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Notes philosophy

“Don’t Try” Meaning

Charles Bukowski, today known as a celebrated author, found success only in his fifties. In his twenties, he wrote hundreds of short stories. Two of these were published, both of which barely sold any copies. This was during a time when Bukowski traveled across the U.S, and worked several blue-collar jobs. Years later, he nearly died from a bleeding ulcer.

A man, who lived a difficult life, and at one point, it seemed clear, at least to himself, that he would never achieve any recognition for his work, had the following advice to give, “don’t try.” and yet these words do not seem to be congruent with someone who never stopped trying, even though he was met with failure, repeatedly, from his youth, when he was plagued by acne and social isolation, to his twenties, when he found no professional success, to later in life, with a serious health scare.

Through all of this, he did nothing but try, so why would he advise others to not do the same?

“Too many writers write for the wrong reasons,” declared Bukowski. “They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with the bluebells in their hair… When everything goes best, it’s not because you chose writing, but because writing chose you.” Bukowski didn’t decide to be a writer; nobody actually dedicated to a pursuit ever had to decide which pursuit it would be.

“We work too hard. We try too hard,” Bukowski writes, “Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. Looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.” He may have meant, as the video’s narrator puts it, that “if you have to try to try, if you have to try to care about something or have to try to want something, perhaps you don’t care about it, and perhaps you don’t want it.” And “if the thought of not doing the thing hurts more than the thought of potentially suffering through the process, if the thought of a life without it or never having tried it at all terrifies you, if it comes to you, through you, out of you, almost as if you’re not trying, perhaps Bukowski might say here, try, and ‘if you’re going to try, go all the way.’”

Bukowski never tried, he just followed his impulse. To try, means to make an attempt to change your state of nature. The person, who is by temperament, artistic and creative, and yet devotes his life to number-crunching is someone who is trying. But Bukowski, and artists like him, do not try to be who they are.

It is hard, to take heart from this story, because while it is great that someone who had such a difficult life finally got recognition, it is clear that as practical advise, one who follows their instinct or passion may never achieve such success. Indeed, a talent like Bukowski, almost didn’t. One must imagine the countless other writers and artists who live their lives trying to be successful in their craft and failing, and in the end, with very little to show for it.

And herein lies, I think, the deeper message. And it is one that will only be accepted reluctantly. It is not your choice. If you have a proclivity for writing, there is nothing you can do to stop yourself from writing, regardless of whether you are successful or not at it. And if you do not have a natural proclivity for it, then no matter how much you try, it will not stick. At some point, you will grow weary and stop writing altogether. So the real message here is not as much, “don’t try”, as it is “don’t worry.” That is, don’t worry about any choice you would have to make, because the choice is made for you. That is what he means when he says, “writing chooses you” and not the other way around.

If you are meant to write, you cannot stop yourself. Somehow, you will and there is very little you can do about it. The urge is deeper than what your narrow conscious attention can control. And if you were not meant to write, you should not worry, because soon enough, you will discover the truth about yourself.

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Notes philosophy Psychology

“The Busiest People Harbor The Greatest Weariness” Meaning

The busiest people harbor the greatest weariness, their restlessness is weakness – they no longer have the capacity for waiting and idleness.”

Nietzsche

With Nietzsche, as with any great contrarian, we find quotes that point us towards a truth that is at once counter-intuitive and provocative. Of course, when asked to imagine what it would feel like to be depressed, one gets the image of inactivity and resignation. After-all, depression is only an anomaly because it results in behavior that runs counter to the normal pace of life.

But what about the person who never rests? Is their behavior not antithetical to the normal ebb and flow of life?

Our intuition tells us that the opposite of business is depression. So it is not a good idea to be completely idle, but on the mad extreme of activity, there exists a concealed depression.

The hyper-active person is, in a way, compensating for something that is dead within them, something that they have killed. Imagine, for example, the restless entrepreneur, who is constantly in a state of chasing after the next big thing. On the surface, this person is the model of success for anyone in society, as he has achieved, to the maximum, the ideal of the collective. He has accumulated enough money and power, and has made such a dent in the fate of civilization, that he is the closest thing to a god. I use this example, because it is an extreme case of the restless (and successful) individual, who would lack any of the typical symptoms or preconditions of someone who is depressed.

