There are books of fiction which changed my life. The Diary of Malte Laurids Brigge, Sleep's brother, Neuromancer.
Some non-fiction books has similar impact; Tor Nørretrander's The User Illusion, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan. And now I have one more: Homo Deus, a brief history of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari.
The author's first book Sapiens took the reader from the earliest apes to the present day. Agriculture, animal husbandry, the creation of money, religion and the resurrection of nations. Thoroughly interdisciplinary across history, biology, philosophy and economics.
The sequel, Homo Deus, takes its cue from the human agenda and looks ahead; more happiness, less death. Humans now have access to technologies where we are taking over evolution through genetics and Artificial Intelligence. What will this mean?
By the time I got to Chapter 4, things got very interesting. The Storytellers.
Humanism, modernism and the liberal philosophies are getting the boot - free will as a starting point doesn't hold up. At the same time, it is humanism that has carried our whole society - the idea of the inviolable unique individual with free will and human rights.
Modernity is summed up by "People gave up meaning in exchange for power."
We create our stories to give meaning to our modern existence. The story of the people, the nation, the company. But they are fictional, there is no real meaningfulness in the sense of creation, belonging and purpose.
We are no longer part of any whole or cycle. We are not God's creation for which there is an overall plan. There is no meaning to my existence - it is entirely in the hands of my fellow human beings; engineers, politicians & community builders.
There is only me with a free will and responsibility to create the meaningful in every moment.
Insha'Allah, God willing, we got rid of that. Now man stands alone with responsibility for his future and existence; we want to be happier, live longer, be less sick. Anything else, raise your hand? Our free will can steer where we want. There is no need for context or a divinity with a plan to trust in.
Pictured below is an organoid. Human stem cells grown to the size of a pea, it makes a small brain in the lab. The organoid creates its neuronal networks and responds to light. Some scientists are a bit hesitant about creating things that can possibly feel pain.
We are in the transition to the fourth industrial revolution, where hardware, software and biology are linked together in global networks. I think Homo Deus is an important contribution to the dialogue about how we should approach this.
There are many signs that we are destroying our habitat on this wonderful little blue planet. Shrugging our shoulders and saying "Shit happens", our planet will hit the Extinction button. In 200,000 years all will be different and there is nothing to be upset about.
How will this end - and what will we have instead? I think it was Bill Clinton who said, 'It's better to be for something, than against'.
Beyond that, it's an unparalleled book - a pure pleasure to read, an intellectual tour-de-force by someone who manages to weave together widely disparate phenomena and observations into a unique perspective on Homo Sapiens.