#50: Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

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In this episode, Jason Staples and Erik Rostad discuss book 22 of Erik’s 2018 Reading List and book 10 of Jason’s 2018 Reading ListHomo Deus.

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This is books of titans the podcast dedicated to the influences of influencers. The books that have helped
shape prominent inventors, business leaders, athletes, intellectuals, scientists, and others. We'll talk about what makes these books such classics and at least attempt to have an intelligent discussion about what makes them so
important and influential.

Today we're going to cover the book Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. I'm just looking at your show notes now oh wow we both read this one so this is gonna be a bit of a freewheeling discussion but I'm gonna turn this over to Erik in terms of who recommended this book and why it wound up on our list.

Yeah Richard Branson is the the person who recommended this one and I'm pretty sure he is a virgin sources sources tell me sources suggest despite the fact that he has children so I don't know how to I don't know how to explain that one but some of my sources I got to go back to them but no if you don't know who Richard Branson is do yourself a favor and he's got quite a few books out there about his his rise to fame and the thing I read one of them probably fifteen years ago and the thing I really liked about him is he just did did did things very differently he did things in it you know no nothing you would ever read in a business book on how to get a business started so I'm pretty pretty funny to read those books then if we're going to the about the author yeah give us a little bit about the author.

Interesting dude yeah he's an Israeli historian a tenured professor and Department of History at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem one of hisplaces where he studied was Jesus College in Oxford and are you sure that's not hey-zeus College hey Zeus I spent six weeks of my life there through your party Jesus College and those are some of the best weeks of my life another famous alumni of Jesus College Oxford was Lawrence of Arabia. One kind of interesting thing Yuval Harari is that he takes 30 days or more per year and a complete vacation but he does meditation and then it gets rid of all electronics and everything so it's it's like 30 days of I guess intense meditation and as of September 2017 you get rid of his his smartphone so he's uh he's away from technology but he I guess it allows him to to write quite well about it as we'll see in our discussion.

Yeah and it's and that doesn't actually surprise me when you read this you can see that he's very suspicious about the direction that things are presently going young is not real confident that that our technological progress is leading leading us where we actually want to go and so it's not surprising that he's kind of put his money where his mouth is and has decided to step away from some of that and that kind of leads into my overview of being really torn by that this book and I think because of what you just said of kind of a future you don't want to see happen as part of his description but then also really being
amazed at what he's talking about and
kind of thinking of the possibilities of
the future and so there was a love-hate
relationship I had with this book as I
was as I was going through with it what
about you just kind of initial
thoughts while reading the book it was a
very provocative book written I think in
a tone that's designed to be very
provocative I mean he he's he does cite
a lot of material now and all that but
he takes he takes a hard line on of
argumentation you know he specifically
has directions he wants to go and even
where perhaps certain consensus are not
quite as uh as much of a consensus as he
indicates he's gonna he's going to take
that in the direction that he wants to
because it's it's helpful for his
argument and so in some cases that can
be a little frustrating but there are
definitely moments of this book where it
is brilliant it is very
thought-provoking he's almost certainly
right in a number of these places you're
like man that that's really well stated
really well thought out and then there's
those other moments where you're like
I'm not exactly sure you're considering
this whole thing all the way around and
then there are the other moments where
it's like I'm not sure what you actually
think here because it appears to me that
based on your recognition of the of the
myth of the problems of this particular
perspective earlier the hard line that
you're taking here seems a little bit
off but it does seem like it's serving a
purpose to serve as a warning so I'm not
exactly sure where where you're coming
from but it's worth you know reading
this for the as a as an irritant if
nothing else in some of those places so
I found it to be a very useful book a
provocative book and a very smart book
mm-hmm well let me give a synopsis and
see if you agree with with my basic
understanding of his main points number
one god is dead yeah nature abhors a
vacuum man is filling said vacuum man
and technology will speed the process
what about women
well homo oh okay and you yeah is that
is that kind of the
yes this you got yeah I mean I think I
think you're you're working working in
the right direction there you know the
the presumption is that that he's
definitely working in a Nietzsche and
direction here and and and it's not so
much that he's working in a Nietzsche in
direction so much as he's presuming that
society has been working in that
direction so he's gonna pull this thread
out in the direction that he thinks
things are going and from that
perspective he's saying okay God is dead
so there has to be something that fills
the vacuum of meaning and it's not so
much that nature abhors a vacuum it's
that the human beings have to have
something by which to live so ultimately
humanity has to figure out a new way to
insert meaning into the world and
technology is speeding that process of
of needing a new way to add meaning to
the world and also provides a lot of
problems that we have not really
grappled with adequately as we're
looking looking forward into the future
so so yeah definitely yeah
so in from from there the basic premise
from which he works from this in this
book is upgrading humans through data
and algorithms will turn humans into
gods
so Homo Davis will have godlike
abilities such as longevity decisions
acquiring powers of creation and
destruction yeah and I would I would I
would amend that just slightly I would
say that it's not so much that human
beings will have godlike abilities he's
saying that at this point basically and
this is the first chapter is he says
look we're at a point where we're no
longer having to to deal with all of
these past problems of starvation and
epidemics and you know constant Wars and
all of this for the moat for the vast
majority of the of the population of the
world those are past problems that have
already been fixed now what what do we
place our sights on in terms of the next
problems to solve and he says well the
the direction that things are going is
the attempt to basically make ourselves
into gods and he says that's the
direction that this is going
he expresses his doubt as to whether or
not there are a number of places where
you can see when he actually steps back
from the narrative itself that he's
setting up and saying this is where
things are going when he steps back a
few times there a few times where he
says personally you know I actually
don't think that this is gonna work
quite this way I'm skeptical about X but
he he's presenting this as the direction
as the trajectory that things are on
yeah yeah and that was one thing I it
was hard for me to know what he actually
believed and and I mentioned that when
when I was first reading the book to you
and you said part of that might be on
purpose just to for that not to become
the issue of what does he personally
believe but is this part of the
narrative that he's that he's putting
forth and so absolutely think that
that's what he's doing here I think if
you cornered him and asked him his views
on a couple of these things he'd say
yeah I actually don't agree with the
current consensus on where that is but
that's where that's the that's the way
that that's the assumptions that are
baked into how we're doing things so if
I'm gonna write this book about where
the future is going that I need to I
need to operate from that assumption
mm-hmm and and there are a number of
places where I think he does that yeah
yeah and I know we'll get into some of
those because as you said some of those
were were difficult or infuriating and
then other others of them were really
thought-provoking as well so and by the
way his his basic idea here of you know
we will now upgrade humans into gods and
turn Homo sapiens into Homo Davis this
is this is actually as I mentioned
already this is basically restating
Nietzsche Nietzsche's expection or
expectation that is expection cheese
it's getting late his expectation of the
rise of uber mentioned right of
superman' and and and this is where you
know one of the later quotes of the book
is once technology allow enables us to
re-engineer human minds Homo sapiens
will disappear and human history will
come to an end and a completely new kind
of
we'll begin which people like you and me
cannot comprehend and this is basically
the Nietzsche and the Nietzschean idea
of uber mentioned that are going to this
is the next evolutionary step beyond our
current species of Homo sapiens or
sapiens as you usually hear it said
you're that it's going to be it's gonna
that basically once you allow for
certain for basically for the for
natural selection and evolution to take
it take its out its course and a form
beyond us is going to emerge and then
you know we will be secondary to that
and it didn't happen the way that
Nietzsche expected but basically Harare
is in or is is bringing this back and
saying well it didn't it didn't weren't
you had the Nazis for example that came
in and tried to make this happen via
killing off the weak and the people that
they believed were inferior in order to
speed the direction toward uber mention
which you know would have would have
been in fulfillment of what nature was
saying so that hasn't happened and it's
not going to happen as far as we can
tell you know knock on wood but we we
might end up going in that same
direction by the basic direction of our
technology and research because of
augmentation and all of this other stuff
and so he's really developing some of
these ideas of Nietzsche saying okay it
didn't happen quite the way that he was
expecting there but we might actually be
on the track that Nietzsche was
expecting that's a lot of how I read a
lot of this yeah in a other side of it
we go back to Kahneman again we're and
we've seen a lot of him this year but
who are we talking about him and
especially about the way that we
remember things and so our experiencing
self first verse or remembering self so
the remembering self we often remember
things incorrectly but if we're looking
forward and in integrating technology
more into our lives we
you may not have to rely on that
remembering self and then the algorithms
and in different parts of technology
will help help us in our decision-making
to where we're kind of becoming one with
technology to where we're not we're not
just relying on our natural human
capabilities anymore but but combining
them with technology to to create this
super person yeah yeah and in one of the
ways that he actually interacts with how
that changes things is and this is this
is an economist experiments on this and
his discussion of that is that generally
speaking human beings have the
decision-making that we we tend to tend
to have or tend to operate according to
as we favor the remembering self over
the experiencing self so even though the
even though an experience was worse if
it ended better we may remember it
better than the better experience and if
we were given a choice we would choose
the worst one because we remember it
differently than because of the way it
ended and so you know this is the idea
that we we don't always choose in our
own self-interest in terms of what we
would actually enjoy in terms of
experience and so that would change