There is a book by Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness, which makes the point that mental illness is nothing but problems in living. The mentally ill are merely those who cannot keep up with the pace and demands of society, and they are designated by some fashionable diagnosis that is contingent on historical context (mental disorders appear and disappear, depending on the age). Another book that discusses this idea at length is Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.

Taking into consideration these ideas, and granting that it may be that depression is merely a result of socioeconomic or interpersonal circumstance, we must conclude that the person who is highly active, and has no socioeconomic or interpersonal problems, cannot in any person’s eyes, exhibit the behavior or the appearance of someone who is depressed. If depression did not exist, then we would not expect to see it in the hyper-successful, and if it was, we would not expect to see it in the hyper-active (Yet there is a diagnosis that is called “bipolar depression” in which the person’s behavior is characterized by mania or depression, at different times).

But the successful serial entrepreneur, who obsessively searches for new opportunities to exploit, breathless and unceasing in his efforts, is avoiding a primary impulse, and that is to stop. The ceasing of activity is not necessarily the ending of a career, but it is more something that makes way for rethinking, doubt, reflection. If you refuse the impulse to stop, you may find yourself going on and on, with no end in sight, until some kind of catastrophe, social or personal, forces you to stop. Such was the experience for many after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.”

Aldous Huxley

In summary, the hyper-successful and hyper-active is, in theory, the furthest thing away from someone who can either be considered depressed (according to the psychoanalyst) or someone who merely feigns the invented idea of depression, according to the anti-psychoanalyst (Szasz-Foucault).

And yet, if Nietzsche is right, then such cases do exist. Those who seem to be joyful and exuberant, are beneath this exterior, depressed. This brings to mind the image of the clown in The Joker, as someone who tries to bring joy to children, and on the exterior is cheerful and amiable, but internally, is brimming with anger and resentment. The idea also is similar to Jung’s idea of the persona and the shadow, where the social mask that we wear in public, is usually in direct opposition with our internal state.

So what are we to make of all this? At the very least, weariness and business are not opposites. You can be busy, but mentally tired and depressed. This is definitely a possibility, but can this idea be of use in social relations?

A rule of thumb is to look for signs of overcompensation. That is where someone is acting too energetically, too joyfully, too enthusiastically, that there is something hidden. If someone is too quiet, they may have too much to say, or are possessed by too much of an urge to be socially accepted. If someone is too noisy and boisterous, they may harbor deep feelings of insecurity and reservation.

Where bad eyesight can no longer see the evil impulse as such, on account of its refinement,-there man sets up the kingdom of goodness ; and the feeling of having now gone over into the kingdom of goodness brings all those impulses (such as the feelings of security, of comfortableness, of benevolence) into simultaneous activity, which were threatened and confined by the evil impulses. Consequently, the duller the eye so much the further does goodness extend ! Hence the eternal cheerfulness of the populace and of children ! Hence the gloominess and grief (allied to the bad conscience) of great thinkers.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science 
Categories
Notes philosophy

Negative Visualization (Week 10 of Wisdom)

Imagine losing everything you own, your health, and everyone you love. Too depressing, I know. But for the Stoics, this was a daily routine. And not for nothing, the Stoics realized that there was something about human psychology that worked against us.

We lose a sense of urgency and relish for life when things are going our way. We are constantly in search of what we do not yet have, and in this way, we are never satisfied. Even worse, we do not make the most of our time – we do not know how to live.

We worry about things that don’t matter and push away the things that matter the most. We rationalize to ourselves that now is not the time, that it is too soon, or that we are not yet ready – we wait for some vague future date that will bring us what we really want.

It is only after some tragedy befalls us; a war or a pandemic or an illness, that we rethink our value systems. Suddenly, we wake up to realize that so much of what we do is a pointless waste of time, and so much of what we want to do is never pursued.  We realize how precious time is, and how important it is to make the most of it.

