21 Lessons for 21st century - by Yuval Noah Harari


21 Lessons for 21st century - by Yuval Noah Harari

Read: 2018-10-23

Recommend: 10/10

If you want to read only one book this year, make it this book. This is such a great book with so many insights that it changed me in many aspects. In that aspect, Yuval Noah Harari had done a great job of offering insights as he promised. Here are 10 of the 500 highlights:

  1. Whenever we feel angry, we focus on the object of my anger – something somebody did or said - rather than on the sensory reality of the anger.
  2. If by “free will” you mean the freedom to do what you desire, then yes, humans have free will. But if by “free will” you mean the freedom to choose what to desire, then no, humans have no free will.
  3. Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones? Do you think they control the technology, or does the technology control them?
  4. When politics or science look too complicated, it is tempting to switch to some funny cat videos, celebrity gossip, or porn.
  5. For post-truth, two rules of thumb: 1) pay good money for reliable information; 2) Read the relevant scientific literature.
  6. Bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance is likely to backfire. Most people don’t like too many facts, and they certainly don’t like to feel stupid. Don’t be so sure that you can convince Tea Party supporters of the truth of global warming by presenting them with sheets of statistical data.
  7. The role of judaism in the story of humankind is a bit like the role of Freud’s mother in modern Western history.
  8. A priest is not somebody who knows how to perform the rain dance and end the drought. A priest is somebody who knows how to justify why the rain dance failed, and why we must keep believing in our god even though he seems deaf to all our prayers.
  9. Tristan Harris, time well spent.
  10. When you live under such an oligarchy, there is always some crisis or other that takes priority over boring stuff like healthcare and pollution. If the nation is facing external invasion or diabolical subversion, who has time to worry about overcrowded hospitals and polluted rivers? By manufacturing a never-ending stream of crises, a corrupt oligarchy can prolong is rule indefinitely.


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power.

  2. Unfortunately, history gives no discounts. If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids – you and they will not be exempt from the consequences. This is very unfair; but who said history was fair?

  3. As a historian, I cannot give people food or clothes – but I can try and offer some clarity, thereby helping to level the global playing field. If this empowers even a handful of additional people to join the debate about the future of our species, I have done my job.

  4. They all have far more urgent problems than global warming or the crisis of liberal democracy. No book can do justice to all of that, and I don’t have lessons to teach people in such situations. I can only hope to learn from them.

  5. Climate change may be far beyond the concerns of people in the midst of a life-and-death emergency, but it might eventually make the Mumbai slums uninhabitable, send enormous new waves of refugees across the Mediterranean, and lead to a worldwide crisis in healthcare.

  6. receive feedback and hone my arguments.

  7. Terrorism works by pressing the fear button deep in our minds and hijacking the private imagination of millions of individuals. Similarly, the crisis of liberal democracy is played out not just in parliaments and polling stations, but also in neurons and synapses. It is a cliché to note that the personal is the political. But in an era when scientists, corporations and governments are learning to hack the human brain, this truism is more sinister than ever. Accordingly, this book offers observations about the conduct of individuals as well as entire societies.

  8. This question is particularly poignant, because liberalism is losing credibility exactly when the twin revolutions in information technology and biotechnology confront us with the biggest challenges our species has ever encountered. The merger of infotech and biotech might soon push billions of humans out of the job market and undermine both liberty and equality. Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while most people suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse – irrelevance.

  9. Since the corporations and entrepreneurs who lead the technological revolution naturally tend to sing the praises of their creations, it falls to sociologists, philosophers and historians like myself to sound the alarm and explain all the ways things can go terribly wrong.

  10. humankind can rise to the occasion if we keep our fears under control and are a bit more humble about our views

  11. This may sound overambitious, but Homo sapiens cannot wait. Philosophy, religion and science are all running out of time. People have debated the meaning of life for thousands of years. We cannot continue this debate indefinitely. The looming ecological crisis, the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction, and the rise of new disruptive technologies will not allow it. Perhaps most importantly, artificial intelligence and biotechnology are giving humanity the power to reshape and re-engineer life. Very soon somebody will have to decide how to use this power – based on some implicit or explicit story about the meaning of life. Philosophers are very patient people, but engineers are far less patient, and investors are the least patient of all. If you don’t know what to do with the power to engineer life, market forces will not wait a thousand years for you to come up with an answer. The invisible hand of the market will force upon you its own blind reply. Unless you are happy to entrust the future of life to the mercy of quarterly revenue reports, you need a clear idea what life is all about.

  12. As an author, I was therefore required to make a difficult choice. Should I speak my mind openly, risking that my words could be taken out of context and used to justify burgeoning autocracies? Or should I censor myself? It is a mark of illiberal regimes that they make free speech more difficult even outside their borders. Due to the spread of such regimes, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to think critically about the future of our species. After some soul searching, I chose free discussion over self-censorship. Without criticising the liberal model, we cannot repair its faults or go beyond it. But please note that this book could have been written only when people are still relatively free to think what they like and to express themselves as they wish. If you value this book, you should also value the freedom of expression.

  13. the fascist story, and from the late 1940s to the late 1980s the world became a battleground between just two stories: communism and liberalism. Then the communist story collapsed, and the liberal story remained the dominant guide to the human past and the indispensable manual for the future of the world – or so it seemed to the global elite.

  14. In the 1990s and 2000s this story became a global mantra. Many governments from Brazil to India adopted liberal recipes in an attempt to join the inexorable march of history. Those failing to do so seemed like fossils from a bygone era. In 1997 the US president Bill Clinton confidently rebuked the Chinese government that its refusal to liberalise Chinese politics puts it ‘on the wrong side of history’.

  15. Whereas a few years ago Americans and Europeans were still trying to liberalise Iraq and Libya at the point of the gun, many people in Kentucky and Yorkshire have now come to see the liberal vision as either undesirable or unattainable.

  16. Everything is perfectly clear. To be suddenly left without any story is terrifying. Nothing makes any sense. A bit like the Soviet elite in the 1980s, liberals don’t understand how history deviated from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism to interpret reality. Disorientation causes them to think in apocalyptic terms, as if the failure of history to come to its envisioned happy ending can only mean that it is hurtling towards Armageddon

  17. Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely. It is easier to manipulate a river by building a dam across it than it is to predict all the complex consequences this will have for the wider ecological system. Similarly, it will be easier to redirect the flow of our minds than to divine what it will do to our personal psychology or to our social systems.

  18. In 2018 the common person feels increasingly irrelevant. Lots of mysterious words are bandied around excitedly in TED talks, government think tanks and hi-tech conferences – globalisation, blockchain, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, machine learning – and common people may well suspect that none of these words are about them. The liberal story was the story of ordinary people. How can it remain relevant to a world of cyborgs and networked algorithms?

  19. It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

  20. It triumphed over imperialism, over fascism, and over communism by adopting some of their best ideas and practices. In particular, the liberal story learned from communism to expand the circle of empathy and to value equality alongside liberty.

  21. When in 1918 victorious Britain and France talked excitedly about liberty, they were not thinking about the subjects of their worldwide empires. For example, Indian demands for self-determination were answered by the Amritsar massacre of 1919, in which the British army killed hundreds of unarmed demonstrators.

  22. No wonder that many national liberation movements throughout the world placed their hopes on communist Moscow and Beijing rather than on the self-proclaimed champions of liberty in the West.

  23. Most people who voted for Trump and Brexit didn’t reject the liberal package in its entirety – they lost faith mainly in its globalising part. They still believe in democracy, free markets, human rights and social responsibility, but they think these fine ideas can stop at the border.

  24. Xi Jinping looks like Obama’s real successor. Having put Marxism–Leninism on the back burner, China seems rather happy with the liberal international order.

  25. Democracy is based on Abraham Lincoln’s principle that ‘you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time’. If a government is corrupt and fails to improve people’s lives, enough citizens will eventually realise this and replace the government. But government control of the media undermines Lincoln’s logic, because it prevents citizens from realising the truth. Through its monopoly over the media, the ruling oligarchy can repeatedly blame all its failures on others, and divert attention to external threats – either real or imaginary. When you live under such an oligarchy, there is always some crisis or other that takes priority over boring stuff such as healthcare and pollution. If the nation is facing external invasion or diabolical subversion, who has time to worry about overcrowded hospitals and polluted rivers? By manufacturing a never-ending stream of crises, a corrupt oligarchy can prolong its rule indefinitely.

  26. Russia is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with 87 per cent of wealth concentrated in the hands of the richest 10 per cent of people.

  27. Humans vote with their feet. In my travels around the world I have met numerous people in many countries who wish to emigrate to the USA, to Germany, to Canada or to Australia. I have met a few who want to move to China or Japan. But I am yet to meet a single person who dreams of emigrating to Russia.

  28. At the end of the day, humankind won’t abandon the liberal story, because it doesn’t have any alternative. People may give the system an angry kick in the stomach but, having nowhere else to go, they will eventually come back. Alternatively, people may completely give up on having a global story of any kind, and instead seek shelter with local nationalist and religious tales.

  29. Perhaps even Westerners should take a break from trying to run the world, and focus on their own affairs for a change? This is arguably what is happening all over the globe, as the vacuum left by the breakdown of liberalism is tentatively filled by nostalgic fantasies about some local golden past. Donald Trump coupled his calls for American isolationism with a promise to ‘Make America Great Again’ – as if the USA of the 1980s or 1950s was a perfect society that Americans should somehow recreate in the twenty-first century. The Brexiteers dream of making Britain an independent power, as if they were still living in the days of Queen Victoria and as if ‘splendid isolation’ were a viable policy for the era of the Internet and global warming.

  30. Obama has rightly pointed out that despite the numerous shortcomings of the liberal package, it has a much better record than any of its alternatives.

  31. But liberalism has no obvious answers to the biggest problems we face: ecological collapse and technological disruption.

  32. However, economic growth will not save the global ecosystem – just the opposite, it is the cause of the ecological crisis. And economic growth will not solve technological disruption – it is predicated on the invention of more and more disruptive technologies.

  33. The first step is to tone down the prophecies of doom, and switch from panic mode to bewilderment. Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from the smug feeling that I know exactly where the world is heading – down. Bewilderment is more humble, and therefore more clear-sighted. If you feel like running down the street crying ‘The apocalypse is upon us!’, try telling yourself ‘No, it’s not that. Truth is, I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world.’

  34. To understand the nature of this technological challenge, perhaps it would be best to start with the job market. Since 2015 I have been travelling around the world talking with government officials, business people, social activists and schoolkids about the human predicament. Whenever they become impatient or bored by all the talk of artificial intelligence, Big Data algorithms and bioengineering, I usually need to mention just one magic word to snap them back to attention: jobs. The technological revolution might soon push billions of humans out of the job market, and create a massive new useless class, leading to social and political upheavals that no existing ideology knows how to handle. All the talk about technology and ideology might sound abstract and remote, but the very real prospect of mass unemployment – or personal unemployment – leaves nobody indifferent.

  35. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, for every job lost to a machine at least one new job was created, and the average standard of living has increased dramatically. Yet there are good reasons to think that this time it is different, and that machine learning will be a real game changer.

  36. Humans have two types of abilities – physical and cognitive. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition.

  37. Vaunted ‘human intuition’ is in reality ‘pattern recognition’. Good drivers, bankers and lawyers don’t have magical intuitions about traffic, investment or negotiation – rather, by recognising recurring patterns, they spot and try to avoid careless pedestrians, inept borrowers and dishonest crooks.

  38. It also enjoys uniquely non-human abilities, which make the difference between an AI and a human worker one of kind rather than merely of degree. Two particularly important non-human abilities that AI possesses are connectivity and updateability.

  39. Hence what we are facing is not the replacement of millions of individual human workers by millions of individual robots and computers. Rather, individual humans are likely to be replaced by an integrated network.

  40. For example, many drivers are unfamiliar with all the changing traffic regulations, and they often violate them. In addition, since every vehicle is an autonomous entity, when two vehicles approach the same junction at the same time, the drivers might miscommunicate their intentions and collide. Self-driving cars, in contrast, can all be connected to one another. When two such vehicles approach the same junction, they are not really two separate entities – they are part of a single algorithm. The chances that they might miscommunicate and collide are therefore far smaller. And if the Ministry of Transport decides to change some traffic regulation, all self-driving vehicles can be easily updated at exactly the same moment, and barring some bug in the program, they will all follow the new regulation to the letter. Similarly, if the World Health Organization identifies a new disease, or if a laboratory produces a new medicine, it is almost impossible to update all the human doctors in the world about these developments. In contrast, even if you have 10 billion AI doctors in the world – each monitoring the health of a single human being – you can still update all of them within a split second, and they can all communicate to each other their feedback on the new disease or medicine. These potential advantages of connectivity and updateability are so huge that at least in some lines of work it might make sense to replace all humans with computers, even if individually some humans still do a better job than the machines.

  41. You can run many alternative algorithms on the same network, so that a patient in a remote jungle village can access through her smartphone not just a single authoritative doctor, but actually a hundred different AI doctors, whose relative performance is constantly being compared. You don’t like what the IBM doctor told you? No problem. Even if you are stranded somewhere on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, you can easily contact the Baidu doctor for a second opinion.

  42. Today close to 1.25 million people are killed annually in traffic accidents (twice the number killed by war, crime and terrorism combined). More than 90 per cent of these accidents are caused by very human errors:

  43. In other words, switching to autonomous vehicles is likely to save the lives of a million people every year.

  44. we will probably have an AI family doctor on our smartphone decades before we have a reliable nurse robot.

  45. Nevertheless, in the long run no job will remain absolutely safe from automation.

  46. After all, emotions are not some mystical phenomenon – they are the result of a biochemical process.

  47. If your boyfriend eventually dumps you, the algorithm may walk you through the official five stages of grief, first helping you deny what happened by playing Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, then whipping up your anger with Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’, encouraging you to bargain with Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne me quitte pas’ and Paul Young’s ‘Come Back and Stay’, dropping you into the pit of depression with Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ and ‘Hello’, and finally aiding you to accept the situation with Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’.

  48. The algorithm knows it because your heart skips a beat and your oxytocin levels drop slightly whenever you hear that annoying part. The algorithm could rewrite or edit out the offending notes.

  49. which biochemical buttons to press in order to produce a global hit which would set everybody swinging like crazy on the dance floors.

  50. Will all this result in great art? That depends on the definition of art. If beauty is indeed in the ears of the listener, and if the customer is always right, then biometric algorithms stand a chance of producing the best art in history. If art is about something deeper than human emotions, and should express a truth beyond our biochemical vibrations, biometric algorithms might not make very good artists. But nor do most humans. In order to enter the art market and displace many human composers and performers, algorithms won’t have to begin by straightaway surpassing Tchaikovsky. It will be enough if they outperform Britney Spears.

  51. Instead of humans competing with AI, they could focus on servicing and leveraging AI.

  52. Rather, thanks to AI trainers human chess masters became better than ever, and at least for a while human–AI teams known as ‘centaurs’ outperformed both humans and computers in chess.

  53. Creating new human jobs might prove easier than retraining humans to actually fill these jobs.

  54. But in 2050, a cashier or textile worker losing their job to a robot will hardly be able to start working as a cancer researcher, as a drone operator, or as part of a human–AI banking team. They will not have the necessary skills. In the First World War it made sense to send millions of raw conscripts to charge machine guns and die in their thousands. Their individual skills mattered little. Today, despite the shortage of drone operators and data analysts, the US Air Force is unwilling to fill the gaps with Walmart dropouts. You wouldn’t like an inexperienced recruit to mistake an Afghan wedding party for a high-level Taliban conference.

  55. We might actually get the worst of both worlds, suffering simultaneously from high unemployment and a shortage of skilled labour.

  56. On 7 December 2017 a critical milestone was reached, not when a computer defeated a human at chess – that’s old news – but when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program.

  57. AlphaZero went from utter ignorance to creative mastery in four hours, without the help of any human guide.

  58. One of the ways to catch cheats is to monitor the level of originality players display. If they play an exceptionally creative move, the judges will often suspect that this cannot possibly be a human move – it must be a computer move. At least in chess, creativity is already the trademark of computers rather than humans!

  59. By 2050 a ‘useless’ class might emerge not merely because of an absolute lack of jobs or lack of relevant education, but also because of insufficient mental stamina.

  60. This time around, the failed models might result in nuclear wars, genetically engineered monstrosities, and a complete breakdown of the biosphere. Consequently, we have to do better than we did in confronting the Industrial Revolution.

  61. Yet regulations have prevented free trade in human body parts, and though there is a black market in organs, it is far smaller and more circumscribed than what one could have expected.

  62. The Google search algorithm cannot taste ice cream. However, algorithms select things based on their internal calculations and built-in preferences, and these preferences increasingly shape our world. The Google search algorithm has a very sophisticated taste when it comes to ranking the Web pages of ice-cream vendors, and the most successful ice-cream vendors in the world are those that the Google algorithm ranks first – not those that produce the tastiest ice cream. I know this from personal experience. When I publish a book, the publishers ask me to write a short description that they use for publicity online. But they have a special expert, who adapts what I write to the taste of the Google algorithm. The expert goes over my text, and says ‘Don’t use this word – use that word instead. Then we will get more attention from the Google algorithm.’ We know that if we can just catch the eye of the algorithm, we can take the humans for granted.

  63. It is debatable whether it is better to provide people with universal basic income (the capitalist paradise) or universal basic services (the communist paradise).

  64. developing countries lacking natural resources made economic progress mainly by selling the cheap labour of their unskilled workers.

  65. Yet with the rise of AI, robots and 3-D printers, cheap unskilled labour would become far less important.

  66. Taking the right steps was more important than making speedy progress.

  67. What do you do when nobody needs your cheap unskilled labourers, and you don’t have the resources to build a good education system and teach them new skills?

  68. What then will be the fate of the stragglers? American voters might conceivably agree that taxes paid by Amazon and Google for their US business could be used to give stipends or free services to unemployed miners in Pennsylvania and jobless taxi-drivers in New York. However, would American voters also agree that these taxes should be sent to support unemployed people in places defined by President Trump as ‘shithole countries’? If you believe that, you might just as well believe that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny will solve the problem.

