Homo Deus

by Yuval Noah Harari

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 24, 2024
Homo Deus
Homo Deus

Explore the profound shift in human aspirations and the rise of Dataism. Discover how technology is redefining humanity in this insightful Homo Deus book summary. Learn, apply, and internalize the book's key concepts.

What are the big ideas?

Shifting from Survival to Divine Aspirations

The book details a significant shift in human focus from merely surviving to pursuing divine-like goals such as happiness and immortality, enabled by advances in biotechnology and information technology.

Rethinking Humanism in the Age of AI

It explores the potential undermining of humanism by the very technologies that enhance human capabilities, posing existential questions on the value and purpose of human life in a technologically advanced future.

Narratives as Foundations of Human Cooperation

The book emphasizes the role of shared stories and myths in forming large-scale human societies, showing how fictional constructs have shaped historical and contemporary human behavior.

The Rise of Dataism

Introducing 'Dataism', a new worldview that values data flows and information processing as the highest form of achievement, potentially replacing human-centered ideologies.

Humans Redefined as Biochemical Algorithms

This concept redefines humans not as unique beings with souls, but as collections of biochemical algorithms, challenging traditional views of free will and consciousness.

Technology's Threat to Liberal Democracies

The book discusses how emerging technologies could make traditional political and economic systems obsolete by shifting power from humans to algorithms, potentially ending the era of human-centered governance.

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Shifting from Survival to Divine Aspirations

Humanity's Ambition Evolves: From Survival to Divinity

Humanity has achieved unprecedented levels of prosperity, health, and harmony. No longer consumed by the struggle for survival, we now set our sights on even more daring goals - immortality, happiness, and divinity.

The quest to overcome old age and death is the natural progression of our long-standing fight against famine, disease, and violence. Our supreme value is the sanctity of human life, and we now view death as a technical problem to be solved, not a metaphysical mystery.

Whereas past religions and ideologies saw death as part of a greater cosmic plan, modern science and culture see it as a challenge to be conquered. With the power of technology, we believe we can kill cancerous cells, exterminate deadly germs, and ultimately cheat death itself.

This shift represents a profound transformation in how humanity views its place in the universe. No longer beholden to external authorities like God or ancient texts, we now see ourselves as the ultimate source of meaning and authority. Our feelings, desires, and free will guide our moral compass, not the dictates of priests or holy books.

The pursuit of immortality, bliss, and divinity is the natural culmination of this humanist worldview. But in striving to become gods ourselves, we may inadvertently undermine the very foundations of the liberal order that enabled these ambitions in the first place. The future may hold surprises as we venture into uncharted territory, redefining what it means to be human.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about humanity shifting from survival to divine aspirations:

  • The context states that having "secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony", humanity's "next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness and divinity." This shows the shift from basic survival needs to more ambitious, divine-like goals.

  • It explains how "modern science and modern culture" no longer view death as a "metaphysical mystery" but rather as a "technical problem that we can and should solve." This demonstrates the shift from accepting death as part of the natural order to actively seeking to overcome it.

  • The passage describes how "engineers are taking over" the task of overcoming death, using "chemotherapy or nano-robots" and "antibiotics" to "exterminate" the causes of death. This illustrates the technological approach to achieving immortality.

  • It contrasts the medieval view of death as a "sacred metaphysical experience" with the modern view of it as simply "technical problems" that can be solved, highlighting the shift in mindset.

  • The context states that "if traditionally death was the speciality of priests and theologians, now the engineers are taking over." This directly shows the transition from a religious/spiritual perspective on death to a scientific/technological one.

  • Overall, the passage conveys how humanity has progressed from a focus on mere survival to ambitious goals of "immortality, bliss and divinity" enabled by advancements in science and technology.

Rethinking Humanism in the Age of AI

The Dataist worldview poses a profound challenge to traditional humanism. As algorithms and artificial intelligence surpass human capabilities in an ever-expanding range of tasks, the centrality of the human experience may become increasingly marginalized. This raises critical questions about the value and purpose of human life in a future dominated by non-conscious, highly intelligent systems.

The context suggests that as algorithms become more advanced, they may come to outperform humans in areas like decision-making, pattern recognition, and even consciousness itself. This could lead to a shift in authority from humans to machines, rendering traditional humanist aspirations like health, happiness, and power less relevant. The text warns that humans may be reduced from "engineers to chips, then to data" - potentially dissolving into the vast "data torrent" of the emerging "Internet-of-All-Things".

