I first reviewed Harari’s book 5 years ago here.
After watching this book sit near the top of popular book lists for several years I thought I should re-read it to see if I missed something. I posted the following refreshed review on Goodreads.
Another fine example of Panglossian cognitive dissonance in the tradition of Pinker’s Enlightenment Now and Ridley’s Rational Optimist.
Harari gets everything right except what matters: human overshoot and the total dependence of everything he admires about humans on rapidly depleting non-renewable resources.
Harari does seem to get the fact we’re trashing other species and the planet but then leaves that thought unfinished and shifts to an abundant future with genetically engineered humans and artificial intelligence.
By pandering to and reinforcing the human tendency to deny unpleasant realities it’s no wonder his book is popular.
Despite being very well read he’s just another clever monkey in denial.
63 thoughts on “Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (revisited)”
yep… i could not agree more!
Excellent and important takedown, Rob!
fyi… Along similar lines to your excellent and accurate critique, I created a 24-minute “Pinker takedown” video last year, titled, “SANE vs. INSANE PROGRESS”…
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Nice job Michael, thanks!
If Rob Mielcarski was born 10000 years ago would he have believed in the dream time or would he have thought ” these guys are trippin”.
Is there a genetic component that makes people more likely to be rational or a skeptic or is skepticism and rational thinking a learned trait?
My take is that rational thinking is a learned trait. I think we are all born with the same genes to deny reality and that skepticism is something that is acquired through the environment.
A while ago I was reading some books by John Gottman. One of his books is about teaching emotional intelligence to children. The evidence is very clear that the ability to manage one’s emotions is something that is acquired through learning and more importantly, that it can be taught. I think the same is true of skepticism.
I can comfortably say that if I was born 10000 years ago I most likely would have been as deluded as everybody else. What’s your thoughts?
I think reality denial/acceptance is dominated by genetics. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to educate many smart people on reality with zero success. I also suspect that a defective denial gene coupled with a lack of scientific education and the curiosity necessary to assemble a rational explanation for what the mutant intuitively knows is broken probably explains a lot of the clinical depression in our society. Optimism is a different name for denial.
Thanks, Rob. A good review and a fine illumination of Harari’s impaired reasoning. As you have so consistently and cogently argued here, denial is the mental mechanism which explains how so many otherwise intelligent people can misapprehend the reality of the human situation. I should say, that’s my interpretation of your many good arguments. 😉
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That’s good. Another book I don’t have to buy.
Harari talked plenty about humans living in delusions & denial.
“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.”
“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.”
“As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people inscribe to their lives is just a delusion.”
“We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us.”
“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”
“The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.”
“This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution: the ability to keep more people alive under worse conditions.”
“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.” ― Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Looks like some excellent examples of how humans live in denial & delusion in the fictional societies & beliefs of their own making.
Here’s my little thought experiment on it: When the humans go extinct will their fictions – capitalism, communism, nations, money, institutions, thousands of gods, love, hate, etc, etc – still exist?
Of course not because those things only exist in the minds of humans. Humans who have been killing & dying over these fictions since the minute they evolved to full behavioral modernity & perhaps even earlier. That these thing are fictions is obvious, but go tell the average person their country, politics, university degree & corporation they work for are not really real & we’re all just pretending they are. Good luck with that. Except for a few stragglers out on the far ends of the bell curve, you cannot convince a species that lives in denial that they live in denial – by definition.
I know Apneaman, you’re right.
I noticed throughout the book that Harari was very aware of many fictional stories we create and believe, like gods. It was also clear he understood the importance and centrality of energy to our modern successes. As MORT predicts, the one story he was unable to see through was the one story that threatened his world view: resource depletion.
Nevertheless it feels good to rant, especially at an “intellectual” who makes a living trying to prove how intelligent and wise he is. Then I went for a 5 hour hike in the alpine woods.
Christ, never tell me I’m right. My head’s too damn big as it is.
It’s when he talks about the future that he loses me. ‘Homo Deus’, his next book – 30 pages in & that was it. All these techno futurists automatically assume growth & the energy needed for it will always be there.
‘Sapiens’ is a decent ‘Big History’ primer, although a number of points, like a cognitive leap/revolution vs a cognitive crawl are still being (hotly) debated by many of the specialists who study theses matters. Harari is a historian by profession & writes with too much certainty on matters that are not settled & he’s not an expert on. Harari’s a Medieval military historian if I remember correctly. Sapiens is good enough that I would recommend it to newbies.
