21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari Book Review - a Modern Day Prophecy?
Although not many individuals of our modern society like being lectured, this book is for those who skip the daily news with a peaceful mind and are fairly familiar with the concept 'current affairs' - but can hardly describe what it actually is. Or for the ones who do, indeed, know what's going on, but are looking for some entertainment. The 21 lessons will either open your horizons on the current affairs, or make you want to consider taking the 'blue pill' of blissful ignorance and forget it all.
Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian, professor and a world-acknowledged author, particularly known for his book Sapiens: Brief History of Human Kind. For those who are still in the dark - he is an individual who looks into the world and our society from a rather sharp, slightly entertaining perspective and adds a pinch of creative imagination on top of it. Harari's latest part of the trilogy of the history, present and the prospects of human kind perfectly describes what is going on in the majority of aspects of our lives and depicts a vivid picture of what is likely going to happen, if no lessons are learned. And fast.
The book is divided into 21 chapters, each one explains one of the 21 lessons. From the job market, the division of the society, economics - to religion, suffering, and the final chapter, suggesting that the ultimate answer to the evolution of our society is meditation.
Maybe because of the uniqueness of the times, or maybe because of the distinctive author's approach, the described future looks mind-boggling and seriously depressing. Whereas the hypothesis and arguments that Harari presents seem quite logical, it is difficult to believe that in 2050 we will be in control of the AI we've created. On the other hand, knowing how much things have changed within the last ten years - the mind-bending possibility increases its chances. However, Harari's outlook goes beyond that.
The fine line between our brain and our mind and the subconsciousness is still a mystery for us. Nevertheless, many world geniuses and creators never stop comparing our brain to a super-computer. Let's say that the self-learning algorithms exceed the limits of the human control and threaten to dominate not only our digital space, but penetrate our physical bodies, in the forms of voluntary-installed nano capsules that monitor our sensors. Let's say the programmes are capable of manipulating the content we see by the impulses we receive throughout our lives up until that very moment - and it keeps updating. Harari explicitly says that whatever sounds like a science - fiction movie - most likely will not happen. Now, it means we are safe from AI robots domination.
Alas, the alternative version is even more disturbing. Based on science and everything we know, Harari assumes that it is highly unlikely that the AI will develop an algorithm that create an independent consciousness that aims to wipe out humanity. However, the fast development in the field is definitely alarming, as the algorithms gather an unheard amount of information about each one of us, every second. It is true - in 2018 data officially became more valuable than oil. Same as if oil left where it belongs wouldn't be responsible for the destruction of the majority of our ozone layer, all the gathered data and AI make no difference to us, until its being used.
Human doings still remain the main threat for our future society: whereas our data being held in good hands can significantly improve our physical and mental life and help resolve the main big global issues, AI commanded by a power-blinded leader or an organisation can turn the world upside down. Harari describes the frightening possible outcomes in a disturbingly detailed way almost as good so one couldn't even see another way, at all. However, following the comforting statement that if it's written in a story - it can't be true - we keep calm and carry on existing.
Moving away from the futuristic context , Harari also discusses the principles and the limited worldview of religions. For instance, the big fight over Jerusalem is based on the fact that the Jewish claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Jewish people, hence Palestinians have no chance of claiming it, but God knows, Palestinians will never give up fighting for it. An interesting religious concept that is - 'eternity', considering the fact that in contrast of the longevity of the Universe and the bare couple of thousand years of existence of Jews, one has to be incredibly self-absorbed to think that their impact in the world is anything more than a mere grain int the sand.
Concluding this long, complex and sometimes scary journey throughout the various aspects of our world as it is and how it's looking to be, Harari suggests that the main cancer of our society are those story tellers who drag us as further from the truth of the world for what it is, as possible. To move away from the stories, it is vital to practise observing the presence. Meditation is definitely helpful, however, by meditating 2 hours a day, as Mr. Harari, your woke time significantly shrinks. Busy people who really intend change the world have invented a modernised way of meditation. 6 Phase Meditation has been invented by Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of Mindvalley. It takes a mere 15 minutes and embrace all the important aspects to set the mind for success.
Ultimately, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who is a rather intellectual reader and has done a fair bit of research on the topics dominating in this book. Harari is very good at making statements and some interesting points however, is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It ends up as an attempt of proclaiming oneself a modern guru, him showing off as an expert on everything. And people don't like the know-it-alls, especially when they don't have much positive to say.