  69. Whichever way you choose to define ‘basic human needs’, once you provide them to everyone free of charge, they will be taken for granted, and then fierce social competitions and political struggles will focus on non-basic luxuries – be they fancy self-driving cars, access to virtual-reality parks, or enhanced bioengineered bodies.

  70. Homo sapiens is just not built for satisfaction. Human happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations. Expectations, however, tend to adapt to conditions, including to the condition of other people. When things improve, expectations balloon, and consequently even dramatic improvements in conditions might leave us as dissatisfied as before.

  71. If we manage to combine a universal economic safety net with strong communities and meaningful pursuits, losing our jobs to the algorithms might actually turn out to be a blessing. Losing control over our lives, however, is a much scarier scenario. Notwithstanding the danger of mass unemployment, what we should worry about even more is the shift in authority from humans to algorithms, which might destroy any remaining faith in the liberal story and open the way to the rise of digital dictatorships.

  72. In personal matters, liberalism encourages people to listen to themselves, be true to themselves, and follow their hearts – as long as they do not infringe on the liberties of others.

  73. Referendums and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality. If democracy were a matter of rational decision-making, there would be absolutely no reason to give all people equal voting rights – or perhaps any voting rights. There is ample evidence that some people are far more knowledgeable and rational than others, certainly when it comes to specific economic and political questions. In the wake of the Brexit vote, eminent biologist Richard Dawkins protested that the vast majority of the British public – including himself – should never have been asked to vote in the referendum, because they lacked the necessary background in economics and political science. ‘You might as well call a nationwide plebiscite to decide whether Einstein got his algebra right, or let passengers vote on which runway the pilot should land.’3

  74. Democracy assumes that human feelings reflect a mysterious and profound ‘free will’, that this ‘free will’ is the ultimate source of authority, and that while some people are more intelligent than others, all humans are equally free. Like Einstein and Dawkins, an illiterate maid also has free will, hence on election day her feelings – represented by her vote – count just as much as anybody else’s.

  75. This reliance on the heart might prove to be the Achilles heel of liberal democracy. For once somebody (whether in Beijing or in San Francisco) gains the technological ability to hack and manipulate the human heart, democratic politics will mutate into an emotional puppet show.

  76. Only in the last few centuries did the source of authority shift from celestial deities to flesh-and-blood humans. Soon authority might shift again – from humans to algorithms.

  77. Rather, feelings are biochemical mechanisms that all mammals and birds use in order to quickly calculate probabilities of survival and reproduction. Feelings aren’t based on intuition, inspiration or freedom – they are based on calculation.

  78. We don’t feel the millions of neurons in the brain computing probabilities of survival and reproduction, so we erroneously believe that our fear of snakes, our choice of sexual mates, or our opinions about the European Union are the result of some mysterious ‘free will’.

  79. People will enjoy the best healthcare in history, but for precisely this reason they will probably be sick all the time. There is always something wrong somewhere in the body. There is always something that can be improved. In the past, you felt perfectly healthy as long as you didn’t sense pain or you didn’t suffer from an apparent disability such as limping. But by 2050, thanks to biometric sensors and Big Data algorithms, diseases may be diagnosed and treated long before they lead to pain or disability. As a result, you will always find yourself suffering from some ‘medical condition’ and following this or that algorithmic recommendation. If you refuse, perhaps your medical insurance would become invalid, or your boss would fire you – why should they pay the price of your obstinacy? It is one thing to continue smoking despite general statistics that connect smoking with lung cancer. It is a very different thing to continue smoking despite a concrete warning from a biometric sensor that has just detected seventeen cancerous cells in your upper left lung. And if you are willing to defy the sensor, what will you do when the sensor forwards the warning to your insurance agency, your manager, and your mother? Who will have the time and energy to deal with all these illnesses? In all likelihood, we could just instruct our health algorithm to deal with most of these problems as it sees fit. At most, it will send periodic updates to our smartphones, telling us that ‘seventeen cancerous cells were detected and destroyed’. Hypochondriacs might dutifully read these updates, but most of us will ignore them just as we ignore those annoying anti-virus notices on our computers.

  80. When I was twenty-one, I finally realised that I was gay, after several years of living in denial. That’s hardly exceptional. Many gay men spend their entire teenage years unsure about their sexuality.

  81. Perhaps you personally wouldn’t want to take such a test, but then maybe you find yourself with a group of friends at Michelle’s boring birthday party, and somebody suggests you all take turns checking yourself on this cool new algorithm (with everybody standing around to watch the results – and comment on them).

  82. When you force yourself to laugh, you use different brain circuits and muscles than when you laugh because something is really funny. Humans cannot usually detect the difference. But a biometric sensor could.

  83. The word television comes from Greek ‘tele’, which means ‘far’, and Latin ‘visio’, sight.

  84. As George Orwell envisioned in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the television will watch us while we are watching it. After we’ve finished watching Tarantino’s entire filmography, we may have forgotten most of it. But Netflix, or Amazon, or whoever owns the TV algorithm, will know our personality type, and how to press our emotional buttons. Such data could enable Netflix and Amazon to choose movies for us with uncanny precision, but it could also enable them to make for us the most important decisions in life – such as what to study, where to work, and who to marry.

  85. But Amazon won’t have to be perfect. It will just need to be better on average than us humans. And that is not so difficult, because most people don’t know themselves very well, and most people often make terrible mistakes in the most important decisions of their lives. Even more than algorithms, humans suffer from insufficient data, from faulty programming (genetic and cultural), from muddled definitions, and from the chaos of life.

  86. Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst political system in the world, except for all the others. Rightly or wrongly, people might reach the same conclusions about Big Data algorithms: they have lots of hitches, but we have no better alternative.

  87. Instead, we google. And as we increasingly rely on Google for answers, so our ability to search for information by ourselves diminishes. Already today, ‘truth’ is defined by the top results of the Google search.

  88. within a year or two, they blindly rely on whatever Google Maps tells them, and if the smartphone fails, they are completely clueless. In March 2012 three Japanese tourists in Australia decided to take a day trip to a small offshore island, and drove their car straight into the Pacific Ocean.

  89. The ability to navigate is like a muscle – use it or lose it. The same is true for the ability to choose spouses or professions.

  90. Every year millions of youngsters need to decide what to study at university. This is a very important and very difficult decision. You are under pressure from your parents, your friends and your teachers, who have different interests and opinions. You also have your own fears and fantasies to deal with. Your judgement is clouded and manipulated by Hollywood blockbusters, trashy novels, and sophisticated advertising campaigns. It is particularly difficult to make a wise decision because you do not really know what it takes to succeed in different professions, and you don’t necessarily have a realistic image of your own strengths and weaknesses.

  91. Once AI makes better decisions than us about careers and perhaps even relationships, our concept of humanity and of life will have to change. Humans are used to thinking about life as a drama of decision-making.

  92. Christian and Muslim theology similarly focus on the drama of decision-making, arguing that everlasting salvation or damnation depends on making the right choice.

  93. Every day I absorb countless data bits through emails, tweets and articles; process the data; and transmit back new bits through more emails, tweets and articles. I don’t really know where I fit into the great scheme of things, and how my bits of data connect with the bits produced by billions of other humans and computers. I don’t have time to find out, because I am too busy answering all these emails.

  94. The moral of the parable is that people’s merit should be judged by their actual behaviour, rather than by their religious affiliaton.

  95. The eager young seminarians rushed to the lecture hall, contemplating on the way how best to explain the moral of the Good Samaritan parable. But the experimenters planted in their path a shabbily dressed person, who was sitting slumped in a doorway with his head down and his eyes closed. As each unsuspecting seminarian was hurrying past, the ‘victim’ coughed and groaned pitifully. Most seminarians did not even stop to enquire what was wrong with the man, let alone offer any help. The emotional stress created by the need to hurry to the lecture hall trumped their moral obligation to help strangers in distress.18

  96. Human emotions trump philosophical theories in countless other situations. This makes the ethical and philosophical history of the world a rather depressing tale of wonderful ideals and less than ideal behaviour. How many Christians actually turn the other cheek, how many Buddhists actually rise above egoistic obsessions, and how many Jews actually love their neighbours as themselves? That’s just the way natural selection has shaped Homo sapiens. Like all mammals, Homo sapiens uses emotions to quickly make life and death decisions. We have inherited our anger, our fear and our lust from millions of ancestors, all of whom passed the most rigorous quality control tests of natural selection.

  97. We can send all our philosophers, prophets and priests to preach ethics to these drivers – but on the road, mammalian emotions and savannah instincts will still take over. Consequently, seminarians in a rush will ignore people in distress, and drivers in a crisis will run over hapless pedestrians.

  98. Yet once we discover such mistakes, it would probably be far easier to debug the software than to rid humans of their racist and misogynist biases.

  99. Of course, philosophers seldom agree on the right course of action. Few ‘trolley problems’ have been solved to the satisfaction of all philosophers, and consequentialist thinkers such as John Stuart Mill (who judge actions by consequences) hold quite different opinions to deontologists such as Immanuel Kant (who judge actions by absolute rules).

  100. the Tesla Altruist and the Tesla Egoist.

  101. If more people buy the Tesla Egoist, you won’t be able to blame Tesla for that. After all, the customer is always right.

  102. On 16 March 1968 a company of American soldiers went berserk in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai, and massacred about 400 civilians.

  103. The real problem with robots is not their own artificial intelligence, but rather the natural stupidity and cruelty of their human masters.

  104. because too many governments tend to be ethically corrupt, if not downright evil.

  105. In the late twentieth century democracies usually outperformed dictatorships because democracies were better at data-processing. Democracy diffuses the power to process information and make decisions among many people and institutions, whereas dictatorship concentrates information and power in one place. Given twentieth-century technology, it was inefficient to concentrate too much information and power in one place. Nobody had the ability to process all the information fast enough and make the right decisions. This is part of the reason why the Soviet Union made far worse decisions than the United States, and why the Soviet economy lagged far behind the American economy.

  106. [China] For example, if an authoritarian government orders all its citizens to have their DNA scanned and to share all their medical data with some central authority, it would gain an immense advantage in genetics and medical research over societies in which medical data is strictly private. The main handicap of authoritarian regimes in the twentieth century – the attempt to concentrate all information in one place – might become their decisive advantage in the twenty-first century.

  107. You don’t know what it is, and even if you knew, you cannot organise with other people to protest, because there are no other people suffering the exact same prejudice. It is just you. Instead of just collective discrimination, in the twenty-first century we might face a growing problem of individual discrimination.

  108. Science fiction tends to confuse intelligence with consciousness, and assume that in order to match or surpass human intelligence, computers will have to develop consciousness.

  109. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Consciousness is the ability to feel things such as pain, joy, love and anger. We tend to confuse the two because in humans and other mammals intelligence goes hand in hand with consciousness.

  110. Consciousness is somehow linked to organic biochemistry in such a way that it will never be possible to create consciousness in non-organic systems. Consciousness is not linked to organic biochemistry, but it is linked to intelligence in such a way that computers could develop consciousness, and computers will have to develop consciousness if they are to pass a certain threshold of intelligence. There are no essential links between consciousness and either organic biochemistry or high intelligence. Hence computers might develop consciousness – but not necessarily. They could become super-intelligent while still having zero consciousness. At our present state of knowledge, we cannot rule out any of these options. Yet precisely because we know so little about consciousness, it seems unlikely that we could program conscious computers any time soon. Hence despite the immense power of artificial intelligence, for the foreseeable future its usage will continue to depend to some extent on human consciousness.

  111. My boss wants me to answer emails as quickly as possible, but he has little interest in my ability to taste and appreciate the food I am eating. Consequently, I check my emails even during meals, while losing the ability to pay attention to my own sensations. The economic system pressures me to expand and diversify my investment portfolio, but it gives me zero incentives to expand and diversify my compassion. So I strive to understand the mysteries of the stock exchange, while making far less effort to understand the deep causes of suffering.

  112. If we are not careful, we will end up with downgraded humans misusing upgraded computers to wreak havoc on themselves and on the world.

  113. Inequality goes back to the Stone Age.

  114. Property is a prerequisite for long-term inequality.

  115. In the late modern era, however, equality became an ideal in almost all human societies. It was partly due to the rise of the new ideologies of communism and liberalism. But it was also due to the Industrial Revolution, which made the masses more important than ever before.

  116. Already today, the richest 1 per cent owns half the world’s wealth. Even more alarmingly, the richest hundred people together own more than the poorest 4 billion.

  117. If new treatments for extending life and for upgrading physical and cognitive abilities prove to be expensive, humankind might split into biological castes.

  118. The average duke wasn’t more talented than the average peasant – he owed his superiority only to unjust legal and economic discrimination. However, by 2100 the rich might really be more talented, more creative and more intelligent than the slum-dwellers. Once a real gap in ability opens between the rich and the poor, it will become almost impossible to close it. If the rich use their superior abilities to enrich themselves further, and if more money can buy them enhanced bodies and brains, with time the gap will only widen. By 2100, the richest 1 per cent might own not merely most of the world’s wealth, but also most of the world’s beauty, creativity and health.

  119. Globalisation will unite the world horizontally by erasing national borders, but it will simultaneously divide humanity vertically.

  120. If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data.

  121. They capture our attention by providing us with free information, services and entertainment, and they then resell our attention to advertisers.

  122. We aren’t their customers – we are their product.

  123. Politicians are a bit like musicians, and the instrument they play on is the human emotional and biochemical system. They give a speech – and there is a wave of fear in the country. They tweet – and there is an explosion of hatred. I don’t think we should give these musicians a more sophisticated instrument to play on. Once politicians can press our emotional buttons directly, generating anxiety, hatred, joy and boredom at will, politics will become a mere emotional circus. As much as we should fear the power of big corporations, history suggests that we are not necessarily better off in the hands of over-mighty governments. As of March 2018, I would prefer to give my data to Mark Zuckerberg than to Vladimir Putin (though the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that perhaps there isn’t much of a choice here, as any data entrusted to Zuckerberg may well find its way to Putin).

  124. Though in the twenty-first century humans might be upgraded into gods, as of 2018 we are still Stone Age animals.

  125. Even today most of us find it impossible to really know more than 150 individuals, irrespective of how many Facebook friends we boast. Without these groups, humans feel lonely and alienated.

  126. Unfortunately, over the past two centuries intimate communities have indeed been disintegrating. The attempt to replace small groups of people who actually know one another with the imagined communities of nations and political parties could never succeed in full. Your millions of brothers in the national family and your millions of comrades in the Communist Party cannot provide you with the warm intimacy that a single real sibling or friend can. Consequently people live ever more lonely lives in an ever more connected planet. Many of the social and political disruptions of our time can be traced back to this malaise.

  127. This is sometimes true. Yet in many cases online comes at the expense of offline, and there is a fundamental difference between the two. Physical communities have a depth that virtual communities cannot match, at least not in the near future. If I lie sick at home in Israel, my online friends from California can talk to me, but they cannot bring me soup or a cup of tea. Humans have bodies. During the last century technology has been distancing us from our bodies. We have been losing our ability to pay attention to what we smell and taste. Instead we are absorbed in our smartphones and computers. We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than in what is happening down the street. It is easier than ever to talk to my cousin in Switzerland, but it is harder to talk to my husband over breakfast, because he constantly looks at his smartphone instead of at me.

  128. But whatever we choose, we might end up eating it in haste in front of a screen, checking emails or watching television, while hardly paying attention to the actual taste.

  129. Yet what people might really need are the tools to connect to their own experiences. In the name of ‘sharing experiences’, people are encouraged to understand what happens to them in terms of how others see it. If something exciting happens, the gut instinct of Facebook users is to pull out their smartphones, take a picture, post it online, and wait for the ‘likes’. In the process they barely notice what they themselves feel. Indeed, what they feel is increasingly determined by the online reactions.

  130. People estranged from their bodies, senses and physical environment are likely to feel alienated and disoriented. Pundits often blame such feelings of alienation on the decline of religious and national bonds, but losing touch with your body is probably more important. Humans lived for millions of years without religions and without nations – they can probably live happily without them in the twenty-first century, too. Yet they cannot live happily if they are disconnected from their bodies. If you don’t feel at home in your body, you will never feel at home in the world.

  131. ‘showing people an article from the opposite perspective, actually deepens polarisation by framing other perspectives as foreign’.

  132. If we connect with people about what we have in common – sports teams, TV shows, interests – it is easier to have dialogue about what we disagree on.’

  133. Ideally, building communities should not be a zero-sum game. Humans can feel loyal to different groups at the same time. Unfortunately, intimate relations probably are a zero-sum game. Beyond a certain point, the time and energy you spend on getting to know your online friends from Iran or Nigeria will come at the expense of your ability to know your next-door neighbours.

  134. Facebook’s crucial test will come when an engineer invents a new tool that causes people to spend less time buying stuff online and more time in meaningful offline activities with friends. Will Facebook adopt or suppress such a tool? Will Facebook take a true leap of faith, and privilege social concerns over financial interests? If it does so – and manages to avoid bankruptcy – that will be a momentous transformation.

  135. But once you remember that humans have bodies, and that they therefore still need roads, hospitals and sewage systems, it becomes far more difficult to justify tax evasion. How can you extol the virtues of community while refusing to financially support the most important community services?

  136. Historically, corporations were not the ideal vehicle for leading social and political revolutions.

  137. If Facebook now aims to instigate a global revolution, it will have to do a much better job in bridging the gap between online and offline. It and the other online giants tend to view humans as audiovisual animals – a pair of eyes and a pair of ears connected to ten fingers, a screen and a credit card. A crucial step towards uniting humankind is to appreciate that humans have bodies.

  138. Devices such as Google Glass and games such as Pokémon Go are designed to erase the distinction between online and offline, merging them into a single augmented reality.

  139. We may come to miss the good old days when online was separated from offline.

  140. the fittest have survived to tell the tale.

  141. Though widely held, this thesis is misleading. Islamic fundamentalism may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the ‘civilisation’ it challenges is a global civilisation rather than a uniquely Western phenomenon. Not for nothing has the Islamic State managed to unite against it Iran and the United States. And even Islamic fundamentalists, for all their medieval fantasies, are grounded in contemporary global culture far more than in seventh-century Arabia. They are catering to the fears and hopes of alienated modern youth rather than to those of medieval peasants and merchants. As Pankaj Mishra and Christopher de Bellaigue have convincingly argued, radical Islamists have been influenced by Marx and Foucault as much as by Muhammad, and they inherit the legacy of nineteenth-century European anarchists as much as of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. It is therefore more accurate to see even the Islamic State as an errant offshoot of the global culture we all share, rather than as a branch of some mysterious alien tree.