Another good introduction to Big History is, ‘Origin Story: A Big History of Everything’
by David Christian.
Like I said primers.Some of the books you review go into much greater detail (eg: Nick Lane) & are often less human centric, which is how I see the big picture based on all we’ve learned about the universe.
The link below is to a paper, not a book, but IMO, it’s one of the best.
The Natural Science Underlying Big History
Nature’s many varied complex systems—including galaxies, stars, planets, life, and society—are islands of order within the increasingly disordered Universe. All organized systems are subject to physical, biological, or cultural evolution, which together comprise the grander interdisciplinary subject of cosmic evolution. A wealth of observational data supports the hypothesis that increasingly complex systems evolve unceasingly, uncaringly, and unpredictably from big bang to humankind. These are global history greatly extended, big history with a scientific basis, and natural history broadly portrayed across ∼14 billion years of time. Human beings and our cultural inventions are not special, unique, or apart from Nature; rather, we are an integral part of a universal evolutionary process connecting all such complex systems throughout space and time. Such evolution writ large has significant potential to unify the natural sciences into a holistic understanding of who we are and whence we came. No new science (beyond frontier, nonequilibrium thermodynamics) is needed to describe cosmic evolution’s major milestones at a deep and empirical level. Quantitative models and experimental tests imply that a remarkable simplicity underlies the emergence and growth of complexity for a wide spectrum of known and diverse systems. Energy is a principal facilitator of the rising complexity of ordered systems within the expanding Universe; energy flows are as central to life and society as they are to stars and galaxies. In particular, energy rate density—contrasting with information content or entropy production—is an objective metric suitable to gauge relative degrees of complexity among a hierarchy of widely assorted systems observed throughout the material Universe. Operationally, those systems capable of utilizing optimum amounts of energy tend to survive, and those that cannot are nonrandomly eliminated.
In my (very) short review of Harari’s book I said he got everything right except what matters. By that I meant I agree with you that Sapiens is a great big history primer but you have to ignore everything he says about the present and the future.
The paper by Chaisson is excellent. I also think it’s one of the best I’ve seen. He clearly put a ton of effort into writing it. I love that he sees the significance of the eukaryotic singularity. Chaisson seems to think the cooking made us “special” hypothesis is good enough and does not require any denial of death to explain why he’s able to write that paper. I of course disagree. He also soft pedals overshoot but at least he doesn’t predict emigration to Mars.
I observe that Chaisson is a physicist and Harari is not. It shows. Anyone not well grounded in thermodynamics should shut the fuck up on anything that depends on energy, which is pretty much everything, except baseball and wine tasting.
Not surprised to see comments about there being too many people, too little water and other necessary resources – however, just who among the many different peoples and cultures of this tiny planet are the ones who “could, should, would” survive? Are you and I among those groups? Are your kids and grandkids among those groups?
The idea is to democratically constrain the birth rate so that the population declines faster than non-renewable resources deplete so that all people have a reasonable chance of a quality life without necessary suffering. The best method I’ve found so far is Jack Alpert’s birth lottery. But it won’t happen because 99.9% of the population denies we have a problem.
Bloody Canadians enabled the Wuhan lab to create the virus. Take off eh.
Alice Friedemann reminds us there are some things we should do before oil production goes into terminal decline.
You know, as an individual, if you lived on a farm with a water well that was slowly running dry you’d take some proactive rational steps. Like culling your livestock and capturing rain water. Collectively we can’t even acknowledge our energy problem, let alone do something intelligent to prepare.
What happens to life in the oceans if the Greenland and west antarctica ice sheets collapse and drown lots of this nuclear waste under several metres water? Does it get buried under sediment fairly quickly and stay local or does it contaminate the entire ocean destroying nearly all life? Or are the oceans big enough to make it so dilute that life can handle it?
The other night I watched Ted talk by Michael schellenberger. You can read the transcript here https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_shellenberger_why_renewables_can_t_save_the_planet/transcript?language=en
Why anybody thinks that nuclear energy is the answer to climate change is beyond me. It’s a finite resource just like oil and will one-day run out. More importantly despite decades of using nuclear power no where in the world that I’m aware has managed to get rid of nuclear waste in a way that removes it safely away from any life for tens of thousands (millions?)of years.
