridge principle of national insurance based on contributions and the sharing of risk, to a system of income as of right” (as described in a Compass paper by Howard Reed and Stewart Lansley).

In its simplest iteration, all citizens receive the same income. There is work to be done on the numbers – whether this income needs to be supplemented for housing, in what form it has its most progressive effect, whether and how it is taxed back in the higher deciles, how it can be affordable at the same time as genuinely livable.

There is also work to be done on the surrounding incentives, whether a basic income would capsize the work ethic and leave the world understaffed while we await the robot takeover (a pilot scheme in Canada concluded the only groups who worked less with an income were mothers of young babies and teenagers still in education; other pilots are under way in Kenya and across Europe).

Enter the future, with its possibility that many vocations will be unnecessary, and we face more existential questions: how do we find meaning without work? (That’s the most critical point)

How do we find fellowship without status?

How do we fill leisure intelligently?

These mysteries possessed Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes, then fell out of currency as we realised we could consume our way out of futility, and ignite our urge to earn by spending it before it arrived.

Even absenting the constraints of the globe, that plan has failed. Consumption may have lent necessity to work, but it didn’t confer meaning upon it.

And perhaps the most profound accommodation we have to make with the future isn’t whether or not we are capable of sharing, but where we will find our impetus.

“Can you just write,” Hanson asked at the end of our conversation, “that even though I’m talking about dire and dramatic things, I’m a friendly guy who smiles a lot?” I’m not sure how much this helps.

Some of his predictions are only bearable if you assume that you’ll have died before they come to pass.

Hanson doesn’t insist that his is the only possible outcome.

Rather, “you should expect that, whatever change is going to happen, it’s going to happen pretty fast. Like, five years from nothing different that you’d notice to a completely different world. What I want is to have people understand how urgent it is, when this thing shows up, to have made a plan.”

What explains the rise of humans? 

If you take me and a chimpanzee and put us together on some lonely island, and we had to struggle for survival to see who survives better, I would definitely place my bet on the chimpanzee.

And this is not something wrong with me personally. I guess if they took almost any one of you, and placed you alone with a chimpanzee on some island, the chimpanzee would do much better.

Place 100 chimpanzees on the same island and 100 of our species (without firearms) and the chimpanzees will survive us.

Place 1,000 of each kind, picked at random, and this time around mankind will be able to survive the chimpanzees (without carrying any tools with them whatsoever)

As usual, since we barely know the other animal species, we tend to attribute to them limited characteristics and potentials. For example, we are happy to say: Animal deal with just the reality of life. A banana is a banana…

While mankind superimposed on reality another fictional reality that is more potent in our emotional tendencies such as fictional stories related to God, Nation, Money, political myths, economical myths, religious beliefs…

70,000 years ago, our ancestors were insignificant animals. (Referring to our current species. Humans developed from several species going way back)

  The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were unimportant.

Their impact on the world was not much greater than that of jellyfish or fireflies or woodpeckers. Today, in contrast, we control this planet.

And the question is: How did we come from there to here?

How did we turn ourselves from insignificant apes, minding their own business in a corner of Africa, into the rulers of planet Earth?

Usually, we look for the difference between us and all the other animals on the individual level. We want to believe — I want to believe — that there is something special about me, about my body, about my brain, that makes me so superior to a dog or a pig, or a chimpanzee.

But the truth is that, on the individual level, I’m embarrassingly similar to a chimpanzee.

The real difference between humans and all other animals is not on the individual level; it’s on the collective level.

Humans control the planet because they are the only animals that can cooperate both flexibly and in very large numbers.

Now, there are other animals — like the social insects, the bees, the ants — that can cooperate in large numbers, but they don’t do so flexibly. Their cooperation is very rigid. There is basically just one way in which a beehive can function. And if there’s a new opportunity or a new danger, the bees cannot reinvent the social system overnight. They cannot, for example, execute the queen and establish a republic of bees, or a communist dictatorship of worker bees.

Other animals, like the social mammals — the wolves, the elephants, the dolphins, the chimpanzees — they can cooperate much more flexibly, but they do so only in small numbers, because cooperation among chimpanzees is based on intimate knowledge, one of the other. I’m a chimpanzee and you’re a chimpanzee, and I want to cooperate with you. I need to know you personally.