  142. In less than a hundred years the Germans organised themselves into six very different systems: the Hohenzollern Empire, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, the German Democratic Republic (aka communist East Germany), the Federal Republic of Germany (aka West Germany), and finally democratic reunited Germany. Of course the Germans kept their language and their love of beer and bratwurst. But is there some unique German essence that distinguishes them from all other nations, and that has remained unchanged from Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel? And if you do come up with something, was it also there 1,000 years ago, or 5,000 years ago?

  143. In truth, European civilisation is anything Europeans make of it, just as Christianity is anything Christians make of it, Islam is anything Muslims make of it, and Judaism is anything Jews make of it. And they have made of it remarkably different things over the centuries. Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling skills.

  144. People often refuse to see these changes, especially when it comes to core political and religious values. We insist that our values are a precious legacy from ancient ancestors. Yet the only thing that allows us to say this, is that our ancestors are long dead, and cannot speak for themselves. Consider, for example, Jewish attitudes towards women. Nowadays ultra-Orthodox Jews ban images of women from the public sphere. Billboards and advertisements aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jews usually depict only men and boys – never women and girls.

  145. Yet if all this is backed by thousands of years of Jewish tradition and immutable divine laws, how to explain the fact that when archaeologists excavated ancient synagogues in Israel from the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, they found no sign of gender segregation, and instead uncovered beautiful floor mosaics and wall paintings depicting women, some of them rather scantily dressed? The rabbis who wrote the Mishnah and Talmud regularly prayed and studied in these synagogues, but present-day Orthodox Jews would consider them blasphemous desecrations of ancient traditions.

  146. Similar distortions of ancient traditions characterise all religions. The Islamic State has boasted that it has reverted to the pure and original version of Islam, but in truth, their take on Islam is brand new. Yes, they quote many venerable texts, but they exercise a lot of discretion in choosing which texts to quote and which to ignore, and in how to interpret them. Indeed, their do-it-yourself attitude to interpreting the holy texts is itself very modern. Traditionally, interpretation was the monopoly of the learned ulama – scholars who studied Muslim law and theology in reputable institutions such as Cairo’s Al-Azhar. Few of the Islamic State’s leaders have had such credentials, and most respected ulama have dismissed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ilk as ignorant criminals. That does not mean that the Islamic State has been ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘anti-Islamic’, as some people argue. It is particularly ironic when Christian leaders such as Barack Obama have the temerity to tell self-professing Muslims such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi what it means to be Muslim. The heated argument about the true essence of Islam is simply pointless. Islam has no fixed DNA. Islam is whatever Muslims make of it.

  147. War itself can generate some of the strongest of all human bonds.

  148. War also makes people far more interested in one another. Never had the US been more closely in touch with Russia than during the Cold War, when every cough in a Moscow corridor sent people scrambling up and down Washington staircases. People care far more about their enemies than about their trade partners. For every American film about Taiwan, there are probably fifty about Vietnam.

  149. Anna Karenina principle: successful states are all alike, but every failed state fails in its own way, by missing this or that ingredient of the dominant political package.

  150. Even countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Congo have adopted Western musical conventions for their anthems. Most of them sound like something composed by Beethoven on a rather mediocre day. (You can spend an evening with friends playing the various anthems on YouTube and trying to guess which is which.) Even the lyrics are almost the same throughout the world, indicating common conceptions of politics and group loyalty. For example, to which nation do you think the following anthem belongs? (I changed only the country’s name into the generic ‘My country’):

  151. Nepal is the odd country out, with a flag consisting of two triangles. (But it has never won an Olympic medal.) The Indonesian flag consists of a red stripe above a white stripe. The Polish flag displays a white stripe above a red stripe. The flag of Monaco is identical to that of Indonesia. A colour-blind person could hardly tell the difference between the flags of Belgium, Chad, Ivory Coast, France, Guinea, Ireland, Italy, Mali and Romania – they all have three vertical stripes of various colours.

  152. For starters, in 1016 the Chinese Song Empire recognised no political entity on earth as its equal. It would therefore be an unthinkable humiliation to give its Olympic delegation the same status as that granted to the delegations of the Korean kingdom of Koryo or of the Vietnamese kingdom of Dai Co Viet – not to mention the delegations of primitive barbarians from across the seas.

  153. So when you watch the Tokyo Games in 2020, remember that this seeming competition between nations actually represents an astonishing global agreement. For all the national pride people feel when their delegation wins a gold medal and their flag is raised, there is far greater reason to feel pride that humankind is capable of organising such an event.

  154. bill is universally venerated across all political and religious divides. Though it has no intrinsic value – you cannot eat or drink a dollar bill – trust in the dollar and in the wisdom of the Federal Reserve is so firm that it is shared even by Islamic fundamentalists, Mexican drug lords and North Korean tyrants. Yet the homogeneity of contemporary humanity is most apparent when it comes to our view of the natural world and of the human body. If you fell sick a thousand years ago, it mattered a great deal where you lived. In Europe, the resident priest would probably tell you that you had made God angry, and that in order to regain your health, you should donate something to the church, make a pilgrimage to a sacred site, and pray fervently for God’s forgiveness. Alternatively, the village witch might explain that a demon had possessed you, and that she could cast the demon out using song, dance and the blood of a black cockerel.

  155. In the Middle East, doctors brought up on classical traditions might explain that your four bodily humours were out of balance, and you should harmonise them with a proper diet and foul-smelling potions. In India, Ayurvedic experts would offer their own theories concerning the balance between the three bodily elements known as doshas, and recommend a treatment of herbs, massages and yoga postures. Chinese physicians, Siberian shamans, African witch doctors, Amerindian medicine men – every empire, kingdom and tribe had its own traditions and experts, each espousing different views about the human body and the nature of sickness, and each offering their own cornucopia of rituals, concoctions and cures. Some of them worked surprisingly well, whereas others were little short of a death sentence. The only thing that united European, Chinese, African and American medical practices was that everywhere at least a third of children died before reaching adulthood, and average life expectancy was far below fifty.14

  156. And what makes up these cells and bacteria? Indeed, what makes up the entire world? A thousand years ago every culture had its own story about the universe, and about the fundamental ingredients of the cosmic soup. Today, learned people throughout the world believe exactly the same things about matter, energy, time and space. Take for example the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes. The whole problem is that the Iranians and North Koreans have exactly the same view of physics as the Israelis and Americans. If the Iranians and North Koreans believed that E = mc⁴, Israel and the USA would not care an iota about their nuclear programmes.

  157. The people we fight most often are our own family members. Identity is defined by conflicts and dilemmas more than by agreements.

  158. No doubt, we will have huge arguments and bitter conflicts over these questions. But these arguments and conflicts are unlikely to isolate us from one another. Just the opposite. They will make us ever more interdependent. Though humankind is very far from constituting a harmonious community, we are all members of a single rowdy global civilisation.

  159. Contrary to common wisdom, nationalism is not a natural and eternal part of the human psyche, and it is not rooted in human biology.

  160. Humans easily develop loyalty to small intimate groups such as a tribe, an infantry company or a family business, but it is hardly natural for humans to be loyal to millions of utter strangers. Such mass loyalties have appeared only in the last few thousand years – yesterday morning, in evolutionary terms – and they require immense efforts of social construction.

  161. People went to the trouble of constructing national collectives because they confronted challenges that could not be solved by any single tribe.

  162. Only a common effort to build huge dams and dig hundreds of kilometres of canals could hope to restrain and harness the mighty river. This was one of the reasons why the tribes gradually coalesced into a single nation that had the power to build dams and canals, regulate the flow of the river, build grain reserves for lean years, and establish a countrywide system of transport and communication.

  163. Despite such advantages, transforming tribes and clans into a single nation was never easy, either in ancient times or today. To realise how difficult it is to identify with such a nation, you just need to ask yourself ‘Do I know these people?’ I can name my two sisters and eleven cousins and spend a whole day talking about their personalities, quirks and relationships. I cannot name the 8 million people who share my Israeli citizenship, I have never met most of them, and I am very unlikely ever to meet them in the future. My ability to nevertheless feel loyal to this nebulous mass is not a legacy from my hunter-gatherer ancestors, but a miracle of recent history. A Martian biologist familiar only with the anatomy and evolution of Homo sapiens could never guess that these apes are capable of developing communal bonds with millions of strangers. In order to convince me to be loyal to ‘Israel’ and its 8 million inhabitants, the Zionist movement and the Israeli state had to create a mammoth apparatus of education, propaganda and flag waving, as well as national systems of security, health and welfare.

  164. That does not mean there is anything wrong with national bonds. Huge systems cannot function without mass loyalties, and expanding the circle of human empathy certainly has its merits. The milder forms of patriotism have been among the most benevolent of human creations. Believing that my nation is unique, that it deserves my allegiance, and that I have special obligations towards its members inspires me to care about others and make sacrifices on their behalf. It is a dangerous mistake to imagine that without nationalism we would all be living in a liberal paradise. More likely, we would be living in tribal chaos. Peaceful, prosperous and liberal countries such as Sweden, Germany and Switzerland all enjoy a strong sense of nationalism. The list of countries lacking robust national bonds includes Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo and most other failed states.

  165. Everything changed in 1945. The invention of nuclear weapons sharply tilted the balance of the nationalist deal. After Hiroshima people no longer feared that nationalism would lead to mere war – they began fearing it would lead to nuclear war.

  166. In the 1964 US presidential campaign, Lyndon B. Johnson aired the famous Daisy advertisement, one of the most successful pieces of propaganda in the annals of television.

  167. These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.’ We tend to associate the ‘make love, not war’ slogan with the late 1960s counterculture, but in fact, already in 1964 it was accepted wisdom even among hard-nosed politicians such as Johnson.

  168. Cold War turned scorching hot.

  169. Zealous nationalists who cry ‘Our country first!’ should ask themselves whether their country by itself, without a robust system of international cooperation, can protect the world – or even itself – from nuclear destruction.

  170. ecological collapse. Humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are taking more and more resources out of the environment, while pumping back into it enormous quantities of waste and poison, thereby changing the composition of the soil, the water and the atmosphere.

  171. For thousands of years Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer.

  172. This terrifying experiment has already been set in motion. Unlike nuclear war – which is a future potential – climate change is a present reality.

  173. ‘Hello, I am Homo sapiens, and I am a fossil-fuel addict.’

  174. it takes about 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce one kilogram of beef, compared to 287 litres needed to produce a kilogram of potatoes.

  175. Hence whenever long-term environmental considerations demand some painful short-term sacrifice, nationalists might be tempted to put immediate national interests first, and reassure themselves that they can worry about the environment later, or just leave it to people elsewhere. Alternatively, they may simply deny the problem. It isn’t a coincidence that scepticism about climate change tends to be the preserve of the nationalist right. You rarely see left-wing socialists tweet that ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’. Since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist.

  176. If the US government forbids genetically engineering human embryos, this doesn’t prevent Chinese scientists from doing so.

  177. And if the resulting developments confer on China some crucial economic or military advantage, the USA will be tempted to break its own ban. Particularly in a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, other countries will be forced to do the same, because nobody can afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty.

  178. Between 1914 and 1918, and again between 1939 and 1945, the pace of technological development skyrocketed, because nations engaged in total war threw caution and economy to the wind, and invested immense resources in all kinds of audacious and fantastic projects.

  179. A much better path is the one outlined in the European Union’s Constitution, which says that ‘while remaining proud of their own national identities and history, the peoples of Europe are determined to transcend their former divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny’.

  180. Yet if we want to survive and flourish, humankind has little choice but to complement such local loyalties with substantial obligations towards a global community. A person can and should be loyal simultaneously to her family, her neighbourhood, her profession and her nation – why not add humankind and planet Earth to that list? True, when you have multiple loyalties, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. But then who said life was simple? Deal with it.

  181. the only real solution is to globalise politics. This does not mean establishing a global government – a doubtful and unrealistic vision. Rather, to globalise politics means that political dynamics within countries and even cities should give far more weight to global problems and interests.

  182. we need to distinguish between three types of problems: Technical problems. For example, how should farmers in arid countries deal with severe droughts caused by global warming? Policy problems. For example, what measures should governments adopt to prevent global warming in the first place? Identity problems. For example, should I even care about the problems of farmers on the other side of the world, or should I care only about problems of people from my own tribe and country? As we shall see in the following pages, traditional religions are largely irrelevant to technical and policy problems. In contrast, they are extremely relevant to identity problems – but in most cases they constitute a major part of the problem rather than a potential solution.

  183. A priest is not somebody who knows how to perform the rain dance and end the drought. A priest is somebody who knows how to justify why the rain dance failed, and why we must keep believing in our god even though he seems deaf to all our prayers.

  184. Yet it is precisely their genius for interpretation that puts religious leaders at a disadvantage when they compete against scientists. Scientists too know how to cut corners and twist the evidence, but in the end, the mark of science is the willingness to admit failure and try a different tack. That’s why scientists gradually learn how to grow better crops and make better medicines, whereas priests and gurus learn only how to make better excuses.

  185. When things really work, everybody adopts them.

  186. Having formulated an answer, you then turn to the Quran, and you read it closely in search of some surah that, if interpreted imaginatively enough, can justify the solution you got from Hayek or Marx. No matter what solution you found there, if you are a good Quranic scholar you will always be able to justify it.

  187. This is already beginning to happen. Opposition to environmental regulations is incorporated into the fire-and-brimstone sermons of some American Evangelical pastors, while Pope Francis is leading the charge against global warming, in the name of Christ (as witnessed in his second encyclical, ‘Laudato si’). So perhaps by 2070, on the environmental question it will make all the difference in the world whether you are Evangelical or Catholic. It would go without saying that Evangelicals will object to any cap on carbon emissions, while Catholics will believe that Jesus preached we must protect the environment.

  188. From this perspective, religion doesn’t really have much to contribute to the great policy debates of our time. As Karl Marx argued, it is just a veneer [Thin layer that protects wood].

  189. Human power depends on mass cooperation, mass cooperation depends on manufacturing mass identities – and all mass identities are based on fictional stories, not on scientific facts or even on economic necessities.

  190. So in the twenty-first century religions don’t bring rain, they don’t cure illnesses, they don’t build bombs – but they do get to determine who are ‘us’ and who are ‘them’, who we should cure and who we should bomb.

  191. In Israel, LGBTs enjoy the protection of the law, and there are even some rabbis who would bless the marriage of two women. In Iran, gays and lesbians are systematically persecuted and occasionally even executed. In Saudi Arabia, a lesbian could not even drive a car until 2018 – just for being a woman, never mind being a lesbian.

  192. Yet Japan did not copy blindly the Western blueprint. It was fiercely determined to protect its unique identity, and to ensure that modern Japanese will be loyal to Japan rather than to science, to modernity, or to some nebulous global community.

  193. To top it all, State Shinto enshrined as its supreme principle the worship of the Japanese emperor, who was considered a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and himself no less than a living god.

  194. Yet it worked like magic. The Japanese modernised at a breathtaking pace while simultaneously developing a fanatical loyalty to their state. The best-known symbol of the success of State Shinto is the fact that Japan was the first power to develop and use precision-guided missiles. Decades before the USA fielded the smart bomb, and at a time when Nazi Germany was just beginning to deploy dumb V-2 rockets, Japan sank dozens of allied ships with precision-guided missiles. We know these missiles as the kamikaze.

  195. The role of State Shinto in Japan is fulfilled to a lesser or greater degree by Orthodox Christianity in Russia, Catholicism in Poland, Shiite Islam in Iran, Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Judaism in Israel. No matter how archaic a religion might look, with a bit of imagination and reinterpretation it can almost always be married to the latest technological gadgets and the most sophisticated modern institutions.

  196. [主体思想] In some cases states might create a completely new religion to bolster their unique identity. The most extreme example can be seen today in Japan’s former colony of North Korea. The North Korean regime indoctrinates its subjects with a fanatical state religion called Juche. This is a mix of Marxism–Leninism, some ancient Korean traditions, a racist belief in the unique purity of the Korean race, and the deification of Kim Il-sung’s family line. Though nobody claims that the Kims are descendants of a sun goddess, they are worshipped with more fervour than almost any god in history. Perhaps mindful of how the Japanese Empire was eventually defeated, North Korean Juche for a long time also insisted on adding nuclear weapons to the mix, depicting their development as a sacred duty worthy of supreme sacrifices.

  197. Though many traditional religions espouse universal values and claim cosmic validity, at present they are used mainly as the handmaid of modern nationalism – whether in North Korea, Russia, Iran or Israel.

  198. Thus when dealing with global warming or nuclear proliferation, Shiite clerics encourage Iranians to see these problems from a narrow Iranian perspective, Jewish rabbis inspire Israelis to care mainly about what’s good for Israel, and Orthodox priests urge Russians to think first and foremost about Russian interests. After all, we are God’s chosen nation, so what’s good for our nation is pleasing to God too. There certainly are religious sages who reject nationalist excesses and adopt far more universal visions. Unfortunately, such sages don’t wield much political power these days.

  199. We are trapped, then, between a rock and a hard place. Humankind now constitutes a single civilisation, and problems such as nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption can only be solved on the global level. On the other hand, nationalism and religion still divide our human civilisation into different and often hostile camps. This collision between global problems and local identities manifests itself in the crisis that now besets the greatest multicultural experiment in the world – the European Union. Built on the promise of universal liberal values, the EU is teetering on the verge of disintegration due to the difficulties of integration and immigration.

  200. This discussion about immigration often degenerates into a shouting match in which neither side hears the other.

  201. And if they do accept some immigrants, it should be absolutely clear that this is a favour Sweden extends rather than an obligation it fulfils. Which means that immigrants who are allowed into Sweden should feel extremely grateful for whatever they get, instead of coming with a list of demands as if they own the place.

  202. What complicates matters is that in many cases people want to have their cake and eat it. Numerous countries turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, or even accept foreign workers on a temporary basis, because they want to benefit from the foreigners’ energy, talents and cheap labour. However, the countries then refuse to legalise the status of these people, saying that they don’t want immigration. In the long run, this could create hierarchical societies in which an upper class of full citizens exploits an underclass of powerless foreigners, as happens today in Qatar and several other Gulf States.

