Review of “Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindYuval Noah Harari thinks that the worst idea that we humans had was when we decided to become a single cell organism back in the primordial soup to eventually evolve into homo sapiens. Or at least when we invented agriculture.

It’s hard to say whether the author is optimistic about our species or not. He has an interesting way of putting his ideas into words. I have to admit that a few concepts and hypothesis have caused me to rethink the way I have perceived some aspects of history. Of course, it’s impossible to fit all of human history in one volume, so Harari focused on what he thought were the main game changers: the Cognitive Revolution, Agricultural Revolution, the unification of humankind and the Scientific Revolution.

The author argues that what sets us apart from other animals is our ability to believe in our myths and fantastic stories.In turn, we developed a highly complex way of communicating to share information and trade gossip which strengthens our social bonds. It’s one of our best and worst features because “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”

The part that I especially enjoyed in the books is how the concept of social constructs was explained. Just because something is a product of the social consciousness doesn’t make it any less real. We give something power by believing in it, thus making it very much real, LLCs or genders.

The Agricultural Revolution was highly romanticized, the way authors who write about this topic usually do. It reminded me of a novel by Daniel Quinn, Ishmael, in which the author urges readers to go back to our roots in order to save the planet. Since it’s too late for us to go back to frolicking in savannahs, picking berries, I think we’ll just have to think of a way to fix what we messed up.

Sapiens are pretty good at messing up things. Slavery, atomic bombs, raping and pillaging are all products of the civilisation, but we are also good at fixing things. We have come this far, making today’s society objectively the best time to be alive in the whole of our history. We’re on brink of something big though, a huge change that will completely revolutionize the way we live and experience.

We’re a bunch of genocidal wizards who harness the power of nature for our purposes who are on our way to becoming gods in the next generations. And there’s no doubt that we’ll get there.

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Review of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?What does it really mean to be human? Or even alive?

If you loved the film Blade Runner then the novel that it was based on will certainly make you think.

I’m a little on the fence with this novel. On one hand, it gives a reason to question our own existence (and that’s always fun), but on the other, its style reminds me of cowboy movies from the last century, with the main character being mostly too cool and aloof. But Rick Deckard is cool. He gets up from his bed, deals with his depressed wife, goes to work and gets things done. In between, he manages to kill six andies, sleeps with one, gets a goat and loses it, merges with the biggest religious figure in the Solar system and all that in 24 hours. But then again that is the point. He’s an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

We’re on track to building AIs and humanoid robots. Really, it’s only a matter of time when we create robots so indistinguishable from humans that the question of humanity will be a hot topic. Philip K. Dick says that empathy is the answer and I agree. Someone more romantic might suggest that it’s love, but that emotion is so easily reproduced. To empathize, by definition, is to understand and share the feelings of the other. It’s probably one of the most complex emotions we humans experience.

To feel the exact thing, or the next closest thing to it, that the other feels is what makes us connected and gives us the sense of community. It makes us care for each other. It made our species the dominant one on the planet. If one day we create a machine that can do the same we will definitely be playing gods. But that’s a discussion for another time.

One of my favourite motifs in the book is what the author calls kipple. In words of J. R. Isidore, kipple

“is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.”

It’s not just about the useless things lying around our homes, it’s about the general decay of the world that the humankind has built. We can fight kipple and we can make it almost disappear but the second we die we’ll turn into a pile of disorder. This planet that we’re currently occupying will disappear too and the cosmos will continue to slowly drift apart until space and time stop making sense in the way we can perceive it. And one day it’ll die.

Personally, I find it comforting that whatever we do doesn’t matter in the big picture. All these great moments and achievements and the horrible ones too will disappear with the last human and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s completely liberating.

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