Negative visualization should not be an unexpected painful reminder of what we are doing wrong, such as when a pandemic forces you to realize what you really miss the most. We should not wait for a catastrophic or distressing event to know how to spend our time wisely, and to value what we have. We should do this every day, as part of our daily ritual.

If you want a life without regrets, then practice negative visualization. While scary at first, it is freeing and cathartic.

Categories
Notes philosophy politics

Chapter 11: The Data Religion (Homo Deus)

Dataism says that everything consists of data flows and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. This is not a new idea.

Since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, scientists have seen organisms as biochemical algorithms. And since the Turing Machine, computer scientists have learned to assemble sophisticated algorithms. Dataism is the combination of both ideas, and thereby collapses the barrier between animals and machines.

Dataism offers the world groundbreaking technologies and a theory that unifies all scientific disciplines. But in doing so, it has inverted the traditional pyramid of learning. We learned by distilling data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. But Dataists think that people cannot deal with large amounts of data, and thus they cannot distil this data into information, knowledge, or wisdom – it is better to trust Big Data. And they think processing data is a task for algorithms that have greater capacities than us.

When one adopts the dataist perspective, the world looks very different. Capitalism and communism are no longer competing ideologies or political institutions but are at bottom competing data-processing systems. Capitalism uses distributed processing; communism uses centralized processing.

The stock market is the most efficient data processing system humankind has created.

Capitalism beat communism not because it was more ethical, but because distributed data processing works better than centralised data processing.

Dictatorships use centralized processing and democracies prefer distributed processing, in the last few decades, democracy has gained ground because under the conditions of the 20th century, distributed processing works better. But conditions are continuously changing, which is why political systems are continuously disrupted, and this also suggests that we may witness another shift.

Today, governments cannot keep up with overwhelming data of the internet. By the time the government comes up with a plan to restructure the internet, the latter would have morphed ten times.

The NSA may be spying on your every word, but to judge by the repeated failures of American foreign policy, nobody in Washington knows what to do with all the data. Never in history did a government know so much about what’s going on in the world – yet few empires have botched things up as clumsily as the contemporary United States. It’s like a poker player who knows what cards his opponents hold, yet somehow still manages to lose round after round.

History in a Nutshell

The Dataist perspective of history is a process of improving the efficiency of the human data-processing system, through four methods.

  1. Increasing number of processors: 100,000 people in a city > 1,000 people in a village. This stage began during the Cognitive Revolution.
  2. Increasing variety of processors: Different processors in the same system leads to creativity. This stage began during the Agricultural Revolution.
  3. Increasing number of connections between processors: A poor connection is fatal to the system. This stage started with the advent of money and writing.
  4. Increasing freedom of movement along existing connections: If data cannot flow freely, connecting processors is barely useful. This stage began around 1492, with the first explorers and conquerors to connect the whole world.

Information Wants to be Free

According to Dataism, human experiences are not sacred and Homo sapiens isn’t the apex of creation or a precursor of some future Homo deus. Humans are merely tools for creating the Internet-of-All-Things, which may eventually spread out from planet Earth to cover the whole galaxy and even the whole universe. This cosmic data-processing system would be like God. It will be everywhere and will control everything, and humans are destined to merge into it.

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Notes philosophy politics

Chapter 10: The Ocean of Consciousness (Homo Deus)

The most interesting place in the world from a religious perspective is Silicon Valley, that’s where the promises of salvation through algorithms and genes are.

There are two main techno religions, techno-humanism and data religion. Data religion argues that humans have finished their cosmic task and should now make way for new kinds of entities. The next chapter will discuss the nightmares involved with this.

Techno-humanism sees humans as the focal point of creation and adopt many humanist values, it also agrees that Homo sapiens have run their historic course, that is why we must use technology to create Homo deus – a superior human. Homo deus will be somewhat like humans but will have upgraded physical and mental abilities.

The goal of techno-humanism is to upgrade the human mind, but this is tricky and dangerous, since we don’t really understand the mind.