  203. Anti-immigrationists tend to argue that the immigrants are not fulfilling term No. 2. They are not making a sincere effort to assimilate, and too many of them stick to intolerant and bigoted world views. Hence the host country has no reason to fulfil term No. 3 (to treat them as first-class citizens), and has every reason to reconsider term No. 1 (to allow them in). If people from a particular culture have consistently proved themselves unwilling to live up to the immigration deal, why allow more of them in, and create an even bigger problem?

  204. This fourth debate cannot be resolved before clarifying the exact definition of the three terms. As long as we don’t know whether absorption is a duty or a favour; what level of assimilation is required from immigrants; and how quickly host countries should treat them as equal citizens – we cannot judge whether the two sides are fulfilling their obligations.

  205. Racism was seen as not only morally abysmal, but also as scientifically bankrupt. Life scientists, and in particular geneticists, have produced very strong scientific evidence that the biological differences between Europeans, Africans, Chinese and Native Americans are negligible.

  206. Traditional racism was firmly grounded in biological theories. In the 1890s or 1930s it was widely believed in countries such as Britain, Australia and the USA that some heritable biological trait makes Africans and Chinese people innately less intelligent, less enterprising and less moral than Europeans. The problem was in their blood. Such views enjoyed political respectability as well as widespread scientific backing. Today, in contrast, while many individuals still make such racist assertions, they have lost all their scientific backing and most of their political respectability – unless they are rephrased in cultural terms. Saying that black people tend to commit crimes because they have substandard genes is out; saying that they tend to commit crimes because they come from dysfunctional subcultures is very much in.

  207. Thus when President Trump described Haiti, El Salvador and some parts of Africa as ‘shithole countries’, he was apparently offering the public a reflection on the culture of these places rather than on their genetic make-up. On another occasion Trump said about Mexican immigrants to the USA that ‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people.’ This is a very offensive claim to make, but it is a sociologically rather than a biologically offensive claim. Trump doesn’t imply that Mexican blood is a bar to goodness – only that good Mexicans tend to stay south of the Rio Grande.

  208. The police view your skin colour with suspicion not for any biological reason, but rather because of history.

  209. Anthropologists, sociologists and historians feel extremely uneasy about this issue. On the one hand, it all sounds dangerously close to racism. On the other hand, culturism has a much firmer scientific basis than racism, and particularly scholars in the humanities and social sciences cannot deny the existence and importance of cultural differences.

  210. Many culturist claims suffer from three common flaws. First, culturists often confuse local superiority with objective superiority.

  211. Second, when you clearly define a yardstick, a time, and a place, culturist claims may well be empirically sound. But all too often people adopt very general culturist claims, which make little sense.

  212. Unlike racism, which is an unscientific prejudice, culturist arguments may sometimes be quite sound.

  213. If Greeks and Germans cannot agree on a common destiny, and if 500 million affluent Europeans cannot absorb a few million impoverished refugees, what chances do humans have of overcoming the far deeper conflicts that beset our global civilisation? One thing that might help Europe and the world as a whole to integrate better and to keep borders and minds open, is to downplay the hysteria regarding terrorism. It would be extremely unfortunate if the European experiment in freedom and tolerance unravelled because of an overblown fear of terrorists. That would not only realise the terrorists’ own goals, but would also give this handful of fanatics far too great a say about the future of humankind. Terrorism is the weapon of a marginal and weak segment of humanity. How did it come to dominate global politics?

  214. Terrorists are masters of mind control. They kill very few people, but nevertheless manage to terrify billions and shake huge political structures such as the European Union or the United States. Since 11 September 2001, every year terrorists have killed about fifty people in the European Union, about ten people in the USA, about seven people in China, and up to 25,000 people globally (mostly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria). In contrast, each year traffic accidents kill about 80,000 Europeans, 40,000 Americans, 270,000 Chinese, and 1.25 million people altogether. Diabetes and high sugar levels kill up to 3.5 million people annually, while air pollution kills about 7 million people. So why do we fear terrorism more than sugar, and why do governments lose elections because of sporadic terror attacks but not because of chronic air pollution?

  215. However, the terrorists hope that even though they can barely dent the enemy’s material power, fear and confusion will cause the enemy to misuse his intact strength and overreact. Terrorists calculate that when the enraged enemy uses his massive power against them, he will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create. During every storm, many unforeseen things happen. Mistakes are made, atrocities are committed, public opinion wavers, neutrals change their stance, and the balance of power shifts. Hence terrorists resemble a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot move even a single teacup. So how does a fly destroy a china shop? It finds a bull, gets inside its ear, and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. This is what happened after 9/11, as Islamic fundamentalists incited the American bull to destroy the Middle Eastern china shop. Now they flourish in the wreckage. And there is no shortage of short-tempered bulls in the world.

  216. But the terrorists have little choice. They are so weak that they cannot wage war. So they opt instead to produce a theatrical spectacle that will hopefully provoke the enemy and cause him to overreact. Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and turns it against us. By killing a handful of people the terrorists cause millions to fear for their lives. In order to calm these fears, governments react to the theatre of terror with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves.

  217. Terrorists don’t think like army generals. Instead, they think like theatre producers.

  218. It is because the Pentagon is a relatively flat and unassuming building, whereas the World Trade Center was a tall phallic totem whose collapse made an immense audiovisual effect. Nobody who saw the images of its collapse could ever forget them. Because we intuitively understand that terrorism is theatre, we judge it by its emotional rather than material impact.

  219. Like terrorists, those combating terrorism should also think more like theatre producers and less like army generals. Above all, if we want to combat terrorism effectively we must realise that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us. We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to the terrorist provocations.

  220. The terrorists hope that when the state tries to fulfil this impossible mission, it will reshuffle the political cards, and hand them some unforeseen ace.

  221. But since they are very weak, and have no other military option, they have nothing to lose and much to gain. Once in a while the political storm created by counter-terrorist campaigns does benefit the terrorists, which is why the gamble makes sense. A terrorist is like a gambler holding a particularly bad hand, who tries to convince his rivals to reshuffle the cards. He cannot lose anything, and he may win everything.

  222. States find it difficult to withstand these provocations because the legitimacy of the modern state is based on its promise to keep the public sphere free of political violence.

  223. In contrast, the much rarer cases of terrorism are viewed as a deadly threat to the French Republic, because over the last few centuries modern Western states have gradually established their legitimacy on the explicit promise to tolerate no political violence within their borders.

  224. A small coin in a big empty jar makes a lot of noise.

  225. How then should the state deal with terrorism? A successful counter-terrorism struggle should be conducted on three fronts. First, governments should focus on clandestine actions against the terror networks. Second, the media should keep things in perspective and avoid hysteria. The theatre of terror cannot succeed without publicity. Unfortunately, the media all too often provides this publicity for free. It obsessively reports terror attacks and greatly inflates their danger, because reports on terrorism sell newspapers much better than reports on diabetes or air pollution. The third front is the imagination of each and every one of us. Terrorists hold our imagination captive, and use it against us. Again and again we rehearse the terrorist attack on the stage of our mind – remembering 9/11 or the latest suicide bombings. The terrorists kill a hundred people – and cause 100 million to imagine that there is a murderer lurking behind every tree. It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact. The success or failure of terrorism thus depends on us. If we allow our imagination to be captured by the terrorists, and then overreact to our own fears – terrorism will succeed. If we free our imagination from the terrorists, and react in a balanced and cool way – terrorism will fail.

  226. It is hard to set priorities in real time, while it is all too easy to second-guess priorities with hindsight. We accuse leaders of failing to prevent the catastrophes that happened, while remaining blissfully unaware of the disasters that never materialised.

  227. And we certainly shouldn’t use the theoretical threat of nuclear terrorism as a justification for overreaction to run-of-the-mill terrorism. These are different problems that demand different solutions.

  228. Whereas in early agricultural societies human violence caused up to 15 per cent of all human deaths, and in the twentieth century it caused 5 per cent, today it is responsible for only 1 per cent.

  229. In contrast, in 2018 successful wars seem to be an endangered species.

  230. Even the United States owed its great-power status to military action rather than economic enterprise alone. In 1846 it invaded Mexico, and conquered California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and Oklahoma. The peace treaty also confirmed the previous US annexation of Texas. About 13,000 American soldiers died in the war, which added 2.3 million square kilometres to the United States (more than the combined size of France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy). It was the bargain of the millennium.

  231. Like the USA, China, Germany, Japan and Iran, Israel seems to understand that in the twenty-first century the most successful strategy is to sit on the fence and let others do the fighting for you.

  232. Ukraine and turned that country from an ally into a sworn enemy. Just as success in the First Gulf War tempted the USA to overreach itself in Iraq, success in Crimea may have tempted Russia to overreach itself in Ukraine.

  233. Russia has been following the playground-bully principle: ‘pick on the weakest kid, and don’t beat him up too much, lest the teacher intervenes’.

  234. Together, the USA and EU have five times more people than Russia, and ten times more dollars.

  235. Today, information technology and biotechnology are more important than heavy industry, but Russia excels in neither. Though it has impressive cyberwarfare capabilities, it lacks a civilian IT sector, and its economy relies overwhelmingly on natural resources, particularly oil and gas. This may be good enough to enrich a few oligarchs and keep Putin in power, but it is not enough to win a digital or biotechnological arms race.

  236. Why is it so difficult for major powers to wage successful wars in the twenty-first century? One reason is the change in the nature of the economy. In the past, economic assets were mostly material,

  237. you just cannot conquer knowledge through war.

  238. In the great age of conquerors warfare was a low-damage, high-profit affair.

  239. Nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare, by contrast, are high-damage, low-profit technologies. You could use such tools to destroy entire countries, but not to build profitable empires.

  240. While Genghis Khan or Julius Caesar would invade a foreign country at the drop of a hat, present-day nationalist leaders such as Erdogan, Modi and Netanyahu talk loud but are very careful about actually launching wars. Of course, if somebody does find a formula to wage successful wars under twenty-first-century conditions, the gates of hell might open with a rush. This is what makes the Russian success in Crimea a particularly frightening omen.

  241. Both on the personal and on the collective level, humans are prone to engage in self-destructive activities.

  242. In the 1930s Japanese generals, admirals, economists and journalists concurred that without control of Korea, Manchuria and the Chinese coast, Japan was doomed to economic stagnation. They were all wrong. In fact, the famed Japanese economic miracle began only after Japan lost all its mainland conquests.

  243. One potential remedy for human stupidity is a dose of humility. National, religious and cultural tensions are made worse by the grandiose feeling that my nation, my religion and my culture are the most important in the world – hence my interests should come before the interests of anyone else, or of humankind as a whole. How can we make nations, religions and cultures a bit more realistic and modest about their true place in the world?

  244. Most people tend to believe they are the centre of the world, and their culture is the linchpin of human history. Many Greeks believe that history began with Homer, Sophocles and Plato, and that all important ideas and inventions were born in Athens, Sparta, Alexandria or Constantinople. Chinese nationalists retort that history really began with the Yellow Emperor and the Xia and Shang dynasties, and that whatever Westerners, Muslims or Indians achieved is but a pale copy of original Chinese breakthroughs. Hindu nativists dismiss these Chinese boasts, and argue that even airplanes and nuclear bombs were invented by ancient sages in the Indian subcontinent long before Confucius or Plato, not to mention Einstein and the Wright brothers. Did you know, for example, that it was Maharishi Bhardwaj who invented rockets and aeroplanes, that Vishwamitra not only invented but also used missiles, that Acharya Kanad was the father of atomic theory, and that the Mahabharata accurately describes nuclear weapons? Pious Muslims regard all history prior to the Prophet Muhammad as largely irrelevant, and they consider all history after the revelation of the Quran to revolve around the Muslim ummah. The main exceptions are Turkish, Iranian and Egyptian nationalists, who argue that even prior to Muhammad their particular nation was the fountainhead of all that was good about humanity, and that even after the revelation of the Quran, it was mainly their people who preserved the purity of Islam and spread its glory. Needless to say that British, French, German, American, Russian, Japanese and countless other groups are similarly convinced that humankind would have lived in barbarous and immoral ignorance if it wasn’t for the spectacular achievements of their nation. Some people in history went so far as to imagine that their political institutions and religious practices were essential to the very laws of physics. Thus the Aztecs firmly believed that without the sacrifices they performed each year, the sun would not rise and the entire universe would disintegrate.

  245. They combine a wilful ignorance of history with more than a hint of racism.

  246. What my people lack in numbers and real influence, they more than compensate for in chutzpah. Since it is more polite to criticise one’s own people than to criticise foreigners, I will use the example of Judaism to illustrate how ludicrous such self-important narratives are, and I will leave it to readers around the world to puncture the hot-air balloons inflated by their own tribes.

  247. People fed on such a historical diet have a very hard time digesting the idea that Judaism had relatively little impact on the world as a whole.

  248. However, the credit for the global achievements of Christianity and Islam – as well as the guilt for their many crimes – belongs to the Christians and Muslims themselves rather than to the Jews. Just as it would be unfair to blame Judaism for the mass killings of the Crusades (Christianity is 100 per cent culpable), so also there is no reason to credit Judaism with the important Christian idea that all human beings are equal before God (an idea that stands in direct contradiction to Jewish orthodoxy, which even today holds that Jews are intrinsically superior to all other humans). The role of Judaism in the story of humankind is a bit like the role of Freud’s mother in modern Western history. For better or worse, Sigmund Freud had immense influence on the science, culture, art and folk wisdom of the modern West. It is also true that without Freud’s mother, we wouldn’t have had Freud, and that Freud’s personality, ambitions and opinions were likely shaped to a significant extent by his relations with his mother – as he would be the first to admit. But when writing the history of the modern West, nobody expects an entire chapter on Freud’s mother. Similarly, without Judaism you would not have had Christianity, but that doesn’t merit giving much importance to Judaism when writing the history of the world. The crucial issue is what Christianity did with the legacy of its Jewish mother.

  249. Can you name a great work of art inspired by the Old Testament? Oh, that’s easy: Michelangelo’s David, Verdi’s Nabucco, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Do you know of any famous work inspired by the New Testament? Piece of cake: Leonardo’s Last Supper, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Now for the real test: can you list a few masterpieces inspired by the Talmud? Though Jewish communities which studied the Talmud spread over large parts of the world, they did not play an important role in the building of the Chinese empires, in the European voyages of discovery, in the establishment of the democratic system, or in the Industrial Revolution. The coin, the university, the parliament, the bank, the compass, the printing press and the steam engine were all invented by Gentiles [not jewish].

  250. Israelis often use the term ‘the three great religions’, thinking that these religions are Christianity (2.3 billion adherents), Islam (1.8 billion) and Judaism (15 million). Hinduism, with its billion believers, and Buddhism, with its 500 million followers – not to mention the Shinto religion (50 million) and the Sikh religion (25 million) – don’t make the cut.

  251. For example, when wolf cubs play with one another, they have ‘fair game’ rules. If a cub bites too hard, or continues to bite an opponent that has rolled on his back and surrendered, the other cubs will stop playing with him. In chimpanzee bands dominant members are expected to respect the property rights of weaker members. If a junior female chimpanzee finds a banana, even the alpha male will usually avoid stealing it for himself. If he breaks this rule, he is likely to lose status. Apes not only avoid taking advantage of weak group members, but sometimes actively help them. A pygmy chimpanzee male called Kidogo, who lived in the Milwaukee County Zoo, suffered from a serious heart condition that made him feeble and confused. When he was first moved to the zoo, he could neither orient himself nor understand the instructions of the human caretakers. When the other chimpanzees understood his predicament, they intervened. They often took Kidogo by the hand, and led him wherever he needed to go. If Kidogo became lost, he would utter loud distress signals, and some ape would rush to help.

  252. We can only speculate what drove the gruff old leader to take care of the orphaned toddler, but apparently ape leaders developed the tendency to help the poor, needy and fatherless millions of years before the Bible instructed ancient Israelites that they should not ‘mistreat any widow or fatherless child’ (Exodus 22:21), and before the prophet Amos complained about social elites ‘who oppress the poor and crush the needy’ (Amos 4:1).

  253. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

  254. And we must again emphasise that despite the enormous impact of Christianity, this was definitely not the first time a human preached a universal ethic. The Bible is far from being the exclusive font of human morality (and luckily so, given the many racist, misogynist and homophobic attitudes it contains). Confucius, Laozi, Buddha and Mahavira established universal ethical codes long before Paul and Jesus, without knowing anything about the land of Canaan or the prophets of Israel. Confucius taught that every person must love others as he loves himself about 500 years before Rabbi Hillel the Elder said that this was the essence of the Torah.

  255. What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars. Polytheists found it perfectly acceptable that different people will worship different gods and perform diverse rites and rituals. They rarely if ever fought, persecuted, or killed people just because of their religious beliefs. Monotheists, in contrast, believed that their God was the only god, and that He demanded universal obedience. Consequently, as Christianity and Islam spread around the world, so did the incidence of crusades, jihads, inquisitions and religious discrimination.

  256. not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause … Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘Let me glorify my own religion’, only harms his own religion. Therefore contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, the king who regards everyone with affection, desires that all should be well learned in the good doctrines of other religions.

  257. about 20 per cent of all Nobel Prize laureates in science have been Jews, though Jews constitute less than 0.2 per cent of the world’s population. But it should be stressed that this has been a contribution of individual Jews rather than of Judaism as a religion or a culture. Most of the important Jewish scientists of the past 200 years acted outside the Jewish religious sphere. Indeed, Jews began to make their remarkable contribution to science only once they had abandoned the yeshivas in favour of the laboratories.

  258. The central value of education in Jewish culture was one of the main reasons for the extraordinary success of Jewish scientists. Other factors included the desire of a persecuted minority to prove its worth, and the barriers that prevented talented Jews from advancement in more anti-Semitic institutions such as the army and the state administration.

  259. Indeed, the Jewish habit of seeking the answers to all questions by reading ancient texts was a significant obstacle to Jewish integration into the world of modern science, where answers come from observations and experiments. If there was anything about the Jewish religion itself that necessarily leads to scientific breakthroughs, why is it that between 1905 and 1933 ten secular German Jews won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics, but during the same period not a single ultra-Orthodox Jew or a single Bulgarian or Yemenite Jew won any Nobel Prize?

