46 Quotes from 21 Lessons for the 21st Century book by Yuval Noah Harari

Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the book - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century has been described as an exploration of what it means to be a human in an age of bewilderment.

Introduction Quotes

In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Introduction

Terrorism is both a global political problem and an internal psychological mechanism. Terrorism works by pressing the fear button deep in our minds and hijacking the private imagination of millions of individuals. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Introduction

Big Data algorithms might create digital dictatorships in which all power is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite while most people suffer not from exploitation, but from something far worse - irrelevance. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Introduction

Artificial intelligence and biotechnology are giving humanity the power to reshape and re-engineer life. Very soon somebody will have to decide how to use this power - based on some implicit or explicit story about the meaning of life. Philosophers are very patient people, but engineers are far less patient, and investors are the least patient of all. If you don't know what to do with the power to engineer life, market forces will not wait a thousand years for you to come up with an answer. The invisible hand of the market will force upon you its own blind reply. Unless you are happy to entrust the future of life to the mercy of quarterly revenue reports, you need a clear idea what life is all about. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Introduction

Part 1 Quotes

The revolutions in biotech and infotech will give us control of the world inside us, and will enable us to engineer and manufacture life. We will learn how to design brains, extend lives, and kill thoughts at our discretion. Nobody knows what the consequences will be. Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 1

Humans vote with their feet. In my travels around the world I have met numerous people in many countries who wish to emigrate to the USA, to Germany, to Canada or to Australia. I have met a few who want to move to China or Japan. But I am yet to meet a single person who dreams of emigrating to Russia. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 1

The technological revolution might soon push billions of humans out of the job market, and create a massive new useless class, leading to social and political upheavals that no existing ideology knows how to handle. All the talk about technology and ideology might sound abstract and remote, but the very real prospect of mass unemployment - or personal unemployment - leaves nobody indifferent. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 1

A driver predicting the intentions of a pedestrian, a banker assessing the credibility of a potential borrower, and a lawyer gauging the mood at the negotiation table don't rely on witchcraft. Rather, unbeknownst to them, their brains are recognising biochemical patterns by analysing facial expressions, tones of voice, hand movements, and even body odours. An AI equipped with the right sensors could do all that far more accurately and reliably than a human. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 2

The challenge posed to humankind in the twenty-first century by infotech and biotech is arguably much bigger than the challenge posed in the previous era by steam engines, railroads and electricity. And given the immense destructive power of our civilisation, we just cannot afford more failed models, world wars and bloody revolutions. This time around, the failed models might result in nuclear wars, genetically engineered monstrosities, and a complete breakdown of the biosphere. Consequently, we have to do better than we did in confronting the Industrial Revolution. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 2

As authority shifts from humans to algorithms, we may no longer see the world as the playground of autonomous individuals struggling to make the right choices. Instead, we might perceive the entire universe as a flow of data, see organisms as little more than biochemical algorithms, and believe that humanity's cosmic vocation is to create an all-encompassing data-processing system - and then merge into it. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 3

Democracy in its present form cannot survive the merger of biotech and infotech. Either democracy will successfully reinvent itself in a radically new form, or humans will come to live in 'digital dictatorships'. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 3

We have bred docile cows that produce enormous amounts of milk, but are otherwise far inferior to their wild ancestors. They are less agile, less curious and less resourceful. We are now creating tame humans that produce enormous amounts of data and function as very efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but these data-cows hardly maximise the human potential. Indeed we have no idea what the full human potential is, because we know so little about the human mind. [...] If we are not careful, we will end up with downgraded humans misusing upgraded computers to wreak havoc on themselves and on the world. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 3

In the twenty-first century, data will eclipse both land and machinery as the most important asset, and politics will be a struggle to control the flow of data. If data becomes concentrated in too few hands – humankind will split into different species. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 4

We don't have much experience in regulating the ownership of data, which is inherently a far more difficult task, because unlike land and machines, data is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, it can move at the speed of light, and you can create as many copies of it as you want. So we had better call upon our lawyers, politicians, philosophers and even poets to turn their attention to this conundrum: how do you regulate the ownership of data? This may well be the most important political question of our era. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 4

Part 2 Quotes

During the last century technology has been distancing us from our bodies. We have been losing our ability to pay attention to what we smell and taste. Instead we are absorbed in our smartphones and computers. We are more interested in what is happening in cyberspace than in what is happening down the street. It is easier than ever to talk to my cousin in Switzerland, but it is harder to talk to my husband over breakfast, because he constantly looks at his smartphone instead of at me. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 5

