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Chapter by Chapter Summary of Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

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“Homo Deus” is a title for Yuval Noah Harari’s set of reflections on the human condition, its direction, and how that direction and the existence of humans have an important existential meaning for the world. The title draws inspiration from the classification of humans currently as Homo sapiens, with the idea that our sapience – or knowledge – allows us to achieve advancements in our own development leading to our obtaining of god-like powers. Of course, such a futuristic idea is interesting in itself as a result of its ambitiousness: to advance a plausible argument that humans have the potential for incredible abilities that will allow them to fulfill themselves (achieve happiness), access immortality, and eventually grasp divinity, justifying the title “Homo Deus” (deus being Latin for “god” or “deity).

In the book, Harari’s arguments provide readers with interesting food for thought, like the idea that the dominance of the human race impacts the evolutionary success of species germane to a human’s daily life – using the statistic that house cats outnumber lions by a few orders of magnitude as a starting point for that. Thematically, the book describes three types of humanism: socialist, liberal, and evolutionary, which each are paths that lead to some definition of success for humans as a whole.

Chapter 1

The first chapter of the book, titled ‘The New Human Agenda’, serves more as an introductory chapter, detailing some of the challenges and accomplishments that human beings have been experiencing over the course of time. In this chapter, Harari discusses the past and future, more specifically with regards to what may be experienced in the third millennium. The author discusses the challenges that have faced people in other periods, such as epidemics, starvation, and violence. In the third millennium, humanity has managed to ‘rein’ in famine, plague, and war (Harari 7). Thus, human beings of the future are likely to deal with the problems that are currently a major headache for us. Harari also discusses that human beings of the future are likely to be more proactive in dealing with the challenges they face. For instance, where they happen to experience a case of famine, they are less likely to leave it to fate; but rather, they will deem it as a misgiving and never allow it to happen. The author states that “When faced with such failures we no longer shrug our shoulders” (Harari 8). In other words, they are keen to identify the specific strategies to handle the failure they encounter. They believe that they have a lot within their power to handle the different problems they face, hence human beings will be more interested in setting up a commission of inquiry to determine the reasons for the problems and make enough strides to handle it effectively. The strategy will also aim to prevent such a scenario from ever happening again.

The author also discusses that, with each passing year, human beings have become increasingly alarmed by the epidemics being faced, with some of these including SARS, Ebola, swine flu and the Black Death. Despite the challenges, human beings have managed to overcome these through time, where they now have a lesser impact than during their initial inception (Harari 21). Therefore, the situation indicates that human beings of the future are likely to be even more sophisticated and capable of dealing with the various health problems that face us today. In just the same way smallpox had been completely eradicated, human beings of the future are more likely to completely eradicate the various diseases they will face (Harari 22).

Chapter 2

In the chapter, the author presents the view that human beings have evolved to attain characteristics that are far better compared to those of animals. Specifically, he notes that human beings have since become ‘gods’ (Harari 32). In spite of the position, they have done little to retain the mercy and justice that is normally attributed to gods; rather, they have continued with their heinous actions that have led to a significant decline in the number of animals, especially the ones that belong in the wild. Human beings choose which animals should live or be killed. Thus, while there are only less than a hundred wolves in Germany today, the country is home to more than five million domesticated dogs. The chapter also shows that while the world is left with only 40,000 lions, there are around 600 million domesticated cats. According to Harari, it is evident that the “Anthropocene has altered the world in unprecedented ways” (34). The effect is frequently seen in climate change, a situation that has altered the distribution of various animals in the world, some of them reducing in numbers.

The chapter outlines how the rise of the agricultural and industrial revolutions may have had a major impact on the relationship that exists between animals and human beings. During the time, “the world was now a one-man show” (Harari 37). Human beings have continuously retained the view that its increased food needs have necessitated the seeking of more land, which meant that the habitat of wild animals would be potentially destroyed, leading to a major decline in their numbers. The number of domestic animals, some of which were kept for food purposes, have also increased considerably for the sole benefit to human beings. The author is also keen to put across the fact that changes created by the agricultural revolution developed a major parallel between the animals now domesticated and the ones that are still in the wild. For instance, while the wild boars remain in the wild searching for food and water while exposed to possible attacks by lions, pigs reared by human beings are kept safe and protected “against predators and natural disasters” (Harari 38).