  260. Many religions praise the value of humility – but then imagine themselves to be the most important thing in the universe. They mix calls for personal meekness with blatant collective arrogance. Humans of all creeds would do well to take humility more seriously.

  261. ‘Science cannot explain the Big Bang,’ they exclaim, ‘so that must be God’s doing.’

  262. ‘We do not understand the Big Bang – therefore you must cover your hair in public and vote against gay marriage.’ Not only is there no logical connection between the two, but they are in fact contradictory. The deeper the mysteries of the universe, the less likely it is that whatever is responsible for them gives a damn about female dress codes or human sexual behaviour.

  263. To the best of our scientific knowledge, all these sacred texts were written by imaginative Homo sapiens. They are just stories invented by our ancestors in order to legitimise social norms and political structures.

  264. The third of the biblical Ten Commandments instructs humans never to make wrongful use of the name of God. Many understand this in a childish way, as a prohibition on uttering the explicit name of God (as in the famous Monty Python sketch ‘If you say Jehovah …’). Perhaps the deeper meaning of this commandment is that we should never use the name of God to justify our political interests, our economic ambitions or our personal hatreds. People hate somebody and say, ‘God hates him’; people covet a piece of land and say, ‘God wants it’. The world would be a much better place if we followed the third commandment more devotedly. You want to wage war on your neighbours and steal their land? Leave God out of it, and find yourself some other excuse.

  265. who cares a lot about names and above all about His most holy name – the mystery of existence doesn’t care an iota what names we apes give it.

  266. Indeed, the very same religions that inspire hate and bigotry in some people inspire love and compassion in others

  267. Yet though gods can inspire us to act compassionately, religious faith is not a necessary condition for moral behaviour. The idea that we need a supernatural being to make us act morally assumes that there is something unnatural about morality. But why? Morality of some kind is natural. All social mammals from chimpanzees to rats have ethical codes that limit things such as theft and murder. Among humans, morality is present in all societies, even though not all of them believe in the same god, or in any god. Christians act with charity even without believing in the Hindu pantheon, Muslims value honesty despite rejecting the divinity of Christ, and secular countries such as Denmark and the Czech Republic aren’t more violent than devout countries such as Iran and Pakistan.

  268. Morality doesn’t mean ‘following divine commands’. It means ‘reducing suffering’. Hence in order to act morally, you don’t need to believe in any myth or story. You just need to develop a deep appreciation of suffering. If you really understand how an action causes unnecessary suffering to yourself or to others, you will naturally abstain from it. People nevertheless murder, rape and steal because they have only a superficial appreciation of the misery this causes. They are fixated on satisfying their immediate lust or greed, without concern for the impact on others – or even for the long-term impact on themselves. Even inquisitors who deliberately inflict as much pain as possible on their victim, usually use various desensitising and dehumanising techniques in order to distance themselves from what they are doing.

  269. So at the very least, to be happy you need to care about your family, your friends, and your community members.

  270. Forget about commerce for a moment. On a much more immediate level, hurting others always hurts me too. Every violent act in the world begins with a violent desire in somebody’s mind, which disturbs that person’s own peace and happiness before it disturbs the peace and happiness of anyone else. Thus people seldom steal unless they first develop a lot of greed and envy in their minds. People don’t usually murder unless they first generate anger and hatred. Emotions such as greed, envy, anger and hatred are very unpleasant. You cannot experience joy and harmony when you are boiling with anger or envy. Hence long before you murder anyone, your anger has already killed your own peace of mind.

  271. It is therefore your natural self-interest – and not the command of some god – that should induce you to do something about your anger. If you were completely free of anger you would feel far better than if you murdered an obnoxious enemy.

  272. Secularism can provide us with all the values we need.

  273. one of the chief characteristics of secular people is that they claim no such monopoly. They don’t think that morality and wisdom came down from heaven in one particular place and time. Rather, morality and wisdom are the natural legacy of all humans. So it is only to be expected that at least some values would pop up in human societies all over the world, and would be common to Muslims, Christians, Hindus and atheists.

  274. It just means that it is not easy to live up to an ideal.

  275. The most important secular commitment is to the truth, which is based on observation and evidence rather than on mere faith.

  276. In addition, seculars do not sanctify any group, any person or any book as if it and it alone has sole custody of the truth. Instead, secular people sanctify the truth wherever it may reveal itself – in ancient fossilised bones, in images of far-off galaxies, in tables of statistical data, or in the writings of various human traditions.

  277. The other chief commitment of secular people is to compassion. Secular ethics relies not on obeying the edicts of this or that god, but rather on a deep appreciation of suffering.

  278. What happens when the same action hurts one person but helps another? Is it ethical to levy high taxes on the rich in order to help the poor? To wage a bloody war in order to remove a brutal dictator? To allow an unlimited number of refugees into our country? When secular people encounter such dilemmas, they do not ask ‘What does God command?’ Rather, they weigh carefully the feelings of all concerned parties, examine a wide range of observations and possibilities, and search for a middle path that will cause as little harm as possible.

  279. This is the deep reason why secular people cherish scientific truth. Not in order to satisfy their curiosity, but in order to know how best to reduce the suffering in the world. Without the guidance of scientific studies, our compassion is often blind.

  280. The twin commitments to truth and compassion result also in a commitment to equality. Though opinions differ regarding questions of economic and political equality, secular people are fundamentally suspicious of all a priori hierarchies. Suffering is suffering, no matter who experiences it; and knowledge is knowledge, no matter who discovers it. Privileging the experiences or the discoveries of a particular nation, class or gender is likely to make us both callous and ignorant. Secular people are certainly proud of the uniqueness of their particular nation, country and culture – but they don’t confuse ‘uniqueness’ with ‘superiority’. Hence though secular people acknowledge their special duties towards their nation and their country, they don’t think these duties are exclusive, and they simultaneously acknowledge their duties towards humanity as a whole.

  281. We cannot search for the truth and for the way out of suffering without the freedom to think, investigate, and experiment. Secular people cherish freedom, and refrain from investing supreme authority in any text, institution or leader as the ultimate judge of what’s true and what’s right. Humans should always retain the freedom to doubt, to check again, to hear a second opinion, to try a different path. Secular people admire Galileo Galilei who dared to question whether the earth really sits motionless at the centre of the universe; they admire the masses of common people who stormed the Bastille in 1789 and brought down the despotic regime of Louis XVI; and they admire Rosa Parks who had the courage to sit down on a bus seat reserved for white passengers only.

  282. It takes a lot of courage to fight biases and oppressive regimes, but it takes even greater courage to admit ignorance and venture into the unknown. Secular education teaches us that if we don’t know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging our ignorance and looking for new evidence. Even if we think we know something, we shouldn’t be afraid of doubting our opinions and checking ourselves again.

  283. Fear of the unknown can paralyse us more than any tyrant.

  284. People afraid of losing their truth tend to be more violent than people who are used to looking at the world from several different viewpoints. Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.

  285. Finally, secular people cherish responsibility. They don’t believe in any higher power that takes care of the world, punishes the wicked, rewards the just, and protects us from famine, plague or war. We flesh-and-blood mortals must take full responsibility for whatever we do – or don’t do.

  286. Instead of praying for miracles, we need to ask what we can do to help.

  287. when the secular code collides with religious doctrine, the latter gives way.

  288. Christians should avoid burning heretics at the stake, Muslims must respect freedom of expression, and Hindus ought to relinquish caste-based discrimination.

  289. If they are loyal to scientific truth, to compassion, to equality and to freedom, they are full members of the secular world, and there is absolutely no reason to demand that they take off their yarmulkes, crosses, hijabs or tilakas.

  290. For similar reasons, secular education does not mean a negative indoctrination that teaches kids not to believe in God and not to take part in any religious ceremonies. Rather, secular education teaches children to distinguish truth from belief; to develop their compassion for all suffering beings; to appreciate the wisdom and experiences of all the earth’s denizens; to think freely without fearing the unknown; and to take responsibility for their actions and for the world as a whole.

  291. For example, Karl Marx began by claiming that all religions were oppressive frauds, and he encouraged his followers to investigate for themselves the true nature of the global order

  292. If we use the minimalist negative definition – ‘secular people don’t believe in God’ – then Stalin was definitely secular. If we use a positive definition – ‘secular people reject all unscientific dogmas and are committed to truth, compassion and freedom’ – then Marx was a secular luminary, but Stalin was anything but. He was the prophet of the godless but extremely dogmatic religion of Stalinism.

  293. capitalism too began as a very open-minded scientific theory, but gradually solidified into a dogma. Many capitalists keep repeating the mantra of free markets and economic growth, irrespective of realities on the ground. No matter what awful consequences occasionally result from modernisation, industrialisation or privatisation, capitalist true-believers dismiss them as mere ‘growing pains’, and promise that everything will be made good through a bit more growth.

  294. They fight wars and spend billions in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo in the firm belief that holding general elections will magically turn these places into sunnier versions of Denmark. This despite repeated failures, and despite the fact that even in places with an established tradition of general elections these rituals occasionally bring to power authoritarian populists, and result in nothing grander than majority dictatorships. If you try to question the alleged wisdom of general elections, you won’t be sent to the gulag, but you are likely to get a very cold shower of dogmatic abuse.

  295. This is particularly true of the doctrine of human rights. The only place rights exist is in the stories humans invent and tell one another. These stories were enshrined as a self-evident dogma during the struggle against religious bigotry and autocratic governments.

  296. Yet it is still a dogma. Thus article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights says that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression’. If we understand this is a political demand (‘everyone should have the right to freedom of opinion’), this is perfectly sensible. But if we believe that each and every Sapiens is naturally endowed with a ‘right to freedom of opinion’, and that censorship therefore violates some law of nature, we miss the truth about humanity. As long as you define yourself as ‘an individual possessing inalienable natural rights’, you will not know who you really are, and you will not understand the historical forces that shaped your society and your own mind (including your belief in ‘natural rights’).

  297. Secular science has at least one big advantage over most traditional religions, namely that it is not terrified of its shadow, and it is in principle willing to admit its mistakes and blind spots.

  298. This is also why undogmatic secular movements tend to make relatively modest promises. Aware of their imperfections, they hope to effect small incremental changes, raising the minimum wage by a few dollars or reducing child mortality by a few percentage points. It is the mark of dogmatic ideologies that due to their excessive self-confidence they routinely vow the impossible. Their leaders speak all too freely about ‘eternity’, ‘purity’ and ‘redemption’, as if by enacting some law, building some temple, or conquering some piece of territory they could save the entire world in one grand gesture.

  299. I personally would trust more in those who admit ignorance than in those who claim infallibility.

  300. Democracy is founded on the idea that the voter knows best, free-market capitalism believes that the customer is always right, and liberal education teaches students to think for themselves.

  301. It is a mistake, however, to put so much trust in the rational individual. Post-colonial and feminist thinkers have pointed out that this ‘rational individual’ may well be a chauvinistic Western fantasy, glorifying the autonomy and power of upper-class white men.

  302. This is what Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach have termed ‘the knowledge illusion’. We think we know a lot, even though individually we know very little, because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our own.

  303. People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.

  304. Providing people with more and better information is unlikely to improve matters. Scientists hope to dispel wrong views by better science education, and pundits hope to sway public opinion on issues such as Obamacare or global warming by presenting the public with accurate facts and expert reports. Such hopes are grounded in a misunderstanding of how humans actually think. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we hold on to these views out of group loyalty. Bombarding people with facts and exposing their individual ignorance is likely to backfire. Most people don’t like too many facts, and they certainly don’t like to feel stupid. Don’t be so sure that you can convince Tea Party supporters of the truth of global warming by presenting them with sheets of statistical data.

  305. Thus in the USA, right-wing conservatives tend to care far less about things like pollution and endangered species than left-wing progressives, which is why Louisiana has much weaker environmental regulations than Massachusetts. We are used to this situation, so we take it for granted, but it is really quite surprising. One would have thought that conservatives would care far more about the conservation of the old ecological order, and about protecting their ancestral lands, forests and rivers. In contrast, progressives could be expected to be far more open to radical changes to the countryside, especially if the aim is to speed up progress and increase the human standard of living. However, once the party line has been set on these issues by various historical quirks, it has become second nature for conservatives to dismiss concerns about polluted rivers and disappearing birds, while left-wing progressives tend to fear any disruption to the old ecological order.

  306. Even scientists are not immune to the power of groupthink. Thus scientists who believe that facts can change public opinion may themselves be the victims of scientific groupthink. The scientific community believes in the efficacy of facts, hence those loyal to that community continue to believe that they can win public debates by throwing the right facts around, despite much empirical evidence to the contrary.

  307. It is extremely hard to discover the truth when you are ruling the world. You are just far too busy. Most political chiefs and business moguls are forever on the run. Yet if you want to go deeply into any subject, you need a lot of time, and in particular you need the privilege of wasting time. You need to experiment with unproductive paths, to explore dead ends, to make space for doubts and boredom, and to allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom. If you cannot afford to waste time – you will never find the truth.

  308. There were about thirty people there, and everyone tried to get the Great Man’s attention, impress him with their wit, curry favour, or get something out of him. If anyone there knew any big secrets, they did an extremely good job of keeping them to themselves. This was hardly Netanyahu’s fault, or indeed anybody’s fault. It was the fault of the gravitational pull of power.

  309. If you really want truth, you need to escape the black hole of power, and allow yourself to waste a lot of time wandering here and there on the periphery. Revolutionary knowledge rarely makes it to the centre, because the centre is built on existing knowledge. The guardians of the old order usually determine who gets to reach the centres of power, and they tend to filter out the carriers of disturbing unconventional ideas. Of course they filter out an incredible amount of rubbish too. Not being invited to the Davos World Economic Forum is hardly a guarantee of wisdom. That’s why you need to waste so much time on the periphery – they may contain some brilliant revolutionary insights, but they are mostly full of uninformed guesses, debunked models, superstitious dogmas and ridiculous conspiracy theories.

  310. Leaders are thus trapped in a double bind. If they stay in the centre of power, they will have an extremely distorted vision of the world. If they venture to the margins, they will waste too much of their precious time.

  311. Back then, people had only one pension fund, called ‘children’).

  312. The system is structured in such a way that those who make no effort to know can remain in blissful ignorance, and those who do make an effort will find it very difficult to discover the truth.

  313. But without the benefit of hindsight, moral certainty might be beyond our reach. The bitter truth is that the world has simply become too complicated for our hunter-gatherer brains.

  314. In trying to comprehend and judge moral dilemmas of this scale, people often resort to one of four methods. The first is to downsize the issue:

  315. The second is to focus on a touching human story, which ostensibly stands for the whole conflict.

  316. People gave more money to the single child than to the group of eight. The third method to deal with large-scale moral dilemmas is to weave conspiracy theories.

  317. These three methods try to deny the true complexity of the world. The fourth and ultimate method is to create a dogma, put our trust in some allegedly all-knowing theory, institution or chief, and follow them wherever they lead us. Religious and ideological dogmas are still highly attractive in our scientific age precisely because they offer us a safe haven from the frustrating complexity of reality.

  318. February 2014 Russian special units bearing no army insignia invaded Ukraine and occupied key installations in Crimea. The Russian government and President Putin in person repeatedly denied that these were Russian troops, and described them as spontaneous ‘self-defence groups’ that may have acquired Russian-looking equipment from local shops. As they voiced this rather preposterous claim, Putin and his aides knew perfectly well that they were lying.

  319. Russian nationalists can excuse this lie by arguing that it served a higher truth. Russia was engaged in a just war, and if it is OK to kill for a just cause, surely it is also OK to lie? The higher cause that allegedly justified the invasion of Ukraine was the preservation of the sacred Russian nation. According to Russian national myths, Russia is a sacred entity that has endured for a thousand years despite repeated attempts by vicious enemies to invade and dismember it.

  320. To claim that Ukraine does not exist as a nation and as an independent country disregards a long list of historical facts – for example, that during the thousand years of supposed Russian unity, Kyiv and Moscow were part of the same country for only about 300 years. It also violates numerous international laws and treaties that Russia has previously accepted and that have safeguarded the sovereignty and borders of independent Ukraine. Most importantly, it ignores what millions of Ukrainians think about themselves. Don’t they have a say about who they are?

  321. Rather, these fake countries are the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ and the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ that Russia has set up to mask its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

  322. A cursory look at history reveals that propaganda and disinformation are nothing new, and even the habit of denying entire nations and creating fake countries has a long pedigree. In 1931 the Japanese army staged mock attacks on itself to justify its invasion of China, and then created the fake country of Manchukuo to legitimise its conquests. China itself has long denied that Tibet ever existed as an independent country. British settlement in Australia was justified by the legal doctrine of terra nullius (‘nobody’s land’), which effectively erased 50,000 years of Aboriginal history.

  323. In the early twentieth century a favourite Zionist slogan spoke of the return of ‘a people without a land [the Jews] to a land without a people [Palestine]’. The existence of the local Arab population was conveniently ignored.

  324. In fact, humans have always lived in the age of post-truth. Homo sapiens is a post-truth species, whose power depends on creating and believing fictions.

  325. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws, and can thereby cooperate effectively.

  326. So if you blame Facebook, Trump or Putin for ushering in a new and frightening era of post-truth, remind yourself that centuries ago millions of Christians locked themselves inside a self-reinforcing mythological bubble, never daring to question the factual veracity of the Bible, while millions of Muslims put their unquestioning faith in the Quran. For millennia, much of what passed for ‘news’ and ‘facts’ in human social networks were stories about miracles, angels, demons and witches, with bold reporters giving live coverage straight from the deepest pits of the underworld. We have zero scientific evidence that Eve was tempted by the Serpent, that the souls of all infidels burn in hell after they die, or that the creator of the universe doesn’t like it when a Brahmin marries an Untouchable – yet billions of people have believed in these stories for thousands of years. Some fake news lasts for ever.

  327. Note, however, that I am not denying the effectiveness or potential benevolence of religion. Just the opposite. For better or worse, fiction is among the most effective tools in humanity’s toolkit. By bringing people together, religious creeds make large-scale human cooperation possible.

