Homo Deus: First Impressions
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I'm about 3/4 through with this fascinating book. The future the author discribes may seem a bit scary, but it's the most optimistic view I've seen. And this man sure does know a lot and writes with wit and flair!
Two reactions, from being about 60 pages in.
Almost every paragraph has me stifling a "but wait," "what about…," "that's not right," or, as they say, "well, actually." It is fortunate that I'm listening to the audiobook, and or I'd be wearing out a pen with marginal notes of that kind.
The style gives me the impression of someone smart, with some strong and unusual views, but rather more conventional ones than he realizes, and who can't be bothered to lower himself to dig into various topics.
Often, however, I discover it's just a breezy style, and he subverts his seeming ignorance a few pages later. I just have to wait. So, for example, after first thinking he was falling into the usual cliche that people in history died young, and cursing him for this bit of false common wisdom, he made it clear he got the distinction between getting rid of a lot of early deaths and lowering deaths from violence and chance misfortune, and extending human lifespan itself. (That is, whatever the mean age of death, nobody in ancient Rome was surprised at a 75 year-old man; they were just a lot less surprised at dead infants or that a man might die in battle.)
I climb the walls, however, every time he talks about religion or philosophy, I imagine the raised eyebrow and curled smile of even an undergraduate forced to listen to him majestically summarize things he knows nothing about.
I'm partway through the first chapter, and "irritating" is a good description. (The first annoyance was his total refusal to acknowledge the "four horsemen" framework when he describes war, famine, and plague before moving on to death, combined with the way he breezily ignores the fact that the first three are still very much a part of life for much of the planet - just because they don't impact rich nations doesn't mean they don't matter. The second is his apparent total ignorance that immortality has been explored by science fiction for decades - it's not a new idea - and the lack of any mention of what lifespans measured in centuries would do to the population of the planet. (That may be coming later, but it's a dangerous game to make your readers say "But what about X?" for pages and pages too many times.))
I'm nearly to the end of the "free sample" portion of the e-book I'm reading, and am not sure whether I'll continue.
lorannen, do "spoilers" really have meaning for a nonfiction book?
So, anyone else reading this? I haven't purchased the rest of the book - does it get less irritating?
>6 lorax: I'm reading it and uh, I'll let you know. No news on that front yet.
>3 timspalding: Almost every paragraph has me stifling a "but wait," "what about…," "that's not right," or, as they say, "well, actually." It is fortunate that I'm listening to the audiobook, and or I'd be wearing out a pen with marginal notes of that kind.
Yep, same here. A lot of my objections were touched on pages later (like you said Tim), but it seems that he makes an awful lot of generalizations and assumptions for his argument/s. An interesting discussion, nonetheless.
For me, it was his claim that humankind is always looking for the next, immediate high and can never be satisfied. From someone who studied (and shares many views of) Buddhism, I was ready to argue. I'm sure I'll have more on that later.
>4 lorax: ...just because they don't impact rich nations doesn't mean they don't matter.
Precisely. I do appreciate that he tries to argue his point from the perspective of the last few hundred years, but, still. I think they (war, famine, etc.) are still pretty relevant in the world. Factors such as overpopulation, biodiversity, and natural resources will surely have drastic effects on our ability to support/feed ourselves in the years to come (scientific progress and GMO's aside).
And that's if we don't blow ourselves up before then (see also: war).
It's still early pages for me, but I am already having a hard time giving this guy/book the benefit of the doubt. Not even ten pages in and he's making value judgments about what people eat—claiming McDonald's will kill you? Really? I'm just too annoyed right now to keep going. So. Much. Side-eye.
Discussion officially kicks off today, and I've already posted some questions. Head over to the main group page to see and respond to them.
Feel free to post your own, too!
I am about a third of the way through the book. I am enjoying it, but I was puzzled by his take on Humanism/humanism. He said that the reason we keep people on life support, no matter how ill they are, or how much they suffer, or how little good it does them, is because of humanism values each individual so highly. I don't know about other countries, but here in the USA, it is mostly religious people who demand heroic measures, as shown by the Terry Schaivo case, where a woman in a vegetative state was kept on life support for 15 years. When her husband decided to take her off, his in-laws fought him. His brother-in-law claimed, on religious grounds, that we have no right to die. There was an uproar in the country, mostly from the religious right.
The religious objections that I am aware of are two: that everyone is so precious in God's sight that they must be kept alive regardless of cost or quality of life. The second is that only God has the power of life an death. Some societies also add that the ruler is the only mortal with the power of life and death, so the family of a suicide may be punished, perhaps by having their property seized.
I think that he is a little too focused on the wealthier and more secular nations. Despite what he said, there are more people who believe in a god(s) than believe in Humanism/humanism.
I have some other questions, but I'm waiting for further information.
Now I am finished. Perhaps it was that he had a lot of disturbing ideas, but I thought that this got off to a slow start, improved in the middle, and then dragged so much that I had to force myself to read until the end. I also resorted to alternating reading it and reading a more interesting book just to keep myself from giving up.