Historically, corporations were not the ideal vehicle for leading social and political revolutions. A real revolution sooner or later demands sacrifices that corporations, their employees and their shareholders are not willing to make. That's why revolutionaries establish churches, political parties and armies. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 5

The milder forms of patriotism have been among the most benevolent of human creations. [...] The problem starts when benign patriotism morphs into chauvinistic ultra-nationalism. Instead of believing that my nation is unique – which is true of all nations – I might begin feeling that my nation is supreme, that I owe it my entire loyalty, and that I have no significant obligations to anyone else. This is fertile ground for violent conflicts. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

Humans are destabilising the global biosphere on multiple fronts. We are taking more and more resources out of the environment, while pumping back into it enormous quantities of waste and poison, thereby changing the composition of the soil, the water and the atmosphere. [...] For thousands of years Homo sapiens behaved as an ecological serial killer; now it is morphing into an ecological mass murderer. If we continue with our present course it will cause not just the annihilation of a large percentage of all life forms, but it might also sap the foundations of human civilisation. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

When it comes to climate, countries are just not sovereign. They are at the mercy of actions taken by people on the other side of the planet. [...] To protect Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo from destructive floods and typhoons, the Chinese and Japanese will have to convince the Russian and American governments to abandon their 'business as usual' approach. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

An atom bomb is such an obvious and immediate threat that nobody can ignore it. Global warming, in contrast, is a more vague and protracted menace. Hence whenever long-term environmental considerations demand some painful short-term sacrifice, nationalists might be tempted to put immediate national interests first, and reassure themselves that they can worry about the environment later, or just leave it to people elsewhere. [...] Since there is no national answer to the problem of global warming, some nationalist politicians prefer to believe the problem does not exist. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

In a xenophobic dog-eat-dog world, if even a single country chooses to pursue a high-risk, high-gain technological path, other countries will be forced to do the same, because nobody can afford to remain behind. In order to avoid such a race to the bottom, humankind will probably need some kind of global identity and loyalty. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

We now have a global ecology, a global economy and a global science – but we are still stuck with only national politics. This mismatch prevents the political system from effectively countering our main problems. To have effective politics, we must either de-globalise the ecology, the economy and the march of science – or we must globalise our politics. [...] This does not mean establishing a global government – a doubtful and unrealistic vision. Rather, to globalise politics means that political dynamics within countries and even cities should give far more weight to global problems and interests. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 7

Religions still have a lot of political power, inasmuch as they can cement national identities and even ignite the Third World War. But when it comes to solving rather than stoking the global problems of the twenty-first century, they don't seem to offer much. [...] At present they are used mainly as the handmaid of modern nationalism - whether in North Korea, Russia, Iran or Israel. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 8

While a tolerant society can manage small illiberal minorities, if the number of such extremists exceeds a certain threshold, the whole nature of society changes. If Europe allows in too many immigrants from the Middle East, it will end up looking like the Middle East. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 9

Part 3 Quotes

Though the challenges are unprecedented, and though the disagreements are intense, humankind can rise to the occasion if we keep our fears under control and be a bit more humble about our views. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Part 3

Terrorists are masters of mind control. They kill very few people, but nevertheless manage to terrify billions and shake huge political structures such as the European Union or the United States. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

Terrorists hope that even though they can barely dent the enemy's material power, fear and confusion will cause the enemy to misuse his intact strength and overreact. Terrorists calculate that when the enraged enemy uses his massive power against them, he will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create. During every storm, many unforeseen things happen. Mistakes are made, atrocities are committed, public opinion wavers, neutrals change their stance, and the balance of power shifts. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

Terrorists stage a terrifying spectacle of violence that captures our imagination and turns it against us. By killing a handful of people the terrorists cause millions to fear for their lives. In order to calm these fears, governments react to the theatre of terror with a show of security, orchestrating immense displays of force, such as the persecution of entire populations or the invasion of foreign countries. In most cases, this overreaction to terrorism poses a far greater threat to our security than the terrorists themselves. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

Terrorists undertake an impossible mission: to change the political balance of power through violence, despite having no army. To achieve their aim, terrorists present the state with an impossible challenge of their own: to prove that it can protect all its citizens from political violence, anywhere, any time. The terrorists hope that when the state tries to fulfil this impossible mission, it will reshuffle the political cards, and hand them some unforeseen ace. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

It is the responsibility of every citizen to liberate his or her imagination from the terrorists, and to remind ourselves of the true dimensions of this threat. It is our own inner terror that prompts the media to obsess about terrorism, and the government to overreact. The success or failure of terrorism thus depends on us. If we allow our imagination to be captured by the terrorists, and then overreact to our own fears - terrorism will succeed. If we free our imagination from the terrorists, and react in a balanced and cool way - terrorism will fail. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

