Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow

Posted: September 13, 2018 in Books

Meaning and authority always go hand in hand. Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.

Extending further on Sapiens, this book is bound to send chill across your spines… Imagination which helped us gain superiority over other species is bound to out spiral and rule our minds and enslave us… atleast most of us…

Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder

The above line gives an idea of the feeling you are left with after the book. Having covered a long way controlling epidemics, starvation and improved living standards in all spheres, we now don’t know where to stop… eating, exploiting nature and our greed…

For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.

….. the average human is far more likely to die from bingering at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an Al-Queda attack.

There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines. If people in Syria, Sudan or Somalia starve to death, it is because some politician wants them to…

Another global myth that science and religion work in opposite directions of seeking truth, is shattered in the book; explaining how religion was born to form order in society and science is about power… They have always worked together… Science might work wonders but the areas to be explored are strictly driven by the authorities maintaining order…

Yet in practice, science and religion are like a husband and wife who after 500 years of marriage counselling still don’t know each other. He still dreams about Cindrella and she keeps pining for Prince Charming, while they argue about whose turn it is to take out the rubbish.

And of course the authority is economy driven… The basis of people exploring the world countries outside their own was always economy driven and never for pleasure… They wanted to exploit land, people and earn… Authority being any category of religions, governments or ideologies…

Economic growth has thus become the crucial juncture where almost all modern religions, ideologies and movements meet… Just as Christians and Muslims all believe in heaven, and disagree only about how to get there, so during the Cold War both capitalists and communists believed in creating heaven on earth through economic growth, and wrangled only about the exact method.

When the concept of God was loosing its charm, we needed a new story that works for all.. and we had humanism as the best bet.. Humanism made the individual important and flourished capitalism even further…

This is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaning less world.

Medieval crusaders believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning; modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. They are all equally delusional.”

This money driven progress of the world in a direction without thought, we now proceed towards clear division of haves and have nots.. where few elites will live longer with replaced organs, healthier with choice of their genotype, ruling the other usual human beings who would be fragile, jobless (thanks to automation) and irrelevant slaves.

The last part of the book stresses the importance of information in future.. How these big companies are gathering data eventually using it to manipulate markets, votes and choices…

In the twenty-first century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for email services and funny cat videos.

In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. […] In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore.

Fantastic sequel to the first story, this one is like watching a scary, relatable and very probable sci-fi future…You will enjoy it thoroughly and feel scared/depressed at the same time imagining this one possibility of future drama…
George Orwell’s 1984 was one prediction which is almost real now ; this might be the next…

Having raised humanity above the beastly level of survival struggles, we will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

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A short trip to Mumbai with the only plan to meet friends…But the place came out to be much stronger in its presence; and I loved Mumbai.. for its liveliness, its warmth and its weather…
Rain made everything greener, clean and beautiful.

Day 1 : Reached Mumbai at 9:30 am ; took a cab to reach Aman and Jas’s home at Marol, Military Road.
Lazy morning where we sat and discussed whatever crossed our minds, filled gaps of where we last left… It was new to me as Jas found Indore (his hometown) to be much closer to Mumbai than Delhi in its ways…

We somehow managed to get out of the house at 4 pm and took a full day cab to see places around South Bombay.
Across the beautiful Bandra- Worli sea link, our first stop was the Worli Sea Face.. Windy and vast, we decided to stop over on our way back..

Next was Haji Ali.. standing solo in the sea, it looks strong facing all the force of wind and water…super crowded because of the weekend and good weather, we managed to walk over the scary road fighting those chilly winds…

Skipping the Girgaon Beach, our next stop was Marine Drive… The most accepting part of the city, you see people of all ages and groups on that one bank of the sea sitting together and looking same and small facing the huge Arabian Sea.

Gateway of India with colourful lights and setting sun looked beautiful… The Taj Hotels, both old and new are a beauty on its own.

 

Then we moved ahead to the nearby Colaba Causeway, a market for junk jewellery and funky things. Comparable to Janpath in Delhi
Dinner at Dilli Darbaar and the late night coffee at the Worli Sea Face, we ended our day tired and happily exhausted.

Day 2: Not bothered to wake each other up, we slept till late and headed for a movie in the afternoon after a lot of making and breaking of plans…
Next was the small drive to Hiranandani area in Powai. Named after the builder, the area is beautiful and has that English vintage look…

Not stopping in the rains and continue as if nothing happened is Mumbai and we settled in an open area of a cafe to watch the daily lives…
Yummy cake from ‘Love & Cheesecake’, we then headed back home crossing the Powai Lake…

Reached Versova for dinner at Roopali and Riyaz’s place. Fun filled night playing games and making fun of each other, we dozed off at 4:30 in the morning…

Day 3: Komal came in the morning and after a quick breakfast, we all decided to go around Bandra, Bandstand area. Mumbayiya cab driver would not let us rest and made sure that we saw the houses of all big movie stars on the way.

