by Dr. Mahmoud Braham for The Saker Blog
This work: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Harari, the Israeli historian and futurologist, is rather a Darwinist interpretative narrative of the evolution of the human species, coupled with a searching gaze into an uncertain and perilous future awaiting humanity, and supported by very insightful scenarios.
This sequential account reveals that the human species that was struggling, at first, against famine, war and plague, would experience, after the discovery of agriculture, the worshiping of gods that should be superseded by that of humanism. Far from being a homogeneous whole, since it is, itself torn, by its various contradictory variants, the latter will, in its gestation, lead to a purported triumph of liberal capitalism. Subject to the dogma of an unremitting economic growth, erected into a precondition for not relapsing into the dark ages of anarchy, liberal capitalism, in turn, will trigger an unbridled quest for immortality and bliss, aided by technology. Under these conditions, this cult of humanism would inevitably be compromised by a move towards new religions i.e., techno-humanism and dataism that will endanger all the human core values, including the very principle of a free will.
In the first part, Harari notes that human evolution was marked by the invention of agriculture and animal domestication as well as by the rise of new beliefs in distant gods whose domination was ended by the Scientific Revolution. They would be edged out by other humanistic religions, which are more confident in man’s ability to shape his own world.
According to Harari, the obsession with achieving happiness and immortality had unexpected consequences: a demographic explosion favored by agrarian production, societal divisiveness and epidemics spread. Later, industrialization would be the source of pollution and global warming; fauna and flora became threatened by the expansion of the human species, which would tend to replace natural selection by intelligent conceptions pushing life from the organic towards the inorganic.
In this picture, man won multiple victories against his abovementioned ancient enemies. Today one dies more of voracity than of hunger. Biotechnological progress has turned the human being, himself, into a threat for his own species since they do not only provide regular armies with the capacity to devise biological weapons of horrendous lethality but terrorists too. While these advances have, on the one hand, rendered war obsolete by the sheer effect of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) equation, they, on the other hand, revolutionized the global economy, no longer based on materials but on knowledge.
In these breakthroughs, Harari attributes the primacy of man over animals to neither spirituality nor intelligence, but the ability to cooperate more flexibly with each other, to invent cultures, skills and myths (like religion) that can be cumulated and passed on through generations by collective narratives. However, this author sees in human and animal emotions nothing but algorithms allowing rapid and complex decision-making and by religion, he means whatever thought offering a reliable value system, including modern and human sciences.
As for the theistic religions, which were born during the agrarian revolution, they will be supplanted by other humanisms aided by the Scientific Revolution. As early as the Enlightenment, a sort of secular humanist religion and the sciences coalesced to create growth and open up boundless possibilities of wealth for the human species. Humanism has encouraged men to draw from within their own inner experience a meaning for their own lives. The morality of humans is linked to what they feel as a right as long as the others are not affected by it.
However, if science and capitalism have empowered man to achieve growth, they did not give birth to values. These were the gift made by humanism to capitalism since the former confers great importance upon the individual and his value, which science has compromised by separating consciousness from intelligence. Indeed, computers that lack consciousness can eclipse humans in terms of intelligence. Today, algorithms can determine our own behavior, often better than we do ourselves, and this refutes, according to Harari, the existence of individuality and free will.
Even if modernity was founded on the assumption that individuals, as free and autonomous persons, are supposed to be masters of their destiny, humanism is gradually moving towards two new religions: techno-humanism and dataism. In the first, only cybernetically and genetically improved humans count. Nevertheless, in the second, the primacy goes to data flows instead of individuals, an ideology that greatly values data analysis and equates political, economic and biological systems with mineral deposits. Moreover, far from focusing on liberating the individual, Dataism has no objective but to make information free and available. No longer privileging life or the organic nature, including humans, these new non-humanistic religions place life processes under the rubric of algorithms and data.
Unknown shores: techno-humanism and dataism
The rise of techno-humanism and dataism becomes even more evident in this increased outsourcing of communicative and mental activities to computers.
The proponents of Techno-humanism point out that Homo sapiens has come to an end and it is high time for him to be replaced by the human-god as a far superior human model who must retain certain essential human aspects while enjoying enhanced physical and mental capabilities, allowing him to remain in the front line, even with the most sophisticated unconscious algorithms. This is the consequence of decoupling intelligence from consciousness and the development at a hectic pace of non-conscious intelligence, henceforth the urgency of an active update and improvement of humans if they wish stay in “the game”.