This unsettling prospect forces us to reconsider fundamental assumptions about the unique status of humanity. If organisms are indeed algorithms, and intelligence can be decoupled from consciousness, then the anthropocentric worldview that has long dominated human thought may need to be radically rethought. The text challenges us to grapple with the possibility that humans may no longer occupy the "apex of creation", potentially facing a future akin to the "oblivion" of extinct species.

Ultimately, this rethinking of humanism in the age of AI compels us to confront the limits of our current ideological and social frameworks. As the text suggests, breaking free of our "present-day conditioning" is crucial to imagining the full spectrum of possibilities - both promising and perilous - that may lie ahead for humanity.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of rethinking humanism in the age of AI:

  • The context discusses how Dataism says the human brain cannot fully embrace the new "master algorithms" that are increasingly developed by large teams of humans, with no single person understanding the algorithm as a whole. This suggests a diminishing of human control and understanding.

  • The context raises doubts about whether life can truly be reduced to just "data flows" and "decision-making", questioning if Dataism is adopting an overly narrow view of life by equating it to information processing.

  • It notes that even if Dataism is wrong and organisms are not just algorithms, it may still succeed in becoming the dominant scientific paradigm, making it extremely difficult to resist, potentially undermining humanist worldviews.

  • The context explores how once authority shifts from humans to algorithms, "the humanist projects may become irrelevant" as human health, happiness and power may seem less important compared to the superior non-conscious algorithms.

  • It suggests that Dataism threatens to do to humans what humans have done to other animals - reducing us from engineers to mere "chips" and "data" within the "data torrent", no longer the "apex of creation."

  • The context emphasizes the need to broaden our horizons and consider a "much wider spectrum of options" for humanity's future, beyond the constraints of present-day ideologies like humanism.

Narratives as Foundations of Human Cooperation

The book argues that shared narratives and fictions are the foundation for large-scale human cooperation and the development of complex societies. Throughout history, imaginary stories about gods, nations, and corporations have become more powerful than physical realities like rivers and mountains. These ideological fictions shape human behavior and drive historical events, even though they exist only in our collective imagination.

For example, the book explains how North and South Korea, despite having similar genetics and geography, have vastly different societies due to the divergent fictions that dominate each region. Likewise, the Crusades were not just territorial disputes, but were driven by the imaginary stories that gave meaning and purpose to the knights involved. As new technologies emerge, these intersubjective narratives will only grow more influential, potentially surpassing even natural forces like asteroids.

Understanding our past and future, therefore, requires deciphering the powerful fictions that humans have created and come to believe in. These shared stories, not just objective facts, are the fundamental building blocks of human civilization. Recognizing the central role of imaginary constructs in shaping the world is key to anticipating the dramatic changes that may lie ahead as these narratives continue to evolve.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about narratives as foundations of human cooperation:

  • The context explains how Sapiens started talking about things that existed only in their imagination about 70,000 years ago, weaving fictional webs that allowed hundreds or thousands of Sapiens to cooperate effectively, far more than Neanderthals or chimpanzees.

  • The Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago provided the material base to enlarge and strengthen these intersubjective networks of shared stories and myths.

  • In ancient Sumer, the gods functioned as fictional legal entities that could own property, lend money, hire employees, and initiate economic enterprises, just as modern corporations do. These gods were as real to the Sumerians as Google and Microsoft are to us today.

  • The invention of writing and money 5,000 years ago in Sumer allowed the collection of taxes, organization of bureaucracies, and establishment of vast kingdoms, all managed in the name of the gods by human priest-kings.

  • In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh was considered an actual god, a living deity, rather than just a divine deputy, demonstrating how powerful these shared narratives became.

  • The context contrasts the medieval formula of "Knowledge = Scriptures × Logic" with the humanist formula of "Knowledge = Experiences × Sensitivity", showing how shared stories and subjective experiences became a new foundation for knowledge and meaning.

The Rise of Dataism

The Rise of Dataism

Dataism is a revolutionary new worldview that challenges traditional human-centric ideologies. At its core, Dataism values the flow and processing of data as the highest form of achievement, potentially surpassing the importance of human experiences and knowledge.

According to Dataists, the world can be understood as a vast network of data flows that can be analyzed and optimized using advanced algorithms and computer systems. This perspective undermines the traditional hierarchy of learning, where humans were seen as the ultimate processors of information. Instead, Dataists believe that electronic algorithms can far exceed the capacity of the human brain in distilling data into meaningful insights.

