Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Will Pop Science End The World?

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- I've found something I think you'll like.
- You're getting good at that.
- The Israeli historian Yuval Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and its sequel have sold more than a million copies. Human beings, its story goes, developed by getting together in large groups, this made possible by a new ability to make up and tell each other fictions. From this innovation, the next was agriculture, which made life more burdensome but facilitated the aforementioned communication. The scientific revolution followed.
- And?
- The story Harari tells is of technological progress, but not necessarily progress in how well life is lived.
- Not a new idea. Technology is in the hands of leaders and increases their power to hold their positions at the expense of everyone else.
- Yes. But, he observes, a social technology, involving human rights, seems to be bringing progress to our times, progress in the scientific sense of a more efficient society. But human rights are fictions like all other stories people tell each other in order to keep on communicating with each other. Science may not be good for us, but we can't say no to whatever efficiency creating story evolution sticks us with. The problem is, Harari thinks that the ruling class of the future will bio-engineer itself into a different species. And with robots making most people obsolescent, and masses no longer needed as slaves or soldiers, the leaders will create their own more efficient fiction that justifies leaving behind everyone else.
- He can't claim this is bad, moral claims are fictions; he can't say it is inefficient, by definition it is. So what's his intention? To scare people? On what basis can he argue it is good to guard the general efficiency of humanity against a future elite's monopolized efficiency?
- Obviously, he can't. His only good is efficiency. From learning how to communicate in lies, to the agricultural and the scientific revolution's misery inducing revolutions, efficiency comes at a high cost.
- But - really, this is a stupid game - unless Harari shows that lives lived less well means inefficiency, our complaining is merely something we say to each other about each other and of no account at all.
- Technology progresses, we distinguish ourselves from other species by our learning to communicate better and form large groups, until finally, maybe, at the end of progress we don't find being in large groups efficient. The human rights fictions will no longer be efficient, and consequently will be abandoned.
- In sum: technological progress creates misery, social ideas to control that misery are false and ultimately will be abandoned relegating the masses to elimination if that is what proves most efficient. A reverse evolution of Homo Sapiens' supposed unique attribute of communication efficiency will have occurred. Why do you think a million people paid money to read this?
- People enjoy being scared - at a distance, playing just pretend, and what can this claim be, in the logic of the argument, but another fiction? But here's what I'll think you'll like. If the human species is reverse evolving itself out of its species-specific efficiency of communication, then we will be becoming literally idiots, in the entomological meaning from the Greek idiōtēs, private person. Harari recently wrote an article for a newspaper claiming that we are relatively safe from a future major war because it doesn't pay these days for big countries to fight wars. But, he concludes, you can't underestimate human stupidity. Yet why should leaders care if their county's whole population dies so long as they and friends don't? Technological progress of the kind predicted, bringing with it a species regression in communication, means they won't. They'll be idiots.