Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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gavesako
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Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

Post by gavesako »

This thread is to discuss the Buddhist influences in Yuval Noah Harari's texts, such as his books Sapiens and Homo Deus which have become widely read by people who are themselves influential in the world today. The interesting point is that Harari does Vipassana meditation 2 hours daily.
http://www.ynharari.com/

The key issue is that because our power depends on collective fictions, we are not good in distinguishing between fiction and reality. Humans find it very difficult to know what is real and what is just a fictional story in their own minds, and this causes a lot of disasters, wars and problems.
The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions. If people bear in mind this distinction, it could improve the way we treat one another and the other animals. It’s not such a good idea to cause suffering to real entities in the service of fictional stories.

AA: What does meditation do for you?
Above all it enables me to try and see reality as it is. When we try to observe the world, and when we try to observe ourselves, the mind constantly generates stories and fictions and explanations and imposes them on reality, and we cannot see what is really happening because we are blinded by the fictions and stories that we create or other people create and we believe. Meditation for me is just to see reality as it is – don’t get entangled in any story, in any fiction.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/ ... ari-review
Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, on how meditation made him a better historian
What kind of mind creates a book like Sapiens? A clear one.

Virtually everything Harari says in our conversation is fascinating. But what I didn’t expect was how central his consistent practice of Vipassana meditation — which includes a 60-day silent retreat each year — is to understanding the works of both history and futurism he produces. In this excerpt from our discussion, which is edited for length and clarity, we dig deep into Harari’s meditative practice and how it helps him see the stories humanity tells itself.

Two things, mainly. First of all, it's the ability to focus. When you train the mind to focus on something like the breath, it also gives you the discipline to focus on much bigger things and to really tell the difference between what's important and everything else. This is a discipline that I have brought to my scientific career as well. It's so difficult, especially when you deal with long-term history, to get bogged down in the small details or to be distracted by a million different tiny stories and concerns. It's so difficult to keep reminding yourself what is really the most important thing that has happened in history or what is the most important thing that is happening now in the world. The discipline to have this focus I really got from the meditation.

The other major contribution, I think, is that the entire exercise of Vipassana meditation is to learn the difference between fiction and reality, what is real and what is just stories that we invent and construct in our own minds. Almost 99 percent you realize is just stories in our minds. This is also true of history. Most people, they just get overwhelmed by the religious stories, by the nationalist stories, by the economic stories of the day, and they take these stories to be the reality.

My main ambition as a historian is to be able to tell the difference between what's really happening in the world and what are the fictions that humans have been creating for thousands of years in order to explain or in order to control what's happening in the world
http://www.vox.com/2017/2/28/14745596/y ... ezra-klein

How might Homo sapiens find a sense of self-worth if technology can do their work better than they?
One answer from experts is that computer games will fill the void. And they sound scary and dystopian until you realize that actually for thousands of years humans have been playing virtual reality games. Up until now, we simply called them religions. In Judaism or Christianity and so forth, you invent rules that don't exist anywhere except in your imagination. You spend your life trying to gain points and to avoid all kinds of things that detract from your points. And if by the time you die you gather enough points, then you pass on to the next level, in heaven. Billions of people have found meaning to their lives by playing these games.
http://time.com/4672373/yuval-noah-hara ... interview/

HARARI: Yes, the attitude now towards disease and old age and death is that they are basically technical problems. It is a huge revolution in human thinking. Throughout history, old age and death were always treated as metaphysical problems, as something that the gods decreed, as something fundamental to what defines humans, what defines the human condition and reality.

Even a few years ago, very few doctors or scientists would seriously say that they are trying to overcome old age and death. They would say no, I am trying to overcome this particular disease, whether it's tuberculosis or cancer or Alzheimers. Defeating disease and death, this is nonsense, this is science fiction.

But, the new attitude is to treat old age and death as technical problems, no different in essence than any other disease. It's like cancer, it's like Alzheimers, it's like tuberculosis. Maybe we still don't know all the mechanisms and all the remedies, but in principle, people always die due to technical reasons, not metaphysical reasons. In the middle ages, you had an image of how does a person die? Suddenly, the Angel of Death appears, and touches you on the shoulder and says, "Come. Your time has come." And you say, "No, no, no. Give me some more time." And Death said, "No, you have to come." And that's it, that is how you die.

We don't think like that today. People never die because the Angel of Death comes, they die because their heart stops pumping, or because an artery is clogged, or because cancerous cells are spreading in the liver or somewhere. These are all technical problems, and in essence, they should have some technical solution. And this way of thinking is now becoming very dominant in scientific circles, and also among the ultra-rich who have come to understand that, wait a minute, something is happening here. For the first time in history, if I'm rich enough, maybe I don't have to die.

KAHNEMAN: Death is optional.

HARARI: Death is optional. And if you think about it from the viewpoint of the poor, it looks terrible, because throughout history, death was the great equalizer. The big consolation of the poor throughout history was that okay, these rich people, they have it good, but they're going to die just like me. But think about the world, say, in 50 years, 100 years, where the poor people continue to die, but the rich people, in addition to all the other things they get, also get an exemption from death. That's going to bring a lot of anger. ...
The same thing will happen with these promises to overcome death. My guess, which is only a guess, is that the people who live today, and who count on the ability to live forever, or to overcome death in 50 years, 60 years, are going to be hugely disappointed. It's one thing to accept that I'm going to die. It's another thing to think that you can cheat death and then die eventually. It's much harder.
https://www.edge.org/conversation/yuval ... s-optional
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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The first of those books has been on my reading list for a while. Are they well worth reading, Bhante?
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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Mkoll wrote:The first of those books has been on my reading list for a while. Are they well worth reading, Bhante?
A friend recommended it but I have not read it myself. Certainly from the interviews his ideas seem worth considering.
Dreaming the world

Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can create mass cooperation networks, in which thousands and millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals. One-on-one, even ten-on-ten, we humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. Any attempt to understand our unique role in the world by studying our brains, our bodies, or our family relations, is doomed to failure. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.