In this regard, Harari recognizes that manipulating or restructuring the human mind is an extremely complex and dangerous task because, in the current state of scientific progress, neither the human mind and the way it emerged nor its functions are well known. And even if we learn by trial and error how to orchestrate a mental state, we do not know what mental goals we have set for ourselves? The dilemma of techno-humanism, says Harari, lies in its focus on the human will and its tendency to develop technologies that can monitor and shape our will, but once successful in this project, techno-humanism does not know what to do with it anymore. It is impossible to deal with such technologies as long as we believe that human will and experience are the ultimate source of authority and meaning. Thus, a more robust techno-religion seeks to sever, once and for all, the humanist umbilical cord and portends a world that does not revolve around human desires and experiences.
As for the supporters of this quasi-ideology of Dataism (a concept put forward by David Brook as the philosophy of the day) or the analysis of data and who put their faith in information as the only source of value (Hermans 2018 : 388), they claim that humans have completed their cosmic mission and that they must now hand on the torch to other entities, with the promise of a bright future that will change our lives. This, with the ability to predict things never seen before, ranging from price levels to military intelligence through software applications that can, for example, predict where and when crimes are more likely to be committed, influenza and traffic jams can occur. In short, thanks to algorithms that are nothing but a set of steps that can be used to make a calculation, solve a problem or ripen a decision, we will be able to measure and analyze information on anyone and anything for the needs of a decision-making. Do not listen to your feelings anymore but to algorithms because they know well how you feel, the dataist says: “they dominate the XXI century and if the man wants to understand his life and his future, he must make the effort of understand what these algorithms are and how are they connected with emotions.”
However, apart from these promises of dataism, its direct consequences on both private life and other societal domains, are not yet known (military and intelligence applications) and this will push crossing the Rubicon and require a duty of transparency and data openness that is almost impossible.
Beyond the observation of an independent development of sciences in relation to the human sciences, Harari speculates, first of all, on their questioning of the principle that humans possess authentic inner selves of an irreducible and immutable base, the self who has immediate experiences, often sensations and desires different from the narrative self that creates memories and a sense of a continuous identity. Thus, technological advances threaten human values by separating consciousness from intelligence. Although devoid of mind, computers can outpace men in various fields and algorithms will anticipate their desires and needs better than they do themselves, he says.
Obviously, the immeasurable development of high technology will put them in conflict with the enduring values of the liberal democracies, for technology goes faster than the efforts of lawyers. Artificial intelligence will take over human jobs (both in government and public services and in hospitals and factories) by offering robotic substitutes. Moreover, this terrifying technical progress will further the integration between man and artificial intelligence) and make humans dependent on machines, computers and algorithms in any decision-making process, perhaps even sentimental choices. Thus, democratic institutions are doomed to obsolescence.
More concretely, if in terms of benefits, technology will revolutionize medicine by replacing real doctors with artificial ones, favoring, thereby, the sick of poor countries, the meteoric rise of artificial intelligence will send millions to unemployment. The masters of this future world will be those who master algorithms and biotechnology. They would become dictators. A total surveillance regime could emerge, tracking anyone wherever it goes with biometric detectors. In this area, Israel is the most likely place in the world where technology and motivation come together, says Harari. This world of super-humans or cyborgs with organic parts and other non-organic ones and who fear only accidents, is not far. Bionic members are already at work by humans.
It would be very difficult to have access to this super elite whose personal identity is continuously connected to super-intelligent machines and vast networks. A small caste holding the monopoly of information will marginalize the rest of the humans as a lower class. This would be a clear case of “technological over-positioning” and big data increases inequality and threatens democracy (O’Neil 2016: xi-xii).
Ultimately, in parallel with Harari’s quasi-fictional flash-forwards predicting a victory over death by 2100 or 2200 deemed as a purely technical problem, this thinker, ultimately found out that modern medicine is unable to extend the span of our lives by a single year and that its great achievement was limited to saving us from premature death and allowing us to fully enjoy our years. In the same way, this promised immortality would be problematic both for generational change and for the perpetuation of dictators. On this ancient quest for happiness, previously advocated by Epicurus who recommended eating and drinking moderately and curbing one’s sexual appetites, Harari observes that the suicide rate in developed countries is higher than that in underdeveloped world and that realizing happiness is not a less difficult task than defeating old age and death. There are two pillars of happiness, he says,
; the psychological one (it depends on the expectations rather than the objective conditions and we are not satisfied because the reality corresponds to our expectations, the latter become more and more unlimited as we make improvements); and the other biological i.e., the expectations and happiness are determined by biochemistry rather than by an economic or social situation.
Indeed, Harari’s techno-humanist and dataist predictions are articulated on promises and perils that await us in the coming decades due to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and the accelerated biochemical pursuit of happiness will shape, according to him, politics, society and the economy and will be more difficult to control.