I don’t think nuclear is an answer to climate change. If it’s not already too late for any response then rapid population reduction is the only action that might help.
Abundant energy with a small (few hundred million) population could be a beautiful thing allowing pleasant lives and the advancement of science. Hydro and nuclear (until the uranium was depleted) would be the best choices for this scenario. I personally think the difficultly of safely securing nuclear waste (for a small population) is over stated. Especially when compared to the negative side effects and more rapid depletion of other energy types.
Yes your probably right that the difficulty in storing nuclear waste is probably overstated. There’s certainly plenty of geologically stable places in Australia were I’m from to store nuclear waste safely for eons. I’m sure the same is true for other continents.
Yet we haven’t. It’s still sitting around in cooling ponds and other less than ideal places. If we’re not disposing of it properly now with abundant oil I fail to see why it would change in the future when oil production is declining. If anything the risks of unsafe storage would increase along with the risk of nuclear accidents.
Thanks for putting me onto Walk off the earth. I’ve been enjoying watching some of there YouTube videos the last few nights.
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Many who lament the “lack” of places to put nuclear trash are very casual about putting tall white trash on mountains and valleys in plain sight. Big Wind isn’t blatantly lethal (to people) but to me it represents the visual apex of disrespect for nature.
When people want this or that and nature gets in the way, the “solution” is to build right on top of nature and change zoning laws. It has a cascading affect with access roads used by ATVers and poachers. Tainting distant views can render a whole region non-scenic, for a further domino effect. “Broken Windows” theory applies to entire landscapes now.
Construction workers will always find something to do and it’s a “leading economic indicator.” If endless construction must occur, we should at least keep it compact. Nuclear SMR could replace future wind energy sprawl if governments stopped clinging to green gestures.
Kunstler had a few good paragraphs today…
Tim Morgan today is very good. Perhaps his best work to date with a comprehensive big picture view and lots of supporting data.
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My favorite band (Walk Off the Earth) covers another favorite band (AC/DC) with a ukulele.
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Boy can Sarah ever belt it out – love it………….and her XOXO.
Great cover of one of the most over played songs ever. I think Thunder Struck has been used in 35% of American action movies since it’s release. Must be a movie bylaw or perhaps laziness & lack of imagination?
Walk Off the Earth definitely gave it new life. Thanks for making me aware of them.
I’m a big AC/DC fan/listener, but at 90% Bon Scott.
Here’s the theme song for when all us doomers get arrested for
speaking truthsedition & end up in re-education camps.
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Good one. You should check out Walk Off the Earth’s YouTube channel. They have dozens of creative videos with superb production quality. Plus they’re Canadian.
I wasn’t aware of this band, thanks. Love their collective energy and instrumentation!
Whenever I need a smile I watch this one.
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He seems to understand denial when he writes “Mankind has always been a post-truth species” circa 2017. I haven’t read the 2011 book itself. Maybe his views are tending more toward John Gray’s Straw Dogs instead of hoping there’s a fix.
I think we’re past the point where analyzing human history is of real value, since mistakes keep getting repeated. Nothing much left to do but reduce one’s own footprint and spread the word in blogs that may go viral at the 11th hour. Platforms like WordPress seem impermanent, though. Archive and mirror when possible.
Recent John Gray on the unoriginal insanity of the Woke. Just the flip side of the useful idiot coin that features MAGA-tards & Proud Boys on the other side.
The woke have no vision of the future
Like medieval millenarians, today’s SJWs believe all that needs to be done to bring about a new world is to destroy the old one
“As some conservative commentators have observed, there are striking similarities between woke militants and the Bolsheviks who seized power in 1917. But what is unfolding, in the US and to a lesser extent in other countries, is at once more archaic and more futuristic than a twentieth century revolutionary coup. The current convulsion is an outbreak more closely akin to the anarchical millenarians movements that raged across Europe in the late Middle Ages, whose vision of redemption from history was shared by America’s founders, who carried it with them to the New World.
Nevertheless, Bolsheviks and woke militants do have some things in common.”
It’s remarkable that there is no political movement anywhere advocating for anything that would actually help to make the future less bad. Everyone is clueless.
I predict the woke are going to go really really bat shit crazy when Trump wins a second term.
