BOOK REVIEW

Reading Noah Harari: thoughts of a 21st century wanderer

Ishtiaque Foysol | Published: 00:00, Jun 16,2019 | Updated: 16:37, Aug 16,2019

 
 

Yuval Noah Harari is a history professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Two of Harari’s best sellers — Sapiens (2014) and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) — has gained profound critical acclamation. His narration deals with cognitive development of human beings as a species, presents fresh interpretations of historical landmarks of our development and anticipates the future of the species. Yuval Noah Harari’s narrative is thought provoking, thrilling and brief, reviews Ishtiaque Foysol

I.

A writer’s utmost success might be that the readers either feel unity with the writing or see reflections of what exactly they think but cannot express in a coherent way.

In that sense Yuval Noah Harari is one of them who is being respected as a Noah at the helm of the ark of wandering wonderer of the bewildered 21st century.

Much more have been written about Harari — both appreciation and criticism — but this author deserves farther subtle readings to get the pulse and applicability of his writings.

His unique and ground breaking hypothesis on the final destination of Homo sapience has already secured a place in contemporary popular culture. Perhaps Dan Brown’s 2017 novel Origin depicted a Yuval Noah Harari under the guise of Edmond Kirsch.

His books have also created much hype among geeks who want a deeper knowledge of the world as well as drawn critical attention of data Mughal like Bill Gates.



II.

Two of Harari’s best sellers — Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century — have briefed the history of a primitive to fast changing world and a guideline on how to survive in that chaos. Readers may find these two books are extended commentary on his articles published on his blogs and newspapers; but those are worth reading and a must have in bookshelf.

The books can be considered as manual pages to the human thinking pattern and their course of actions that a ‘hacker mind’ can script quick solutions to the present and upcoming problems.

Those can also be used as 101 courses to study the ‘source code’ of the history of human civilisation and philosophy that avid thinkers can utilise to develop and/or build applications their own.

Readers at some point may either agree with Bill Gates that ‘...Harari has not produced a satisfying answer yet...’ or consider him a nutty professor looking for those ‘satisfying answers’ himself and inspiring geeky minds to do so!

His scourge of criticism, on the other hand, has peeled a little off the myths and some facts centring his country and religion which is enough to provoke legal action and ‘intellectual criticism’ in many countries.

The book Sapiens so far described an unbiased history of humankind and focused on some crucial queries related to human existence like whether there is justice in history, whether Homo sapiens is the best species in animal kingdom, their happiness and fulfilment, socio political revolutions and their outcomes, the ‘grey line’ between imagination and reality, the origin of human language et cetera.

His writings may seem pessimistic or nihilistic at the first glance. But a careful reading would indicate that the book, aside from describing history, pin points unwise development of a self-contradictory species that might face extinction or an unexpected evolution before knowing themselves properly.

Every chapter in Sapiens has exciting narratives of human history, however, the second one ‘The agricultural revolution: History's biggest fraud’ is an interesting reading that discussed how one of the biggest revolutions of human race is exploited by themselves to satisfy their primitive instincts written in their DNA.

Chapter 20, ‘The End of Homo sapiens,’ is the keynote of the around 500 page book which is well documented and a good to read. The chapter may sound a bit cyberpunk fiction; but the expert netizens — search engine ninjas who can filter and process the authentic information out of thin air — have at least the basic idea of ‘...the feedback loop between science, empire and capital … history’s chief engine for the past 500 years’.

Readers may find 21 Lessons for 21st Century a book of salvation or motivational one, interestingly, the author does not suggest any ‘tutorial’ or ‘how to’ on surviving in a world of total chaos neither try to bring any order in it.

This is clarified on the introduction of the book ‘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… this book is not intended as a historical narrative, but rather as a selection of lessons. These lessons do not conclude with simple answers. They aim to stimulate further thinking, and help readers participate in some of the major conversations of our time.’

This participation is a must because ‘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?’

The dedication page of 21 Lessons for 21st Century and passages on God at section 13 (don’t know whether it was intentional) are bold, straightforward and thought provoking.

Section 9 and 10 on Immigration and Terrorism are one of two thought provoking chapters focused on two burning issues of the present time. The first one discusses the scopes and debates on immigration while the later one is a subtle psycho-social analysis among common people, state and terrorists.

In a word every chapter discusses complex problems and helplessness of people living in today’s world, but ends with optimism that there are way outs, brain storming ideas and inspiring these helpless people to stay strong with self-consciousness.

III.

I had started reading Harari just after finishing a ‘biography’ of Jibanananda Das titled Ekjon Kamalalebu by Shahadujjaman; actually this piece was intended to be a review of it — and all of a sudden I was numb with some thoughts.

If artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more sophisticated day by day then what is the point of this great poet’s sacrifice for the sake of creation?

If an AI apocalypse truly comes in near future then what’s the destiny of our artistic creations?  Will they go in vain?

What would a perfect AI existence think about its creator and afterlife?

If the humans face extinction due to AI, or they finally evolve into something like the 7th kingdom, will the extremist ones cut the power connections or hack the CPU of an atheist AI for not believing in their creator — human?

There are numerous possibilities what might happen but only the god almighty or mother-nature know the best.

Yuval Noah Harari

 

IV.

We are not sure whether Yuval Noah Harari himself is a sophisticated AI existence developed by Israel (pun intended) or a ‘Winston’ helps him to author those thought provoking pieces and books. One of the most important lessons a reader can learn from him is ‘….The first step is to tone down the prophecies of doom, and switch from panic mode to bewilderment. Panic is from hubris…… I just don’t understand what’s going on in the world.’

Yuval Noah Harari’s narrative is thought provoking, thrilling and brief.

An effort to reinventing self or understanding a fast changing world beyond our reach while waiting with the shrews into a long quarrelling queue of fetching drinking water and writing down some romantic lines dedicated to beloved after a hectic day for earning daily bread are however not fruitless; at all.

End of the day, love and patience will save the human species from extinction.

Ishtiaque Foysol is a Homo sapiens.

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