potentially our the way that we make our
decisions yeah so the final thing I
wanted to cover in the overview is just
the fact that I have heard a lot of the
ideas from this book and I think they
are from this book there been a few
books that we've read over the past few
years for the books of titans where you
know that that is kind of the source so
anytime you're listening to a podcast
and they're talking about these ideas
those ideas came some of the some of the
ideas came from this this book so it was
one of those types of books where I've
I've seen it all over that's where
people are getting that yeah so very
impactful book and it's one of those
that you might want to just read just
for that purpose because you're gonna
see these ideas in a lot of places and
if somebody's talking about him you at
least know where they they came from
yeah and I'll say up front this book is
worth the read you know even if you know
it will certainly for many in the
audience it
it will provoke you and challenge you in
ways that are gonna be uncomfortable I
mean I think in it that actually makes
it even more valuable for for a lot of
readers and I mentioned earlier some of
the moments of brilliance in in this
book you know there's a great quote for
example he does a great job of boiling
certain things down certain concepts
down and this one was really striking to
me he says yeah in fact modernity is a
surprisingly simple deal the entire
modern contract can be summarized in the
single phrase humans agree to give up
meaning in exchange for power and you
think about that and it's like dang
that's that's actually a pretty good
summary of a lot of where we are and a
lot of the philosophical deal that we
that we've made to be in our position in
the current position you know well we're
gonna sacrifice family and and religion
and all sorts of other things in pursuit
of economic growth and the capacity to
control and do these things a little bit
you know do certain things a little bit
better and basically giving up meaning
for power and then I thought was I mean
it's a really pithy really brilliant
statement and there's a lot of different
places where he was able to do that in
this book and in that that that's one of
the reasons why it's been so influential
yeah well let's let's go into our
favorite quotes I don't have I could
have put dozens of these yeah and I just
have a few in this section and then more
in some of the questions that I have a
new section I would like to actually
introduce Jason and this is called
Eric's questions for Jason and I
actually had a lot of quotes in that
part just things as I was reading that
it's like is is this right or what you
know what do you what do you think so
I think that'll actually be a fun fun
section and then and then we'll get into
our regular nitty gritty section
followed by the conclusion all right and
I have quotes throughout that but Jason
since you have the more quotes here that
will you want to start out with with one
yeah so maybe my favorite quote from
this
this book and there's a lot of fun ones
in this book is this one Marx forgot the
capitalists know how to read and this
isn't a bit this is in his discussion
one of the things that this book that he
talks about how this book is is not a
prediction it's you know he wants to
distance from that but at the same time
it is a prediction and actually I would
say that this book is it's an attempt to
be it's a prophetic book in the proper
sense of the of that word
so it meaning that it's not a an attempt
to predict the future as much as it is
to evaluate the present and and
basically give perspective on where
things are going and and basically
looking at possible trajectories of the
future one or two in particular and say
this is where things are going and if we
don't make changes here's here's the
here's the direction and some of these
things are not going to be desirable to
most people and and you can see that
that he discusses in some places where
he says listen even if I'm right if
people pay attention to what I'm saying
here and then decide that these are not
good outcomes and decide to change that
and I turn out wrong then this book
actually worked which which that tells
you a little bit about what he's trying
to do here right and this is where this
this quote sits it right and and this
connects with an earlier quote that he'd
had about his particular um particular
aims in this book he said this
prediction is less of a prophecy and see
I would argue that actually it is a
prophecy in the proper sense I when I
teach ancient prophecy when I teach what
that is
it's more about forth telling or telling
you know giving perspective speaking
forth perspective on the present then it
is about foretelling the future so I
would argue with this terminology here
but in any case it's less of a prophecy
and more a way of discussing our present
choices if the discussion makes us
choose differently so that the
prediction is proven wrong all the
better what
the point of making predictions if they
cannot change anything so then he gets
to this and this is where he says Marx
forgot that capitalists know how to read
and I love that quote he says at first
only a handful of disciples took Marx
seriously in read his writings but as
these socialists firebrands gained
adherents in power the capitalists
became alarmed they too perused dust
copy doll adopting many of the tools and
insights of the mark of Marxist analysis
as a result Marx's predictions came to
nothing communist revolutions never
engulfed the leading industrial powers
such as Britain France in the USA and
the dictatorship of the proletariat was
consigned to the dustbin of history this
is the paradox of historical knowledge
knowledge that does not change behavior
is useless but knowledge that changes
behavior quickly chooses its relevance
I'm combining by the way this is a
second quote from a little bit later but
I'm combining it with this other one the
more data we have in the better we
understand history the faster history
alters its course and the faster our
knowledge becomes outdated but I love
that idea that he and he actually argues
that one of the reasons that capitalism
and modern particularly modern
democratic capitalism succeeded is
because it rolled in the best ideas from
ultimately communism and then later on
socialism and various things and it
tweaked its it basically those things
got got added into the mix to mitigate
many of the problems that were there in
raw capitalism and so on and as a result
those things did those things in their
raw form didn't emerge but it's because
they were adopted by their opponents and
then this is a great example of that
where again Marx made all these
predictions and a lot of people don't
realize that Marx was not so much trying
to stir up rebellion as he was actually
predicting that this was inevitable
based on where things were going he says
yeah well Marx Marx forgot that other
people would read what he was saying
otherwise if he hasn't said it it might
have happened yeah yeah that 101 was
good I know one stuck out to me as well
[Music]
here's one I thought this is one of the
better ones
of the book and I'd actually seen this
somewhere Ellison and possibly even in
one of the other books of titans books
but this comes on page 331 since we do
not know how the job market would look
in 2030 or 2040 already today today we
have no idea what to teach our kids most
of what they currently learn at school
will probably be irrelevant by the time
they are 40
traditionally life has been divided it
has been divided into two main parts a
period of learning followed by a period
of working very soon this traditional
model will become utterly obsolete and
the only way for humans to stay in the
game will be to keep learning throughout
their lives and to reinvent themselves
repeatedly many if not most humans may
be unable to do so and that's the quote
and he actually talks about it further
as part of this man becoming God idea is
that man will live men and women man and
woman will live longer and and if
they're living 150 years they will have
to reinvent themselves many times
throughout their life so that was
interesting as well but but I just I
like that that you know traditionally
you you divided your life into two
periods period of learning and then
working but now it's really you it's
it's a continual process of learning it
and while you're working so that you're
constantly learning new skills and I'm
sure that was true to some degree but I
guess you think of of learning a trade
in the past I may be counting like you
learn accounting and then you can kind
of just do that in the same job your
whole life whereas the work I'm doing
right now was not even something I could
have studied
website development I couldn't have
studied that in my undergraduate program
it didn't exist didn't exist not as such
yeah and and this connects actually with
the very first podcast very first book
we did yeah you know Kelly's the
inevitable where he talked about how
basically it's going to be constantly
it's it's the it's the constant being at
being an amateur forever and an onsen
learning and constant education that's
going to be necessary in order to move
forward and
something that he agrees with and also a
book that we're gonna be talking about
not too long from now
WTF by O'Reilly that that one also
addresses that concept as well yeah okay
I got a few more let's see in ancient
times
having power meant having access to data
today having power means knowing what to
ignore yep we've got an over information
overload yeah we've got an overabundance
of data and it's learning how to how and
what to ignore that that really makes
the difference now all right I'm gonna
go to a third one before I give you
another chance here from 1914 to 1989 a
murderous war of religion raged between
the three humanists sex and religion era
and liberalism
at first sustained one defeat after the
other I love that deliciously
provocative because most people would
not regard world war one world war two
the Korean War Vietnam the Cold War all
of this stuff as Wars of Religion but I
think he makes a very compelling case
that they were and that they and that
that it's just a matter of not siloing
religion into things like Christianity
and Judaism and Islam that there's that
human beings are continued even even
atheists are religious and in terms of
how religion functions and so
understanding that helps us understand
how these things work and there's a
there's a very good book actually that
dovetails with that idea that is um that
actually calls what Harare is referring
to as religion it actually refers to it
as meta religion which is the title of
the book by by lane we can go ahead and
link to that in the show notes but
that's okay that's a that's a pretty
good one that we we ought to bring bring
up well in in quote that in with that he
said if you tell communists or liberals
that they are religious they think you
are accusing them of blindly believing
in Quran Allah spy
dreams so I thought that was a funny
connection to what the one you just read
yep so you what you've got quite a few
so you want to tackle a few more um
let's see
whatever you are today be it a devout
Hindu cricket player or an aspiring
lesbian journalist in an upgraded world
you will feel like on the end earth all
hunter in wall street
you won't belong and this is his point
that on the trajectories that were at as
people continue to augment and use
genetic genetic engineering and all that
stuff to upgrade themselves to be
superhuman effectively those who are
left behind those who aren't part of
that elite group that upgrade themselves
to being homo Deus those those people
are gonna feel like a Neanderthal on
Wall Street would because we're gonna be
left behind it's gonna be like a new
species that says that and that's
largely the the thesis of the book yeah
I loved I loved his juxtaposition of the
devout Hindu cricket player or aspiring
lesbian journalist yeah the other thing
I found interesting along those lines
was when he was talking about our or the
emphasis that we place right now on our
experience and how much importance every
person's experience or the everyone's
experience should be important and and
feelings how you feel is the measure is
that is the thing that's going to
determine whether or not that is a what
decision should be made right if you
feel if this makes you feel good then