What kind of chimpanzee are you? Are you a nice chimpanzee? Are you an evil chimpanzee? Are you trustworthy? If I don’t know you, how can I cooperate with you?

The only animal that can combine the two abilities together and cooperate both flexibly and still do so in very large numbers is us, Homo sapiens. One versus one, or even 10 versus 10, chimpanzees might be better than us.

But, if you pit 1,000 humans against 1,000 chimpanzees, the humans will win easily, for the simple reason that a thousand chimpanzees cannot cooperate at all. And if you now try to cram 100,000 chimpanzees into Oxford Street, or into Wembley Stadium, or Tienanmen Square or the Vatican, you will get chaos, complete chaos. Just imagine Wembley Stadium with 100,000 chimpanzees. Complete madness.

In contrast, humans normally gather there in tens of thousands, and what we get is not chaos, usually. What we get is extremely sophisticated and effective networks of cooperation. All the huge achievements of humankind throughout history, whether it’s building the pyramids or flying to the moon, have been based not on individual abilities, but on this ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers.

Think even about this very talk that I’m giving now: I’m standing here in front of an audience of about 300 or 400 people, most of you are complete strangers to me. Similarly, I don’t really know all the people who have organized and worked on this event. I don’t know the pilot and the crew members of the plane that brought me over here, yesterday, to London. I don’t know the people who invented and manufactured this microphone and these cameras, which are recording what I’m saying.

I don’t know the people who wrote all the books and articles that I read in preparation for this talk. And I certainly don’t know all the people who might be watching this talk over the Internet, somewhere in Buenos Aires or in New Delhi.

5:35 Nevertheless, even though we don’t know each other, we can work together to create this global exchange of ideas. This is something chimpanzees cannot do. They communicate, of course, but you will never catch a chimpanzee traveling to some distant chimpanzee band to give them a talk about bananas or about elephants, or anything else that might interest chimpanzees.

Now cooperation is, of course, not always nice; all the horrible things humans have been doing throughout history — and we have been doing some very horrible things — all those things are also based on large-scale cooperation. Prisons are a system of cooperation; slaughterhouses are a system of cooperation; concentration camps are a system of cooperation. Chimpanzees don’t have slaughterhouses and prisons and concentration camps.

Now suppose I’ve managed to convince you perhaps that yes, we control the world because we can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The next question that immediately arises in the mind of an inquisitive listener is: How, exactly, do we do it? What enables us alone, of all the animals, to cooperate in such a way? The answer is our imagination.

We can cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers, because we alone, of all the animals on the planet, can create and believe fictions, fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, the same values.

All other animals use their communication system only to describe reality. A chimpanzee may say, “Look! There’s a lion, let’s run away!” Or, “Look! There’s a banana tree over there! Let’s go and get bananas!”

Humans, in contrast, use their language not merely to describe reality, but also to create new realities, fictional realities. A human can say, “Look, there is a god above the clouds! And if you don’t do what I tell you to do, when you die, God will punish you and send you to hell.” And if you all believe this story that I’ve invented, then you will follow the same norms and laws and values, and you can cooperate. This is something only humans can do. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him, “… after you die, you’ll go to chimpanzee heaven … and you’ll receive lots and lots of bananas for your good deeds. So now give me this banana.”

No chimpanzee will ever believe such a story. Only humans believe such stories, which is why we control the world, whereas the chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.

Now you may find it acceptable that yes, in the religious field, humans cooperate by believing in the same fictions. Millions of people come together to build a cathedral or a mosque or fight in a crusade or a jihad, because they all believe in the same stories about God and heaven and hell. But what I want to emphasize is that exactly the same mechanism underlies all other forms of mass-scale human cooperation, not only in the religious field.

Take, for example, the legal field.

Most legal systems today in the world are based on a belief in human rights. But what are human rights? Human rights, just like God and heaven, are just a story that we’ve invented. They are not an objective reality; they are not some biological effect about homo sapiens.

Take a human being, cut him open, look inside, you will find the heart, the kidneys, neurons, hormones, DNA, but you won’t find any rights. The only place you find rights are in the stories that we have invented and spread around over the last few centuries. They may be very positive stories, very good stories, but they’re still just fictional stories that we’ve invented.