Chapter 3

In this chapter, the author notes that Homo sapiens “is the most powerful species in the world” (Harari 45). He also indicates that Homo sapiens have held the view that they hold a much-better moral authority in the world over other animals, such as wolves, elephants, and pigs. Thus, they have the power to exert some level of authority against them, in a way that shows how humans may choose to engage in any action they wish for in as much as the various animals are concerned. He also indicates that the view of importance has transcended the relationship that human beings have with animals. Harari also declares that “only Homo sapiens have a conscious mind” (Harari 48), thereby being able to think much better and show concern for others. The author also goes on indicating a distinct difference among human beings from various geographical locations. For instance, there is a general belief held by Americans that they are more valuable compared to those from other countries, such as the Afghans (Harari 49). As a result, they have the chance to engage in any form of action that they may be willing, as a way of showing the very position they hold around the world as well as the form of respect they believe they deserve. He asserts that there are “conflicts between different human groups”, which reduce their ability to interact better (Harari 50). It also reduces their ability to cooperate, and to deal with the notable challenges they experience. 

The author goes on to demonstrate how, in spite of the views held on by human beings, other creatures are just as complicated as they are. For instance, even unicellular organisms have very little organelles that accord them the ability to distinguish light from darkness, yet it is the same characteristic shared by the eyes of human beings (Harari 59). Thus, all organisms in the world do share various forms of complexities that should not be avoided, and more measures need to be put in place to ensure that all creatures, and human beings, are considered to be as equally important and of great influence towards the survival of one another.

Chapter 4

In this chapter, Harari discusses the contrast that exists between animals and the Homo sapiens. For instance, he indicates that animals, such as chimpanzees and wolves, live in a “dual reality” (Harari 72), and are fully aware of the various objects in their environment. Some of the objects that surround animals include rocks, trees, and rivers. At the same time, they are aware of the effects of such objects in their lives as it relates to making them fearful, happy and full of desire. In contrast, “Sapiens, in contrast, live in triple-layered reality” (Harari 72). Thus, in addition to knowing tree, rivers, and rocks, Homo sapiens also have information regarding money, corporations, nations, and gods — making them geared more towards identifying how the specific elements presented are likely to have an impact. Some of the notable corporations known to the Homo sapiens include Google and Microsoft.

As it relates to gods, some groups of Homo sapiens appear to be followers of Jesus and his teachings, and are referred to as Christians (Harari 79). They hold the perception that, through the measure, they are likely to attain some level of contentment in their lives while identifying the specific steps to take in attaining worldwide recognition, which would be important for them. This will also likely push Homo sapiens towards identifying the specific moral actions that they are likely to stick to in the world, while also determining the level of liberalism that they are likely to have. Harari provides that the gods “didn’t exist anywhere except in the human imagination” (Harari 81), and aims to show that the achievements made by human beings are mostly their own doing, and not out of any mystical powers.

Chapter 5

Chapter Five highlights the role of stories among human societies. The author notes that the stories “dominate objective reality” (Harari 106), thus easily verifiable and validity established within. He suggests that stories regarding corporations, nations, and gods have taken center stage around the world and have played an important role among human beings (Harari 106), thereby widening the perspective and the global form of relationship they need to have with one another.

Harari states that “myths continue to dominate humankind”, where the belief that people have regarding the various concepts around their lives was a major determinant of the actions they undertook (Harari 121). For instance, the belief in the Bible, the Mandate of Heaven, or the great god of Sobek pushed people towards developing Chartres Cathedral, the Great Wall of China and Lake Fayum. It is also the belief in a religion that shows that “humans are subject to a system of moral laws that we did not invent and that we cannot change.” Thus, humans are guided by a much-higher power that determines the kind of beliefs and perceptions they need to uphold regarding life

Chapter 6

Thought the chapter, Harari aims to show that modernity is the way of life and defines the kind of experiences that people are likely to have in the various phases that they happen to go through (Harari 171). It also determines the concepts that touch on the element of human progress that people normally have and the general effect that such a move is likely to have upon their lives. Despite the various views on modernity, one of the relating concepts is based on the interaction they have with one other (Harari 182). Modernity also sets limits on the changes that people may seek to adopt as they advance in their lives. The author also shows that there has been a change in the effect of the cosmic realm for the lives of human beings, where he states that “up until modern times, most cultures believed that humans play a part in some great cosmic plan” (Harari 171). In modern times, people have had a reduced belief in cosmic capabilities.

Harari also notes that the trends over the years have determined the perceptions people have held regarding certain global events. For instance, he notes that “the lumberjack, blacksmith, and baker are unlikely to agree” (Harari 193). Given the varying levels of dimensions they hold in the world, they are likely referencing differing ideas about their beliefs towards faith, like how their need for survival and to feed their families has had a great impact on the little belief they hold regarding miracles and medicine. Such people are likely to be more concerned with events they can deem to be quantifiable, and those which bear an important role in building upon the perceptions they have regarding one another (Harari 173). Thus, they are likely to seek to improve the situation they have in the world.

Chapter 7

This chapter provides that one of the elements that accord humans power is the ability to think through various life processes without necessarily relying on the great cosmic plan that “gives meaning to life” (Harari 227). It also states that in current times, human beings appear to possess a lot more power than before. For instance, the author suggests that the life of a human being has transcended the idea that little reverence to God would lead to some level of disorder in the world and lead to a social collapse. The author gives a comparison between Syria and the Netherlands. He states that while the Netherlands is majorly an Atheist society, it is far more peaceful as compared to God-fearing Syria (Harari 235). The illustration, therefore, aims to showcase the idea that human beings have developed to the level at which they are more capable of looking into the specific ways in which they can attain order without necessarily paying close attention to the cosmic strength. It has also shown that human beings can manage themselves better without necessarily being exposed to “external supervision” (Harari 236).

Chapter 8

Chapter Eight states that the world is currently dominated by the liberal elements of human rights, individualism, the free market, and democracy. However, the scientific advancements of the same era have had a huge impact on the foundations made towards achieving a liberal order. In other words, it shows that human beings are more concerned with being liberals. The author notes that “people are of course influenced by external forces and chance events” (Harari 388). They seek to establish the different ways in which they can attain some form of recognition that would make other people more interested in identifying the specific ways in which they are likely to be valued (Harari 389). Thus, through the representation of Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, and Locke, there is a sea of change where the findings of science have improved the quest for people to seek for liberty.

It is also through the understanding of ‘free will’ that human beings have determined the reason why they need to hold a man, who has stabbed another, guilty of the charge. As it appears, such a man used his free will to choose murder, which is why he is entirely responsible for his crime (Harari 393). Since he made his own decision to end the life of another, the person, therefore, needs to be held fully responsible for the action, as immense steps are made to ensure that the person realizes the actual actions that he undertook. The same person is also likely to determine that he needs to fully pay for what he did, as by choosing to harm another, he was also acting to curtail some of his future liberties. People tend to think that they are free to, “act according to their own wishes and decisions.” They, therefore, need to be of good influence to other people but as well, allow them to make personal independent decisions.

Chapter 9

In this chapter, the author revisits the view of how human beings believe they are unique and hold a valuable position in relation to animals (Harari 326). Harari, however, shows three practical developments that are likely to make the belief obsolete. One of them is how “technological developments will make humans economically and militarily useless” (Harari 334). Technological developments are, thus, more focused on making human beings more sophisticated at the expense of improving their economic capability and feeling of safety and security. Additionally, Harari stipulates that more technological advancements imply that there is a high likelihood for human beings to fail in attaining the level of economic and military usefulness that may be required of them. As technologies continue to further advance, human beings are bound to lose two vital characteristics, with these being intelligence and consciousness. The author documents that “high intelligence always went hand in hand with a developed consciousness” (Harari 342). As indicated, armies are less likely to function properly without them, and therefore needs to be well-oriented to the ensuing effects that their association with advanced technology is likely to bring. There is also the view that “organisms are algorithms” (Harari 380); natural selection shapes their existence in the world, and the ones considered fit for the situation survives the worst scenarios.

Chapter Ten describes how new religions will likely be developed in the future. However, there is a deep relationship between these new religions and the field of science. Granted, such new religions are likely to come from research laboratories, as opposed to the madrasas of the Middle East or the caves of Afghanistan. People are likely to see a lot of hope through the use of technology to resolve their day-to-day lives, leading to the possibility that “techno-religions may conquer the world by promising salvation through algorithms and genes” (Harari 386). Thus, people are likely to put more focus on various elements they have seen transpire in reality, as opposed to various actions around the world that are merely told as stories.

Chapter 10

The author suggests that the increased belief by people in the power of technology is bound to create a huge effect. Technology is being used to create ‘a much superior human model.’ In this regard, human beings are likely to lose the level of attention they may need to have as it relates to the world around them (Harari 392). Therefore, human beings are bound to place more attention on the general effect that technology is likely to have, especially as it relates to the simplification of lives by the reduced need to think. There is also the indication that “different socio-economic realities and daily routines nurtured different states of consciousness” (Harari 293). Therefore, they are likely to showcase the abilities of self-awareness and -belief in dealing with their challenges.

Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven acknowledges the position and role that data currently holds in the lives of people. It shows that the universe is filled with data flows, and is tied to the general effect that data processing is likely to have on the various occurrences that take place around the world. This chapter also shows that data was born out of the interaction between two scientific tidal waves, including the ideas postulated by Charles Darwin, as well as the ones provided by Alan Turing. As discussed by Harari, “the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing” (Harari 429). In this regard, some people have subsequently established means to which they can use data to attain some form of power over others. They also aim to obtain information about the specific action they are likely to engage in as they attempt to create a situation where they can be valuable to one another. The author also states that “data-processing conditions change again in the twenty-first century” (Harari 432). With such changes, they are likely to give rise to various solutions for current problems as strides are made towards solving already-existent challenges, such as war.

What did you learn from Homo Deus? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.

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