  328. As noted earlier, Japanese militarism in the 1930s and early 1940s relied on a fanatical belief in the divinity of Emperor Hirohito. After Japan’s defeat Hirohito publicly proclaimed that this was not true, and that he wasn’t a god after all.

  329. Ancient religions have not been the only ones that used fiction to cement cooperation. In more recent times, each nation has created its own national mythology, while movements such as communism, fascism and liberalism fashioned elaborate self-reinforcing credos.

  330. ‘A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’

  331. The Soviet propaganda machine was equally agile with the truth, rewriting the history of everything from entire wars to individual photographs. On 29 June 1936 the official newspaper Pravda (the name means ‘truth’) carried on its front page a photo of a smiling Joseph Stalin embracing Gelya Markizova, a seven-year-old girl.

  332. Alas, in Stalin’s empire fame was often an invitation to disaster. Within a year, Gelya’s father was arrested on the bogus charges that he was a Japanese spy and a Trotskyite terrorist. In 1938 he was executed, one of millions of victims of the Stalinist terror. Gelya and her mother were exiled to Kazakhstan, where the mother soon died under mysterious circumstances.

  333. ‘Happy Soviet Child’ in the ubiquitous image was identified as Mamlakat Nakhangova – a thirteen-year-old Tajik girl who earned the Order of Lenin by diligently picking lots of cotton in the fields (if anyone thought that the girl in the picture didn’t look like a thirteen-year-old, they knew better than to voice such counter-revolutionary heresy).

  334. Yet in the art of deception he can hardly hold a candle to Stalin. In the early 1930s left-wing Western journalists and intellectuals were praising the USSR as an ideal society at a time when Ukrainians and other Soviet citizens were dying in their millions from the man-made famine that Stalin orchestrated.

  335. Branding often involves retelling the same fictional story again and again, until people become convinced it is the truth. What images come to mind when you think about Coca-Cola?

  336. Yet for decades Coca-Cola has invested billions of dollars in linking itself to youth, health and sports – and billions of humans subconsciously believe in this linkage.

  337. On the other hand, you cannot organise masses of people effectively without relying on some mythology. If you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you. Without myths, it would have been impossible to organise not just the failed Maji Maji and Jewish revolts, but also the far more successful rebellions of the Mahdi and the Maccabees. In fact, false stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people. If you want to gauge group loyalty, requiring people to believe an absurdity is a far better test than asking them to believe the truth. If a big chief says ‘the sun rises in the east and sets in the west’, loyalty to the chief is not required in order to applaud him. But if the chief says ‘the sun rises in the west and sets in the east’, only true loyalists will clap their hands. Similarly, if all your neighbours believe the same outrageous tale, you can count on them to stand together in times of crisis. If they are willing to believe only accredited facts, what does that prove?

  338. To really enjoy football, you have to accept the rules of the game, and forget for at least ninety minutes that they are merely human inventions. If you don’t, you will think it utterly ridiculous for twenty-two people to go running after a ball.

  339. If you are asked about it, you know that football is a human invention. But in the heat of the match, nobody asks you about it. If you devote the time and energy, you can discover that nations are elaborate yarns. But in the midst of a war you don’t have the time and energy. If you demand the ultimate truth, you realise that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth. But how often do you demand the ultimate truth?

  340. The most powerful scholarly establishments – whether of Christian priests, Confucian mandarins or communist ideologues – placed unity above truth. That’s why they were so powerful.

  341. As a species, humans prefer power to truth. We spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it – and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control it. Therefore, if you dream of a society in which truth reigns supreme and myths are ignored, you have little to expect from Homo sapiens. Better try your luck with chimps.

  342. All this does not mean that fake news is not a serious problem, or that politicians and priests have a free licence to lie through their teeth. It would also be totally wrong to conclude that everything is just fake news, that any attempt to discover the truth is doomed to failure, and that there is no difference whatsoever between serious journalism and propaganda.

  343. Human suffering is often caused by belief in fiction, but the suffering itself is still real.

  344. Similarly, no newspaper is free of biases and mistakes, but some newspapers make an honest effort to find out the truth whereas others are a brainwashing machine.

  345. Here I would like to offer two simple rules of thumb. First, if you want reliable information – pay good money for it. If you get your news for free, you might well be the product. Suppose a shady billionaire offered you the following deal: ‘I will pay you $30 a month, and in exchange, you will allow me to brainwash you for an hour every day, installing in your mind whichever political and commercial biases I want.’ Would you take the deal? Few sane people would. So the shady billionaire offers a slightly different deal: ‘You will allow me to brainwash you for one hour every day, and in exchange, I will not charge you anything for this service.’ Now the deal suddenly sounds tempting to hundreds of millions of people. Don’t follow their example.

  346. The second rule of thumb is that if some issue seems exceptionally important to you, make the effort to read the relevant scientific literature. And by scientific literature I mean peer-reviewed articles, books published by well-known academic publishers, and the writings of professors from reputable institutions. Science obviously has its limitations, and it has got many things wrong in the past. Nevertheless, the scientific community has been our most reliable source of knowledge for centuries. If you think that the scientific community is wrong about something, that’s certainly possible, but at least know the scientific theories you are rejecting, and provide some empirical evidence to support your claim.

  347. But it is equally important to communicate the latest scientific theories to the general public through popular-science books, and even through the skilful use of art and fiction.

  348. As noted in an earlier chapter, perhaps the worst sin of present-day science fiction is that it tends to confuse intelligence with consciousness.

  349. Whenever you see a movie about an AI in which the AI is female and the scientist is male, it’s probably a movie about feminism rather than cybernetics.

  350. They assume that the humans trapped within the matrix have an authentic self, which remains untouched by all the technological manipulations, and that beyond the matrix awaits an authentic reality, which the heroes can access if they only try hard enough. The matrix is just an artificial barrier separating your inner authentic self from the outer authentic world. After many trials and tribulations both heroes – Neo in The Matrix and Truman in The Truman Show – manage to transcend and escape the web of manipulations, discover their authentic selves, and reach the authentic promised land.

  351. People are afraid of being trapped inside a box, but they don’t realise that they are already trapped inside a box – their brain – which is locked within a bigger box – human society with its myriad fictions. When you escape the matrix the only thing you discover is a bigger matrix. When the peasants and workers revolted against the tsar in 1917, they ended up with Stalin; and when you begin to explore the manifold ways the world manipulates you, in the end you realise that your core identity is a complex illusion created by neural networks.

  352. It’s not that somewhere in your mind there is an iron chest with a big red warning sign ‘Open only in Fiji!’ and when you finally travel to the South Pacific you get to open the chest, and out come all kinds of special emotions and feelings that you can have only in Fiji. And if you never visit Fiji in your life, then you missed these special feelings for ever. No. Whatever you can feel in Fiji, you can feel anywhere in the world; even inside the matrix.

  353. So if you want to explore the reality of your mind, you can do that inside the matrix as well as outside it.

  354. the mind is an object that is being shaped by history and biology.

  355. There is no authentic self waiting to be liberated from the manipulative shell.

  356. Romantic comedies are to love as porn is to sex and Rambo is to war. And if you think you can press some delete button and wipe out all trace of Hollywood from your subconscious and your limbic system, you are deluding yourself.

  357. We like the idea of shaping stone knives, but we don’t like the idea of being stone knives ourselves.

  358. In countless Disney movies, the heroes face difficulties and dangers, but eventually triumph by finding their authentic self and following their free choices.

  359. she has no authentic self and that she never makes any free choices. Riley is in fact a huge robot managed by a collection of conflicting biochemical mechanisms, which the movie personifies as cute cartoon characters: the yellow and cheerful Joy, the blue and morose Sadness, the red short-tempered Anger, and so on.

  360. it becomes evident that Riley cannot be identified with any single core, and that her well-being depends on the interaction of many different mechanisms.

  361. Riley is a complex story produced by the conflicts and collaborations of all the biochemical characters together.

  362. Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, with communism and fascism entrenched in Russia and Italy, Nazism on the rise in Germany, militaristic Japan embarking on its war of conquest in China, and the entire world gripped by the Great Depression.

  363. It is a consumerist world, which gives completely free rein to sex, drugs and rock’n’ roll, and whose supreme value is happiness.

  364. In this brave new world, the World Government uses advanced biotechnology and social engineering to make sure that everyone is always content, and no one has any reason to rebel. It is as if Joy, Sadness and the other characters in Riley’s brain have been turned into loyal government agents. There is therefore no need for a secret police, for concentration camps, or for a Ministry of Love à la Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Indeed, Huxley’s genius consists in showing that you could control people far more securely through love and pleasure than through fear and violence.

  365. Huxley addresses this question directly in the novel’s climactic moment: the dialogue between Mustapha Mond, the World Controller for western Europe, and John the Savage, who has lived all his life on a native Reservation in New Mexico, and who is the only other man in London who still knows anything about Shakespeare or God.

  366. Change is the only constant

  367. navigate the maze of life?

  368. humans could never predict the future with accuracy.

  369. At present, too many schools focus on cramming information. In the past this made sense, because information was scarce, and even the slow trickle of existing information was repeatedly blocked by censorship.

  370. The Spanish Empire heavily censored all texts printed locally, and allowed only a dribble of vetted publications to be imported from outside. Much the same was true if you lived in some provincial town in Russia, India, Turkey or China. When modern schools came along, teaching every child to read and write and imparting the basic facts of geography, history and biology, they represented an immense improvement.

  371. Instead, they are busy spreading misinformation or distracting us with irrelevancies. If you live in some provincial Mexican town and you have a smartphone, you can spend many lifetimes just reading Wikipedia, watching TED talks, and taking free online courses. No government can hope to conceal all the information it doesn’t like. On the other hand, it is alarmingly easy to inundate the public with conflicting reports and red herrings. People all over the world are but a click away from the latest accounts of the bombardment of Aleppo or of melting ice caps in the Arctic, but there are so many contradictory accounts that it is hard to know what to believe. Besides, countless other things are just a click away, making it difficult to focus, and when politics or science look too complicated it is tempting to switch to some funny cat videos, celebrity gossip, or porn.

  372. In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.

  373. ‘the four Cs’ – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products – you will above all need to reinvent yourself again and again.

  374. In the second part of life you relied on your accumulated skills to navigate the world, earn a living, and contribute to society.

  375. By the middle of the twenty-first century, accelerating change plus longer lifespans will make this traditional model obsolete. Life will come apart at the seams, and there will be less and less continuity between different periods of life. ‘Who am I?’ will be a more urgent and complicated question than ever before.

  376. The harder you’ve worked on building something, the more difficult it is to let go of it and make room for something new.

  377. Reconnecting neurons and rewiring synapses is damned hard work. But in the twenty-first century, you can hardly afford stability. If you try to hold on to some stable identity, job or world view, you risk being left behind as the world flies by you with a whooooosh. Given that life expectancy is likely to increase, you might subsequently have to spend many decades as a clueless fossil. To stay relevant – not just economically, but above all socially – you will need the ability to constantly learn and to reinvent yourself, certainly at a young age like fifty.

  378. How to live in a world where profound uncertainty is not a bug, but a feature?

  379. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and feel at home with the unknown.

  380. So the best advice I could give a fifteen-year-old stuck in an outdated school somewhere in Mexico, India or Alabama is: don’t rely on the adults too much. Most of them mean well, but they just don’t understand the world. In the past, it was a relatively safe bet to follow the adults, because they knew the world quite well, and the world changed slowly. But the twenty-first century is going to be different. Due to the growing pace of change you can never be certain whether what the adults are telling you is timeless wisdom or outdated bias.

  381. So on what can you rely instead? Perhaps on technology? That’s an even riskier gamble. Technology can help you a lot, but if technology gains too much power over your life, you might become a hostage to its agenda. Thousands of years ago humans invented agriculture, but this technology enriched just a tiny elite, while enslaving the majority of humans. Most people found themselves working from sunrise till sunset plucking weeds, carrying water-buckets and harvesting corn under a blazing sun. It can happen to you too. Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don’t know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you. Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones? Do you think they control the technology, or does the technology control them?

  382. As biotechnology and machine learning improve, it will become easier to manipulate people’s deepest emotions and desires, and it will become more dangerous than ever to just follow your heart. When Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu or the government knows how to pull the strings of your heart and press the buttons of your brain, could you still tell the difference between your self and their marketing experts?

  383. But this advice was never more urgent than in the twenty-first century, because unlike in the days of Laozi or Socrates, now you have serious competition

  384. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that’s hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans.

  385. And once these algorithms know you better than you know yourself, they could control and manipulate you, and you won’t be able to do much about it. You will live in the matrix, or in The Truman Show. In the end, it’s a simple empirical matter: if the algorithms indeed understand what’s happening within you better than you understand it, authority will shift to them.

  386. Of course, you might be perfectly happy ceding all authority to the algorithms and trusting them to decide things for you and for the rest of the world. If so, just relax and enjoy the ride. You don’t need to do anything about it. The algorithms will take care of everything. If, however, you want to retain some control of your personal existence and of the future of life, you have to run faster than the algorithms, faster than Amazon and the government, and get to know yourself before they do. To run fast, don’t take much luggage with you. Leave all your illusions behind. They are very heavy.

  387. What kind of an answer do people expect? In almost all cases, when people ask about the meaning of life, they expect to be told a story. Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal, that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings. When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what is my particular role in the cosmic drama. This role defines who I am, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices.

  388. The god Krishna then explains to Arjuna that within the great cosmic cycle each being possesses a unique ‘dharma’, the path you must follow and the duties you must fulfil. If you realise your dharma, no matter how hard the path may be, you enjoy peace of mind and liberation from all doubts. If you refuse to follow your dharma, and try to adopt somebody else’s path – or to wander about with no path at all – you will disturb the cosmic balance, and will never be able to find either peace or joy. It makes no difference what your particular path is, as long as you follow it.

  389. However, when Mufasa is prematurely murdered by his evil brother Scar, young Simba blames himself for the catastrophe, and racked with guilt he leaves the lion kingdom, shuns his royal destiny, and wanders off into the wilderness. There he meets two other outcasts, a meerkat and a warthog, and together they spend a few carefree years off the beaten path. Their antisocial philosophy means that they answer every problem by chanting Hakuna matata – no worries.

  390. If I believe in some version of the Circle of Life story, it means that I have a fixed and true identity that determines my duties in life. For many years I may be doubtful or ignorant of this identity, but one day, in some great climactic moment, it will be revealed, and I will understand my role in the cosmic drama, and though I may subsequently encounter many trials and tribulations, I will be free of doubts and despair.

  391. If I believe in the Zionist story, I conclude that my life’s mission is to advance the interests of the Jewish nation by protecting the purity of the Hebrew language, by fighting to regain lost Jewish territory, or perhaps by having and raising a new generation of loyal Israeli children.

  392. The Communist Manifesto opens by proclaiming that: The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.1

  393. Zionism holds sacred the adventures of about 0.2 per cent of humankind and 0.005 per cent of the earth’s surface during a tiny fraction of the span of time. The Zionist story fails to ascribe any meaning to the Chinese empires, to the tribes of New Guinea, and to the Andromeda galaxy, as well as to the countless aeons that passed before the existence of Moses, Abraham and the evolution of apes.

  394. Such myopia can have serious repercussions. For example, one of the major obstacles for any peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians is that Israelis are unwilling to divide the city of Jerusalem. They argue that this city is ‘the eternal capital of the Jewish people’ – and surely you cannot compromise on something eternal. What are a few dead people compared to eternity? This is of course utter nonsense. Eternity is at the very least 13.8 billion years – the current age of the universe. Planet Earth was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, and humans have existed for at least 2 million years. In contrast, the city of Jerusalem was established just 5,000 years ago and the Jewish people are at most 3,000 years old. This hardly qualifies as eternity.

  395. As a teenager in Israel, I too was initially captivated by the nationalist promise to become part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to believe that if I gave my life to the nation, I would live for ever in the nation. But I couldn’t fathom what it meant ‘to live for ever in the nation’. The phrase sounded very profound, but what did it actually mean? I remember one particular Memorial Day ceremony when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Whereas in the USA Memorial Day is marked mainly by shopping sales, in Israel Memorial Day is an extremely solemn and important event. On this day the schools hold ceremonies to remember the soldiers who have fallen in Israel’s many wars. The kids dress in white, recite poems, sing songs, place wreaths and wave flags. So there I was, dressed in white, during our school’s ceremony, and in between flag waving and poem recitations, I naturally thought to myself that when I grow up I too would like to be a fallen soldier. After all, if I were a heroic fallen soldier who sacrificed his life for Israel, then I would have all these kids reciting poems and waving flags in my honour. But then I thought, ‘Wait a minute. If I am dead, how would I know these kids were really reciting poems in my honour?’ So I tried to imagine myself dead. And I imagined myself lying under some white tombstone in a neat military cemetery, listening to the poems coming from above the ground. But then I thought, ‘If I am dead, then I cannot hear any poems, because I don’t have ears, and I don’t have a brain, and I cannot hear or feel anything. So what’s the point?’ Even worse, by the time I was thirteen I knew that the universe is a couple of billion years old, and will probably go on existing for billions of years more. Could I realistically expect Israel to exist for such a long time? Will Homo sapiens kids dressed in white still recite poems in my honour after 200 million years? There was something fishy about the whole business.

  396. The story provides me with an identity and gives meaning to my life by embedding me within something bigger than myself. But there is always a danger that I might start wondering what gives meaning to that ‘something bigger’. If the meaning of my life is to help the proletariat or the Polish nation, what exactly gives meaning to the proletariat or to the Polish nation? There is a story of a man who claimed that the world is kept in place by resting on the back of a huge elephant. When asked what the elephant stands on, he replied that it stands on the back of a large turtle. And the turtle? On the back of an even bigger turtle. And that bigger turtle? The man snapped and said: ‘Don’t bother about it. From there onwards it’s turtles all the way down.’

  397. If you weave a good enough yarn, it won’t occur to anyone to ask what the elephant is standing on. Similarly, nationalism enchants us with tales of heroism, moves us to tears by recounting past disasters, and ignites our fury by dwelling on the injustices our nation suffered. We get so absorbed in this national epic that we start evaluating everything that happens in the world by its impact on our nation, and hardly think of asking what makes our nation so important in the first place.