This data-centric worldview has profound implications. It reframes disciplines like biology, economics, and even politics as competing data processing systems, rather than ideological or ethical constructs. Dataists see the free market, for example, as an efficient means of gathering and processing data about desires and abilities, rather than a political or moral system.

The rise of Dataism poses a significant challenge to long-held humanist beliefs. By equating human experiences with mere data patterns, Dataism threatens to sideline the very sources of meaning and authority that have defined the human experience for centuries. As algorithms and machine learning systems become increasingly sophisticated, Dataists argue that human consciousness and subjective experiences may become obsolete, paving the way for a future where data processing takes precedence over the human condition.

Here are key examples from the context that support the rise of Dataism as a new worldview:

  • Dataism sees all organisms, including humans, as data-processing systems. According to Dataism, "King Lear and the flu virus are just two patterns of data flow that can be analyzed using the same basic concepts and tools."

  • Dataism values data processing and algorithms over human knowledge and wisdom. Dataists "are skeptical about human knowledge and wisdom, and prefer to put their trust in Big Data and computer algorithms" since algorithms can process data more efficiently than humans.

  • Dataism views economic and political systems as competing data-processing systems. Capitalism and communism are seen as "competing data-processing systems" where "capitalism uses distributed processing, whereas communism relies on centralized processing."

  • Dataism devalues individual human experiences and instead emphasizes the importance of sharing experiences as data. Dataists believe "experiences are valueless if they are not shared, and that we need not – indeed cannot – find meaning within ourselves. We need only record and connect our experience to the great data flow, and the algorithms will discover its meaning and tell us what to do."

  • Dataism threatens to replace human intelligence with superior non-conscious algorithms. The context states that "even if Dataism is wrong and organisms aren't just algorithms, it won't necessarily prevent Dataism from taking over the world" as "once authority shifts from humans to algorithms, the humanist projects may become irrelevant."

Humans Redefined as Biochemical Algorithms

The Dataist view redefines humans as biochemical algorithms - complex assemblages of organic algorithms shaped by evolution over millions of years. This challenges traditional notions of humans as unique beings with souls or free will. Instead, it suggests that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are the result of intricate data processing within our brains, no different in principle from the algorithms running on a computer.

This perspective raises profound questions. If we are just sophisticated algorithms, does that mean our consciousness and subjective experiences are also just the product of biochemical data processing? Do animals, with their own complex neural networks, also possess consciousness, or are they merely unconscious algorithms? And as artificial intelligence advances, will non-conscious algorithms eventually surpass human-level intelligence and consciousness, rendering us obsolete?

These are unsettling ideas that undermine long-held beliefs about the nature of humanity. Yet the scientific evidence supporting the algorithmic view of life continues to grow. As our understanding of the brain and cognition deepens, it becomes increasingly difficult to deny that we are, at our core, highly complex biological machines operating according to the same principles as any other information processing system. The implications of this redefinition of the human condition will likely be the greatest scientific and philosophical challenge of the 21st century.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that humans are redefined as biochemical algorithms, challenging traditional views of free will and consciousness:

  • The context states that "Organisms are algorithms. Every animal – including Homo sapiens – is an assemblage of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution." This directly redefines humans as biochemical algorithms.

  • It notes that "According to current biological theories, our memories, imaginations and thoughts don't exist in some higher immaterial field. Rather, they too are avalanches of electric signals fired by billions of neurons." This challenges the traditional view of the mind as something beyond just biochemical processes.

  • The passage discusses how "If the entire system works by electric signals passing from here to there, why the hell do we also need to feel fear? If a chain of electrochemical reactions leads all the way from the nerve cells in the eye to the movements of leg muscles, why add subjective experiences to this chain?" This questions the role and necessity of consciousness and subjective experiences.

  • It states that "Even when we figure in memories, imaginations and thoughts, we are still left with a series of electrochemical reactions that pass through billions of neurons, ending with the activity of adrenal glands and leg muscles. Is there even a single step on this long and twisting journey where, between the action of one neuron and the reaction of the next, the mind intervenes and decides whether the second neuron should fire or not?" This further challenges the notion of free will and the mind's role in decision-making.

  • The passage also explores the possibility that "perhaps behind all the sensations and emotions we ascribe to animals – hunger, fear, love and loyalty – lurk only unconscious algorithms rather than subjective experiences." This suggests even animal consciousness may be redefined as just biochemical algorithms.