that must be the thing the best thing
for you but then he ties that in with so
now if you start having algorithms help
you make these decisions and you start
realizing okay well my feelings are
having me make really poor decisions if
you haven't if you out yeah if you
outsource those two to AI those things
don't matter anymore or they don't have
the the importance that that is placed
on them
now so that got into a very interesting
discussion as well yeah basically he
says that the current assumptions of our
morality in our ethics today as you
outsource to algorithms you the the very
the very things that we rest our
assumptions on now
can't hold so then what is what becomes
the the basis for those decisions when
you know you can change what you are you
know what your proclivities are or you
can you alter your feelings either
through genetic engineering or through
medication or through you know some sort
of you know implant cognitive
stimulation you know brain stimulation
or whatever how does that change the way
that we imagine what decisions should be
made and you know all of that so that
that challenges a lot of our current
assumptions one if it if it if it all
sounds very futuristic we're already
doing it I mean if if you use ways or
Google Maps you're you're giving power
to that in a sense of your at least I do
I mean I I put that in and I don't if
something seems to be wrong or I'm
seeming to go in the wrong direction I'm
gonna drive right off a cliff man if I
was too low I would blast this way
whatever ways tells me to do I do
so uh yeah I mean III we're already
doing that and that's kind of his point
too is like we're doing it little by
little and we don't even realize it but
we're starting to to get more of our
decisions over to well you bought this
you might like that take just put in the
directions and we'll get you there so
little little bits at a time yeah
there's a real frog in the frying pan
quality to this book where he's saying
this is where things are going
are you aware of where this trajectory
ends up so so yeah there's a lot of that
and and I should mention that he then
I'm gonna pull out one other in my
favorite quotes because this helps us
understand kind of how he how he's
thinking about this where
he he actually he comes out with his own
voice for once it's it's not not very
not very common in this book but let me
find it he says my own view is that the
hopes of eternal youth in the 21st
century are premature and whoever takes
them seriously is in for bitter for a
bitter disappointment it is not easy to
live knowing that you are going to die
but it is even harder to believe in
immortality and be proven wrong and
that's an interesting statement and and
he goes further with that and saying
what are the people as they are starting
to realize they're more to their
mortality and they're there they're
failing in their quest of immortality
what is the what's the backlash gonna be
among those who are starting to be
proven wrong because there's a lot of
people a lot of these elites today truly
believe that they can find somehow the
the technological equivalent of the
Fountain of Youth and I was actually
surprised he didn't connect some of this
to you know the the same quests that
we've seen in the past for those very
things that led to the Age of
Exploration for some and others where
basically it was then a quest for
immortality and that you know this is
it's it's it's not a new thing yeah well
and I'm glad he did state that this is
my own view is on that part because the
other quote that I had in my favorite
quote section was we don't need to wait
for the second coming in order to
overcome death in that that was one of
those frustrating quotes to me because
it's okay so we live we can live 50 more
years to to where were a hundred and
fifty instead of a hundred but we still
die so what would it how are you talking
about overcoming death if all we're
doing is living fifty more years
prolong his life does not defeat death
yeah
so that was one frustrating thing so I'm
glad he did have that part where my own
view is is such and such on that because
that was one of those things I was like
all right frustrating I could go I could
go on with lots of different ones
but I'm gonna go with two more okay
one is is he's got some scary well
actually you know what I'm just gonna go
with one more and I'll roll that one
into into simulator discussion but one
more
you cannot settle the Greek debt crisis
by inviting Greek politicians and German
bankers to either a fistfight or an orgy
I think he's I think I think he's pretty
much right about that so yeah we'll just
we'll just go with that
so let's move into the next section here
my questions for Jason Oh a good leader
there we go we need an intro intro ditty
you know i-i'll take the Chicago Bulls
entrance music from the 1990s thank you
alright first question will mankind make
it past 120 years of age
okay are we talking about individual
human beings like individuals the rare
individual or are we talking about on
average the rare the individual human
being because no matter what article I
read of here's the oldest person alive
it never seems to go past 120 I think
that well I think I think somebody's
made it to like 123 or something like
that okay for if I if I if I remember
correctly the the person who's lived the
longest and at least in recorded history
you know of course you've got these King
lists and so on of ancient literature
where you've got guys living you know a
thousand years or whatever but you know
in in recorded history you know I think
like 123 is the is the oldest person I
think that's that's that's about how
yeah I just looked it up actually Jeanne
Calment died at the age of 122 in 64
days so I'll say yeah somebody at
different points may make it a little
bit past 120 but I don't think by much
and I don't think actually that that's
gonna change anytime soon I suspect that
in a hundred years
the
the the oldest people alive will still
be right in that hundred and twenty year
range I I just suspect we're actually
gonna find that that's kind of an
asymptote that pushing it further than
that's really really hard and I think
there's gonna be some frustration that
okay well we can at you know oh good
that person made it to 124 and then you
know the inevitable happened so I
suspect that that's where things are
gonna go but again I mean that's a
prediction who knows who knows for sure
yeah that would be my guess
okay the next one lot up talking this
book about organisms being algorithms
are they are organisms algorithms oh I
see that so the part of the problem here
and this opens up to a larger a larger
discussion throughout the book he he
brings this up set and in several
different places where he basically says
listen the current scientific consensus
is that say there for example there is
no soul there's no human soul
there's no mind beyond the brain there's
nothing you know basically and nothing
material nothing immaterial exists
scientifically speaking but at the same
time he then calls that into question
and says yeah but we actually
scientifically speaking really can't
explain consciousness we can't explain
like why we are self-aware we can't
explain where life came from we can
explain how life evolves into different
forms you know different organisms
evolve into different forms of organisms
different types of organisms we can't
really figure out how you get you know
something alive from rocks you know
saying that slightly differently than he
does um so he does bring that up and
says that this is a problem like we
don't actually have a whole lot of
scientific knowledge of how any of this
works at a deep level and then he turns
around and says but you know the the
scientific consensus is basically that
human beings are organized or
are human organisms human beings are
algorithms that you know various animals
are algorithms that organisms are just
algorithms like anything else and you
know that that's that all right and just
to take a step back the way he defines
algorithm is a methodical set of steps
that can be used to make calculations
resolve problems and reach decisions
so we basically be saying that anything
that a person does coded in terms
reduced to a code of instructions okay
yeah now there are a couple things that
are worth bringing in here because he
spends so much time emphasizing this
organisms are algorithms point that it's
easy to again it's easy to kind of lose
his where his voice comes in and his
questions come in a little bit too and
the point in this book now there are two
quotes I want to bring in here that that
help explain a little bit of what what
he's trying to do here because what he
does by the end of the book is he takes
you to this concept of called data ISM
where he says this is a basically a
modern where where as he says the the de
facto religion meaning the unifying a
set of assumptions that even people from
different quote/unquote religions like
Christianity and Islam and so on the
basically modernity has operated
according to a set of agreed rules that
even people from differing sects and all
that agree on in general again laying
another another scholar calls this meta
religion it's the thing that that that
it's kind of the religion above all
religions that that people had given
timeshare he says well that that thing
ever since the end of the Middle Ages at
least has been humanism and particularly
in in more recent times liberal humanism
has been or humanistic liberalism has
been the shared assumption the shared
religion of most of the of the modern
world
he says that's that's the way it is but
he says there are modern techno religion
as he calls him that are vying to take
the place of this liberalism that is
fraying under the basically the
onslaught of the developments of
technology and all of this all the while
we don't realize that these things are
changing and they're changing the way
that we think and we're giving ourselves
over to a situation in which we're gonna
have a crisis of identity and of what
kind of world we want to live in given
the things that we're able to do and so
he presents data ism as one of those two
techno religions and particularly he
thinks data ISM is the direction that
everything is ultimately going right now
because it's the shared perspective of
science and you know Silicon Valley and
basically technological development and
he says listen data ISM he says says the
universe consists of data flows and the
value of any phenomenon or entity is
determined by its contribution to data
processing and he says this may strike
you as some eccentric fringe notion but
in fact it has already conquered most of
the scientific establishment so then he
says in 150 years since Charles Darwin
published on the Origin of Species the
life's life sciences have come to see
organisms as Biola biochemical
algorithms and then you know same thing
in terms of of computer science and all
of these other things and he says data
ISM basically points out that the same
mathematical laws apply to both
biochemical and electronic algorithms so
the barrier between animals and machines
collapses and you get to that and he
says listen you may not agree with the
idea that organisms are algorithms and
that giraffes tomatoes and human beings
are just different methods for
processing data but you should know that
this is current scientific dogma and
that it is changing our world beyond
recognition now what that tells me is
that Harare himself is skeptical of
the assumption of the idea that
organisms are algorithms and that you
can basically equate organisms with
algorithms he I think he's skeptical of
that idea that you see that in that
quote and there's one other one I'm
gonna go to in a moment but he's right
that even those who don't agree with
that idea are generally operating by
that idea according to that idea in the
way that we in the way that that we're
doing Society at this point the way that
we do our scientific research the way
that we're doing our with a way that
we're setting up our technological
platforms the way that we're
establishing a lot of our values he says
the way that we're living all this stuff
out he says this is taking over and we
need to be aware of that I think he's
right about that so I I actually don't
think that you that you can that you can
equate organisms and algorithms I think
that organisms operate that there are
algorithms encoded in organisms and