We stopped by a sea side cafe to have chai and snacks. Strong winds again did not wanted us to talk as we couldn’t keep things on the table without holding them…

We then walked over to Bandra fort and the view was superb.
Roaming around the streets from Hill Road to Carter Road, we sat along the roadside for some more sea view.

Mumbai local train travel was on the cards today and my local Mumbai journey started with Komal, who has lived her life in the city.
Reached Kandivali from Bandra and landed in a famous and old shop for Vada Pao.


I was welcomed in her home with a fantastic Maharastrian dinner, Pooran Poli, Amti and Rice..
Couldnt resist myself from over stuffing, we looked forward to the late night strolling in Mumbai…

Roamed around for 2 hours in the night on a scooter to Juhu beach and back and had my taste of the safe life in Mumbai. Unimaginable in Delhi, Komal’s unworried parents were only interested in how we enjoyed the night without thinking about the safety of late hours… Reached back home at 2 am to doze off…

Day 4: Missed going to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivilli as we woke up late, we headed to Gorai after a super rich Gujrati breakfast of dhokla, Khandvi, Fafada, Jalebi with Sabuddana Khichdi…

Reached Gorai Khaadi to board a ferry, we went to the Vipassna Centre nearby and then roamed around the Gorai Beach. The drive was lovely and the area, similar to Kerala was the most beautiful part of the city.

High tide blocked the movement of ferry and gave us more time in the beautiful place..
Farewell to Komal, cancelled our plan to Thane and reached Ghatkopar to meet my aunt and family.
The last evening was time with family and Tia, my Delhi born niece, gave me a glimpse of total Delhi to Mumbai transformation with her fun and spark.

Day 5: Airport, next morning to get back to Delhi with memories and love.

Ankit Chadha

Posted: May 11, 2018 in Whats & Whys

Uncertainity reminds us of its presence and we loose a life…. Ankit Chadha, known for his story telling in the form of Dastangoi and other ways, passed away day before yesterday and there are no words to describe the feeling of loss…
At the age of 30, he left us with his words and a perspective to see the world.

“Everyone has a story to tell and if we dont tell that story, there is a part of us we are going to loose… there is a part of us we are going to forget…”

– Ankit Chadha

These are the lines from Ankit’s TED talk

Not many people make space to contribute in making of a better and peaceful world… He talked about sedition when students were scared of with anti nationalism, he discussed mobile phones when technology was taking over our lives and he described Gauraksha as saving lives and not killing others…

Sharing his perspective, he added words to struggles of these times with sarcasm and smiles…
Those beautiful eyes had a different vision to see the world. Meeting him personally, you see only inspiration and hope…

Some of his famous works available to see online are Dastaan Alice ki , Sedition, Indian Partition and love story of Gaurakshak

“The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time.”
– Daniel Kahneman

There are days when we are tired of our schedules… However good our job or daily grind is, there are these much needed breaks which we long for…

This Sisyphean* myth on our lives, juggling between Monday Blues and TGIF (Thank God Its Friday ! 🙂 ) feeling, only to resume it again, is our modern day living.
Mini breaks in between the grind to make spaces for things you really like, are a welcome escape, but choosing what to do takes all the break time.

One of the things that works for me are these adult colouring books; they are fun, easy to carry along and much better than random surfing on the internet.

 

 

* King Sisyphus was punished by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top, repeating this action for eternity. The punishment of doing a meaningless, and a never ending task. Albert Camus has elaborated the myth in a detailed essay.

“As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people inscribe to their lives is just a delusion.”

Reading this book was a liberation in ways more than one..
How many times do we think of the meaning of our life ? How many times in a day do we think what we are doing is of any good.. to humanity ? to the Earth ? to nature ? How many of our decisions are solely based on the idea that it will make our lives better or is the best possible way forward ? How many times have we been told that we learn from history ?

Please help yourselves with answers in the book and be ready to unlearn your years of learning before you start…

As a background, Professor Yuval Noah Harari is a historian and teaches history in Jerusalem. He works on questions like relation between history and biology, direction of history, justice in history etc.