Technology's Threat to Liberal Democracies

The rise of advanced algorithms poses a grave threat to liberal democracies. These algorithms could soon know us better than we know ourselves, undermining the core liberal belief in individual autonomy and free will. As algorithms become more capable than humans at tasks like decision-making, voting, and even creative expression, they may replace humans as the primary decision-makers in society.

This shift in power from humans to algorithms could collapse the foundations of liberalism. If individuals no longer have the freedom to make their own choices, the liberal ideals of individualism, democracy, and free markets become obsolete. Humans may become mere cogs in the machine, with algorithms dictating their lives.

The book warns that this technological upheaval could give rise to new post-humanist ideologies that abandon liberal values in favor of a world dominated by superhuman algorithms. These emergent "techno-religions" may promise salvation through technology rather than traditional spirituality. The future of human society hangs in the balance as we grapple with the profound implications of artificial intelligence and the decoupling of intelligence from consciousness.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about how emerging technologies could threaten liberal democracies:

  • The context discusses how algorithms could come to know humans better than they know themselves, potentially replacing the authority of individual voters, customers, and decision-makers. As stated, "Once developed, such an algorithm could replace the voter, the customer and the beholder. Then the algorithm will know best, the algorithm will always be right, and beauty will be in the calculations of the algorithm."

  • The context explains how genetic engineering and artificial intelligence could reveal flaws in liberal ideals like individualism and democracy, potentially making them "as obsolete as flint knives, tape cassettes, Islam and communism."

  • The context suggests that as intelligence decouples from consciousness, non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves, shifting authority away from individual humans.

  • The context discusses how the belief in free will, a key tenet of liberalism, is challenged by scientific findings that humans are not truly free but rather "an assemblage of many different algorithms" shaped by genes and environment.

  • The context warns that if scientific discoveries and technological developments split humankind into a "mass of useless humans and a small elite of upgraded superhumans", it could lead to the collapse of liberalism and the rise of new ideologies to guide the "godlike descendants."


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Homo Deus" that resonated with readers.

This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom – we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.

Understanding the past allows us to break free from its shackles and envision alternative paths forward. By learning from history, we can liberate ourselves from the constraints of what has been and imagine a different future. Although our past experiences inevitably shape us, having some freedom to choose our destiny is preferable to being entirely bound by them.

We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.

Human satisfaction is not solely dependent on having a good life, but rather on whether our experiences meet our anticipations. As our circumstances improve, our expectations tend to inflate, making it more challenging to feel content. This implies that even if we achieve a high standard of living, we may still feel unfulfilled if our expectations are not met.

The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.

When we accomplish something, instead of feeling content, we often experience a strong desire for even more. This insatiable appetite drives us to continually strive for greater heights, never truly satisfied with what we have achieved. Our minds are wired to crave improvement, propelling us forward in an endless pursuit of progress.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "Homo Deus"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How has humanity's perspective on death evolved in modern times compared to historical views?
2. What are the primary goals humanity is striving towards after achieving basic survival needs?
3. What role does technology play in humanity's quest to overcome natural limitations like death?
4. How have shifts in worldview affected humanity's moral guidelines?
5. What potential risks are associated with humanity's pursuit of immortality and divine attributes?
6. What challenge does the Dataist worldview pose to traditional human values and beliefs?
7. What implications might the rise of advanced algorithms have on the authority and relevance of humans?
8. How could the belief that organisms are merely algorithms impact the perception of human uniqueness?
9. Why is it important to reconsider our current ideological and social frameworks in the age of AI?
10. How do shared narratives and fictions contribute to the formation of complex societies?
11. Why are imaginary stories about gods and nations more powerful than tangible realities like rivers and mountains?
12. How do ideological fictions influence historical events?
13. What role do intersubjective narratives play as new technologies emerge?
14. Why is it crucial to understand the powerful fictions of human civilizations?
15. What fundamental belief does Dataism establish about the role of data compared to human experiences?
16. How does Dataism perceive biological, economic, and political systems?
17. What does Dataism imply about the future of human consciousness and experiences?
18. According to Dataism, how do views on individual human experiences change?
19. What potential outcome does Dataism forecast regarding the dominance of algorithms over human intelligence?
20. What is the implication of viewing humans as assemblies of biochemical algorithms rather than beings with souls or free will?
21. How does the concept of organisms as algorithms relate to our understanding of consciousness and subjective experiences?
22. What are the philosophical implications of artificial intelligence potentially surpassing human intelligence?
23. Why might the idea that consciousness is a series of electrochemical reactions challenge traditional views on the mind?
24. How could the redefinition of animal consciousness as biochemical algorithms influence our understanding of animal behavior?
25. How could advanced algorithms undermine the core principles of liberal democracies such as individual autonomy and free will?
26. What implications could the rise of superhuman algorithms have on the structure of society in liberal democracies?
27. What new ideologies might emerge as a result of technological advancements in areas like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering?
28. How might the decoupling of intelligence from consciousness affect human authority in society?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Homo Deus". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you apply the idea of transcending traditional limits in your personal development or professional goals?
2. How can you adapt your professional skills to remain relevant in a future where AI plays a central role in decision-making and other key functions?
3. In what ways can you foster a community that evaluates and incorporates AI advancements while preserving human values?
4. How can individuals challenge the narrow perception of life as mere data and emphasize the role of human creativity and emotion?
5. What can you do to help ensure that human interests remain at the forefront of technological advancement and policy making?
6. How can you leverage the power of shared narratives to foster collaboration and unity in your community or organization?
7. What fictional or ideological stories could you create or promote that would encourage positive behaviors or societal changes?
8. How can you incorporate a data-driven approach in your personal decision-making processes to optimize outcomes?
9. How might we adapt our educational tools and methods to better align with the understanding that human learning and behavior stem from biochemical data processing?
11. What are steps you can take to ensure your personal and community decisions are not overly influenced by algorithmic control?