The Plague of the Spanish Lady
“Richard Collier wrote a book about the pandemic, The Plague of the Spanish Lady. He was a journalist, and he described how the events unfolded in many localities. ”
“Communities that downplayed the risk of disease, and attempted to continue business as usual, often paid dearly for their mistake. In Kansas City, the Health Board tried to close saloons and theaters, but the mayor kept them open. More than 1,800 died. In Jamaica, the decision to not quarantine the sick led to 7,000 deaths. ”
“The grand finale of the Spanish flu was the glorious conclusion of “the war to end all wars” which occurred on November 11. The world erupted with immense celebration. Church bells pealed. Big Ben rang in London, ending four years of silence. All rules against public gatherings were disregarded, as the happy crowds hugged, kissed, and danced. Victory “ushered in the greatest medical holocaust in history.” In Cockermouth, England, which had entirely escaped the flu, one church service infected the whole town. The state of Louisiana reported 350,000 cases in the week after the celebration. Within a week, 19,000 died in Britain, and 17,000 doughboys died in France.”
“Viruses keep themselves amused by constantly rearranging their proteins, so scientists who develop vaccines will never be out of work.”
Same shit, different pandemic. Same shit, different century.
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I suppose never learning from history is another consequence of denying reality.
“Ordinarily when dealing with conspiracy theories it is best to take the advice of science fiction writer Carl Sagan – “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The fact that someone said it on YouTube or that an increasingly detached pseudo-news outlet like CNN or the Daily Mail reported it doesn’t really count. Although not infallible (humans on occasion – especially those in positions of power – often do conspire for all sorts of nefarious reasons) apply Occam’s razor – “plurality should not be posited without necessity,” i.e. the simplest explanation is usually correct. The trouble is that, every now and then, the evidence to support a conspiracy theory appears to be a lot simpler than the special pleading required to explain it away.
One such theory is that “They” – the Illuminati, the deep state, the lizard people, the Rothschilds, pick your poison – deliberately set out to cause as many deaths as possible through the spread of SARS-CoV-2. It hasn’t helped, of course, that the Chinese state deliberately withheld information about the virus at the beginning of the outbreak or that the World Health Organisation has lacked consistency throughout a pandemic which it refused to acknowledge long after it was clear that SARS-CoV-2 was spreading across several continents.”
“In the meantime the conspiracy theorists – the only people who still fall for the myth that someone is in charge – will continue to gain credibility as politicians make so appalling a trail of mistakes that it gets harder and harder to believe that they weren’t deliberate.”
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BTW, I am not convinced that the virus is 100% natural & went directly from the wild to humans. There has been & still is plenty of lying by authorities & scientists with major conflicts of interest & many suspicious claims. Further, there are a number of accomplished scientists who beg to differ & have been attacked & censored by the establishment media. I’ve also spotted their all too obvious narrative which is standard propaganda.
As for the claim of intentional release -NO. It could be done, but I see no evidence for that (plenty of speculation) & it would indeed take an extraordinary amount of evidence to convince me – like the planners caught on video discussing the particulars.
There is a staggering amount of info on Covid coming out every minute – literally. There’s also a staggering amount of nefarious humans, with too many agendas to count, spinning & lying about Covid for some form of gain. No one person could possibly keep up with it all. It’s practically pointless following all the lying & agendas. There’s nothing to gain except possibly another meaningless, Ah Ha, caught ya lying, moment. Let’s say evidence comes to light that proved the virus was gain of function & was accidentally released from a lab. What changes? For me nothing. For the world, nothing but more cyber hysterics. Just another cyber circus until the next one come along. 3 Days to 2 weeks? Trump will probably get jealous & angry at losing the spotlight & do/say something controversial to get it back on him. The virus has been loosed upon the human world & that’s that.
Did I share these sub-reddits with you before?
r/Coronavirus 2,141,640 members, a community for 7 years
Try & keep up with just those 2. You couldn’t make enough popcorn.
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Thanks, no I haven’t seen those sub-reddits. I dropped out of Reddit a long time ago for the same reason I quit Twitter: too low signal to noise ratio. I prefer to identify smart people who do not deny reality that I trust and then focus on what they’re saying.
I think the virus originated in the Wuhan lab and probably escaped due to human error. I’ve dialed way back on following the virus details. My mental model is simple and good enough for me for the long haul:
1) Plan on being careful for many years.
2) Expect more waves of infection.
3) Eat healthy. Get enough sleep. Walk. Take vitamin D and C every day.
4) Wear a mask if possible threats nearby.
5) Store extra food, just in case.