Starting with Agricultural Revolution and calling it as the biggest fraud on humanity, the book describes how this was our biggest mistake.
For a little luxury and comparatively longer lives, human beings gave up good nutrition, strong/ healthy bodies, got domesticated for life and exploited flora and fauna, specially cattle in the most ruthless and cruel way. Hunters which used to get nutrition from variety of their hunts are now farmers which live only on a single crop diet. Wild cattles which would otherwise have healthy life span of months and years now live caged to be alive only for weeks till they are killed for food.

Then after, to maintain our superiority over other species (including our superior ancestors Neaderthals), we started cooking up things from our imagination ! And how these common myths like God, religion, nation, governments took away our rivers and land along with millions of other species.
We eradicated the plants we didn’t need, we took away the shelters of so many animals we couldn’t exploit and we named it progress and evolution.

“Voltaire said about God that ‘there is no God, but don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night’.”

“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.”

This imaginary cocoon then governed our lives, gave us meaning to blindly continue the massacre on other species. We were ready to kill and die for ideas.. This violence is unending and we dont even spare our own for imaginary idols and ideas.

“The scientist who says her life is meaningful because she increases the store of human knowledge, the soldier who declares that his life is meaningful because he fights to defend his homeland, and the entrepreneur who finds meaning in building a new company are no less delusional than their medieval counterparts who found meaning in reading scriptures, going on a crusade or building a new cathedral.”

We were now ready to accept the biggest and most successful religion – Capitalism.
The book gives in detail, the ways everything from morals to science is governed by economics. The market has been so successful in selling the idea of ‘Be an Individual’ and how this governs us till date and changed equations of community living only to spread the markets and economy.

“The state and market approached people with an offer that could not be refused. ‘Become Individuals’, they said. Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents. Take up whatever job suits you, even if community elders frown. You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead. We will provide food, shelter, education, health, welfare and employment. We will provide pensions, insurance and protection…
The state and the market are the mother and father of the individual, and the individual can survive only thanks to them.”

We are the perfect pawns of capitalism for long now, fallacies and holes left of giving up community living, we now find our solace in superb marketing ideas in the name of more n more experiences, more n more products, more spending and more buying….

People today spend a great deal of money on holidays abroad because they are true believers in the myths of romantic consumerism. Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can. We must open ourselves to a wide spectrum of emotions; we must sample various kinds of relationships; we must try different cuisines; we must learn to appreciate different styles of music….
Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy we must consume as many products and services as possible.
A wealthy man in ancient Egypt would never have dreamed of solving a relationship crisis by taking his wife on holiday to Babylon. Instead, he might have built for her the sumptuous tomb she had always wanted. Like the elite of ancient Egypt, most people in most cultures dedicate their lives to building pyramids. Only the names, shapes and sizes of these pyramids change from one culture to the other. They may take the form, for example, of a suburban cottage with a swimming pool and an evergreen lawn, or a gleaming penthouse with an enviable view. Few question the myths that cause us to desire the pyramid in the first place.”

Extremely witty, well written, and bound to make you question your personal ideas of meaning and life; this book is among the ones everyone should read… History was never so fun to read before..

“We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

My top favourite of year 2018 yet, this book will open your mind to the daily mistakes we make in making choices, fallacies of intuition, in the way we acquire knowledge and think…

The book is full of content, examples and stories…

Two Systems – Daniel divides the way our brain functions in two and names them System1 and System2.
System1 is the autopilot mode which helps you with things like make sentences without thinking, answers 2+2 = 4 for you and helps you drive without effort. It is where our intuitions come from; effortless, creative and does most of the day functions for us.
System2 is the thinking mode which helps you analyze, connect the dots, helps you find answers which are not given by System1. It is taxing, effortful and makes you search within your existing knowledge.
To summarize, when we are making choices without much thinking, it is System1 else it is System2. Most of the times, we work by System1 as it is easy… and we all are lazy 🙂

These systems make us have serious biases and make mistakes in most of our decisions, most of our lives… Lets see some of them and understand how silly we can be !

“We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events.”

Fallacies of Intuition – Intuition, Gut Feeling or even expert advise… something most of us rely on in daily lives are good only in specific areas and total failure in others.
Intuition is a product of System1 and only works when the environment is regular and the outcomes are limited. Example – Years of Chess practice can train your mind to intuit your moves and this is because the number of moves are fixed even though they are plenty… Practice help you see more and more and your mind gets better and quicker.
Now, lets take the example of Share Markets…. As per Daniel, no intuition works in this area, even by the experts and everything is wild and on luck. The reason being, so many things impacting the outcome that it is just not possible to regularize the environment and predict..
Same goes with Job Interviews or any first impressions… That click in the first few seconds of meeting hardly has a basis. The author suggests to think before hand the things important to you (even write it down and stick to them) before the meeting and not rely on that moment blinded by interesting but digressed conversations.