The Darwinist foundations of Harari:
Harari’s reference to Darwinism and its conceptual tools is, moreover, clear and it is appropriate to expose it in spite of this general infatuation with him. Evolutionary jargon is the background of predilection for Harari’s thinking, the originality of which bears, unfortunately, the flaws of this omnipresent Darwinism, although scientifically unfounded. In the same way, the explanations put forward by him on the evolution of man in relation to his surroundings (civilization) are not new. Several authors have preceded him by explanatory paradigms from which he has voluntarily or involuntarily drawn on the ideas he has supported in this work. In this respect, the famous equation of the Algerian thinker Malek Bennabi on the origin of civilization (civilization = man + soil + time) deserves to be emphasized and explained later. It explains wonderfully the evolution of the humanity (the men and not the monkeys) towards the current progress because this idea of primates, which evolve in Homo sapiens, does not hold up.
Harari who appreciates and defends Darwin’s ideas that ” less threatening than the monstrosities of Einstein and Werner Heisenberg “, explains our intolerance towards them by the fact that they deny the idea of soul, at least, he says, if by soul one hears something indivisible, immutable and potentially eternal. Just as he is in favor of the evolutionary humanism that “solves” the problem of conflicting human experiences because it is rooted in solid evolutionism, considering the conflict as something to be applauded rather than lamented: the raw material for natural selection that pushes evolution forward,” he concludes that the theory of evolutionism is based on the principle of the survival of the fittest, which is an idea as clear as it is simple, not to say humdrum.
Refuted by a multitude of works, not based on a well-founded biological theory and suffering from a scientific vacuum and a tautological rhetoric, this scientific quackery has, however, has been elevated to the status of an immutable dogma and continues to prevail. Instead of disappearing, Darwinism dominates teaching and the media. Its irredentism could be explained by the fact that it constitutes the sole justification of the liberal social model (Moreel 2017). It is this success of social Darwinism that has allowed that of biological Darwinism despite all its deficiencies” (Pichot 2000: 82).
It is necessary to recall, here, some elements which invalidate this Darwinism. To this end, it is imperative to separate microevolution (leading the unicellular towards the entire living world) and macroevolution (that of the populations and within a given kind of animals or plants). The latter has never been an established scientific theory, although it has been a paradigm for bringing biodiversity into the realm of empirical science. Indeed, the cells do not mutate. On the contrary, they protect themselves against the mutation otherwise they will become cancerous and what happens in cells is contrary to the claims of Darwinists. The diversity of creation is never obtained by evolution and transfer but by separation and variants creation. Similarly, the idea of a passage from the animal to the man is absurd at most that the first never knows symbols and the implication of coincidence in this game is not credible because by chance we mean randomness and lack of law, which is contrary to science. However, chance is a fundamental element in Darwinism; and not in the scientific theory which conceals an unconfused ignorance.
Moreover, under the central Darwinist concept of the fittest that is to say, the whole is in competition with the whole, it is necessary to fight its fellow-being, and it is within the species itself that takes place the competition where everything becomes parricide. The being must kill his ancestor and his brothers to become a super-being. Darwin, himself, did not ask himself happily “what is more beautiful than death and famine since these phenomena lead to the higher species (Darwin 1858).
Using the paleontological jargon of Homos (Sapiens and others), does Harari not know that this lineage lacks scientific solidity. This model, very dear to Harari, assumes a linear evolution from Australopithecus to Homo Habilis (clever Man) then Homo Erectus and finally Homo Sapiens. However, this linear sequence is marked by an increase in brain volume, a reduction in the volume of the face and teeth and a growing sophistication in the manufacture and use of tools (Relethford 2017: 111-12). Paradoxically, even if some is to believe that Homo Habilis is the ancestor of Homo Erectus, the two species coexisted for at least half a million years. In addition, the recent discoveries report a diversity of Homo Habilis in various parts of the world, including Homo Rudolfensis (discovered in Kenya), suggesting that it is an extinct species. Homo Habilis and Homo Rudolfensis date back to 1.9 million years ago.
Furthermore, given the various observations it is concluded that if Homo Erectus is more than the Homo Habilis or the Homo Rudolfensis our ancestor, what about other species? Where should we place them in the family tree? This inconsistency is all the more evident with three species of the first Homos in Africa dating from the same period. All these data do not support the idea of the existence of a simple model where Homo Habilis evolved straightforwardly to Homo Erectus, because we see both ancestors and descendants at the same time. And finally, what about Homo Rudolfensis?
