Yuval Noah Harari foresees a god-like future for humans

Historians in the News
tags: Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus

In retrospect, some books seem tailor-made for the thought-leader industrial complex. Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” which came out in the United States two years ago, was clearly one of them.

It earned Harari an invitation to speak at TEDGlobal in 2015. (Your book doesn’t become the toast of the ruling class if you don’t put in your time on the international yak-yak circuit.) Within a year, the country’s most influential people were reading it. Mark Zuckerberg made it a selection for his online book club. Barack Obama recommended it on television. Bill Gates told The New York Times it would be one of the 10 books he’d bring to a desert island — and why ever not? If you’re going to be Tom Hanks, your volleyball might as well be a breezy history of your missing fellow humans.

What made “Sapiens” so appealing to the smart set was its ability to serve up big ideas — about evolutions and revolutions in human cognition and civilization — into a series of digestible courses, not unlike the playwright David Ives’s condensation of David Mamet’s oeuvre into seven minutes in “Speed the Play.” (The second act of “Oleanna”: “You molested me.” “Didn’t.” “Did.”) The most tantalizing part? “Sapiens” ended with a cliffhanger. After 70,000 years of earthly dominion, we Homo sapiens, Harari seemed to imply, may at last be vulnerable.

“The future masters of the world will probably be more different from us than we are from Neanderthals,” he wrote. “Whereas we and the Neanderthals are at least human, our inheritors will be godlike.”

This is precisely where Harari’s sequel, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” picks up. Like “Sapiens,” it is lively, provocative and sure to be another hit among the pooh-bahs. But readers ought to be prepared: Almost every blithe pronouncement Harari makes (that “the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms,” for instance) has been the exclusive subject of far more nuanced books (Daniel M. Wegner’s “The Illusion of Conscious Will,” Michael S. Gazzaniga’s “Who’s in Charge?”), whose arguments have in turn been disputed by other intellectuals (Daniel Dennett, Roy F. Baumeister). ...

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