Anchoring
I ask you to think of any two digit number and
then ask you to guess the height of the tree outside…
The number you chose would impact the answer you give to the second question.

This is the anchoring effect, defined as ‘a cognitive bias which takes place when we consider a particular value of an unknown quantity before estimating such quantity.’ Most interesting part is, it works even if the questions are totally unrelated to each other like in the example above. The book is specially fun in examples as it asks you to guess first and then tells you that the bias works.

“The world makes much less sense than you think. The coherence comes mostly from the way your mind works.”

Substituition – We all like it easy and happily replace the question ‘Hows Life?’ with ‘How are you feeling today (current mood)?’ without realizing it… Even though the two questions are miles apart but since the first question will want you to think, analyze and summarize; you, not wanting to do that, easily and unconsciously answer as per your current mood. Try and ask someone today !

“The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.”

Story making, Overconfidence and Causation – Like substituting a difficult question with an easy one, we love jumping to conclusions even if they are unrelated. We love good stories and coherence is all it takes us to excuse our minds to avoid thinking hard.
Example – We (and experts) prefer giving the last shots of baseball to the player who has a hot hand for that day i.e. we say it is her/his day and thats why (s)he should be given more chances. This has no logical basis to it, as proven in experiments, and the author suggest choosing a reliable player (who is best in average). But thinking and checking this takes effort and we spend our lives with the flawed assumption, still might not want to believe, right ?

“The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”

Friendships – Most eye opening ideas in life come across by luck, by chance and are because of others… Daniel Kahneman owes his knowledge of decision making and judgement, understanding and foundation of his book to the four decades of friendship with Amos Tversky.
It all started with meeting everyday, discussing every new find and fun experiments in their college… and it ended up with amazing findings by a psychologist, intriguing enough to make him win a Nobel Prize in economics… Only non-economics person to do that !

There are many many more things in the book and you would know as soon as you start reading it…The funniest part of the book is the conclusion, Daniel says even after knowing all the flaws, we cant do much as using System2 all the time is too much effort. The maximum we can do is sort out our areas which are important to us and where we are prone to make more mistakes and be conscious to think more before making a decision…

The book is tiring for all the systems of your mind and too much fun with everyday examples. I took more than 2 months to complete it, want to read it again after a while….I randomly open the book now and then to remind myself that world is meaningless, too many things impacting to make a guess of the future and there is no point trying too hard…
The author is currently working on happiness and well being, concluding with one of his thoughts…

“The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. Can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?”

Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

Posted: April 12, 2018 in Books

“We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.”

“Put simply, the link between creativity and dishonesty seems related to the ability to tell ourselves stories about how we are doing the right thing, even when we are not. The more creative we are, the more we are able to come up with good stories that help us justify our selfish interests.”

The book elaborates not only how we cheat ( with others and our own self) in daily lives but also how predictable that dishonesty can be…

Each of the chapters in the book explains how things like emotions, relativity and social norms influence our decisions…
Fantastic experiments done on Harvard and MIT students supporting how less we are in control of our situations and how we underestimate our irrationality… How owning a thing makes it much more valuable than it deserves and how discounts and freebies in the market control us and increases market consumption.

“Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea — whether it’s about politics or sports — what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology — rigid and unyielding.”

Dishonesty pointed out in everyday decisions would surprize you, like the example of when an expensive medicine makes you feel better and a cheap one doesn’t, both being the same in content.
Effect of money and its involvement making us honest like how we are ok taking a pen home from office and not see it as stealing ; but taking money of the pen’s price would be a big no no.
Also how some money is always better than no money; but offering money to a friend or relative who cooked to welcome you would be unthinkable…

We do what we want to do and then cook up stories around it… This is what the author said in one of his talks and it has stayed with me for long…

“individuals are honest only to the extent that suits them (including their desire to please others)”

Rationale, logic, understanding… these are some of the key things I stick to in life and now when I see this becoming flawed, incomplete and misleading… all I say is this book made me laugh at myself… The mountains of logic either would crumble or broaden in your thinking…. A must read book for all !

Dan Ariely, the author is a professor of behaviour economics and works on learning and experimenting human (ir)rationality. Always seeing human as a rational, thinking human being; his books, talks and experiments would make you give it a second thought.
His Ted Talks are funny and thought provoking.