Chapter Notes

1    The New Human Agenda

  • Famine, plague, and war are no longer unavoidable tragedies: Technological, economic, and political developments have transformed these problems from uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. While they still claim millions of victims, they are no longer seen as inevitable.

  • Happiness and immortality have become the new human agenda: With famine, plague, and war receding, humankind is now turning its attention to the pursuit of happiness and the quest for eternal life. This represents a shift from seeking to merely survive to aiming for divine-like powers.

  • Biotechnology and information technology are enabling the pursuit of immortality and happiness: Advances in fields like genetic engineering, regenerative medicine, and brain-computer interfaces are fueling the belief that humans can overcome aging and death, as well as engineer their own happiness.

  • The attempt to fulfill the humanist dream may lead to its downfall: The same technologies that can upgrade humans into gods may also make humans irrelevant, as super-intelligent systems replace human capabilities. This could undermine the core humanist belief in the centrality and sanctity of humankind.

  • The future is difficult to predict: As human knowledge and technology advance rapidly, the pace of social, economic, and political change accelerates, making the future increasingly unpredictable. Attempts to forecast the future often become outdated quickly.

  • Studying history can liberate us from the past: Understanding how the present was shaped by accidental historical events can help us imagine alternative futures, rather than being trapped by the assumptions and values of the past.

  • The relationship between humans and animals is a model for future relations between superhumans and humans: Examining how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins can provide insights into how super-intelligent beings might treat ordinary humans in the future.

2    The Anthropocene

  • Humans have become "gods" over other animals: Humans have gained immense power and control over the natural world, leading to the extinction of many wild animal species and the dominance of domesticated animals.

  • The Anthropocene epoch: The last 70,000 years have been marked by the unprecedented impact of a single species, Homo sapiens, on the global ecology, surpassing the effects of natural forces like climate change and asteroid collisions.

  • Animism vs. Theism: Animist belief systems saw humans as equal to other animals, while theistic religions like Christianity placed humans at the center of the universe, with dominion over the rest of creation.

  • Emotions and algorithms: Emotions are biochemical algorithms that have evolved to help mammals, including humans, solve survival and reproduction problems. Domesticated animals suffer because their emotional needs are ignored.

  • The Agricultural Deal: Theistic religions justified the exploitation of animals by claiming that humans were granted authority over them by the gods, in exchange for certain obligations and sacrifices.

  • The Scientific Revolution and humanism: The Scientific Revolution replaced theistic beliefs with humanist ideologies that sanctify human needs and desires above all else, enabling even more extreme forms of animal exploitation through industrial farming.

  • The future of human-animal relations: As humans gain increasing power through technology, the question arises whether we will continue to assign special value to human life, or whether non-human entities like artificial intelligences may one day surpass and potentially exploit humans.

3    The Human Spark

  • Humans are not superior to other animals due to a "soul" or "consciousness": The chapter argues that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of a human soul or a unique human consciousness that would make human life more valuable than animal life. Consciousness is a complex phenomenon that science has yet to fully explain.

  • Humans dominate the world due to their ability to cooperate in large numbers: The chapter suggests that the key to human success is not superior intelligence or toolmaking, but rather the unique human ability to cooperate flexibly in large-scale social networks, which other animals cannot do.