something to some to some degree I think
you can look at say DNA as algorithmic
sure it's a set of instructions yes but
what we're finding is that DNA is not is
not determinative to people with exactly
the same DNA can wind up very very
different even in terms of phenotype we
don't understand why and you know two
people with exactly the same DNA
presented with the same choices and the
same basic upbringing and all that turn
out very different in terms of the
choices that they make so it's not
determinative in that in that regard so
even though there may be algorithms in
play I'm not I'm not so sure that we can
that we can that we can identify them
and elsewhere later on toward the end of
the book he says you know it's equally
doubtful so that again he's he's getting
back to his own voice here he says at
present in particular at present we have
no idea how or why data flows could
produce consciousness and subjective
experiences maybe we'll have a good
explanation in 20 years but maybe we'll
discover that organisms aren't
algorithms after all
again you see him kind of emerging there
with this idea that you know we've
jumped really hard into this conclusion
that you know well we can just define
everything as algorithms maybe it
doesn't maybe that's not right now my
answer to that by the way is that
science and he actually alludes to this
elsewhere in the book and directly
addresses it a couple places science
can't discover or prove the answer to
that question one way or another mm-hmm
there's no way of actually doing that in
a in a in an empirical sense now science
is the only way forward I'll say this
are assuming that organisms are not
algorithms that assumption that
conviction is the only way forward that
doesn't lead to really bad results to
what I would say is destruction mmm-hmm
the only way that doesn't lead to
destruction in terms of society and in
terms of humanity is to is to embrace
the conclusion that organisms are
something beyond algorithms but there's
something else to them so as part of his
do you think part of his writing in this
book is to show the absurdities of some
of these assumptions um I don't know
that he would call them absurdities
because an absurdity is something that
doesn't make sense
what he wants to do is he wants to show
the end results of the trajectory he
wants to show that yeah it's not
necessarily absurd and actually it would
be better if it were absurd that what he
wants to show is that if you take these
things to their logical conclusion
they're horrifying and is that is that
like in your teaching of the of the old
prophets is that what the prophets did
generally speaking yes okay it's saying
look if you continue to do this this is
what's gonna happen and nobody's gonna
like it okay
stop doing what you're doing figure out
you know do things the right way and
maybe just maybe this bad stuff isn't
gonna come down the pike you see a lot
of that from the say 9th century Hebrew
prophets okay but he's doing a lot of
the same stuff here and again he's
working very much in line with Nietzsche
first of all and again there's an early
quote where he says not only do we
possess far more power than ever before
but against all expectations gods death
did not lead to social collapse and yet
he's saying the social collapse that
Nietzsche was worried about when
Nietzsche said God is dead now what
Nietzsche and then breaks down how you
know ultimately we that could lead to
social collapse and then eventually the
rise of uber mention who emerged from
the ashes as the result of natural
selection taking it you know basically
being let loose among humanity now that
God is dead and humanity has you know
taken to eating itself and competing in
more of the laws of nature once again
you're gonna get the result of you know
the result is gonna be evolution and
supermen because what Nietzsche is
dealing with this he says look we're in
a position where we've stopped evolving
and the reason we stopped evolving is
because we do all this stuff that
Judaism basically foisted on humanity
through Christianity if you read that
this is all in a lot of this is in
Nietzsche's uh the what is it the
genealogy of morality which we can link
but in Nietzsche's genealogy of morality
he talks about look the the Judaism the
Jews used Christianity as a Trojan horse
to get everybody to to take care of the
poor and to look after the sick and to
basically you know basically take all of
this what he regards as the Teutonic
desire for power the Teutonic nobility
where you know the poor and the and the
feeble and so on would be cast out and
basically the society stays strong
instead because we take care of the sick
because we
you know do all these things that that
benefit the week we've stopped evolution
human beings aren't evolving anymore in
fact if anything we're going backwards
because the weak and the feeble are
procreating and they're having lots of
kids and so the powerful are actually in
some cases having fewer kids and as a
result it's you know idiocracy which we
also can link in the show notes you know
you get a few generations of the the
dumb people having more kids than the
smart people in humanity gets Dumber
basically natural selections working the
opposite way because of the social
structures that we have in place to keep
it from working the way that it wouldn't
you know calling the herd and Nietzsche
idea that's where we get the Darwin
Awards right and so basically Nietzsche
says well now we're starting to figure
out that God is dead that there is that
God doesn't exist no no God is dead so
now in light of that what's gonna happen
well you get the collapse of these
various you know societal things that
keep the weak from being taken advantage
of and all that for Nietzsche that may
be a good thing because it leads to
supermen well Harare is looking at this
and saying it didn't happen then the way
that nature was was imagining now the
Nazis tried tried to actually give it a
kickstart but and actually that's part
of why Hitler was so willing to just
throw more and more people into the war
when it was obvious that they were going
to lose because as far as he was
concerned it was a Nietzschean project
if they weren't strong enough they
deserved to die
right and that would apply to himself as
well and Hitler in that sense Hitler was
not a madman he was he was worse he was
thoroughly logical and evil hmm
and Harare here is taking the same basic
idea and saying look we actually are now
in a position where in terms of
Technology and in terms of the direction
of a lot of things we actually might be
able to do some of the stuff that
Nietzsche was taught Nietzsche was
talking about and you could have the
elites basically leaving behind
everybody else and everybody else is a
subclass like like basically and lower
animals
compared to us now and if you look at
how we treat lower animals and he's got
that whole section on that you know
locking him in cages and doing stuff
like that with our current agriculture
and he says look at how we've treat we
treat our animals that might be how the
elite who become supermen in the future
through augmentation and genetic
engineering and all that how they treat
the rest of us who don't make the leap
yeah and how could we know how that's
going to work because we can't think
like a Superman they're gonna be so
different if they get there they're
gonna be so different from us that their
ethics are gonna be different the way
that they think are gonna be different
they're more out there notion of
morality is gonna be completely
different and is this the world we want
to build that's what that's what Harare
is doing here and it's it's a really
provocative thing yeah yeah a great
great answer next question does the Old
Testament God never promise any rewards
or punishment after death and here's who
I'm asking this this page 48 he says in
ancient agricultural societies many
religions displayed surprisingly little
interest in metaphysical questions in
the afterlife instead they focused on
the very mundane issue of increasing
agricultural output
thus the Old Testament God never
promises any rewards or punishments
after death he's not wrong
okay now the here's the trick so when
you're when you're talking about the
Torah and this by the way is why the
Sadducees in the New Testament don't
believe in the resurrection because
there's no notion of an afterlife in the
Torah in the first five books of the of
the Hebrew Bible you know at that layer
you you're seeing the Covenant and the
promises in the Covenant are basically
that the people will be survived will
survive that your that your children
will have will have God's favor and that
they'll have plenty and so on so he's
generally right about that now it's
later in the tradition that you start to
see some indication of a belief in the
afterlife and there there's some
potential hints of it in the in the in
the Torah itself as well even though
it's never explicit so it's only one
we get to the Book of Daniel which is
most scholars think probably the last
book of the New Testament to have been
written most likely from the second
century the Old Testament yeah the last
book of the Hebrew Bible yeah to have
been written likely from the from the
sort of mid-second century one 60s is
when most scholars think that Daniel is
written Daniel 12 is the first place in
the Bible where there's any mention of a
personal resurrection and it's the only
place in the in the Hebrew Bible where
you have a notion of individual
resurrection like that that's
specifically promised and it's there's
some discussion in Ecclesiastes or in
Hebrew qohelet which it calls into
question whether or not there is an
afterlife and whether or not there's you
know justice in the afterlife to
compensate for all the injustice in this
world but but it kind of leaves that
question open to some degree but that's
as much as you get in the Hebrew Bible
huh so yeah he's right cool interesting
next one is the lesson from the Garden
of Eden that we shouldn't talk to snakes
[Laughter]
so here's here's the in the Garden of
Eden Adam and Eve lived as foragers the
expulsion from Eden bears a striking
resemblance to the Agricultural
Revolution instead of allowing Adam to
keep gathering wild fruits an angry God
condemns him to eat the bread by the
sweat of your brow it might be no
coincidence then that the biblical
animals spoke with humans only in the
pre agricultural area era of Eden what
lessons does the Bible draw from the
episode that you shouldn't listen to
snakes and it is generally best to avoid
talking with animals and plants it leads
to nothing but disaster is that the
lesson from the Garden of Eden that we
shouldn't talk to snakes well you know
that's not the lesson that I generally
have my students emerge from that story
with
I suppose if Eve and Adam had not and by
the way it's worth noting that in the
story the the the Bible is actually very
clear about where Adam is when Eve is
talking with the snake he's with her it
says and she gave the fruit to her
husband who was with her so it's not
like you know she's talking to him solo
so you know I guess if they hadn't
talked to the snake maybe they wouldn't
have done it but that doesn't actually
seem to be the operating problem you
know they're there there might be the
whole like don't try to to divin eyes
yourself aspect of things which connects
actually more to her Ari's fears in this
book than the snake talking part you
know don't don't seek to become homo
Deus by via via knowledge so maybe maybe
that one would be a better conclusion
but I'm not not quite so willing to go
with the snakes thing now that in
fairness he's making a larger point
about the progression and you can make
an argument as to whether or not I mean
there's there's questions as to whether
or not he's actually right about this
being the progression but basically
making he's making the case that that
monotheism developed out of animism this
idea that there are spirits and so on
local spirits and all of this in pre
agricultural societies and all that the
pre agricultural societies had this idea
of you know animals and plants having
their own life force and all of this
that you could communicate with and did
communicate with and honored and all of
this and that ultimately monotheistic
traditions shut all that down and
certainly you do see monotheistic
traditions like like Judaism and
Christianity that do discourage what you