Humans can see only a minuscule part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The spectrum in its entirety is about 10 trillion times larger than that of visible light. Might the mental spectrum be equally vast?

One of the most important articles about the philosophy of mind is titled ‘What is it Like to Be a Bat?’ The article was written in 1974, by Thomas Negel, who points out that our human mind cannot imagine the subjective world of a bat. We can engineer systems to simulate bat behavior, but we can’t know what it feels like to be a bat.

Our challenge today is a new one, as liberal humanism makes way for techno humanism, and medicine has shifted its focus towards upgrading the healthy rather than curing the sick.

Doctors, engineers and customers no longer want merely to fix mental problems – they seek to upgrade the mind. We are acquiring the technical abilities to begin manufacturing new states of consciousness, yet we lack a map of these potential new territories.

Our data about human minds comes almost exclusively from tests done on psychology students in Western universities, we have no idea where to aim towards. Unsurprisingly, positive psychology has taken the lead in this field. In the 1990’s, Martin Seligman, Ed Dinner and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argued that psychology should not only study mental illnesses, but mental strengths as well.

Over the last two decades, positive psychology has made important first steps in the study of super-normative mental states, but as of 2016, the super-normative zone is largely terra incognita to science.

Humanism emphasized the difficulty of identifying our authentic will. Our inner voice is often a cacophony of conflicting noises. We often try to ignore our authentic voice because it can make us feel uncomfortable, but humanism also demanded that we should face this fear and overcome it, regardless of how difficult it might be to do so.

Technological progress is different, it does not want you to listen to your inner voices, it wants to control them. This is essentially what drugs like Prozac and Ritalin do.

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Notes philosophy politics

Chapter 9: The Great Decoupling (Homo Deus)

Liberals promote free markets and democratic elections because they believe that individuals are unique and valuable, who’s free choices are the source of authority. In this century, we will see three practical developments that will nullify this belief.

1. Humans will lose military and economic usefulness. The economic and political system will not value them so much.

2. The system will find humans collectively valuable but will see no value in individuals.

3. The system will find value in some individuals, but they will be a new elite of superhumans.

Until today, intelligence and consciousness have gone hand in hand. Now we are developing non-conscious intelligence that outperforms conscious beings in tasks that require intelligence. The question becomes: what is more important, consciousness or intelligence?

For armies and companies, intelligence is mandatory, but consciousness is optional.

Most professionals, including doctors and pharmacists, will be replaced by AI.

‘The Future of Employment’ is a published paper in 2013 that surveys the chances of different jobs being replaced by algorithms within 20 years.

The algorithm developed by Frey and Osborne to do the calculations estimated that 47 per cent of US jobs are at high risk.

Jobs like waiters, paralegal assistants, tour guides, bakers, bus drivers, construction laborers, veterinary assistants, security guards, and sailors have a high likelihood of losing their jobs (above 80 percent).

As algorithms take over many aspects of human life, the system may still need humans, but not necessarily individuals. Humans can continue to invest money, make music, and teach, but the system will understand them better than they understand themselves, and will make their most important decisions for them. Individuals will lose freedom and authority.

The liberal belief in individualism contains 3 important assumptions.

1. I am an in-dividual: I have an essence that cannot be divided into parts. There are many outer layers, but inside, there is an unchanging core, an authentic self.

2. My authentic self is free.

3. From these assumptions, I can conclude that I know things about me that nobody else can know. Only I know my authentic self. I cannot trust anyone else to make choices for me, because they don’t have access to my self-knowledge.

But life sciences challenge these assumptions.

1. Organisms are algorithms, and humans aren’t individuals – we are dividual and contain no single inner voice.

2. The algorithms that constitute humans are not free. They were shaped biologically and environmentally and make decisions randomly or deterministically but never freely.

3. Thus an external algorithm can know me better than I know myself. An algorithm that monitors the systems that make up my body can know me much more precisely than I do. This algorithm can eventually replace the customer and the voter.