  • Imagined orders and intersubjective realities drive human behavior: Humans create and believe in "imagined orders" - shared fictions and stories that shape their behavior and social structures, even though these orders have no objective basis. These intersubjective realities, rather than objective facts, are what give meaning to human lives and drive historical events.

  • The humanities and the life sciences have different approaches to understanding human behavior: While the life sciences focus on objective, biological explanations, the humanities emphasize the importance of understanding the subjective, intersubjective, and imaginary aspects of human societies and history. These two approaches are complementary in understanding the human condition.

  • The boundary between history and biology is blurring: As human-created fictions increasingly shape the physical world through technology, the distinction between the "objective" reality studied by biology and the "intersubjective" reality studied by the humanities is becoming less clear. The future may see a merging of these two domains.

4    The Storytellers

  • Humans live in a triple-layered reality: In addition to the objective entities outside them (e.g., trees, rocks, rivers) and their subjective experiences (e.g., fear, joy, desire), humans also live in a world of stories about money, gods, nations, and corporations.

  • The impact of fictional entities has grown over time: As history unfolded, the influence of imaginary constructs like Jesus Christ, the French Republic, and Apple Inc. has increased, often at the expense of more tangible elements like rivers, fears, and desires.

  • Writing enabled the rise of powerful fictional entities: The invention of writing allowed humans to create and propagate complex stories and myths, which could then be used to organize and control large-scale human cooperation.

  • Fictional entities like gods and corporations became real through human belief and cooperation: Ancient Sumerian and Egyptian gods, as well as modern corporations, were able to own property, hire employees, and initiate economic enterprises, even though they did not physically exist.

  • Bureaucracies can force reality to conform to their written records: When the descriptions in official documents collide with objective reality, it is often reality that has to give way, as seen in examples like the drawing of arbitrary borders in Africa or the imposition of standardized educational testing.

  • Holy scriptures are a powerful form of fiction: Religious texts that claim to describe reality in its entirety can become extremely influential, even when their depiction of the world is fundamentally flawed, as in the case of the biblical view of history.

  • Cooperation networks judge themselves by their own invented yardsticks: Human organizations, especially those built around imaginary entities like gods, nations, and corporations, tend to measure their success based on criteria of their own making, rather than considering the real impact on human well-being.

  • Fiction is vital but should not become our goal or yardstick: While commonly accepted fictions are necessary for the functioning of complex human societies, we must remember that they are tools, and should not be treated as the ultimate objectives or the sole means of evaluating success.

5    The Odd Couple

  • Religion is a system of moral laws that humans believe are superhuman and immutable, rather than just human-made conventions. Religions assert that we are subject to a system of moral laws that we did not invent and cannot change, whether these laws are attributed to God, nature, or some other superhuman source.

  • Religion and science are not necessarily at odds, as science requires religious assistance to create viable human institutions. While some scientific findings may undermine certain religious dogmas, science alone cannot determine how humans ought to behave. Religions provide the necessary ethical guidance and moral framework for implementing scientific discoveries.

  • Religious stories typically consist of three components: ethical judgements, factual statements, and a conflation of the two. Religions make ethical judgements (e.g., "human life is sacred"), factual statements (e.g., "human life begins at conception"), and then conflate the two into practical guidelines (e.g., "abortion is always wrong").

  • Science is well-equipped to scrutinize the factual claims made by religions, but has no authority to refute or corroborate the ethical judgements. For example, science can investigate the historical origins and composition of religious texts, but cannot determine whether humans ought to obey the commands contained within them.

  • Religions have a tendency to turn factual statements into ethical imperatives, blurring the distinction between the two. Beliefs like "God wrote the Bible" can become moral obligations to believe in divine authorship, rather than just factual claims open to scientific investigation.

  • The Scientific Revolution took place in the highly dogmatic and intolerant religious climate of early modern Europe, rather than in the more religiously diverse and tolerant societies of the Islamic world. This suggests that science and religion can coexist and even cooperate, as long as their respective interests in order and power are aligned.

  • Modern society believes in humanist dogmas and uses science to implement them, rather than to question them. The current covenant between science and humanism may eventually be replaced by a new deal between science and a different, post-humanist religion.

6    The Modern Covenant

  • The Modern Covenant: Modernity is a deal where humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power. This deal shapes our lives and decisions, and very few can ever transcend it.

