How Yuval Noah Harari Misunderstands What Makes Us Human

Aug. 27 2019

About a decade ago, the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari abandoned his specialized study of the Middle Ages to write Sapiens, a brief history, from a decidedly mechanistic perspective, of the human species. He followed this with Homo Deus (published in English in 2016), in which he speculates about the human future in a coming age of artificial intelligence, genetic modification, and other technology that he believes will have fundamentally transformative effects. Examining both books, Roger Scruton notes that Harari’s contempt for religion is evident but not absolute:

Harari thinks that rights are fictions—that all moral claims are fictions. But fictions have power, he says, and this is especially true of the fictions propagated in the name of religion. Our gods perform a vital and life-enhancing function. They unite us in larger groups than families and tribes, give beauty and appeal to the sacrifices undertaken in their name, and stand watch over the rites of reproduction. By means of them, we have transformed our world from a habitat to a home. The supernatural sphere is not simply a purposeless invention; it is a byproduct of the great cognitive revolution, whereby human beings began to think and talk about things other than the objects in our immediate field of perception: absent things, past things, future things; the possible, the imaginary, the nonexistent.

Nevertheless, argues Scruton, Harari’s reductionist and deterministic approach to humanity ultimately misses what most makes us human:

Like Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and others who have defended the biological view of the human condition, Harari is troubled by the first-person case, which seems to deliver a different world from the world of scientific inquiry. . . . The obstacle that stands in the way of all biological reductionism is not consciousness but self-consciousness, the “I think” that accompanies my perceptions, as Kant put it.

This “I,” which is always subject and never object, which flits behind its own awareness and is never in its own line of sight, belongs to the “deep grammar” of the human condition. . . . There is no place where it can be captured, and no quality or condition that points to where it hides. It is the source of our freedom and the thing whose story remains always to be told, when the causal theory has been completed. It is what we are, and its absence from Harari’s narrative implies that his comprehensive biological theory is not a theory of humanity at all. It is an account of homo, without the sapiens. Harari’s world would contain only objects and no subjects.

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Read more at City Journal

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Humanism, Religion, Technology

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism