a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
Finding shared language…
Seeing Yuval Noah Harari’s take on history/life as a possible bridge for diverse thinkers/thinking to meet, I regard his invitation—to think of human beings as algorithms—potentially quite helpful. An excerpt from my October 20, ‘No free will?‘ post helps us recall what Harari has written:
Well, let’s begin with the opening definition that Harari gives for ‘algorithm’ in Homo Deus:
An algorithm is a methodical set of steps that can be used to make calculations, resolve problems and reach decisions. An algorithm isn’t a particular calculation, but the method followed when making the calculation. [pg. 83]
A more complex example [of an algorithm] is a cooking recipe. [pg. 84]
After describing how a beverage machine makes tea though the direction/oversight of an algorithm, Harari goes on to say:
Over the last few decades biologists have reached the firm conclusion that the man pressing the buttons and drinking the tea is also an algorithm. [pgs. 84-5]
As I’ve said previously, the key to reading Harari is keeping in mind that most often he is intentionally using provocation in his story telling. For instance, we recall:
We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology. [Sapiens, pg. 74]
Some religions, such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred. [Sapiens, pg. 331]
So, while it’s difficult/impossible to challenge these claims, they make it easy to miss the subtle affirmations hidden within Harari’s provocations. For instance, Harari writes:
All large scale human cooperation is ultimately based on our belief in imagined orders. These are sets of rules that, despite existing only in our imagination, we believe to be as real and inviolable as gravity. ‘If you sacrifice ten bulls to the sky god, the rain will come; if you honour your parents, you will go to heaven; and if you don’t believe what I am telling you—you’ll go to hell.’ As long as all Sapiens living in a particular locality believe in the same stories, they all follow the same rules, making it easy to predict the behaviour of strangers and to organize mass-cooperation networks. [Homo Deus, pgs. 143-4]
Big-picture, Harari is questioning if our legacy ‘conventions‘—e.g., our communal stories (covenants)—are sufficient to sustain us within the complexity of our present life conditions [LCs].
“…go to hell.”
If one holds the (‘Dantean’) pop understanding of ‘hell’ as eternal torment, then among admonitions like “believe” or “you’ll go to hell,” it’s easy to miss the subtle affirmation Harari’s argument presents for the Blue [DQ] values system. Harari’s passage (immediately above) affirms the foundational necessity of a shared Blue convention (a meta-narrative, or, “imagined orders,” in Harari’s parlance) in sustaining a cooperative, large-scale society—Harari’s books essentially make DQ the key rationale for the dominance of homo sapiens on earth.
In practical existential terms, all Sapiens do live in a ‘particular locality’—earth. Technology is swiftly ending anything like a world of disconnected localities. Whether Harari intended it, or not, his argument makes the case for the necessity of a (spiritual-wisdom informed) universally-shared Blue (e.g., a meta-narrative, or superordinate orienting story). While, presently, money most widely occupies this universal-DQ role, money (taken in neutral/objective terms) is an amoral story/convention that falls far short of what is needed in human-identity terms.
The simplicity on the far side of complexity
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”—Albert Einstein. Nothing could be more apropos for our troubled times. The current V.U.C.A. LCs confront Einstein’s axiom with a great challenge.
The algorithm ‘Jesus’—the person, Jesus of Nazareth—expressed the essential simplicity that lays beyond all complexity. The spiritual algorithm that Jesus used may be expressed in a single word: love (making reality relational, dynamic), straight-forward and plainly simple. This immediately raises a crucial question in this formulation: How is ‘love‘ defined?
Jesus reconciled the problem at John 13.34—love’s definition is found in learning how Jesus loved us. By no means is Jesus’ love story easy to learn—let alone follow. However, anyone can see ‘love’ clearly defined in Jesus’ stories and life.
The Christ algorithm
I’m unsure if most Christians would agree or disagree with the transparent mystical claim: Christianity is a recipe for becoming/being fully human [Cf. The Gospel According to Mark]. Recall, another term for ‘recipe’ is algorithm. Jesus, the person, depicts full-humanness in the very expression of his life, death, and resurrection.
This is the ninth installment in our mini-series engaging the thought of Yuval Noah Harari. Next week we’ll try to wind-it-up with the conclusion of my provisional summary of Harari’s arguments.
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?