21 lessons

“Without realizing the value of solitude, we are overlooking the fact that, once the fear of boredom is faced, it can actually provide its own stimulation. And the only way to face it is to make time, whether every day or every week, to just sit — with our thoughts, our feelings, with a moment of stillness.

The oldest philosophical wisdom in the world has one piece of advice for us: know yourself. And there is a good reason why that is.

Without knowing ourselves, it’s almost impossible to find a healthy way to interact with the world around us. Without taking time to figure it out, we don’t have a foundation to built the rest of our lives on.

Being alone and connecting inwardly is a skill nobody ever teaches us. That’s ironic because it’s more important than most of the ones they do.” —Zat Rana 2018-06-15

In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari concludes:

“Self-observation has never been easy, but it might get harder with time. As history unfolded, humans created more and more complex stories about themselves, which made it increasingly difficult to know who we really are. These stories were intended to unite large numbers of people, accumulate power, and preserve social harmony …

… In the near future, algorithms might bring this process to completion, making it well-nigh impossible for people to observe the reality about themselves. It will be the algorithms that will decide for us who we are and what we should know about ourselves.

For a few more years or decades, we still have a choice.”

Part 1: The Technological Challenge

“But during the twentieth century the global elites … formulated three grand stories to explain the whole past and to predict the future of the entire world: the fascist story, the communist story, and the liberal story … In 1938 humans were offered three global stories to choose from, in 1968 just two, and in 2018 we are down to zero … To be suddenly left without any story is terrifying. Nothing makes sense. A bit like the Soviet elite in the 1980’s, liberals don’t understand how history deviated from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality … many liberals fear that Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump portend the end of human civilization.”

“The danger is that if we invest too much in developing AI and too little in developing human consciousness, the very sophisticated artificial intelligence of computers might only serve to empower the natural stupidity of humans.”

Part 2: The Political Challenge

“The merger of infotech and biotech threatens the core values of liberty and equality. Any solution to the technological challenge has to involve global cooperation. But nationalism, religion, and culture divide humankind into hostile camps and make it very difficult to cooperate on a global level.”

“We need a new global identity because national institutions are incapable of handling a set of unprecedented global predicaments … We now have a global ecology, a global economy, and a global science — but we are stuck with only national politics.”

Part 3: Despair and Hope

“National, religious , and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feelings that my nation, my religion, and my culture are the most important in the world — and therefore my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole.”

“Secular science has at least one big advantage over most traditional religions — namely, that it is inherently terrified of its shadow, and it is in principle willing to admit mistakes and blind spots. If you believe in absolute truth revealed by transcendent power, you cannot allow yourself to admit any error, for that would nullify your whole story. But if you believe in a quest for truth by fallible humans, admitting blunders is part of the game.”

Part 4: Truth

“Most political chiefs and business moguls are forever on the run … [but] If you cannot afford to waste time, you will never find truth … [and] when you have great power in your hand, everything looks like an invitation to meddle. Even if you somehow overcome this urge, the people surrounding you will never forget the giant hammer you are holding.”

“Hunter-gatherer bands, village communes, and even city neighborhoods could think together about the common problems they faced. But we now suffer from global problems, without a global community. Neither Facebook, nationalism, nor religion is anywhere near creating such a community.”

Fake News Rules of Thumb

“First, if you want reliable information, pay good money for it … The second rule of thumb is that if some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the relevant scientific literature.”

This book is written by a good historian and writer. It flows well and weaves together many threads about our complex existence on this planet. Harari is fairly clear about his biases and perspectives. I would strongly recommend it to anyone looking to make sense of where we are historically, where we may be heading, and what are some possible areas of focus.

The real actionable insight is from the first quote here — to make any progress collectively we must know our own selves first. For educators, religious leaders, and politicians, this should be the main effort for the next few decades. We need to work cooperatively, but first we have to know who each of us is. We still have a choice.



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