would see as you know divination of
certain types where you would
potentially you know try to speak with
the dead or whatever but in terms of
talking to snakes specifically or
talking to animal
that's not exactly prohibited and there
is the notion in Judaism and
Christianity at least that that God even
though there's there's only one God that
you worship and either one you have
multiple spirits and so on that are
potentially untrustworthy so it's not
like you eliminate the animistic kind of
overtones necessarily you just don't
worship them and secondly God is
actually it's almost there's a kind of
quasi pantheism so God is in all of
these things the God of Israel the god
of Christianity is in all of these
things and gives his life you know he's
the animate animating principle and all
of these things such that you know if
you do encounter the divine through
these things you're really encountering
that God through them as well so you you
can make a case against several things
there but I don't I don't have a huge
objection to it okay those two two more
here page 98 in the Garden of Eden myth
humans are punished for their curiosity
and for their wish to gain knowledge
yeah that's just flat wrong so I thought
they were punished for their
disobedience and wanting to be gods yeah
it's it's not so much for their wanting
to be gods but their disobedience and
actually I think CS Lewis is is uh is is
right in arguing that actually they're
reaching out to to cease the fruit of
the knowledge of good and evil actually
is what costs them knowledge that when
you actually experience evil you don't
get to no you don't you don't gain
knowledge by doing evil is Louis's
argument I think he's right
that you gain knowledge by resisting
evil at which point you actually get to
see evil even more for what it is that
the person doing evil is actually
blinded by it and what we find in the
story of Eden is that humanity actually
not only does not become wise as gods
but is actually blinded and become
more and more foolish over the course of
the narrative as a result of the the
deed that Adam and Eve do so it's not
that they actually that their wish to
gain knowledge is the problem what they
do is they seek the fruit of the
knowledge of good and evil and yada the
Hebrew here which Harare certainly knows
I mean he's in this book was I believe
actually originally written in Hebrew
yeah but yeah ah in Hebrew actually has
more of an experiential sense to it sort
of like in in Spanish you might have you
have two words for for knowledge you can
have sub ed which is like to know in a
kind of scientific fashion you know you
have knowledge and then you have conozco
which is like an experiential knowledge
and generally speaking yeah thou can
kind of do double duty in in Hebrew for
that but it is an experiential knowledge
there experiencing good and evil so
instead of just knowing good and thereby
being able to discern both good and evil
they experience both good and evil and
actually lose their capacity to discern
that's what happens in the story it's
it's it's not that they're forbidden
from knowledge it's that they're there
the way that they try to seize that
experiential knowledge of both good and
evil they get both good and evil and the
evil begins begins the blindness and and
takes away the the the knowledge takes
away it takes away the ability to
discern so that's a place where I think
he's actually mistaken in the way that
he reads that all right one one last
question I thought this was just an
excellent question that he asks on page
277 he says ask yourself what is the
most influential discovery invention or
creation of the 20th century and then he
says now ask yourself what was the most
influential discovery invention or
creation of traditional religions such
as Islam and Christianity in the 20th
century what
the most in that sentence technological
innovation in the 20th or 21st century
20th 20th century that's a really hard
one in terms of technological innovation
I would probably say the microchip yeah
in in the 20th century but you can make
a case for several other things you know
you can make a case for just electricity
basically the for electrical generators
and and electricity as a as a as a
large-scale innovation there so you
could go for that but that started a
little bit earlier than that so and you
might push that into the 19th but I
would say probably probably that and
then as far as religious innovation and
I think you know I think this makes his
point is that you don't think about
that's not a space for innovation so per
se no you know religions tend to be
conservative in that regard so in it's
not a space for innovation I would say
I'll take a hard pass on that one now
you had a couple other questions go go
for him
all right so old testament views on
homosexuality I'm gonna read what he
says on that hence according to the best
scientific knowledge the Leviticus
injunctions against homosexuality
reflect nothing grander than the biases
of a few priests and scholars in ancient
Jerusalem this I through science are
though science cannot decide whether
people ought to obey God's commands it
has many relevant things to say about
the provenance of the Bible if you
Gandhian politicians think that power
that created the cosmos the galaxies and
the black holes becomes terribly upset
whenever two homo sapien males have a
bit of fun together then science can
help disabuse them of this rather
bizarre notion I just wrote in the in a
call
there would love Jason's thoughts on
this what he's alluding to is he's
saying that Leviticus the Book of
Leviticus rather than being handed down
to Moses and you know written by the
hand of God or something like that was
composed most likely by a priestly class
perhaps in Jerusalem perhaps not in you
know and finalized somewhere somewhere
probably in the exilic period or maybe
just you get some variation but just
pre-exilic or just post-exilic but you
know say let's say in the exilic period
so in the 500s BCE and so what he said
what he's saying there is that since we
are pretty pretty certain that the that
Leviticus comes from that time period
and not from Mount Sinai written by the
hand of God then it basically follows
that it reflects the biases of a few
priests who basically stuck in some
stuff that was anti anti homosexual
behavior and so so we can you know
basically conclude that God didn't hand
that down now as for where you know when
the Book of Leviticus was probably
finalized he's operating on pretty good
footing now whether that whether that
means that this that God didn't reveal
that as you know his explicit expressed
will to those priests that's another
question and I think that's a harder
question to to answer in that in a
scientific way so and and he would
acknowledge that so that I would I would
just say that the that the one does not
actually involve it coming to a
conclusion on the other okay the last
one involves a rather large paragraph
but as my question is summarizing yeah
he makes reference that the scientific
revolution was blocked because of Holy
Scriptures I I always was on the under
the assumption that the scientific
revolution arose within a Christian
culture
he actually says that later in the book
so yeah he actually goes sort of both
sides on that and he's not wrong
entirely on either side did develop out
of Christian organizations and he
actually says listen if you don't have
monasteries and all of that that a work
that are developing various bureaucratic
and scientific innovations you don't get
the Scientific Revolution and he's right
but you know he also is right that many
scientific innovations were fought hard
by various religious establishments so
he's not wrong on on either of those
cool
all right next let's into let's move
past thus ends the questions for Jason
section yeah let's move past that
section and get to a little bit more
discussion and this is gonna this is
turning into a pretty long episode
hopefully I don't lose power again which
happened just a few minutes ago and
forced us to edit this just a little bit
this is being recorded as hurricane
Florence bears down on my location so I
don't know if I'm gonna be able to
finish if we're gonna be able to even
finish this episode before we're cut off
again but it's turning into a long
episode so it's getting less and less
likely we'll be able to finish before I
lose power
alright so I want to hit on the thing
that I thought was one of the most
important topics in the book and that
was that in the age of artificial
intelligence and algorithms and
technology that focusing on a niche will
backfire and the reason that stuck out
to me the most is we've talked about
this a lot in other episodes and in some
of the books that we've read some when
I'm listening to podcasts I hear a lot
there's riches in the niches focus
really deep into one area you know get
become really good at one thing and
you'll always have a job and he's saying
if if your job can be turned into an
algorithm if if a machine can do your
job by you focusing on that one thing
that will backfire
in this coming age and I thought it was
just a really important thing to to keep
in mind I just read the book about
Leonardo da Vinci I mean he was all over
the place and had had interests all over
and those interests worked with each
other and he learned from one and
applied that into others and so there's
kind of that question of should I should
I really dig down into one topic area in
the one type of job or should I should I
go a little broader so that focusing on
that niche does not backfire and in the
age of AI yeah III think I don't have a
whole lot to say there but I think he's
he's basically right about that though
in the short term the riches are in the
niches in the long term you'd better be
able to hit more than one niche yeah
yeah one of the thing here that stuck
out to me was when he was presenting the
beliefs of humanism there there are
things that I believe but I connect them
to Christianity so I that was
interesting to me as I was reading these
is I'm like yeah yeah I that but that
seemed to me to be more coming from
Christianity instead of humanism but
just something that I I thought about as
I was reading this book yeah and
actually you know I think you're not
entirely wrong that modern humanism is
actually the outgrowth of Christianity
and this connects to something we've
talked about before we if you remember
we we talked about this in the Natural
Born Heroes episode of where a lot of a
lot of modern ethics come from even if
people aren't aware of it basically that
the assumptions of humanism are
outgrowths or or less of Christianity
and we can post something in the show
notes that connects to that we can
repost it from what we what we had in
that episode but you're not wrong to
connect many much of that with
Christianity but
what's happened is many of those
assumptions particularly things like
notions of human rights not necessarily
human rights in terms of grant bestowed
by God what's happened is the
fundamental underpinnings the foundation
for many of the of the humanistic
assumptions that people hold to today
the theol on the Christian theological
underpinnings of those have largely been
dropped and so now you have the and this
is something that I think he's aware of
but you have the effort to sustain a
particular morality or a particular way
of thinking about the world without its
foundation and that's again that gets
back to meetcha meetcha is dealing with
this already saying okay so if god is
dead and people aren't going to be
operating much longer as more and more
people realize that god is dead and that
we actually you know are operating in a
god free world what's gonna happen as
people start to you know enjoy their
freedom without the you know cop in the
sky that might stop them for speeding or
for murder or whatever else they can get
away with you know and what Harare is
aware of is that yeah you know he says
listen god is dead it's just taking a
long time to deal with the corpse with
the body and so you know once you once
you have that now again we're dealing
with humanism humanism has been the
dominant paradigm for a long long time
but the foundations on which we've built
humanism one of which it grew out of
christianity well if god is if
increasingly even more you know people
are moving away from from that that
underpinning theology and then many of
the other assumptions are being