The attempt to develop a genealogy of civilization recalls the work of Malek Bennabi who modeled it in his famous equation of civilization: Civilization = Man + Soil + Time … to question whether civilization, as a whole, is the product of Man, of the Sol and of Time, why this synthesis does not intervene spontaneously where these three factors are united? It is an astonishment an initiation with chemical analysis will dispel and to which he advocates “… a catalyst for civilization, that is to say the element that influences the combination of the three factors. He, then, asserts: “historical analysis indicates the existence of this synthesis, which reflects the religious idea that has always accompanied the synthesis of civilization throughout history (Bennabi, 2005, 49-50). It is thus the idea from which the civilizational takeoff is initiated and which can be an ideology or a religious idea but it remains that the more this idea is sacred, the more it tends to have a greater mobilizing capacity.
A novel humanological debate
If Harari evokes the death of God, he has not empirically demonstrated how this could have occurred. Yet more scholars that are well-versed in the hard sciences continue to believe in God. In the same way, reducing of the universe to a thing stripped of meaning and purposes or to simple complex mathematical and biochemical equations could not be. And even if things are so, one should not wonder who created this system?
Harari’s book revives the debate on humanology or the new field of study that focuses on the future of humans after the resumption of their functions by thinking machines and on that of the machines in the process of their mutual intellectualization and humanization. It is at the same time, the ecology of the humans and the anthropology of the machines and the study of the mutual redistribution of their functions (Spariosu 2012: 16).
It is important to note that there are three major attitudes to the human sense of technology and the technological perspectives of humanity. Post-humanism predicting that humans will be overwhelmed as archaized biological species by intelligent machines. Thus, “in the 2100s, the non-biological portion of our intelligence will dominate and in 2040 it will be billions of times more efficient,” so biological humans will be doomed to be substituted as a vital force of civilization which will then be more and more propelled and governed by artificial intelligence “(Kurzweil 2005: 25). Anti-technism, as represented by the traditional Western thought of Rousseau and Heidegger, feeds nostalgia for the past and a suspicion for the future with an aversion to a soulless and ontologically empty technology. Techno-humanism argues that by creating machines that, in many ways, exceed human capabilities, our species is expanding rather than regressing. It is a way of affirming the humans through their self-denial because the great exploits require great sacrifices and when an artist creates a work that becomes independent of him, it is not a defeat at all but a triumph because the creativity is an act of self-giving. Techno-humanism provides a way of elevating (upholding) humans as species through technology as the highest-ranked artistic creation (Epstein 2012). In short, it is to develop the human capacities and to overcome the limitations of the man, a new type of critical approach that focuses on humanistic goals through technology (Lenoir 2007: 209).
For its opponents, techno-humanism is a recent pseudo-scientific movement that supposedly aims to perfect the physical and psychic nature of man with the eternal goal of achieving immortality by merging man and machine and is an extension of the dangerous belief in the perfectibility of man (Livingstone 2015).
Another variation of techno-humanism: transhumanism or the active form of post-humanism. A common aspect of transhumanism and post-humanism is the future vision of new intelligent species to which humanity will evolve and which will complement or surpass humanity. It emphasizes the evolutionary perspective, including, sometimes the creation of highly intelligent animal species by means of a cognitive enhancement (biological biplastic provolution uplift), but clings to a post-human future as ultimate purpose of a participative evolution (Ryan 2015).
Finally, transhumanism raises ethical issues that cannot be separated from technology. The ability to construct sophisticated instruments raises questions of responsibility, ownership and purpose. However, it is still telling that technology cannot be located outside the human essence. Techno-humanism is at the same time an extension of Enlightenment’s commitment to reason and artifice and a neo-Gnostic desire to transcend the human altogether into the field realms of pure information (Blake et al. 2014:3-4).
Beyond its high Darwinist dose, Harari’s book reflects a concern for the meaning of life and warns against the excesses of exponentially growing technology beyond the control of man and at the antipodes of human values. Hence the usefulness of his predictions for political decision-making to avoid the backfiring of these future developments. That is why he says, our senses and our brains are geared towards projecting an immediate future based on our recent past. They are constrained by our “present-day ideologies and our social systems” that must be overcome. He recalls, in this respect, Arthur Clark who affirmed in 1951 that “innovations, we learned that even in the short term, the most daring prophecies seem very conservative to die of laughter”.
For the rest, Harari is right: the “train of progress is again pulling out of the station – and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called Homo sapiens. Those who miss this train will never get a second chance. In order to get a seat on it, you need to understand twenty-first-century technology, and in particular the powers of biotechnology and computer algorithms”.
Dr. Mahmoud Braham, Doctor in Economics, MA in International Law from Grenoble University, A Specialty in International Crisis Management from the ENA of Paris.
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