If scientific discoveries and technological developments split humankind into a mass of useless humans and a small elite of upgraded superhumans, or if authority shifts altogether away from human beings into the hands of highly intelligent algorithms, then liberalism will collapse.

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Notes philosophy politics

Chapter 8: The Time Bomb in the Laboratory (Homo Deus)

Liberalism is like any other religion; in that it is based on factual statements that aren’t scientifically sound. One belief is that voters and buyers do not make their decisions randomly, liberalism acknowledges the existence of external influences but thinks that people ultimately make up their own minds freely.

Free Will is an Illusion

But free will is not an ethical judgement, it is a factual statement that might have held water during the days of Locke, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, but the latest findings in the life sciences contradict it.

To the best of our knowledge, people act either randomly or deterministically, but there is little room for freedom. Free will exists only in our imaginations. Further, it contradicts the theory of evolution, which states that animals choose things based on their genetic code. Fit genes eat nutritious food and copulate with suitable mates, while unfit genes become extinct. If animals were free to do what they wanted, then natural selection would not have a function.

The counter argument is that people feel free, that they act according to their desires, but that is no the question. Rather, it is whether they choose their desires in the first place.

Even if you say that your preferences followed a long process of abstract reasoning, you cannot explain why you chose to embark on one train of reasoning over another.

There is only a stream of consciousness and desires accompany it, but there is no permanent self who owns these desires. The next time an idea pops into your head, ask yourself why you had that thought and not another.

Experiencing vs Narrating

We are even more fragmented than that. Our left and right hemispheres disagree with regards to how we interpret reality. Gazzinga discovered this through a series of famous experiments. The left-brain rationalizes our experiences. Similarly, Kahneman found that we have a narrating self and an experiencing self. The narrating self is like the left-brain, in that it constantly spins yarns about what happened in the past, and it takes many short cuts – like journalists, politicians, and poets.

The narrating self-ranks events based on the average between the last experience it can remember and the worst experience (The peak-end rule), it is also blind to duration. So, if you are a doctor, and you want your patient to feel the least amount of pain, make sure their final few moments are great, even if it takes a lot more time for that to be possible.

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Notes philosophy politics

Chapter 7: The Humanist Revolution (Homo Deus)

While the modern deal does not include deriving meaning from a cosmic plan, it does allow you to derive meaning independently – and this is how humanism succeeds what came before it.

For ages, prophets and philosophers thought that the death of God would pose a great threat to law and order. But today, Muslim Syria is much more violent than atheist Netherlands.

Humanism states that personal and universal meaning can be derived from internal experiences.

The rise of humanism was a result of centuries of hard work by writers and thinkers who dispelled the notion that humans were merely corruptible beings who could not determine what was considered good or beautiful. Today, ‘the voter knows best’ and ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ are accepted truths.

The death of God proclaimed by Nietzsche describes a world where God has become an abstract idea that people accept or reject.

It used to be that knowledge = scripture + logic, today knowledge = empirical data * mathematics

A formula for ethical knowledge appeared. Knowledge = experiences * sensitivity

This formula has also changed the way we see war. Historical narratives war of Shakespeare, Homer, and Virgil described what the emperors and heroes did. Ordinary soldiers were just a detail. But over the last two hundred years, the emperors have been pushed aside, and the feelings of soldiers have become important, as described in films such as Platoon, All Quiet on the Western Front, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, and Blackhawk Down.

It is liberal politics that believes the voter knows best. Liberal art holds that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Liberal economics maintains that the customer is always right. Liberal ethics advises us that if it feels good, we should go ahead and do it. Liberal education teaches us to think for ourselves, because we will find all the answers within us.

The Humanist Wars of Religion

There are three types of humanism and each would respond differently to the following question: Who made better music, Beethoven or Chuck Berry?

Liberal humanism: It all depends on what your feelings tell you.

Socialist humanism: it doesn’t matter because musical tastes are defined social forces acting on people.

Evolutionary humanism: Clearly Beethoven, he is superior in quality.