challenged in other respects how long
can this sustain without a clear
foundation so he sees definitely
definitely going there and again it's a
really really interesting argument it's
why I've said in the past that you know
Nietzsche was the last interesting
atheist really because he understood the
the implications very well of what what
he was saying and understood a lot of
the theological underpinnings of of
other stuff so all right what about you
some nitty-gritty ok so one thing I I
definitely I've actually assigned some
of this book for some of my classes
which is you know it's worth bringing in
a couple of the things that I find most
worth worthwhile for my classes to to
address one of which is his focus on
narratives and the intersubjective as
one of the things one of the domains
that makes humanity so distinct and
humanity so powerful and that's that
human beings he operate on the basis of
what he calls shared fictions I actually
don't really like the use of fictions
there again it's it's overly provocative
I like the idea of myth or story or
narrative we've talked about that on
this podcast before but basically he he
makes the case that that makes the point
that generally speaking people think
about the world as either objective as
in like if I if I jump off of that
building I'm going to hit the ground no
matter what I believe about it right I
might I might actually believe that I
won't but gravity still exists even if I
don't think it does
that's not a subjective thing its
objective and everybody has to deal with
it mmm matter exam at ER is something we
have to interact with we there are other
people out there that we have to
interact with those are objective facts
and no amount of believing them away is
going to change that right and then you
have subjective the subjective domain
and that's a domain of my internal
feelings and my internal perceptions and
all of that and actually I can only
access the objective through my
subjective perceptions right I actually
can't access the the stone on the ground
as it is I can only access it in as much
as my senses allow me to perceive it
right so and even in that I'm only
accessing the the image of it in some
sense so and the thing is none of us can
actually access other people's or other
organisms subjective state I can't I
can't feel what you feel and this you
know this is one of the interesting
questions in terms of like modern trans
politics for example Rebecca Riley
Cooper has pointed this out she's a
philosopher and uh in the UK
she's pointed out that you know you have
people say well I feel like a woman or I
feel like a man
well I can't actually make that
statement coherently I can't say I feel
like a man because I don't know how
other men feel I can't access that I
have no access to that all I have access
to is how I feel
so I can say I feel like me and the only
thing I can do is extrapolate based on
communication with other people who have
bodies more similar to mine that this is
you know that feeling like this is how
it seems that other people who fit in
the category of man say or I can kind of
assume or extrapolate that they feel
this way but I can't I can't be sure
right not a hundred percent because I
can't feel how how other people feel or
if you really want to get you know make
your mind explode you know it isn't is
what I perceive as the color blue what
other people call blue is that what they
see or do they see it differently
yeah right we can't know because our
perception is subjective and that's
independent you can't it's not shared
and so those two don't don't meet and he
says you know other animals they have
they operate in that binary world what
makes humans different is humans also
have this third level the inter
subjective and this is the world in
which humans communicate in ways that
allows us to extrapolate our subjective
that allows us to influence the
objective and he says this is the realm
that really makes you mana to humanity
and it's where you have shared stories
and and myths and all of these things
that allow us to cooperate in ways that
other animals just simply can't do you
know where as you know bonobos can get
together and you know operate based on
orgiastic behavior human beings can have
much larger cooperative groups you know
the size of nation-states and even
larger on the basis of a different kind
of communication based on the principle
of the inter inter subjective and out of
that he says look this helps us
understand what's going on in ancient
religion we look at these people and we
go oh what savages they were but how is
Pharaoh or ancient Sumerian religion you
know the ancient Sumerian religious
organization any different from say
Elvis or Google he's like does Google
exist it's not objective there's no
objective Google and it's also not in
the realm of its objective what it is is
it's a bunch of people that gather
together and decided to agree upon the
existence of an organization that we're
gonna we're gonna agree to cooperate in
such a way that Google as an entity
exists and it's something that now has
as a label represents all these other
people and we can talk about how Google
or alphabet the parent company of Google
alphabet or Apple incorporated does
something but Apple doesn't do anything
and you know as many people have pointed
out after the Citizens United ruling
corporations aren't people corporations
don't objectively exist and yet they do
exist and yet they are actually persons
in a inter subjective sense it's a
gathering of people who've agreed to do
something that principle is really
important and he does a great job of
explaining how that work
how people cooperate and all of that and
he says listen fictions are what I
prefer to call myths enable us to
cooperate better now the price we pay is
that the same fictions also determine
the goals of our of our cooperation so
the myths and stories that we agree upon
that we share that govern our behavior
also sets the the terms of what that
cooperation is going to be is going to
involve but we all operate according to
the shared intersubjective stories that
we tell one another the clothing that we
wear the hairstyles that we have all of
that stuff is dependent on these shared
stories and you just read the Conrad
book is that go deeper into this area
not that much okay no not that much but
yeah I think that that's a really
important piece one other one other
piece that I thought was really
important was his his discussion and it
dovetails right on the heels of this of
science and religion and very often you
see a lot of people that will talk about
science and religion as though they're
opposites as though they're opposing
forces and he says no no no no this this
misunderstands how this works first of
all if we're defining religion as just
like religions as in you know
Christianity Judaism Islam Hinduism or
whatever first of all we're kind of
missing the point functionally of how
religion works because again ancient
temples functioned more like modern
corporations than they did anything else
so if that's how that works then we need
to kind of revise how we're evaluating
religion first of all secondly he says
in practice science and religion are
like a husband and wife who after 500
years of marriage counseling still don't
know each other he still dreams about
Cinderella and she keeps pining for
Prince Charming
while they argue about whose turn it is
to take out the rubbish
right and then really really nicely puts
it together on a couple other things
more importantly science always needs
religious assistance in order to create
viable human institutions scientists
study how the world functions but there
is no scientific method for determining
how humans ought to behave science tells
us the humans cannot survive without
oxygen however is it ok to execute
criminals by asphyxiation science
doesn't know how to answer such a
question only religions provide us with
the necessary guidance and then further
in theory both science and religion are
interested above all in the truth and
because each upholds a different truth
they are doomed to clash in fact neither
science nor religion cares that much
about the truth hence they can easily
compromise co-exist and even cooperate
religion is interested above all in
order it aims to create and maintain the
social structure science is interested
above all in power it aims to acquire
the power to cure diseases fight wars
and produce food as in as individual
scientists and priests may give them
immense importance to the truth as
collective institutions science and
religion prefer order and power over
truth they can therefore make good
bedfellows the uncompromising quest for
truth is a spiritual journey which can
seldom remain within the confines of
either religious or scientific
establishments and there's a lot there
and again he talks about humanism Seck
secular or otherwise humanism and
liberalism as religious concepts as
these are religion religions and they
are governing science science serves
them and they serve science and these
are these are bedfellows really really
good chapters worth worth reading worth
reading their and and along with that
and I'll wrap the nitty-gritty section
that I I have here with two things one
is he's also in addition to to
developing a lot of Nietzsche here
there's also a lot of places where CS
Lewis's abolition of man which also
itself was interacting with a lot of
Nietzsche's
DJ's kind of concepts is really relevant
to what happens here so that's another
book to read in tandem with this one
because what what Harare is doing here
is he says look every day millions of
people decide to grant their smartphone
a bit more control over their lives or
try a new and more effective
antidepressant drug in pursuit of health
happiness and power humans will
gradually change first one of their
features and then another and then
another until they will no longer be
human and that's her Ahri's concern here
and Lewis's abolition of man is exactly
about that sort of thing he's not
talking about technology but he's
talking about the philosophical
underpinnings of where he where Lewis in
the in the 1940s and 50s sees culture
going and he says we're going to the
place where actually humanity is going
to be our humanity is going to be lost
in the process of this if we don't if we
don't get this right and it's the same
basic warning that need that Harare is
going towards in this in this book Lewis
from a pretty different perspective but
both kind of in the same trajectory here
worth reading both of them finally some
scary thoughts about the present
circumstances politically not just in
the United States but in and across the
across Europe and in other places right
now he notes people feel bound by
democratic elections only when they
share a bit only so people feel bound by
democratic elections only when they
share a basic bond with most other
voters if the experience of other voters
is alien to me and if I believe they
don't understand my feelings and don't
care about my vital interests then even
if I am outvoted by a hundred to one I
have absolutely no reason to accept the
verdict democratic elections usually
only work within populations that have
some prior common bond such as shared
religious beliefs and national myths
they are a method to settle
disagreements between people who already
agree on the basics but you can't do
democratic elections on the basics and
then he further
you know has this you know very pithy
example of that where he says you cannot
resolve the arab-israeli conflict by
making 8 million Israeli citizens in 350
CID it and the 350 million citizens of
the Arab League nations vote on it for
obvious reasons Israelis won't feel
committed to the outcome of such such a
pleb estate you know he's right about
this and as various nation states have
kind of lost their national in national
narratives and as common religiosity has
been dropped in many cases or there's
been you know increased diversity
diversity can be a very good thing but
as you get major differences among
groups that don't share a lot of common
assumptions and you get elections that
have results that people don't like
eventually people stop actually
regarding those elections as valid and
you get in and start to try to settle
those disputes in other ways than then
democratic elections and that's really
dangerous and I think we're we're pretty
close to that tipping point in the u.s.