The same is true of the political field.

The most important factors in modern politics are states and nations. But what are states and nations? They are not an objective reality. A mountain is an objective reality. You can see it, you can touch it, you can ever smell it. But a nation or a state, like Israel or Iran or France or Germany, this is just a story that we’ve invented and became extremely attached to.

The same is true of the economic field.

The most important actors today in the global economy are companies and corporations. Many of you today, perhaps, work for a corporation, like Google or Toyota or McDonald’s. What exactly are these things? They are what lawyers call legal fictions. They are stories invented and maintained by the powerful wizards we call lawyers. (Laughter)

And what do corporations do all day? Mostly, they try to make money. Yet, what is money? Again, money is not an objective reality; it has no objective value. Take this green piece of paper, the dollar bill. Look at it — it has no value. You cannot eat it, you cannot drink it, you cannot wear it. But then came along these master storytellers — the big bankers, the finance ministers, the prime ministers — and they tell us a very convincing story: “Look, you see this green piece of paper? It is actually worth 10 bananas.”

And if I believe it, and you believe it, and everybody believes it, it actually works. I can take this worthless piece of paper, go to the supermarket, give it to a complete stranger whom I’ve never met before, and get, in exchange, real bananas which I can actually eat. This is something amazing.

You could never do it with chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trade, of course: “Yes, you give me a coconut, I’ll give you a banana.” That can work. But, you give me a worthless piece of paper and you except me to give you a banana? No way! What do you think I am, a human? (Laughter)

Money, in fact, is the most successful story ever invented and told by humans, because it is the only story everybody believes.

Not everybody believes in God, not everybody believes in human rights, not everybody believes in nationalism, but everybody believes in money, and in the dollar bill. Take, even, Osama Bin Laden. He hated American politics and American religion and American culture, but he had no objection to American dollars. He was quite fond of them, actually. (Laughter)

To conclude, then: We humans control the world because we live in a dual reality.

All other animals live in an objective reality. Their reality consists of objective entities, like rivers and trees and lions and elephants. We humans, we also live in an objective reality. In our world, too, there are rivers and trees and lions and elephants.

But over the centuries, we have constructed on top of this objective reality a second layer of fictional reality, a reality made of fictional entities, like nations, like gods, like money, like corporations. And what is amazing is that as history unfolded, this fictional reality became more and more powerful so that today, the most powerful forces in the world are these fictional entities.

Today, the very survival of rivers and trees and lions and elephants depends on the decisions and wishes of fictional entities, like the United States, like Google, like the World Bank — entities that exist only in our own imagination.


14:55 Bruno Giussani: Yuval, you have a new book out. After Sapiens, you wrote another one, and it’s out in Hebrew, but not yet translated into …

15:01 Yuval Noah Harari: I’m working on the translation as we speak.

BG: In the book, if I understand it correctly, you argue that the amazing breakthroughs that we are experiencing right now not only will potentially make our lives better, but they will create “… new classes and new class struggles, just as the industrial revolution did.” Can you elaborate for us?

YNH: Yes. In the industrial revolution, we saw the creation of a new class of the urban proletariat. And much of the political and social history of the last 200 years involved what to do with this class, and the new problems and opportunities. Now, we see the creation of a new massive class of useless people. 

As computers become better and better in more and more fields, there is a distinct possibility that computers will out-perform us in most tasks and will make humans redundant. And then the big political and economic question of the 21st century will be, “What do we need humans for?”, or at least, “What do we need so many humans for?”

BG: Do you have an answer in the book?

 YNH: At present, the best guess we have is to keep them happy with drugs and computer games (Laughter) but this doesn’t sound like a very appealing future.

BG: Ok, so you’re basically saying in the book and now, that for all the discussion about the growing evidence of significant economic inequality, we are just kind of at the beginning of the process?

YNH: Again, it’s not a prophecy; it’s seeing all kinds of possibilities before us. One possibility is this creation of a new massive class of useless people.

Another possibility is the division of humankind into different biological castes, with the rich being upgraded into virtual gods, and the poor being degraded to this level of useless people.





August 2020

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