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I don’t participate or have an account on Reddit or read comments for the same reasons as you. I use it as a multi topic news & DIY (everything) aggregator site. I canceled my account last year but still use the Reddit enhancement suite & old reddit site.
Your model makes sense because those things are among the few things in this world one can have some input/influence on.
“Viruses keep themselves amused by constantly rearranging their proteins, so scientists who develop vaccines will never be out of work.” – Richard Reese
Chicago coronavirus: Northwestern Medicine study finds COVID-19 virus strain unique to city
“Early results from a Northwestern Medicine study suggest Chicago has a unique strain of COVID-19 in addition to other strains, including one globally impacting people and centered in New York.
“It’s interesting to us that there were so many different types of viruses here in one place so early on in the pandemic,” said Dr. Egon Ozer, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.”
“The samples taken from Chicago COVID-19 patients uncovered three different, major virus strains, including the predominant strain centered in New York that is impacting people globally. But the strain found more abundantly in city patients was rare, unique to Chicago.”
Good luck with that vaccine.
Wow, that’s a fascinating discovery. And it’s a clear warning that a vaccine(s) should not be counted on to inevitably deliver a “cure” for, or even short-term immunity to, COVID-19.
If this trend persists things may get interesting, but I expect their backbone will be weak when a meaningful deflation of the asset bubble begins.
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Wolf Richter stands brave and short.
Doug Nolan amplifies Richter.
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Note that Canada is catching up to the US.
Very sad, the bullshit has infected my alma mater.
This is the closest I get to patriotism.
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Nice to see Gail Tverberg calling our predicament what it is, overshoot.
In today’s essay she considers our options given the virus in the context of human overshoot, and concludes there is no good choice and the best we can do is to buy a little more time with more debt and denial.
I observe that Gail does not even contemplate confronting our predicament with awareness and reality based policies designed to minimize the time integral of suffering through proactive population and consumption reduction.
Reality, of course, is the option that no one contemplates.
James with a good comment today….
Pretty bleak. No wonder humanity lives in denial. But as you say, denial on our behalf led to our present predicament in the first place.
It is bleak, but every day of denial makes it bleaker. A relatively painless one-child policy would have sufficed had we listened to Dennis Meadows et al in the 70’s. Now we need a more painful birth lottery for a few generations to prevent unnecessary suffering for many future generations.
After the publication of “The Population Bomb”, the organization ZPG was quite active in the states during the 70s and 80s and I think it had some effect on people I knew, almost all of whom had no children or only one. Clearly this was a minority position. In the USA, one runs up against the overwhelming majority sentiment that having as many children as one wants is a god given right, another manifestation of the Maximum Power Principal.
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Thank you for your blog. It always contains interesting information.
There is something that bothers me whenever I read you though.
I am not sure I understand what kind of denial you are talking about. It seems to me that you are referring to denial of death, resource depletion and pollution.
But, these are “problems” only because we identify to something in the first place:
* If “we” identify to the body, then death of the body is frightening.
* If “we” identify with civilization, then resource depletion becomes a problem.
* If “we” identify with the human species then climate change and extinction are frightening.
So isn’t the denial rather about the fact that we can’t say what we are and we arbitrarily identify to something?
And instead of alleviating denial about the consequences of what is being done today, we could alleviate the illusion about what we are?
Wouldn’t it be going even more to the root?
To that I would like to add that there is no end going to the root.
To me some truths could be stated as :
* the same situation could be regarded as good or bad, we don’t really know what is good for us (individually or as a group)
* we don’t even know who/what we are
* we have no control. Everything we tried to control our destiny led to new problems and fails in the long run. It just ties us to the illusion of control
* change can not be stopped
* knowledge is just reinforcing a worldview, a way of seeing things
Hope this all somehow makes sense to you 🙂
Hi Charles, I’m weak at philosophy so please correct me if I’m wrong but I think the gist of what you are saying is:
– Free will does not exist.
– There is no right or wrong in the universe.
– We are just along for the ride so enjoy what you can now and don’t worry about what may come.
Your view is shared by the majority of thinkers who understand the reality of our overshoot predicament. They discuss the problem but avoid discussing what to do about it.
I’m an outlier with a different view that can be summarized as follows:
– Multi-cellular eukaryotic life with high intelligence and an extended theory of mind is vanishingly rare in the universe and is something worth admiring, cherishing, and fighting to preserve.