This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.
http://www.ynharari.com/topic/power-and-imagination/
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

Post by Alexander____ »

The first book is excellent.

I saw him speak in London a few weeks ago and was very impressed. My partner speaks very often about the second book too which I've started. The second one is actually dedicated to Goenka.

The first book has a section on Buddhism which as you'd expect is fairly complimentary opposed to other religions which interestingly he includes many political movements.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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Thanks you two.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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I haven't read his books yet, but I've seen his TED talks, some of his videos and interviews. He is great! I like historical, philosophical discussion especially when it includes biological-evolution and our history, because it so important and necessary to understand the entire dynamics of life on earth including the historical and cultural.

Pres. Obama recommended his books in a CNN interview.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnPs8vnZ0I4
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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I like how he points out the importance of the stories and the fictive language in human history; how humans have come up with all kinds of fiction stories to describe what is going on. For example, how there really is no such thing as "Peugeot" (car company) and employees, directors, CEOs can change, yet the company continues, but does not really "exist." He doesn't say it, but similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self.

And then his overview of the history of the early hominids (early humans) is very interesting and the cycles and changes that took place, similar to anicca and the cycles that are discussed in Buddhist cosmology - history.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RolCysx ... aFp&t=1462

(especially from the 24:22 mark)
Interesting take on the Code of Hamurabi and Declaration of Independence by Yuval. Although he only mentions the scientific facts and biological laws, it can be seen as compatible with the notions of kamma; how there are differences among humans, from biology / DNA and from a Buddhist perspective this can include kamma and rebirth.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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Yuval Harai wrote:The dominant religion today is consumerism. For the first time in human history, we find that the majority of practitioners of the dominant religion are practicing their religion correctly. For most of history Christians did not practice the teachings of Christ. For most of history Buddhists did not practice the teachings of Buddha. And so on with the other religions. But now today we find that the majority of humans practice correctly the religion of consumerism. They are doing exactly what is called upon them to do; to consume and continue consuming and looking for happiness in the consumption of goods and services.
:lol: Sad, but true.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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David N. Snyder wrote:I like how he points out the importance of the stories and the fictive language in human history; how humans have come up with all kinds of fiction stories to describe what is going on. For example, how there really is no such thing as "Peugeot" (car company) and employees, directors, CEOs can change, yet the company continues, but does not really "exist." He doesn't say it, but similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self.
Notably, it was Roland Barthes with his example of the ship Argo who conceived of identity that way (here mentioned on pg. 46). In the old story of Jason and the Argonauts, the individual parts of the ship Argo were replaced one by one as they wore out, while the Argonauts were sailing with it. Given this, the question is, what exactly is the identity of the ship Argo, since at the end of the voyage, no original part was present.
similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self
It's not clear how the language is fictive. There just seem to be a lot of ideas in people's minds about what exactly the self is.

The ship Argo exists; it's just that its material structure is not definitive for its identity.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

Post by Kim OHara »

binocular wrote:...
similarly the way there is no-self; but rather fictive language to describe a conventional-self
It's not clear how the language is fictive. There just seem to be a lot of ideas in people's minds about what exactly the self is.

The ship Argo exists; it's just that its material structure is not definitive for its identity.
To put it another way: the ship exists, but not in the way in which it is usually assumed to exist.
As does the self.
As does the nation - https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f ... 65#p425096 :tongue:

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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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gavesako wrote:
Dreaming the world

Sapiens rule the world, ... The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.
This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. ...
http://www.ynharari.com/topic/power-and-imagination/
Terry Pratchett called us "Homo narrans" for the same reason.

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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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Kim OHara wrote:
gavesako wrote:
Dreaming the world

Sapiens rule the world, ... The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.
This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. ...
http://www.ynharari.com/topic/power-and-imagination/
Terry Pratchett called us "Homo narrans" for the same reason.
Humans exchange worthless pieces of paper for goods and services (money). Harari states something like: "Can you imagine a chimpanzee offering another chimpanzee a worthless piece of paper (money) in exchange for some bananas? The other chimpanzee would say 'no way, what do you think I am? -- a human?"

:lol:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzj7Wg4DAbs

I like his emphasis on how we were nothing but insignificant animals for most of our history. Early hominids (humans) only became significant animals and the dominant species from about 70,000 years ago, which is a mere blip in time compared to the age of the planet, the time since life first formed and even in the history of human species (roughly 5 million years). Buddhist philosophy and cosmology is similar in that the Buddhist texts say that there are long periods when there is no Dhamma present, how we are fortunate to have human birth, how all animals are subject to samsara, etc.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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About halfway through Sapiens on audiobook. Just got to the part where he is eviscerating monotheism—ouch! Some of his philosophizing about human nature misses the mark, but the majority has good insights that are difficult to argue with. He does best when he bases his ideas on concrete facts rather than more abstract ideals. His little section on Buddhism was good and he made no glaring errors. But like almost every presentation on Buddhism, it only offers a piece of the whole picture. I don't fault him for this at all because his book is not about Buddhism and he devoted probably less than 10 minutes to the details.

Well worth checking out. And the audiobook is free legally on Hoopla.
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Re: Facts VS fiction: Buddhist themes in Yuval Noah Harari's writings

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97O1wM9-aoY

See especially from the 16:10 mark and beyond; he praises Buddhist meditation.
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