These groups blamed each other for the world’s problems for almost a century, and battles for control. Communist and Fascist regimes took over many countries where liberal ideas were exposed as naïve if not dangerous. Just give people freedom and they will live in peace? Yeah right.

The Second World War started off has a conflict between a mighty liberal alliance and an isolated Nazi Germany. Now we remember it as a great liberal victory, but it hardly looked like that at the time. The liberal alliance had a higher GDP than Germany.

Eventually, the Germans lost because the liberal countries allied themselves with the Soviet Union, which paid a higher price for the conflict. 25 million Soviet citizens died, compared to half a million Britons and half a million Americans.

Communism deserves a lot of credit for the defeat of Nazism, it was also the great beneficiary of the war, at least in the short term.

The Soviet Union was an isolated communist pariah and emerged out of the war as one of two global superpowers, and the leaders of an expanding international bloc (Eastern Europe, China). Revolutionary and anti-colonial groups look admiringly at Moscow and Beijing, while identifying liberals as the racist European empires.

These empires, when they collapsed, were replaced by military dictators or socialist regimes, not liberal democracies. Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, famously said to the liberal West ‘Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Third world leaders and First World intellectuals believed this to be true. The world ‘liberal’ was a term of abuse in many universities in the West. Students in Europe and the U.S hung Che Guevara’s heroic portrait over their beds.

 In 1968 the wave crested with the outbreak of protests and riots all over the Western world. Mexican security forces killed dozens of students in the notorious Tlatelolco Massacre, students in Rome fought the Italian police in the so-called Battle of Valle Giulia, and the assassination of Martin Luther King sparked days of riots and protests in more than a hundred American cities. In May students took over the streets of Paris, President de Gaulle fled to a French military base in Germany, and well-to-do French citizens trembled in their beds, having guillotine nightmares.

By 1970, the world had 130 countries, only 30 of them were liberal democracies.

In 1975, the liberal camped suffered its most humiliating defeat. The war ended with the North Vietnamese David defeating the North American Goliath. Soon after, the communism took over Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

People all over the world watched as helicopters evacuated the last Americans from the rooftop of the American Embassy in Saigon. Many were sure that the American Empire was falling, and this was right before Gandhi proclaimed the Emergency in India – it looked like the world’s largest democracy was turning into another socialist dictatorship.

Liberal democracy increasingly looked like an exclusive club for ageing white imperialists, who had little to offer the rest of the world, or even their own youth. Washington presented itself as the leader of the free world, but most of its allies were either authoritarian kings (such as King Khaled of Saudi Arabia, King Hassan of Morocco and the Persian shah) or military dictators.

Despite this support, the Warsaw Pact had numerical superiority militarily. Liberal democracy was only saved by nuclear weapons, NATO adopted the doctrine of MAD (mutual assured destruction), which promised to respond to any Soviet attack with an all-out nuclear strike.

After the 1970’s, which belonged to Socialism, everything changed.

Liberal democracy crawled out of history’s dustbin, cleaned itself up and conquered the world. Tge supermarket proved to be far stronger than the gulag.

It began in southern Europe, where authoritarian regimes in Greece, Portugal, and Spain collapsed, giving way to democratic governments. In 1977 Ghandi ended the Emergency and re-established Indian democracy. During the 1980’s, democratic governments replaced military dictatorships in South America and in South East Asia (Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, South Korea). In the late 1980’s and early 1990s, the liberal wave became a tsunami, sweeping away the mighty Soviet empire.

As the Soviet Empire imploded, communist regimes everywhere were replaced.

If a liberal had fallen asleep in June 1914 and woken up in June 2014, he or she would have felt very much at home.

Once again, people belief in individual freedom, and that world peace would result from it.

The entire twentieth century looks like a big mistake. Humankind was speeding on the liberal highway back in the summer of 1914, when it took a wrong turn and entered a cul-de-sac. It then needed eight decades and three horrendous global wars to find its way back to the highway. Of course, these decades were not a total waste, as they did give us antibiotics, nuclear energy and computers, as well as feminism, de-colonialism and free sex… In the early twenty-first century, this is the only show in town.