– We have evolved morality that helped us to succeed as a social species and this morality can guide us to chose a correct path forward.
– The correct path is to acknowledge the reality of our predicament and to take proactive steps to minimize future aggregate suffering while preserving as many of our scientific and cultural accomplishments as possible.
– We have the intelligence and morality to execute this path but our evolved reality denial prevents us from overriding our gene’s desire to obey the Maximum Power Principle.
– Reality denial, therefore, is the lock that must be picked before any progress can be made.
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Thank you for your answer.
I understand your position a lot better now.
I believe, even if there were no denial mechanism at work, we wouldn’t be able to grasp reality.
At the individual level, I honestly don’t know if there is any free will. I am sure we have no control on the outcome though. Unintended consequences and all. So, if we have free will, it’s like being scammed, because the outcome is never guaranteed.
I understand how you feel. However, to think that removing reality denial will enable progress, isn’t that another form of “reality denial” ? I believe we are trapped in the idea that we can outsmart reality, make the “correct” manipulation to bend it to our will. It seems to never work as expected though.
(have we really made any kind of progress which is not some kind of illusion, a borrowing of sort ?)
The gist of what I was saying however is really that we can’t know what “we” really are. If you pick any fraction of reality (for instance the body, or the mind), then at some point, you will see it is influenced, it is bound to something else outside of it (to give some examples, think of the human microbiome and its importance to “us”, or whether it is not arbitrary to consider a child to be a distinct individual from its parents). The point is, you can’t really separate something from the whole. As the most mundane analogy goes: a wave does not exist outside the ocean.
To me, “multi-cellular eukaryotic life with high intelligence” is as rare/special as the position of any piece of dust: the probability for it to be here is vanishingly small, yet it is. Thus, there is nothing really “more” special about this or that.
Oh well, I could go on and on. My point is that any fragment of reality is infinitely more complex than mind can grasp. Just that is incredibly beautiful.
To recognize it, frees from the burden of control (at least for me :).
PS : I don’t want to discourage you from doing what you do. It is nice to be able to read your blog posts. And, I am sure you must be enjoying being in this space. Which is the most important. I just wanted to share my current world-view which, quite recently, replaced the previous, more classically “humanist” one.
Thanks. I have on many occasions here acknowledged that denial of denial is the strongest form of denial and therefore it is highly improbable we will ever acknowledge our genetic denial.
The evidence for this is clear. After many years of trying I have been spectacularly unsuccessful at causing even one friend, or family member, or reader of this blog to join me in trying to spread awareness of Varki’s MORT theory. I think a few readers may see merit in the theory but none have joined me in trying to spread the word.
Nevertheless I will probably keep trying. There are many millions of well intentioned people trying to shift the needle in a positive direction and they will all fail unless reality denial is first addressed.
I don’t share your worldview that we have no control over the outcome. A farmer who sees his water well running dry will curtail breeding of his herd to bring it into balance with the resources of his farm rather than allowing death from starvation. We should be able to do the same for our own herd if we saw the reality of our critical resource sources and sinks depleting.
Nor do I share your view that we can’t know what we really are. While some of details are no doubt wrong we known plenty about the universe and how life emerged and how one reality denying fire ape took over a rare planet.
To help you distinguish the significance of a speck of dust from a eukaryotic cell I recommend you study the thermodynamics of life. Nick Lane’s most recent book which I reviewed is a good place to start.
Hi Rob, don’t be too glum.
“I have been spectacularly unsuccessful at causing even one … reader of this blog to join me in trying to spread awareness of Varki’s MORT theory”.
Untrue! I have shared it with a couple of young friends as well as an older couple. I can’t say that they have become evangelists in their turn, but they are “woke” to all the doominess. Sadly that is the extent of it, since I know few people IRL who are interested in talking about this kind of thing.
That said, my thinking has increasingly become more akin to that of Charles, above.
If we were capable of taking unified action to curb population quickly, I don’t see the lottery approach as useful (seems like its main feature is to offend in the least degree while offending all). Why not a more natural approach? For example, we used to kill criminals outright without much fuss and bother. Now we house and support them and their criminal-to-be children for decades on end. We keep alive lots of oldsters in very expensive ways. We used to send young men off to war to reduce population, and send others destined not to procreate off to monasteries and nunneries. Fossil fuels have given us the luxury of wrinkling our nose at eugenics, the most natural thing in the world to practice. If you want a survivable cohort, you will have to select for strength and health as well as cleverness. We used to know how to do this sort of dirty work without global committees studying it.