potentially in the UK and lots of other
places right now where you know this is
that's dangerous and and I think he hits
that hits that well as well so that's
all I got in terms of the the
nitty-gritty some of the details that I
think are really worth it I mean there's
so much fun stuff in this book I mean
why why modern modern people are stuck
maintaining their lawns and you know all
sorts of stuff great stuff in here well
worth it
but I think you wanted to do one last
section and that had to do with some
criticism yeah and then then we'll in to
our final conclusions my criticisms were
largely on a lot of the the ideas that
we we've talked about and I guess when I
first read through the book I just
didn't know if if these were claims he
was making to get to his point or if
these were the things that he was saying
is what Sciences agreed upon and we're
just taking the interface value and
going from there so the the the things I
had trouble were with were were where
the soul is is dismissed in less than
two pages and and we just moved forward
from there and maybe other people have
read a lot of other stuff where where
that's just a given and and so that that
wouldn't stick out but I that was
shocking I one quote I came across
outside of this book is extraordinary
claims require extraordinary evidence in
to me that's an extraordinary claim and
to deal with it in two pages and then he
would deal with some of these things and
then one of my favorites was on page 188
he says now that we have a better view
of religion and this was after talking
about this particular religion thing for
two pages and it's like okay we have a
better idea of the religion after two
pages but I think that was after
discussing this with you I think that
was part of his point is these are these
are the assumptions that were going on
these are how how society is thinking
right now this is this is and this is
where we're moving this is where we're
going if if that's true so maybe a part
of that criticism is is purposeful on
his part he he also made a comment like
divine inspiration is out of vogue and
that was on h2 31 he's talking about
music and I don't see that in anything I
read in any musician I speak to their
boat most people I come across that
there there's something if if they're
getting a song or if they're writing a
song or playing it they they realize
that it's not coming from them it's
there's some sort of mystical quality to
it and we've talked about yeah like with
an lamotte's
bird by bird or Julia Cameron in
particular yeah the episode on that that
we did before
really interacts with that notion of
your you're getting creativity from
outside yourself so I agree with you
that he's not quite right especially if
you talk to creators to creatives
however
I think he's right in the general
population if if you went and told
someone in the general population that
God inspired this song and that I got
this from God to the normal person on
the street they might look at you like
you're nuts
yeah so you I think it's a little bit of
a both and yeah their work I think a lot
of times creatives are in a different
place then other people are found them
who really do operate by the same
assumptions yeah yeah last thing that
that and this is this is something I
that frustrates me and I don't ever hear
anyone talking about it so curious to
get your thoughts on it to Jason but I
hate when people say well we're were
this way today because of cavemen
hundreds of thousands of years ago so we
think this way or we act this way
because you know one time one you know
one hundred thousand years ago we lived
in caves and and that's how we did
things but like I look at my life and I
moved into a is maybe a dumb I first
came I lived in the white the first cave
you lived in yeah the first cave I lived
in the first loft I lived in what there
was a train there six train tracks right
right behind it and my whole life I've
slept in total silence and then all of a
sudden I move in a place where this
trains going by the entire night and by
the next night I'm sleeping like a baby
again I mean I'm totally fine so I I was
able to adapt to that in one night so
where's this like it takes us millions
and millions of years to get over these
these instincts and yeah I know we see
instincts and animals and stuff but to
me it's just a very lazy way of thinking
and especially after reading Guns Germs
and Steel he Jared Diamond talks about
there's different types of societies
there's tribes they're States there's
farmers there's hunter-gatherers so some
of those societies would look closer to
two hours then than others and so I just
I hate that idea of you I hear it
everywhere I hear it on like every
podcast it's like well we act this way
in business because you know
point we were cavemen and we had to kill
animals and run after them and stuff and
it's like how do you know yeah well in
the past when we were hunter-gatherers
this is how this worked and generally
there is that assumption that at some
point pre it's basically in the
pre-industrial period there may have
been different types of societies but
before pre-industrial but
pre-agricultural that's a significant
difference but in a pre agricultural era
you know before people are settling down
in settled civilizations you have
certain things that would be adapted for
as advantageous for nomadic
hunter-gatherers which must have been
basically the way things were before
settled agriculture and that may or may
not be right and but I'm skeptical of it
just because it's presentin times this
kind of evolutionary biology is
speculation presented as science so it's
it's basically thinking backwards from
current traits to say ok so this is how
people tend to work in modern
post-industrial society so why would
people have adapted to work this way in
a hunter-gatherer context well actually
you can think about if you imagine this
might have given an advantage so this
must be the reason and I do find that to
be oftentimes less than persuasive but
you know it the issue is and and this is
this is the interesting thing is that
what this is is an attempt as far as I
can see it's an attempt of people coming
from a more or less naturalistic
perspective trying to construct a
mythological story to from which you can
you can get behavior in ethics and other
explanations of the way that the world
is using quasi-scientific because it's
not really scientific you can't go back
and check that
mmm tools so in the absence of older
myths so when you no longer can can take
recourse to say the Adam and Eve myth
which does a pretty good job of
explaining behavior which is why it was
it's been so long lived and powerful for
so long it does a good job of explaining
how things are not necessarily you know
it's irrelevant to some degree of
whether that's actually how they were at
some time in the past that whether there
was a historical Adam or Eve the
question is does it do a good job of
explaining things now right that's
really what matters in that kind of
story this is that's this is actually an
attempt to explain to do to write a new
story piece by piece for the same
purpose so it's actually it's actually
kind of a quasi scientific attempt to do
a new religion huh
which is really what that's interesting
yeah that's interesting the new
religious foundation yeah
any criticism on your side so as far as
his stuff on the soul he's actually
depending on a lot of current thought in
in in and he's very clear about this
about sort of scientific consensus there
there's a lot of I would say that the
majority or the at least the most vocal
contingent of the modern philosophers of
mind have generally generally argue that
say the mind and the brain are that
there's that there's no distinction
between the mind in the brain that you
can't assess that and you know the
neurologists neuroscientists are
concluding that you know we can't
distinguish between mind and brain there
and then these philosophers are taking
that and saying therefore you know since
we can't distinguish between them
we shouldn't distinguish between them we
should just treat them as the same so
that means depending on on a lot of
prior discussions Daniel Dennett among
others
leading the way there and then in terms
of the soul there's been you know
numerous attempts to uncover some way of
establishing whether or not you could
define whether whether you could find a
soul and there hasn't been one found so
by and large scientific orthodoxy has
been there is no such thing as a soul
you just have a body that is alive and
so that's that now he then runs forward
with that to in a way that it does sound
like he holds to that view himself I'm
not sure whether he does or not again
because of some of the way that he
writes this either way I'm I actually
find it problematic I've talked about
this in the classroom before as well it
depends on what you mean by soul right I
mean here's my thing is there's clearly
something that makes that distinguishes
between a living body and a dead one
right there's there's a pretty big
difference between a living body and a
corpse now what that difference is is
really hard to define I mean is there
anything biologically different between
a corpse seconds after a person dies and
the living body just a few seconds
earlier is there anything different in
terms of the actual physical stuff no
there really isn't it's the same it's
got the same vitamin the same minerals
present the same basic biochemistry the
same you know the same blood the same
everything is the same the same brain
but somehow for some reason the
electrochemical storm that's going on in
the mind or in or in the brain I should
say the electrochemical storm that's
going on in the brain the heart beating
all of it that stops stops why we don't
know and you know you can go to okay
well what makes a body alive well the
heart's beating
okay well what about when the when your
brain okay so you've got chemical you've
got electrochemical activity in the
brain okay that's fine but I can
actually take a corpse and I can put
electrodes there and I can stimulate
that brain to have electrochemical
responses and I can actually make the
corpse move potentially if I stimulate
the right neurons but guess what there's
no consciousness in that person that
corpse is still dead the electrical
chemical the electrochemical stuff is
not it how with the connection between
the electrochemical stuff and what's
going on in the body and you know all of
that and tie the ties to consciousness
we don't really understand and I'm not
sure we ever will but that is where I
would say it may be a material but you
have to explain what's going on there
you happen to have something to
summarize that and I would say that that
thing that difference between the the
the living body and the dead body the
life there is the soul and actually when
you translate the word for soul in
Hebrew as often as not it's best to just
gloss it with life because that's the
idea of soul and like the Hebrew Bible
and this is the the basic idea there now
whether the soul is eternal as many
philosophers have argued or not that's
another question altogether and that's
something that we can't assess but what
we can know is that with organisms
there's a difference between a living
body in a dead body and then I would
argue that it's just easier to talk
about well there's something called life
that what is it
we I know what when I see it and I can
say that's the distinguishes it is the
soul the it's funny the book I just read
is a Leonardo da Vinci by by Walter
Isaacson and he they kept he kept
talking about him painting the soul of
the person and so even in material
painting there's this idea of you can
tell you can tell if there's something
extra there as opposed to just almost
like just a paint a picture of somebody
right there's a there's a capturing the
universe analogy
personality of the person of the life of
the person yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah that
I I think that's that's an important
thing now that said he is very clear
about how he understands how much he
understands some of this he says to be
frank science knows surprisingly little
about mind and consciousness current
orthodoxy holds that consciousness is
created by electrochemical reactions in
the brain and that mental experiences
fulfill some essential data processing
function however nobody has any idea how
a con jury of biochemical reactions and
electrical currents in the brain creates
the subjective experience of pain anger
or love so he's right about that
and again I I don't think we're gonna
find any scientific answer of that and
in the same way he he says well you know
there's no soul and there's no self no
indivisible self now that's a problem
and again he's dealing with general
scientific orthodoxy at this point but I
know I'm not persuaded by it myself you
know he says most experiments have
indicated that there is no single self