I hated how he redefined religion, especially since I am an atheist and that is a sore point in our debates with religious people -- they like to claim that atheism is a religion. One of the strengths of English is that it can be very precise, and stretching the meaning of words like he does is a disservice. I am also having trouble understanding how Nazism is a form of humanism. Just about every outrage they did was attempted in earlier, more religious centuries. They just had the advantage of superior technology.
He had some interesting ideas, and I liked that he pointed out that most of humanity may seem superfluous to the elite when they aren't needed as servants or workers. Some interesting and sometimes scary ideas, but prediction, particularly now that our culture changes so fast, is risky. We also know so little about on brains and the nature of conciousness, that most of what he says may turn out to be on the wrong track.
First impressions? The author relies on his ability to put many words together nicely, to hide the fact that he overgeneralizes, make questionable assumptions, and likes to fill pages with anecdotal evidence.
I disagree with specific points he makes, too many to cite here. One that really stood out, is the idea that immortality is one of the new goals now that the first round goals have been met. Not only have the first round goals not been universally met, the new goal of immortality is as old as the hills. People have sought that, by both reasonable and unreasonable means, for thousands of years.
I'm hanging in there, but I was expecting more.
The 21st century* is shaping up nicely as a general refutation of the silly notion of homo sapiens as Deus.
*ETA: for those who may have missed contemplating the 25 (or so) preceding centuries (B.C. & A.D.).
My first instinct was to call BS on the four horseman theory as well. I mean look at CNN or NPR for more than five minutes. People are still dying of disease and hunger and war. But when I kept reading I thought he made his case very well. The fact is we DO have enough food to feed humanity. Many diseases CAN be avoided or treated. Many of the deaths that result from these issues are man made. People right here in the US don't flipping vaccinate their children. A recipe for disaster. But if we have a mutated outbreak of measles that kills thousands of children it won't be because we didn't have the tools to prevent it, it would be man's own folly. And the fact is that active war isn't as prolific as centuries before. Much of the world IS at a stale mate. Granted the use of nuclear warfare is scary. But compared to our ancestors I can see his point that war isn't as much a part of our lives as before (I mean global not just North America). Skirmishes and terrorists acts do happen. But I also whole heartedly agree with his opinion about our reactions to terrorist attacks.
Where I see the book's thesis on some potential genuine immortality or semi-immortality for some "human" beings (a crucial definitional problem is contained there, as well) failing or falling apart is that, whether we like it or know it or not, we are prisoners of the forces of evolution. We cannot leave or supercede them since our own survival presupposes that we can continue to evolve. If we do not, we cannot meet potentially ruinous biological threats to our kind with nature's safety-valve: a variety of subjects who possess, via random processes, inherent crucial differences from others which provide these difference-carriers with a survival advantage.
There is no way "around" this dilemma. To remain evolvable, we are required to be susceptible to random variation among groups of individuals and within individuals' physical make-up. Even if we could completely and perfectly halt our own kind's evolutionary variation, we'd still have the problem of living in plant and animal environments the evolution of which we can neither halt at some ideal point nor otherwise control or direct. Without genuinely randomly-produced variations, there's no survival-enhancing advantage since the character of bio-threats to us cannot be reliably known in advance of their appearance.
The thesis fails on basic biological grounds. Evolution and its survival advantages necessarily imply mortality--not just for us but for all of our terrestrial life forms as these are known. Mortality is, in this evolutionary sense, a positively selected factor. Individual mortality enhances "species"-type general survival. We should, on that account, beware of "immortality."
Just to expand on the analysis above, while evolution of the human species may be necessary for its survival, random variation in heritable traits is no longer the only mechanism by which this evolution may occur. Recent advances in gene editing through the use of newly developed tools (e.g. CRISPR/CAS9) make possible the rapid and accurate modification of most living genomes. This process may be carried out in vivo as well as through the external editing of embryos. Modification of germ lines as well as through gene drives are also possible. This technique is described by Doudna (A Crack in Creation) as follows: "As long as the genetic code for a particular trait is known, scientists can use CRISPR to insert, edit, or delete the associated gene(s) in virtually any living plant's or animal's genome". Exciting but scary. The book's subtitle refers to this as "The Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution". No mortality required.
... ""As long as the genetic code for a particular trait is known, ..."
First, this is a HUGE precondition.
Second, even if we "knew" or think we "know", how do we know we're aware of all of the ramifications of this "code's" "downstream" effects? And, even supposing we could know them, what about spontaneous mutations occuring subsequently? How can we possibly reliably prevent that?
We're playing at Faust here. This book is a bust.
I find almost every page leaves me with something to think about. For example is paradox of historical knowledge.In this age, the lack of relevance of historical knowledge which sadly influences our lives and our inability to understand the world and thus to make pertinent decisions or even to understand what is happening and why
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