In an intellectually provocative follow-up to Sapiens (2015), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) looks to the future.
Throughout history, humans prayed for deliverance from famine, disease, and war with spotty success. For centuries, prophets agreed that all of the suffering was “an integral part of God’s cosmic plan.” Today, obesity kills more humans than starvation, old age more than disease, and suicide more than murder. Having reduced three horsemen of the apocalypse to technical problems, what will humans do next? Harari’s answer: we will become gods—not perfect but like Greek or Hindu gods: immortal and possessing superpowers but with some foibles. Although an atheist, the author does not demean religion. “Up until modern times,” he writes, “most cultures believed that humans play a part in some cosmic plan…devised by the omnipotent gods, or by the eternal laws of nature, and humankind could not change it. The cosmic plan gave meaning to human life, but also restricted human power.” Even without this agency, this belief gave our lives meaning: disasters happened for a reason, and everything would work out for the best. Deeply satisfying, this remains a core belief of most humans, including nonchurchgoers. Since the Enlightenment, the explosion of knowledge has produced dazzling progress but limited the influence of God. Many thinkers—if not the general public—agree that there is no cosmic plan but also that humans are no longer humble victims of fate. This is humanism, which grants us immense power, the benefits of which are obvious but come at a painful price. Modern culture is the most creative in history, but, faced with “a universe devoid of meaning,” it’s “plagued with more existential angst than any previous culture.” As in Sapiens, smoothly tackles thorny issues and leads us through “our current predicament and our possible futures.”
A relentlessly fascinating book that is sure to become—and deserves to be—a bestseller.