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Notes philosophy

Chapter 6: The Modern Covenant (Homo Deus)

The deal of modernity is simple: it is the exchange of meaning for power.

Throughout history, we have believed that we were part of a cosmic plan. This plan gave people’s lives meaning but placed strict limits on what they could do.

Modern culture rejects this belief – the new belief is that life has no script; the universe is blind and purposeless. During our brief stay on earth, we can do whatever we want, and then we will never be heard of again when we are gone.

The modern motto is ‘shit happens’.

But if shit just happens, then there is no script to bind our behavior. We can do whatever we want, if we can find a way. Our ignorance is our only impediment. Wars, plague, and droughts don’t offer us meaning, they are just problems for us to eradicate.

The modern deal dangles the possibility of omnipotence in front of us, since it is constantly researching, inventing, and discovering, yet the abyss of nothingness is below us, supplementing our lives with constant existential angst.

In ancient times, economies did not grow, because people did not launch new ventures. They did not launch new ventures, because credit was not available. Credit was not available, because there was no trust in the future.

This has all changed in the modern era. Even epidemics are opportunities. If enough new ventures succeed, people will have more trust in the future, more credit will be made available, and the economy will grow, as will science.

When capitalism encourages people to specialize in jobs that take away family time, and this becomes the expected dogma, then it is entering the religious domain. The gift of capitalism is proving that not everything is a zero-sum game.

The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance – knowing how much more there is to know.

The Communist Manifesto accurately describes the nature of the modern world, that it constantly requires uncertainty and disturbance. That all relations and ancient prejudices are wiped away, and new structures become old before they can ossify. It is difficult for people to live in such a world, or to govern it.

The value of growth in modernity keeps people in the rat race and keeps the world functioning. Governments fear stagnation and constantly aim for more growth, while as individuals, we are pushed to make more money and improve our standards of living. This value was not a hard sell, since humans are greedy by nature.

But capitalism has its shortcomings, we are going on a ride that we can neither understand nor control. On one hand, we are experiencing an ecological disaster, but production and growth have remained constant. In the long run, despite some economic crises and wars, we have managed to overcome famine, plague, and war – things that were thought impossible to overcome.

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Chapter 5: The Odd Couple (Homo Deus)

Science and religion are an odd couple.

Ancient religious myths were helpful when they called people into action that was beneficial to them but were not objectively true. Modern science is a collective story, but it is not a myth – it is based on reality. Antibiotics will cure infections whether you believe in them or not.

For these reasons, one may suspect that we are moving towards a world without fictions, but this not necessarily true. Science may help us build the technology to make our existing fictions and more accessible, it may allow us to blur the lines between reality and fiction.

Religion shouldn’t be defined as a belief or lack thereof in gods, but as anything that “confers superhuman legitimacy on human social structures”, this may be Christianity or Communism.

Religion is a deal; spirituality is a journey.

Academic studies that require a few years of studying, passing exams, before acquiring a job is a deal. But academic studies that take you to an unknown destination is a spiritual journey.

Why is the latter considered a spiritual journey? The origins are in dualistic religions of the past that believed in two gods, one good and one evil. The good god created pure souls that lived in the world of spirit. The bad god, Satan, created another world made of matter, where everything disintegrates. To breathe life into his world, Satan tempted souls from the world of spirit and locked them up in material bodies.

This is why humans are good souls trapped inside evil bodies. After the body disintegrates, and the soul can escape into the spiritual world, its craving for earthly pleasures draw it back to another body. The soul thus moves from body to body, wasting its time on food, sex, and power.

Dualism calls on people to break free from these material shackles and embark on a journey to the spiritual world. During this quest, we must reject material temptations and deals. Because of this legacy, any journey where we deny the deals and temptations of the material world is a “spiritual journey.”

Institutionalized religion conflicts with spirituality since it tries to cement the worldly order instead of escaping it. It is not threatened by people who preoccupied with food or sex, but by spiritual truth-seekers like Luther, who refused to settle for rituals and deals offered by the church.

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