‘Homo Deus’ – will AIs replace Homo sapiens?

By Ande Jacobson

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is the second, recent, international best seller by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In it, Harari draws heavily on his previous book (also an international best seller) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In fact, Homo Deus can stand alone and give the reader a nice synopsis of the earlier work. Harari compresses his previous book’s crucial concepts about the various developmental revolutions that humanity has weathered into half as many pages before broadening those concepts and presenting some possibilities of where humankind might be headed in the twenty-first century and beyond. Homo Deus was first published in an Israeli Hebrew edition in 2015. The first English translation appeared in the UK in 2016, and it finally made it to the United States market in 2017. As of spring 2018, it has been translated (in order) into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian, Korean, French, Norwegian, Greek, Czech, Lithuanian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian. While it hasn’t quite caught up to the 45 languages Harari’s earlier work has so far appeared in, this latest book is well on its way. Continue reading

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Follow-on thoughts about ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – Part 2: Happiness

By Ande Jacobson

Happiness is a central theme that Yuval Noah Harari explores in detail in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He discusses the multitude of advances that humankind has achieved throughout its history, starting, as he puts it, as “an animal of no significance.” As mentioned in previous discussions of this book, Harari separates humankind’s history into several revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, scientific), and through them all, he questions whether the individual members of our species are happier with each advancement. Even at our earliest stage in history, Homo sapiens has been a biologically successful species, but is biological success enough? Does that alone serve to make the majority of us happy? Continue reading

‘The Student Conductor’ masterfully merges politics, history, fiction, and musical reality

By Ande Jacobson

Robert Ford isn’t exactly a household name, and it’s been over a decade since he published his first (and seemingly only) novel. He went on to write several award-winning one-act and full-length plays that have been produced both in the U.S. and in Europe, but his novel remains a unique work. The Student Conductor was first published in the U.S. in 2003 with subsequent editions in Europe and Australia. It gives readers a look into Ford’s imagination as he conjures up plenty of intrigue and heart. He also guides readers deep into the magical world of classical music giving them an idea of just what it takes to become a professional symphony conductor. Continue reading

Follow-on thoughts about ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – Part 1: Common Myths

By Ande Jacobson

In the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari discusses several thought-provoking aspects of human history. One of the most fascinating and far reaching developments is what he describes as “common myths.” He gives the following introductory description of this concept in his discussion of key developments from the Cognitive Revolution:

“Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. … States are rooted in common national myths. … Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. ….

“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, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Based on his description, all of the vagaries and debates that philosophers have waged since the Cognitive Revolution occurred can be chalked up to fiction. In the modern world beyond the list above, organizational constructs such as corporations would also qualify as common myths that are accepted by our collective imaginations. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – a story of where we came from and where we might be going

By Ande Jacobson

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, was first published in the U.S. in 2015, and it took the country by storm. It quickly became a New York Times best seller and is used in numerous history courses around the country. Great Britain saw its English language release a year earlier in 2014, but the author’s countrymen saw it first published in his native Hebrew a few years before that in 2011. Beyond that, the book has been translated into over thirty languages worldwide, and at least the American English version is credited as being translated by Harari, with help from John Purcell and Haim Watzman. Why did Sapiens:… make such a splash around the world? It tells a fascinating story. Harari is an Israeli born historian and a tenured history professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a passion for how every human endeavor affects history and the world. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ adds a thrilling eighth chapter to the series

cursed-child-dust-jacket-edBy Ande Jacobson

J.K. Rowling discovered gold when her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (renamed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone outside of the U.K.), hit the presses in 1997. Intended as the first installment of a seven-part children’s book series, it fortuitously (though unexpectedly) appealed to readers of all ages. Rowling released the subsequent books over the next decade with the final installment reaching the shelves in July 2007 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The reception was phenomenal. Not only did readers clamber for each new book, the movie industry embraced the stories and released blockbuster adaptations of each one, the last taking two films to fully explore.

In 2015, a new story synopsis in the Harry Potter oeuvre surfaced. The story was written by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, and Thorne went on to put this story into the form of a play. The full rehearsal script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released on 31 July 2016, one day after the maiden voyage of the play opened in London. This review discusses only the script as a book, not as commentary on any performance of the material. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Hidden Brain’ – how much do we really know about what we think?

the-hidden-brain-coverBy Ande Jacobson

The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives was published in 2010, but it has retained its relevancy in these increasingly tumultuous times. Written by Shankar Vedantam, the book sheds some needed light on the increasingly complex situations being observed in society today by drawing on research efforts in human behavior and the social sciences to explain numerous seemingly conflicting phenomena. As an added bonus, the book’s notes section provides a comprehensive reference list to the studies cited. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Einstein’s Beach House’ takes a sharp, yet witty view of life

einsteins-beach-house-coverBy Ande Jacobson

Jacob M. Appel is an interesting author. He’s passionate about his writing while also pursuing parallel careers in medicine and the law. In the writing realm, he’s not only published numerous short story collections, novels, journal articles, and essays in the press, he gives back in the form of writing webinars and seminars to help aspiring authors hone their craft. While he’s written all manner of forms, the short story is one of his favorites, and his short story collection entitled Einstein’s Beach House doesn’t disappoint. Drawing from his vast education, professional experience, and vivid imagination, he expertly weaves stories that grab the reader’s interest at the outset, and rarely slow down. Continue reading