It is hard to set priorities in real time, while it is all too easy to second-guess priorities with hindsight. We accuse leaders of failing to prevent the catastrophes that happened, while remaining blissfully unaware of the disasters that never materialised. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 10

In the great age of conquerors warfare was a low-damage, high-profit affair. Nuclear weapons and cyberwarfare, by contrast, are high-damage, low-profit technologies. You could use such tools to destroy entire countries, but not to build profitable empires. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 11

Human stupidity is one of the most important forces in history, yet we often discount it. Politicians, generals and scholars treat the world as a great chess game, where every move follows careful rational calculations. This is correct up to a point. Few leaders in history have been mad in the narrow sense of the word, moving pawns and knights at random. [...] The problem is that the world is far more complicated than a chessboard, and human rationality is not up to the task of really understanding it. Hence even rational leaders frequently end up doing very stupid things. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 11

Many religions praise the value of humility – but then imagine themselves to be the most important thing in the universe. They mix calls for personal meekness with blatant collective arrogance. Humans of all creeds would do well to take humility more seriously. And among all forms of humility, perhaps the most important is to have humility before God. Whenever they talk of God, humans all too often profess abject self-effacement, but then use the name of God to lord it over their brethren. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 12

Modern history has demonstrated that a society of courageous people willing to admit ignorance and raise difficult questions is usually not just more prosperous but also more peaceful than societies in which everyone must unquestioningly accept a single answer. People afraid of losing their truth tend to be more violent than people who are used to looking at the world from several different viewpoints. Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 14

Part 4 & 5 Quotes

When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month - that's fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years - that's a religion. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 17

Truth and power can travel together only so far. Sooner or later they go their separate ways. If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fictions. If you want to know the truth about the world, at some point you will have to renounce power. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 17

As a species, humans prefer power to truth. We spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it – and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control it. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 17

So the best advice I could give a fifteen-year-old stuck in an outdated school somewhere in Mexico, India or Alabama is: don't rely on the adults too much. Most of them mean well, but they just don't understand the world. In the past, it was a relatively safe bet to follow the adults, because they knew the world quite well, and the world changed slowly. But the twenty-first century is going to be different. Due to the growing pace of change you can never be certain whether what the adults are telling you is timeless wisdom or outdated bias. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 19

Technology isn't bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it. But if you don't know what you want in life, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims for you and take control of your life. Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, instead of it serving you. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 19

This is, of course, the oldest advice in the book: know thyself. [...] But this advice was never more urgent than in the twenty-first century, because [...] now you have serious competition. Coca-Cola, Amazon, Baidu and the government are all racing to hack you. Not your smartphone, not your computer, and not your bank account – they are in a race to hack you and your organic operating system. You might have heard that we are living in the era of hacking computers, but that's hardly half the truth. In fact, we are living in the era of hacking humans. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 19

Once personal identities and entire social systems are built on top of a story, it becomes unthinkable to doubt it, not because of the evidence supporting it, but because its collapse will trigger a personal and social cataclysm. In history, the roof is sometimes more important than the foundations. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 20

Of all rituals, sacrifice is the most potent, because of all the things in the world, suffering is the most real. You can never ignore it or doubt it. If you want to make people really believe in some fiction, entice them to make a sacrifice on its behalf. Once you suffer for a story, it is usually enough to convince you that the story is real. [...] This is of course a logical fallacy. If you suffer because of your belief in God or in the nation, that does not prove that your beliefs are true. Maybe you are just paying the price of your gullibility? - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 20

Observing the truth about yourself is just so difficult! Even if you somehow manage to get most humans to try it, many of us will quickly distort the truth we encounter into some story with heroes, villains and enemies, and find really good excuses to go to war. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 20

When people ask the big questions of life, they usually have absolutely no interest in knowing when their breath is coming into their nostrils and when is it going out. Rather, they want to know things like what happens after you die. Yet the real enigma of life is not what happens after you die, but what happens before you die. If you want to understand death, you need to understand life. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 21

Anthropologists and zoologists spend years on faraway islands, exposed to a plethora of ailments and dangers. Astronauts devote many years to difficult training regimes, preparing for their hazardous excursions to outer space. If we are willing to make such efforts in order to understand foreign cultures, unknown species and distant planets, it might be worth working just as hard in order to understand our own minds. And we had better understand our minds before the algorithms make our minds up for us. - 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Chapter 21

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