  398. If I am reborn in a new body after the death of my present body, then death is not the end. It is merely the space between two chapters, and the plot that began in one chapter will carry on into the next. Many people have at least a vague faith in such a theory, even if they do not base it on any specific theology. They don’t need an elaborate dogma – they just need the reassuring feeling that their story continues beyond the horizon of death.

  399. This theory of life as a never-ending epic is extremely attractive and common, but it suffers from two main problems. First, by lengthening my personal story I don’t really make it more meaningful. I just make it longer. Indeed, the two great religions that embrace the idea of a never-ending cycle of births and deaths – Hinduism and Buddhism – share a horror of the futility of it all. Millions upon millions of times I learn how to walk, I grow up, I fight with my mother-in-law, I get sick, I die – and then do it all over again. What’s the point? If I accumulated all the tears I have shed in all my previous lives, they would fill the Pacific Ocean; if I gathered together all the teeth and hair I have lost, they would be higher than the Himalayas. And what have I got to show for all that? No wonder that Hindu and Buddhist sages have both focused much of their efforts on finding a way to get off this merry-go-round rather than to perpetuate it. The second problem with this theory is the paucity of supporting evidence. What proof have I got that in a past life I was a medieval peasant, a Neanderthal hunter, a Tyrannosaurus rex, or an amoeba (if I really lived millions of lives, I must have been a dinosaur and an amoeba at some point, for humans have existed for only the last 2.5 million years)? Who vouches that in the future I will be reborn as a cyborg, an intergalactic explorer, or even a frog? Basing my life on this promise is a bit like selling my house in exchange for a post-dated cheque drawn on a bank above the clouds.

  400. That ‘something tangible’ could take one of two forms: cultural or biological. I might leave behind a poem, say, or some of my precious genes. My life has meaning because people will still read my poem a hundred years from now, or because my kids and grandchildren will still be around. And what is the meaning of their lives? Well, that’s their problem, not mine. The meaning of life is thus a bit like playing with a live hand grenade. Once you pass it on to somebody else, you are safe.

  401. Since they left nothing behind it is all too easy to posthumously recruit them to this or that cause, and they cannot even protest.

  402. If we cannot leave something tangible behind – such as a gene or a poem – perhaps it is enough if we just make the world a little better? You can help somebody, and that somebody will subsequently help somebody else, and you thereby contribute to the overall improvement of the world, and constitute a small link in the great chain of kindness. Maybe you serve as a mentor for a difficult but brilliant child, who goes on to be a doctor who saves the lives of hundreds? Maybe you help an old lady cross the street, and brighten up an hour of her life? Though it has its merits, the great chain of kindness is a bit like the great chain of turtles – it is far from clear where its meaning comes from. A wise old man was asked what he learned about the meaning of life. ‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I have learned that I am here on earth in order to help other people. What I still haven’t figured out is why the other people are here.’

  403. If you are really in love with someone, you never worry about the meaning of life… And what if you are not in love? Well, if you believe in the romantic story but you are not in love, you at least know what the aim of your life is: to find true love. You have seen it in countless movies and read about it in innumerable books. You know that one day you will meet that special someone, you will see infinity inside two sparkling eyes, your entire life will suddenly make sense, and all the questions you ever had will be answered by repeating one name over and over again, just like Tony in West Side Story or Romeo upon seeing Juliet looking down at him from the balcony.

  404. While a good story must give me a role, and must extend beyond my horizons, it need not be true.

  405. Most people who go on identity quests are like children going treasure hunting. They find only what their parents have hidden for them in advance.

  406. Even if not, it takes strong nerves to question the very fabric of society.

  407. Consider the Christian story. It has the flimsiest of foundations. What evidence do we have that the son of the Creator of the entire universe was born as a carbon-based life form somewhere in the Milky Way about 2,000 years ago? What evidence do we have that it happened in the Galilee area, and that His mother was a virgin? Yet enormous global institutions have been built on top of that story, and their weight presses down with such overwhelming force that they keep the story in place. Entire wars have been waged about changing a single word in the story.

  408. Already thousands of years ago priests and shamans discovered the answer: rituals. A ritual is a magical act that makes the abstract concrete and the fictional real. The essence of ritual is the magical spell ‘Hocus pocus, X is Y!’

  409. There is hardly a dish in the world that hasn’t been interpreted to symbolise something. Thus on New Year’s Day religious Jews eat honey so that the coming year will be sweet, they eat fish heads so that they will be fruitful like fish and will move forward rather than back, and they eat pomegranates so that their good deeds will multiply like the many seeds of the pomegranate.

  410. In the military, discipline and ritual are inseparable, and soldiers from ancient Rome to the present day spend countless hours marching in formation, saluting superiors, and shining boots. Napoleon famously observed that he could make men sacrifice their lives for a colourful ribbon.

  411. Perhaps nobody understood the political importance of rituals better than Confucius, who saw the strict observance of rites (li) as the key to social harmony and political stability. Confucian classics such as The Book of Rites, The Rites of Zhou and The Book of Etiquette and Rites recorded in the minutest details which rite should be performed at which state occasion, down to the number of ritual vessels used in the ceremony, the type of musical instruments played, and the colours of the robes to be worn. Whenever China was hit by some crisis, Confucian scholars were quick to blame it on the neglect of rites, like a sergeant major who blames military defeat on slack soldiers not shining their boots. In the modern West, the Confucian obsession with rituals has often been seen as a sign of shallowness and archaism. In fact, it probably testifies to Confucius’ profound and timeless appreciation of human nature. It is perhaps no coincidence that Confucian cultures – first and foremost in China, but also in neighbouring Korea, Vietnam and Japan – produced extremely long-lasting social and political structures. If you want to know the ultimate truth of life, rites and rituals are a huge obstacle. But if you are interested – like Confucius – in social stability and harmony, truth is often a liability, whereas rites and rituals are among your best allies.

  412. For many people in 2018, two wooden sticks nailed together are God, a colourful poster on the wall is the Revolution, and a piece of cloth flapping in the wind is the Nation.

  413. tricolour and hear the ‘Marseillaise’. So by waving a colourful flag and singing an anthem you transform the nation from an abstract story into a tangible reality.

  414. Tiranga (literally, tricolour), because it consists of three stripes of saffron, white and green.

  415. The saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to the soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka wheel in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or Satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of all those who work under this flag.

  416. In 2017 India’s nationalist government hoisted one of the largest flags in the world at Attari on the Indo-Pakistan border, in a gesture calculated to inspire neither renunciation nor disinterestedness, but rather Pakistani envy. That particular Tiranga was 36 metres long and 24 metres wide, and was hoisted on a 110-metre-high flag post (what would Freud have said about that?). The flag could be seen as far as the Pakistani metropolis of Lahore. Unfortunately, strong winds kept tearing the flag, and national pride required that it be stitched together again and again, at great cost to Indian taxpayers. Why does the Indian government invest scarce resources in weaving enormous flags, instead of building sewage systems in Delhi’s slums? Because the flag makes India real in a way that sewage systems do not.

  417. Indeed, the very cost of the flag makes the ritual more effective. Of all rituals, sacrifice is the most potent, because of all the things in the world, suffering is the most real. You can never ignore it or doubt it. If you want to make people really believe in some fiction, entice them to make a sacrifice on its behalf. Once you suffer for a story, it is usually enough to convince you that the story is real. If you fast because God commanded you to do so, the tangible feeling of hunger makes God present more than any statue or icon. If you lose your legs in a patriotic war, your stumps and wheelchair make the nation more real than any poem or anthem. On a less grandiose level, by preferring to buy inferior local pasta to imported high-quality Italian pasta you might make a small daily sacrifice that makes the nation feel real even in the supermarket.

  418. Maybe you are just paying the price of your gullibility? However, most people don’t like to admit that they are fools. Consequently, the more they sacrifice for a particular belief, the stronger their faith becomes. This is the mysterious alchemy of sacrifice. In order to bring us under his power, the sacrificing priest need not give us anything – neither rain, nor money, nor victory in war. Rather, he needs to take away something. Once he convinces us to make some painful sacrifice, we are trapped.

  419. It works in the commercial world, too. If you buy a second-hand Fiat for $2,000, you are likely to complain about it to anyone willing to hear. But if you buy a brand-new Ferrari for $200,000, you will sing its praises far and wide, not because it is such a good car, but because you have paid so much money for it that you must believe it is the most wonderful thing in the world. Even in romance, any aspiring Romeo or Werther knows that without sacrifice, there is no true love. The sacrifice is not just a way to convince your lover that you are serious – it is also a way to convince yourself that you are really in love. Why do you think women ask their lovers to bring them diamond rings? Once the lover makes such a huge financial sacrifice, he must convince himself that it was for a worthy cause.

  420. ‘But the blessed martyrs died for this! Do you dare say that they died for nothing? Do you think these heroes were fools?’

  421. Alternatively, if martyrs are scarce and people are unwilling to sacrifice themselves, the sacrificing priest may get them to sacrifice somebody else instead. You might sacrifice a human to the vengeful god Ba’al, burn a heretic at the stake for the greater glory of Jesus Christ, execute adulterous women because Allah said so, or send class enemies to the Gulag. Once you do that, a slightly different alchemy of sacrifice begins to work its magic on you. When you inflict suffering on yourself in the name of some story, it gives you a choice: ‘Either the story is true, or I am a gullible fool.’ When you inflict suffering on others, you are also given a choice: ‘Either the story is true, or I am a cruel villain.’ And just as we don’t want to admit we are fools, we also don’t want to admit we are villains, so we prefer to believe that the story is true.

  422. Christianity and Islam killed far more people in the name of God than did the followers of Ba’al or Huitzilopochtli. At a time when the Spanish conquistadores stopped all human sacrifices to the Aztec and Inca gods, back home in Spain the Inquisition was burning heretics by the cartload.

  423. By inflicting such difficulties on hundreds of thousands of citizens, the religious parties prove and entrench their unwavering faith in Judaism. Though no blood is shed, the well-being of many people is still being sacrificed. If Judaism is just a fictional story, then it is a cruel and heartless thing to prevent a grandmother from visiting her grandchildren or to prevent an impoverished student from going to have some fun on the beach. By nevertheless doing so, the religious parties tell the world – and tell themselves – that they really believe in the Jewish story. What, do you think they enjoy harming people for no good reason whatsoever?

  424. How many Christians really follow the Ten Commandments to the letter, never lying or coveting? How many Buddhists have so far reached the stage of egolessness? How many socialists work to the utmost of their ability while taking no more than they really need?

  425. Unable to live up to the ideal, people turn to sacrifice as a solution. A Hindu may engage in tax frauds, visit the occasional prostitute and mistreat his elderly parents, but then convince himself that he is a very pious person, because he supports the destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya and has even donated money to build a Hindu temple in its stead. Just as in ancient times, so also in the twenty-first century, the human quest for meaning all too often ends with a succession of sacrifices.

  426. Similarly, you can find plenty of Bernie Sanders supporters who have a vague belief in some future revolution, while also believing in the importance of investing your money wisely. They can easily switch from discussing the unjust distribution of wealth in the world to discussing the performance of their Wall Street investments.

  427. Hardly anyone has just one identity. Nobody is just a Muslim, or just an Italian, or just a capitalist. But every now and then a fanatical creed comes along and insists that people should believe in only one story and have only one identity.

  428. while nationalism teaches me that my nation is unique and that I have special obligations towards it, fascism says that my nation is supreme, and that I owe my nation exclusive obligations.

  429. How does a fascist evaluate art? How does a fascist know whether a movie is a good movie? Very simple. There is just one yardstick. If the movie serves the national interests, it is a good movie. If the movie does not serve the national interests, it is a bad movie. And how does a fascist decide what to teach kids in school? He uses the same yardstick. Teach the kids whatever serves the interests of the nation; the truth does not matter.

  430. This worship of the nation is extremely attractive, not only because it simplifies many difficult dilemmas, but also because it causes people to think that they belong to the most important and most beautiful thing in the world – their nation. The horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust indicate the terrible consequences of this line of thinking. Unfortunately, when people talk of the ills of fascism they often do a poor job, because they tend to depict fascism as a hideous monster while failing to explain what is so seductive about it. This is why today people sometimes adopt fascist ideas without realising it. People think, ‘I was taught that fascism is ugly, and when I look in the mirror I see something very beautiful, so I cannot be a fascist.’ It is a bit like the mistake Hollywood movies make when they depict the bad guys – Voldemort, Lord Sauron, Darth Vader – as ugly and mean. They are usually cruel and nasty even towards their most loyal supporters. What I never understand when watching such movies is why anyone would be tempted to follow a disgusting creep like Voldemort.

  431. The word ‘fascism’ comes from the Latin ‘fascis’, meaning ‘a bundle of rods’.

  432. However, once you bundle many rods together into a fascis, it becomes almost impossible to break them. This implies that the individual is a thing of no consequence, but as long as the collective sticks together, it is very powerful. Fascists therefore believe in privileging the interests of the collective over those of any individual, and demand that no single rod ever dare break the unity of the bundle.

  433. Somewhere in their minds they maintained some other stories about the world, and no sooner had Hitler fired a bullet through his brain, than people in Berlin, Hamburg and Munich adopted new identities and found new meanings to their lives.

  434. True, about 20 per cent of the Nazi gauleiters – the regional party leaders – committed suicide, as did about 10 per cent of generals. But that means that 80 per cent of gauleiters and 90 per cent of generals were quite happy to live on. The vast majority of card-holding Nazis and even of the SS rank and file neither went insane nor killed themselves. They went on to be productive farmers, teachers, doctors and insurance agents.

  435. In the same breath, the Islamic State also declared that all the Muslims killed by the French air force were martyrs, who now enjoy eternal bliss in heaven.

  436. Something here doesn’t make sense. If indeed the martyrs killed by the French air force are now in heaven, why should anyone seek revenge for it? Revenge for what, exactly? For sending people to heaven? If you just heard that your beloved brother won a million dollars in the lottery, would you start blowing up lottery stalls in revenge? So why go rampaging in Paris just because the French air force gave a few of your brothers a one-way ticket to paradise? It would be even worse if you indeed managed to deter the French from carrying out further bombings in Syria. For in that case, fewer Muslims would get to heaven.

  437. In all likelihood, the answer is that they hold on to two contradictory stories, without thinking too much about the inconsistencies. As noted earlier, some neurons are just not on speaking terms with one another.

  438. A crusader knight, Jean de Joinville, later wrote in his memoirs that when the battle was lost and they decided to surrender, one of his men said that ‘I cannot agree with this decision. What I advise is that we should all let ourselves be slain, for thus we shall go to paradise.’ Joinville comments dryly that ‘none of us heeded his advice’. Joinville does not explain why they refused. After all, these were men who left their comfortable chateaux in France for a long and perilous adventure in the Middle East largely because they believed the promise of eternal salvation. Why, then, when they were but a moment away from the everlasting bliss of paradise, did they prefer Muslim captivity instead? Apparently, though the crusaders fervently believed in salvation and paradise, at the moment of truth they opted to hedge their bets.

  439. Throughout history almost all humans believed in several stories at the same time, and were never absolutely convinced of the truth of any one of them. This uncertainty rattled most religions, which therefore considered faith to be a cardinal virtue and doubt to be among the worst sins possible. As if there was something intrinsically good about believing things without evidence. With the rise of modern culture, however, the tables were turned. Faith looked increasingly like mental slavery, while doubt came to be seen as a precondition for freedom.

  440. Some people cannot stand so much freedom and uncertainty. Modern totalitarian movements such as fascism reacted violently to the supermarket of doubtful ideas, and outdid even traditional religions in demanding absolute faith in a single story. Most modern people, however, took a liking to the supermarket. What do you do when you don’t know what life is all about and which story to believe? You sanctify the very ability to choose. You forever stand there in the supermarket aisle, with the power and freedom to choose whatever you like, examining the products laid out before you, and … freeze that frame, cut, The End. Run credits.

  441. All the stories on the supermarket shelves are fakes. The meaning of life isn’t a ready-made product. There is no divine script, and nothing outside me can give meaning to my life. It is I who imbue everything with meaning through my free choices and through my own feelings.

  442. It is our own human fingers that wrote the Bible, the Quran and the Vedas, and it is our minds that give these stories power. They are no doubt beautiful stories, but their beauty is strictly in the eyes of the beholder. Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi and Bodh Gaya are sacred places, but only because of the feelings humans experience when they go there. In itself, the universe is only a meaningless hodge-podge of atoms. Nothing is beautiful, sacred or sexy – but human feelings make it so. It is only human feelings that make a red apple seductive and a turd disgusting. Take away human feelings, and you are left with a bunch of molecules.

  443. We hope to find meaning by fitting ourselves into some ready-made story about the universe, but according to the liberal interpretation of the world, the truth is exactly the opposite. The universe does not give me meaning. I give meaning to the universe. This is my cosmic vocation. I have no fixed destiny or dharma. If I find myself in Simba’s or Arjuna’s shoes, I can choose to fight for the crown of a kingdom, but I don’t have to. I can just as well join a wandering circus, go to Broadway to sing in a musical, or move to Silicon Valley and launch a start-up. I am free to create my own dharma.

  444. Thus, like all other cosmic stories, the liberal story too starts with a creation narrative. It says that the creation occurs every moment, and I am the creator.

  445. Creativity can manifest itself in writing a poem, exploring your sexuality, inventing a new app, or discovering an unknown chemical. Fighting for liberty includes anything that frees people from social, biological and physical constraints, be it demonstrating against brutal dictators, teaching girls to read, finding a cure for cancer, or building a spaceship. The liberal pantheon of heroes houses Rosa Parks and Pablo Picasso alongside Louis Pasteur and the Wright brothers.

  446. Unfortunately, human freedom and human creativity are not what the liberal story imagines them to be. To the best of our scientific understanding, there is no magic behind our choices and creations. They are the product of billions of neurons exchanging biochemical signals, and even if you liberate humans from the yoke of the Catholic Church and the Soviet Union, their choices will still be dictated by biochemical algorithms as ruthless as the Inquisition and the KGB.

  447. Liberalism has a particularly confused notion of ‘free will’.

  448. If by ‘free will’ you mean the freedom to do what you desire – then yes, humans have free will. But if by ‘free will’ you mean the freedom to choose what to desire – then no, humans have no free will.