  • Premodern vs. Modern Worldviews: Premodern cultures believed in a great cosmic plan that gave meaning to human life but restricted their power. Modernity rejects this belief, seeing the universe as a blind and purposeless process, which frees humans from predetermined roles but also removes inherent meaning.

  • The Pursuit of Power: Modernity is fueled by the alliance between scientific progress and economic growth, which allows for the discovery of new resources, materials, and sources of energy to fuel perpetual expansion.

  • The Miracle of Credit: The development of credit and trust in future growth was crucial in breaking the cycle of economic stagnation that plagued premodern societies, enabling investment and technological progress.

  • The Dogma of Growth: Economic growth has become a near-universal dogma, seen as the solution to most modern problems. This has led to a relentless pursuit of growth, often at the expense of other values like social equality and ecological harmony.

  • The Ark Syndrome: The belief that science and technology will always provide solutions to problems, even ecological collapse, has made the modern world complacent about the risks of unchecked growth and environmental destruction.

  • The Rat Race: The modern pursuit of power has created high levels of stress and tension, both for individuals constantly striving for more, and for societies undergoing constant upheaval and change in the name of progress.

  • The Survival of Meaning: Despite the modern deal's demand to give up meaning, humankind has managed to maintain and even flourish in terms of morality, beauty, and compassion, through the rise of a new revolutionary religion: humanism.

7    The Humanist Revolution

  • Humanism as the New Source of Meaning and Authority: The chapter discusses how humanism emerged as a revolutionary new creed that replaced traditional sources of meaning and authority, such as God and the laws of nature, with the human experience and feelings as the ultimate source.

  • Humanist Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics: The chapter explores how humanism transformed various domains, including ethics (where "if it feels good, do it" became the guiding principle), politics (where "the voter knows best" became the foundation), and aesthetics (where "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" became the norm).

  • The Humanist Schism: The chapter outlines the three main branches of humanism - liberal humanism, socialist humanism, and evolutionary humanism - and how they differed in their interpretations of the value and hierarchy of human experiences.

  • The Humanist Wars of Religion: The chapter describes the intense conflicts and power struggles between the different humanist sects, akin to "wars of religion," which shaped much of the 20th century.

  • The Triumph of Liberalism: The chapter discusses how, after a period of setbacks, liberal humanism ultimately emerged victorious from the "humanist wars of religion," becoming the dominant ideology in the early 21st century.

  • The Limitations of Traditional Religions: The chapter argues that traditional religions like Islam and Christianity have become reactive rather than creative forces, unable to keep up with the rapid technological and social changes of the modern era.

  • The Potential Obsolescence of Liberalism: The chapter suggests that the very success of liberal humanism, with its focus on maximizing human life, happiness, and power, may contain the seeds of its own undoing as new post-humanist technologies emerge.

8    The Time Bomb in the Laboratory

  • Free Will is an Illusion: The chapter argues that the liberal belief in free will is not supported by scientific evidence. Decisions are either deterministic (caused by prior events) or random (caused by chance), but never "free". Experiments show that our decisions are made unconsciously before we are aware of them.

  • The Divided Self: Humans do not have a single, unified self. Rather, we have multiple, often conflicting, inner voices and decision-making processes. The "experiencing self" and the "narrating self" can make very different choices.

  • The Narrating Self Shapes Reality: The narrating self, which constructs our personal narratives and memories, does not accurately reflect our actual experiences. It uses heuristics like the "peak-end rule" to selectively remember and evaluate events, distorting our understanding of reality.

  • Meaning is a Constructed Narrative: The meaning we ascribe to our lives and experiences is not inherent, but rather a story constructed by the narrating self. This allows us to find meaning even in traumatic or meaningless events, but also makes that meaning illusory.

  • Individualism is a Myth: The liberal idea of the autonomous individual with a single, authentic self is false. Humans are "dividuals" - collections of competing inner voices and processes, not unified agents.

  • Technology may Undermine Liberal Values: If technologies like brain-computer interfaces can directly manipulate our desires and decision-making, it may challenge the foundations of liberal democracy, free markets, and human rights.

9    The Great Decoupling

  • Humans may lose their economic and military usefulness: Technological developments like AI, robotics, and autonomous systems could make humans economically and militarily obsolete, undermining the foundations of liberal democracy.

  • Humans may still have value, but not as individuals: The system may still find value in humans collectively, but not in unique individuals. Algorithms could make decisions for humans better than they can make for themselves.