making any of these decisions rather
they result from a tug-of-war between
different and often conflicting inner
ends and you know he talks about
Kahneman for example with the
experiencing and the remembering self
for example and you get you know he gave
an example of you know you could have a
game Worman who on the one hand wants
he's he's attracted to other men and on
the other hand he desperately wants to
be straight which which one is the
actual self and see my thing is this is
not a new discovery ancient philosophy
is dealing with this problem of the
divide itself and multiple selves that
exist within you and the internal battle
that you have I mean you see this in you
know philosophy going back to the 6th
century in BCE and in Greece for example
you see this in the Bible plenty but
they still have this idea of there being
a final arbiter you make the decision I
make the decision I adjudicative
entually I want
one of my selves wins out and that ends
up being me so I may be divided in my
desires and all that but it's still me
that makes that makes the decision so
yeah that that I found unpersuasive and
then similarly he's you know he
addresses that there's no such thing as
free will again a very common discussion
whether he actually buys that or not is
irrelevant the book is making the
argument here and you know he says you
know he ties this into some of the
experimental stuff we're attaching
electrodes to the to the to the to the
brain you can asking someone to flip a
switch or whatever with right or left
hand you can actually predict whether
the person's going to do it before
they're actually aware of which decision
they're going to make so does that mean
that the person is actually that the
decision is made for the person rather
than the conscious person actually
making the decision with freewill and so
free will is an illusion
first of all those experiments have been
called into question some of them have
not been as replicable as as you would
like
secondly that's not exactly a persuasive
way of addressing that and thirdly he
addresses you know other experiments
such as you know you can attach
electrodes to a rat's brain and have
them and basically steer a rat through
them through a maze and the rat
presumably thinks that it's actually
making the choices but you're actually
steering it therefore you know people
may argue that they're that we actually
that our freewill is illusory but here's
the thing just because you can stimulate
the brain and produce certain
perceptions or you can influence
decisions you can even get a person to
make specific decisions by that that
doesn't mean that when you're not
tinkering with it that something else
like the person is actually making those
things happen right
I can I can steer a car with a you know
or I can I can turn the throttle of the
car up one when working on the engine by
without pressing the accelerator but
that doesn't mean that when I'm not
there
that someone else isn't behind the wheel
pressing the accelerator when the cars
going there's some of this getting down
unconscious versus conscious to where
you know it was something is unconscious
you're not you're not willing it to be
done but it's it's still right right is
somewhere in there no that's right
that's right you you know you're I'm not
actually like consciously making my
heartbeat but my my body is doing it for
me right and there is a UI source that
right that's out sources now that said
again it doesn't really matter whether
or not we agree with the conclusions
there in terms of what he's with the
argument he's making in his book and it
doesn't matter whether he does because
these are scientific orthodoxy he added
he accurately represents that and if
these are wrong or if we have a reaction
to say I've I don't think that's right
then the conclusions that actually that
leads to are potentially not ones that
we want to have in our society so we
should be conscious of that huh
which is the point right yeah so two
final things and I know I've monologue
plenty on this episode but you know this
is a book I was pretty excited about two
other things one is he has in the 21st
century the third big project of
humanity humankind will be dope for us
to acquire divine powers of creation and
destruction and upgrade Homo sapiens and
Homo Davis and he has this we may well
think of the new human agenda as
consisting of only one project with many
branches attaining divinity my rebuttal
or my answer to that but it by the way
is this isn't a new project
it's the oldest one that's the Eden myth
right I mean it's people trying to
become divine I mean this is the oldest
project we've ever had it's just
continuing the same project humans have
been doing for a long long time so so
that's number one
with technology finally there is one
place where I do think he got something
really wrong and this is where there's
something that does actually
matter a little bit in terms of him
getting it wrong and I think he does
actually think this and and I think he's
mistaken and this is he he doesn't quite
understand how ancient sacrifice worked
he says priest discovered this principle
thousands of years ago it undermine it
underlies numerous religious ceremonies
and command Commandments if you want to
make people believe in imaginary entity
such as gods and Nations you should make
them sacrifice something valuable the
more painful the sacrifice the more
convinced people are of the existence of
the imaginary recipient a poor peasant
sacrificing a priceless Bowl to Jupiter
will become convinced that Jupiter
really exists otherwise how can he
excuse his stupidity the peasant will
sacrifice another Bowl and another and
another just so he won't have to admit
that all the previous bowls were wasted
that is not how ancient sacrifice worked
it just isn't
first of all peasants weren't generally
the ones that were sacrificing bowls
usually it was if you were sacrificing a
bowl it was it meant that you were an
owner of a herd big enough that you had
bowls if you look at like ancient
Israelite sacrifice you would have like
a bowl would be required of a wealthy
person and like maybe a couple turtle
doves would be required of a poor people
for certain offerings secondly generally
speaking with a few exceptions
ancient sacrifices involved taking that
bowl down and sacrificing it to Jupiter
and by sacrificing it to Jupiter I mean
that the priests butchered it drained
some of the blood poured it out before
the God skinned it and then would
basically divide it up butcher the
butcher the animal and then take the
awful and the intestines and you know
the the the the parts of the of the
animal that people don't eat and they
would burn that to the God on the altar
and that would be the gods portion and
then the people would eat the barbecued
portion it was a big feast as I tell my
classes at the college level
the closest if you want to understand if
you want to know what ancient sacrifice
looked like more or less think of a
modern
good old-fashioned college football
tailgate in the United States American
football tailgate or you know I'm sure
they do it in Europe as well with
certain with soccer and so on or its
then you know some people complain that
Americans call it soccer it's a British
term everybody um but it's it was a
tailgate everybody gets together there's
no refrigeration in the ancient world if
you're gonna slaughter a bowl you better
have a lot of people to share it with so
what you do is you get it together and
you offer it in the temple where the
priests serve as as the de facto
butchers of the society you offer it and
then you split it up among the various
people that have come to party with you
you pour out libations and the idea is
you're eating in the presence of the God
you are spending common time with the
God in honor of the God and you're
giving thanks to the God for giving you
the opportunity to have this this nice
meat
so imagine basically a tailgate where
you actually butcher the animal there -
or you actually have like one of the
team representatives there to butcher it
for you and then you burn it you burn
the part that you don't eat that's how
most sacrifice works this is not
stupidity and it's not a peasant giving
something up to the God that's a modern
notion what you have is generally
speaking peasant sacrifices were the one
place where peasants got to eat meat so
in a meat that was not eaten was usually
sold on a secondary market this is why
by the way in the New Testament you have
this whole issue of eating meat
sacrificed to idols you'd have a
secondary meat market because there'd be
all this meat left over after the group
that came in to sacrifice the animal had
eaten everything they could they'd eaten
themselves silly over a couple days and
then there were the portions that
weren't gonna be eaten well guess what
that's gonna rot so you know what the
temple does the temple would sell it in
the secondary market so that you'd get
cheap meat and so the cheaper meat to
buy because you're not buying it on the
hoof it's gonna go bad soon so you can
buy that relatively cheaply in the
market and that would be the way that
most people would get their meat so how
did in the quote its priests discovered
this principle what's the principle
waiting to in the book the principle is
basically understanding how cognitive
dissonance gets it such that if you make
people sacrifice really painful stuff
then they will ultimately believe that
whatever they sacrifice for was worth it
yeah okay
and he's conflating the notions of
ancient sacrifice with that concept I
don't actually dispute that it works
that way in terms of like military
service for a nation or something like
that but his his parallel of ancient
sacrifice ancient sacrifice in general
did not work the way that he thinks it
did okay so that's all I got we can get
to conclusions now all right
this book was kind of like a combination
of Guns Germs and Steel and Kevin
Kelley's the inevitable it had it had
that future component and also a lot
like WTF which we haven't done yet but
we will be doing soon by O'Reilly which
I would highly recommend reading as well
the good and good intending with this
one and Louis's abolition of man and a
little Nietzsche you you read those and
you're gonna be prepared for the
apocalyptic future yeah so our
discussion right now really help me
understand this book a lot more in that
the predictions of the future they are
very scary and they're seemingly very
possible
and I think it's really important to
read for that reason and to understand
that that he's taking a lot of the the
ideas that are commonplace today and in
just showing what those those could lead
to when combined with with technology
and AI and more more advanced algorithms
it's an important book it makes me want
to read his new one coming out later
this year or I think it just came out
and then also sapiens I've heard heard a
lot of good things about that so I'd
suggest reading this book if for nothing
else just for the predictions of the
future the prophecy that you were
talking about Jason it's a lot of ideas
were thinking about in the in this one
yeah I agree with that I think it's a
well worth the read like I said it's
very provocative people will a lot of
people who who would read this book
would be offended by number parts would
certainly be provoked by a lot of parts
there are places where you're gonna
disagree with what he says and those
places where you're gonna disagree or
precisely why you should read this book
so this is this is a worthwhile one I
should also mention the audiobook
version of this is is is quite good I
thought it was well delivered so so if
you and it's a it's a good one to
consume that way so if you're if you're
interested in it but don't have the time
the audiobook version which we can link
to via the the show notes is also is
also worth worth taking a look at so um
so yeah that's my my general my general
takeaway as well so given that that'll
do it for us today
now before we get out of here just a
reminder you can follow along with us in
all the books that were reading at books
of titans calm you can of course ping us
on twitter instagram at books of titans
if you haven't done so already you can
subscribe to this podcast and find all
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you can you can support us that way as
well we'll be back when one more thing
yeah we are now also on Facebook I guess
also on fantasy or out about that your
your place of choice yeah yeah yeah some
people some grandparents out there you
can you can do that one as well so we'll
be back soon to discuss the next book
and I'm not exactly sure which one
that's going to be but on behalf of Eric
Ross dad this is Jason staples and this
has been the books of titans podcast
keep reading keep listening and keep
improving and keep it real thanks for
listening

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