  449. I don’t tell the neurons when to fire. Ultimately we should realise that we do not control our desires, or even our reactions to these desires. Realising this can help us become less obsessive about our opinions, about our feelings, and about our desires. We don’t have free will, but we can be a bit more free from the tyranny of our will. Humans usually give so much importance to their desires that they try to control and shape the entire world according to these desires. In pursuit of their cravings, humans fly to the moon, wage world wars, and destabilise the entire ecosystem. If we understand that our desires are not the magical manifestations of free choice, but rather are the product of biochemical processes (influenced by cultural factors that are also beyond our control), we might be less preoccupied with them. It is better to understand ourselves, our minds and our desires rather than try to realise whatever fantasy pops up in our heads.

  450. And in order to understand ourselves, a crucial step is to acknowledge that the ‘self’ is a fictional story that the intricate mechanisms of our mind constantly manufacture, update and rewrite. There is a storyteller in my mind that explains who I am, where I am coming from, where I am heading to, and what is happening right now. Like the government spin doctors who explain the latest political upheavals, the inner narrator repeatedly gets things wrong but rarely, if ever, admits it. And just as the government builds up a national myth with flags, icons and parades, so my inner propaganda machine builds up a personal myth with prized memories and cherished traumas that often bear little resemblance to the truth.

  451. In the age of Facebook and Instagram you can observe this myth-making process more clearly than ever before, because some of it has been outsourced from the mind to the computer. It is fascinating and terrifying to behold people who spend countless hours constructing and embellishing a perfect self online, becoming attached to their own creation, and mistaking it for the truth about themselves. That’s how a family holiday fraught with traffic jams, petty squabbles and tense silences becomes a collection of beautiful panoramas, perfect dinners and smiling faces; 99 per cent of what we experience never becomes part of the story of the self. It is particularly noteworthy that our fantasy self tends to be very visual, whereas our actual experiences are corporeal. In the fantasy, you observe a scene in your mind’s eye or on the computer screen. You see yourself standing on a tropical beach, the blue sea behind you, a big smile on your face, one hand holding a cocktail, the other arm around your lover’s waist. Paradise. What the picture does not show is the annoying fly that bites your leg, the cramped feeling in your stomach from eating that rotten fish soup, the tension in your jaw as you fake a big smile, and the ugly fight the happy couple had five minutes ago. If we could only feel what the people in the photos felt while taking them! Hence if you really want to understand yourself, you should not identify with your Facebook account or with the inner story of the self. Instead, you should observe the actual flow of body and mind. You will see thoughts, emotions and desires appear and disappear without much reason and without any command from you, just as different winds blow from this or that direction and mess up your hair. And just as you are not the winds, so also you are not the jumble of thoughts, emotions and desires you experience, and you are certainly not the sanitised story you tell about them with hindsight. You experience all of them, but you don’t control them, you don’t own them, and you are not them. People ask ‘Who am I?’ and expect to be told a story. The first thing you need to know about yourself, is that you are not a story.

  452. Liberalism took a radical step in denying all cosmic dramas, but then recreated the drama within the human being – the universe has no plot, so it is up to us humans to create a plot, and this is our vocation and the meaning of our life.

  453. Thousands of years before our liberal age, ancient Buddhism went further by denying not just all cosmic dramas, but even the inner drama of human creation. The universe has no meaning, and human feelings too are not part of a great cosmic tale. They are ephemeral vibrations, appearing and disappearing for no particular purpose. That’s the truth. Get over it.

  454. The Buddha taught that the three basic realities of the universe are that everything is constantly changing, nothing has any enduring essence, and nothing is completely satisfying.

  455. Suffering emerges because people fail to appreciate this. They believe that there is some eternal essence somewhere, and if they can only find it and connect to it, they will be completely satisfied. This eternal essence is sometimes called God, sometimes the nation, sometimes the soul, sometimes the authentic self, and sometimes true love – and the more people are attached to it, the more disappointed and miserable they become due to the failure to find it. Worse yet, the greater the attachment, the greater the hatred such people develop towards any person, group or institution that seems to stand between them and their cherished goal.

  456. According to the Buddha, then, life has no meaning, and people don’t need to create any meaning. They just need to realise that there is no meaning, and thus be liberated from the suffering caused by our attachments and our identification with empty phenomena. ‘What should I do?’ ask people, and the Buddha advises: ‘Do nothing. Absolutely nothing.’ The whole problem is that we constantly do something. Not necessarily on the physical level – we can sit immobile for hours with closed eyes – yet on the mental level we are extremely busy creating stories and identities, fighting battles and winning victories. To really do nothing means that the mind too does nothing and creates nothing.

  457. Then the epic starts expanding, and people embark on a quest not just to liberate themselves from their own attachments, but also to convince others to do so. Having accepted that life has no meaning, I find meaning in explaining this truth to others, arguing with the unbelievers, giving lectures to the sceptics, donating money to build monasteries, and so on. ‘No story’ can all too easily become just another story.

  458. The history of Buddhism provides a thousand examples of how people who believe in the transience and emptiness of all phenomena, and in the importance of having no attachments, can squabble and fight over the government of a country, the possession of a building, or even the meaning of a word. Fighting other people because you believe in the glory of an eternal God is unfortunate but understandable; fighting other people because you believe in the emptiness of all phenomena is truly bizarre – but so very human.

  459. In the eighteenth century, the royal dynasties of both Burma and neighbouring Siam prided themselves on their devotion to the Buddha, and gained legitimacy by protecting the Buddhist faith. The kings endowed monasteries, built pagodas, and listened every week to learned monks who preached eloquent sermons on the five basic moral commitments of every human being: to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual abuse, deception and intoxication. The two kingdoms nevertheless fought each other relentlessly. On 7 April 1767 the army of the Burmese king Hsinbyushin stormed the capital of Siam, after a long siege. The victorious troops killed, looted, raped and probably also got intoxicated here and there. They then burned down much of the city, with its palaces, monasteries and pagodas, and carried home thousands of slaves and cartloads of gold and jewels. Not that King Hsinbyushin took his Buddhism lightly. Seven years after his great victory, the king made a royal progression down the great Irrawaddy River, worshipping at the important pagodas on the way, and asking Buddha to bless his armies with more victories. When Hsinbyushin reached Rangoon, he rebuilt and expanded the most sacred structure in all Burma – the Shwedagon Pagoda. He then gilded the enlarged edifice with his own weight in gold, and erected a gold spire on top of the pagoda and studded it with precious gems (perhaps looted from Siam). He also used the occasion to execute the captive king of Pegu, his brother and his son. In 1930s Japan, people even found imaginative ways to combine Buddhist doctrines with nationalism, militarism and fascism. Radical Buddhist thinkers such as Nissho Inoue, Ikki Kita and Tanaka Chigaku argued that in order to dissolve one’s egoistic attachments, people should completely give themselves up to the emperor, cut away all personal thinking, and observe total loyalty to the nation. Various ultra-nationalist organisations were inspired by such ideas, including a fanatical military group that sought to overthrow Japan’s conservative political system by a campaign of assassination. They murdered the former finance minister, the director general of the Mitsui corporation, and eventually the prime minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. They thereby speeded up the transformation of Japan into a military dictatorship. When the military then embarked on war, Buddhist priests and Zen meditation masters preached selfless obedience to state authority and recommended self-sacrifice for the war effort. In contrast, Buddhist teachings on compassion and non-violence were somehow forgotten, and had no perceptible influence on the behaviour of Japanese troops in Nanjing, Manila or Seoul. Today, the human rights record of Buddhist Myanmar is among the worst in the world, and a Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, leads the anti-Muslim movement in the country. He claims that he only wants to protect Myanmar and Buddhism against Muslim jihadi conspiracies, but his sermons and articles are so inflammatory, that in February 2018 Facebook removed his page, citing its prohibition on hate speech. During a 2017 interview for the Guardian the monk preached compassion for a passing mosquito, but when confronted with allegations that Muslim women have been raped by the Myanmar military he laughed and said ‘Impossible. Their bodies are too disgusting.’ There is very little chance that world peace and global harmony will come once 8 billion humans start meditating regularly. Observing the truth about yourself is just so difficult! Even if you somehow manage to get most humans to try it, many of us will quickly distort the truth we encounter into some story with heroes, villains and enemies, and find really good excuses to go to war.

  460. The big question facing humans isn’t ‘what is the meaning of life?’ but rather, ‘how do we get out of suffering?’ When you give up all the fictional stories, you can observe reality with far greater clarity than before, and if you really know the truth about yourself and about the world, nothing can make you miserable. But that is of course much easier said than done.

  461. Overlooking this difference has been a matter of survival for us. If you nevertheless want to know the difference, the place to start is with suffering. Because the most real thing in the world is suffering.

  462. When you are confronted by some great story, and you wish to know whether it is real or imaginary, one of the key questions to ask is whether the central hero of the story can suffer.

  463. Can a nation really suffer? Has a nation eyes, hands, senses, affections and passions? If you prick it, can it bleed? Obviously not. If it is defeated in war, loses a province, or even forfeits its independence, still it cannot experience pain, sadness or any other kind of misery, for it has no body, no mind, and no feelings whatsoever. In truth, it is just a metaphor.

  464. When in May 1831 news reached Warsaw of the Polish defeat at the battle of Ostrołęka, human stomachs twisted in distress, human chests heaved with pain, human eyes filled with tears.

  465. Whenever politicians start talking in mystical terms, beware. They might be trying to disguise and excuse real suffering by wrapping it up in big incomprehensible words. Be particularly careful about the following four words: sacrifice, eternity, purity, redemption. If you hear any of these, sound the alarm. And if you happen to live in a country whose leader routinely says things like ‘Their sacrifice will redeem the purity of our eternal nation’ – know that you are in deep trouble. To save your sanity, always try to translate such hogwash into real terms: a soldier crying in agony, a woman beaten and brutalised, a child shaking in fear.

  466. So if you want to know the truth about the universe, about the meaning of life, and about your own identity, the best place to start is by observing suffering and exploring what it is. The answer isn’t a story.

  467. Having criticised so many stories, religions and ideologies, it is only fair that I put myself in the firing line too, and explain how somebody so sceptical can still manage to wake up cheerful in the morning. I hesitate to do so partly for fear of self-indulgence, and partly because I don’t want to give the wrong impression, as if what works for me will work for everybody. I am very aware that the quirks of my genes, neurons, personal history and dharma are not shared by everyone. But it is perhaps good that readers should at least know which hues colour the glasses through which I see the world, thereby distorting my vision and my writing.

  468. All I got from the people around me and from the books I read were elaborate fictions: religious myths about gods and heavens, nationalist myths about the motherland and its historical mission, romantic myths about love and adventure, or capitalist myths about economic growth and how buying and consuming stuff will make me happy. I had enough sense to realise that these were probably all fictions, but I had no idea how to find truth.

  469. When I began studying at university, I thought it would be the ideal place to find answers. But I was disappointed. The academic world provided me with powerful tools to deconstruct all the myths humans ever create, but it didn’t offer satisfying answers to the big questions of life. On the contrary, it encouraged me to focus on narrower and narrower questions. I eventually found myself writing a doctorate at the University of Oxford about autobiographical texts of medieval soldiers. As a side hobby I kept reading a lot of philosophy books and having lots of philosophical debates, but though this provided endless intellectual entertainment, it hardly provided real insight. It was extremely frustrating.

  470. Eventually my good friend Ron Merom suggested that I try putting aside all the books and intellectual discussions for a few days, and take a Vipassana meditation course. (‘Vipassana’ means ‘introspection’ in the Pali language of ancient India.) I thought it was some New Age mumbo-jumbo, and since I had no interest in hearing yet another mythology, I declined to go. But after a year of patient nudging, in April 2000 he got me to go to a ten-day Vipassana retreat.

  471. The teacher at the course, S. N. Goenka, instructed the students to sit with crossed legs and closed eyes, and to focus all their attention on the breath coming in and out of their nostrils. ‘Don’t do anything,’ he kept saying. ‘Don’t try to control the breath or to breathe in any particular way. Just observe the reality of the present moment, whatever it may be. When the breath comes in, you are just aware – now the breath is coming in. When the breath goes out, you are just aware – now the breath is going out. And when you lose your focus and your mind starts wandering in memories and fantasies, you are just aware – now my mind has wandered away from the breath.’ It was the most important thing anybody ever told me. When people ask the big questions of life, they usually have absolutely no interest in knowing when their breath is coming into their nostrils and when is it going out. Rather, they want to know things like what happens after you die. Yet the real enigma of life is not what happens after you die, but what happens before you die. If you want to understand death, you need to understand life.

  472. The closer you observe yourself, the more obvious it becomes that nothing endures even from one moment to the next.

  473. The first thing I learned by observing my breath was that notwithstanding all the books I had read and all the classes I had attended at university, I knew almost nothing about my mind, and I had very little control over it. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t observe the reality of my breath coming in and out of my nostrils for more than ten seconds before the mind wandered away. For years I lived under the impression that I was the master of my life, and the CEO of my own personal brand. But a few hours of meditation were enough to show me that I hardly had any control of myself. I was not the CEO – I was barely the gatekeeper. I was asked to stand at the gateway of my body – the nostrils – and just observe whatever comes in or goes out. Yet after a few moments I lost my focus and abandoned my post. It was an eye-opening experience.

  474. The technique of Vipassana is based on the insight that the flow of mind is closely interlinked with body sensations. Between me and the world there are always body sensations. I never react to events in the outside world; I always react to the sensations in my own body. When the sensation is unpleasant, I react with aversion. When the sensation is pleasant, I react with cravings for more. Even when we think we react to what another person has done, to President Trump’s latest tweet, or to a distant childhood memory, the truth is we always react to our immediate bodily sensations. If we are outraged that somebody insulted our nation or our god, what makes the insult unbearable is the burning sensations in the pit of our stomach and the band of pain that grips our heart. Our nation feels nothing, but our body really hurts.

  475. You want to know what anger is? Well, just observe the sensations that arise and pass in your body while you are angry.

  476. Whenever I had been angry, I focused on the object of my anger – something somebody did or said – rather than on the sensory reality of the anger.

  477. I just had to observe reality as it is. The most important thing I realised was that the deepest source of my suffering is in the patterns of my own mind. When I want something and it doesn’t happen, my mind reacts by generating suffering. Suffering is not an objective condition in the outside world. It is a mental reaction generated by my own mind. Learning this is the first step towards ceasing to generate more suffering.

  478. Since that first course in 2000, I began meditating for two hours every day, and each year I take a long meditation retreat of a month or two. It is not an escape from reality. It is getting in touch with reality. At least for two hours a day I actually observe reality as it is, while for the other twenty-two hours I get overwhelmed by emails and tweets and cute-puppy videos. Without the focus and clarity provided by this practice, I could not have written Sapiens or Homo Deus. At least for me, meditation never came into conflict with scientific research. Rather, it has been another valuable tool in the scientific toolkit, especially when trying to understand the human mind.

  479. However, so far we have absolutely no explanation for how the mind emerges from the brain.

  480. As of 2018, the only mind I can access directly is my own. If I want to know what other sentient beings are experiencing, I can do so only on the basis of second-hand reports, which naturally suffer from numerous distortions and limitations.

  481. free from preconceptions and prejudices.

  482. The scientific study of mind seldom follows this anthropological model. Whereas anthropologists often report their visits to distant islands and mysterious countries, scholars of consciousness rarely undertake such personal journeys to the realms of mind.

  483. The methods they developed are bunched together under the generic term ‘meditation’. Today this term is often associated with religion and mysticism, but in principle meditation is any method for direct observation of one’s own mind.

  484. Many religions have also made extensive use of books, yet that doesn’t mean using books is a religious practice.

  485. Vipassana is said to have been discovered in ancient India by the Buddha.

  486. But you need not believe any of them in order to meditate. The teacher from whom I have learned Vipassana, Goenka, was a very practical kind of guide. He repeatedly instructed students that when they observe the mind they must put aside all second-hand descriptions, religious dogmas and philosophical conjectures, and focus on their own experience and on whatever reality they actually encounter. Every day numerous students would come to his room to seek guidance and ask questions. At the entrance to the room a sign said: ‘Please avoid theoretical and philosophical discussions, and focus your questions on matters related to your actual practice.’

  487. The actual practice means to observe body sensations and mental reactions to sensations in a methodical, continuous and objective manner, thereby uncovering the basic patterns of the mind. People sometimes turn meditation into a pursuit of special experiences of bliss and ecstasy. Yet in truth, consciousness is the greatest mystery in the universe, and mundane feelings of heat and itching are every bit as mysterious as feelings of rapture or cosmic oneness. Vipassana meditators are cautioned never to embark on a search for special experiences, but to concentrate on understanding the reality of their minds whatever this reality might be.

  488. You miss most of its potential if instead of meditating yourself, you monitor electrical activities in the brain of some other meditator.

  489. It’s a bit like engineers excavating a tunnel through a huge mountain. Why dig from only one side? Better dig simultaneously from both. If the brain and the mind are indeed one and the same, the two tunnels are bound to meet. And if the brain and the mind aren’t the same? Then it is all the more important to dig into the mind, and not just into the brain.

  490. Yet this process is still in its infancy, partly because it requires extraordinary investment on the part of the researchers. Serious meditation demands a tremendous amount of discipline. If you try to objectively observe your sensations, the first thing you’ll notice is how wild and impatient the mind is. Even if you focus on observing a relatively distinct sensation such as the breath coming in and out of your nostrils, your mind could usually do it for no more than a few seconds before it loses its focus and starts wandering in thoughts, memories and dreams.

  491. When a microscope goes out of focus, we just need to turn a small handle. If the handle is broken, we can call a technician to repair it. But when the mind loses focus we cannot repair it so easily. It usually takes a lot of training to calm down and concentrate the mind so it can start observing itself methodically and objectively.

  492. After all, even today we can easily concentrate the mind by watching a good thriller on TV – but the mind is so focused on the movie that it cannot observe its own dynamics.

  493. If we are willing to make such efforts in order to understand foreign cultures, unknown species and distant planets, it might be worth working just as hard in order to understand our own minds. And we had better understand our minds before the algorithms make our minds up for us.

  494. Sometimes I just needed to think what David might say, to work extra hard on the text.

  495. To my spouse and manager Itzik, without whom none of this would have happened. I only know how to write books. He does everything else.

  496. And finally to all my readers for their interest, time and comments. If a book sits in a library and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?