  • A new elite of upgraded superhumans may emerge: Technological advancements could create a small elite of superhumans with exceptional physical, emotional, and intellectual abilities, while the majority of humans remain "normal".

  • Liberalism is based on the belief in individual autonomy and equal human value: Liberalism upholds the idea that each human is a uniquely valuable individual with free will and authority over their own choices.

  • Organisms are algorithms: The life sciences suggest that humans are not indivisible individuals, but rather assemblages of algorithms shaped by evolution, challenging the foundations of liberal philosophy.

  • Algorithms could know humans better than they know themselves: Algorithms that monitor our biometric data, DNA, and online activities could understand us better than our own "narrating self", undermining the liberal belief in individual autonomy.

  • Algorithms could evolve from oracles to agents to sovereigns: Algorithms like Waze and Cortana could start as mere oracles, then become agents acting on our behalf, and eventually become sovereigns manipulating us for their own ends.

  • Inequality could be "upgraded": The emergence of a superhuman elite with enhanced physical and cognitive abilities could create a new form of inequality that liberal ideals cannot accommodate.

  • The age of the masses may be over: As human labor becomes less valuable, elites may focus on upgrading a small number of superhumans rather than improving conditions for the masses.

  • New ideologies may emerge to guide the evolution of our "godlike descendants": If liberalism collapses, new religions or ideologies may arise to shape the future of humanity and its posthuman descendants.

10    The Ocean of Consciousness

  • The Emergence of Techno-Religions: The chapter discusses the rise of new techno-religions, which are likely to emerge from research laboratories rather than traditional religious centers. These techno-religions promise salvation through technology, rather than through gods or celestial beings.

  • Techno-Humanism: Techno-humanism is a more conservative form of these techno-religions, which seeks to upgrade the human mind and create a superior human model, called "Homo deus," using technologies like genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and brain-computer interfaces.

  • The Limitations of Current Understanding of the Mind: The chapter argues that our understanding of the human mind is limited, as we have primarily studied the "sub-normative" and "WEIRD" (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) mental states, neglecting the vast spectrum of possible mental states.

  • The Diversity of Mental Experiences: The chapter suggests that there may be an infinite variety of mental states that humans, and even other animals, have never experienced, due to the limitations of our faculties. It uses examples like bats' echolocation and whales' complex emotions to illustrate the diversity of possible mental experiences.

  • The Risks of Upgrading the Mind: The chapter warns that as we acquire the ability to engineer new mental states, we may inadvertently downgrade or lose certain human qualities that are valuable but not valued by the current economic and political system, such as the ability to smell, pay attention, and dream.

  • The Challenge of Authenticity: The chapter explores the dilemma posed by the ability to control and redesign our desires and will, which undermines the humanist belief in the authenticity and supremacy of the human will as the source of meaning and authority.

  • The Rise of Dataism: The chapter suggests that the most interesting emerging religion is Dataism, which worships data rather than gods or humans, and may replace desires and experiences as the source of meaning and authority.

11    The Data Religion

  • Dataism: Dataism is a new scientific theory that sees the universe as consisting of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.

  • Unification of Computer Science and Biology: Dataism emerged from the confluence of two scientific developments - the life sciences coming to see organisms as biochemical algorithms, and computer science engineering increasingly sophisticated electronic algorithms. Dataism collapses the barrier between animals and machines.

  • Dataism as a Religion: Dataism is mutating into a religion that claims to determine right and wrong, with the supreme value being "information flow". It expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.

  • Capitalism vs. Communism as Data Processing Systems: Capitalism and communism are seen as competing data-processing systems, with capitalism using distributed processing and communism relying on centralized processing. Capitalism's distributed processing was more efficient in periods of accelerating technological change.

  • Decline of Traditional Political Structures: As data processing conditions change, traditional political structures like elections, parties, and parliaments may become obsolete, as they cannot process data efficiently enough. This could lead to the decline of democracy.

  • Shift from Homo-centric to Data-centric Worldview: Dataism undermines the human experience as the main source of authority and meaning, and heralds a shift from a homo-centric to a data-centric worldview, where the Internet-of-All-Things may become sacred in its own right.

  • Replacement of Human Algorithms: Dataism suggests that as superior data-processing algorithms are developed, they may eventually replace human consciousness and decision-making, reducing humans to mere "chips" in the cosmic data flow.

  • Challenges to Dataism: There are doubts about whether life can be reduced to data flows and decision-making, and whether non-conscious algorithms can truly outperform conscious intelligence. Contesting the Dataist dogma is a critical scientific and political challenge.


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