My sister-in-law is married to an impoverished Marquis. When their son (the heir to the title) wanted to marry, the paternal grandmother/mother-in-law objected in the strongest of terms to the match, given that the young woman’s parents were always weak and in poor health, and the girl herself was a kind of fragile and neurotic specimen. The matriarch’s politically-incorrect opinions were, of course, swept aside, and the couple went on to have a child with developmental issues. We think it is backwards and deplorable to consider things like “child-bearing hips”, so we are unwittingly selecting for humans who risk not being able to give birth without resorting to caesarian sections, as another example.
Chiming in as to your points,
– I’m not sure why it’s important that humans in particular survive. Remember the Star Trek episode where some earlier captain wasn’t allowed to die? “The Man must continue,” a female entity intoned, as Kirk made a (moral) case against The Man continuing.
– What you call our “morality” is, to my mind, entirely contextual. Recognizing that denial necessitates rationalization might make that clear. The “morality” of which you speak is what got us into this mess, so how can it get us out?
– Has “morality” has ever worked in order to “minimize future aggregate suffering”? I would welcome any proof you have of that. Instead, we generally tend to think it is more moral to save more lives—this only increases future aggregate suffering as a mathematical result. But even removing humans from the picture entirely is not going to make much of a dent in animal and plant suffering, since they will go about doing their own eating-each-other-alive dealio just the same.
– People who have been open to picking the lock of reality-denial (I agree this is likely due to genetics) are apparently not by dint of that any more or less “moral”. I tend to view the world as being a-moral (perhaps Charles does, too), while you seem to hold strong moral urges.
ANyway, keep up the good work. I think this is a time for us all to focus on what we enjoy doing and investigating while we still have our current luxuries.
Thinking about this a little more.. I’m even more curious than before as to why you want/need humans to survive. If you believe that Reality-Denial is an innate affliction that will keep us on our destructive path, why wouldn’t humans in any subsequent generations be subject to the same “defect”?
Do you believe climate tipping points have been reached? If so, isn’t trying to program a human future just more denial? And -seriously- why should anyone accept a birth lottery? Why wouldn’t the imposition of such a top-down program elicit a global paroxysm of rage and violence? I think engineers have a hard time with understanding that not everything is “fixable”. Unless… hah! … maybe Alpert is colluding with Gates to come up with a sterilizing (or deadly) covid vaccine like the tin-foil-hatters and African bush people are afraid of—that could be randomized to affect every other person, 9/10, 99/100. (More likely, it would be faux-randomized to spare the bloodlines of those in charge.)
Have you heard of the Shirley Jackson short story, “The Lottery”? We were made to read it in middle school (1970s).
Thanks kindly Lidia17. You ask good questions.
I’m not welded to Alpert’s birth lottery. It’s just the simplest, fairest, and most humane idea compatible with democracy for rapid population reduction that I’ve encountered.
The reason I’d like to see the human species persist is that complex multi-cellular life with a brain as powerful as ours is probably extraordinarily rare in the universe. It is amazing that a self-replicating respiring chemical structure can evolve from simple elements to understand the origin of the universe and the process that created itself.
I guess we all worship different things. My thing is intelligence.
I haven’t done a lot of deep thinking about morality like you but I do think most people are mostly good. People can of course become very nasty when under threat which is why you want to avoid an uncontrolled collapse.
I think that if people could break through their denial and rationally compare the outcomes of population reduction vs population growth they’d do the right thing, provided the rules were fair. But it probably won’t happen.
You’re correct that it might already be too late with climate change. It’s also possible that a few areas of the planet will continue to provide a reasonable habitat. It’s worth trying.
I have not read Jackson’s Lottery but I have studied the similarly themed work by Rene Girard on scapegoats.
Move along, nothing to see here.
Nice interview with David Stockman on the insanity of our debt trends. He gets the what better than most, but has no clue about the why.
Mr. Stockman thinks everything will be great if deficits stop and the Federal Reserve withers away. He seems to have an especially acute case of MORT, possibly a standard deviation above the already high average level.
I agree. Much like environmentalists who think solar panels will save us. But Stockman and many environmentalists do understand the severity of the problem, just not what’s causing it, nor what to do about it.
$7 billion removed from the money supply. No worries, they printed 3,000 billion in 6 weeks.