Homo Deus

Yuval Noah Harari has written a book about the transformation of Homo sapiens to Homo Deus – man as God – Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. It is a logic continuation of his bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, released some years ago.

The times are changing – in the beginning of the 21st century it is more likely to die from your McDonald’s diet than to die from famine, Ebola or regular wars; sugar is more dangerous that gun powder. We have won several battles, and we are, according to Harari, heading for three new major  projects.

First. To invent immortality. It will take some time, that’s for sure, the first step is just to live longer lives. It is provoking, the journey is exhausting, but we can already see the signs. (It is like in a play – if a gun occurs in the first act, someone will fire it in the third…)

Second. To invent eternal happiness. Ice cream, drugs and gaming is not enough, we need to develop our biochemistry.

Third. To upgrade Homo sapiens to Homo Deus. It is no use to worry, at least not right now – mankind will upgrade itself, step by step, get more skills and power, until we, in a future, look back on our ancestors and find them as – another species. It is all about an evolution blending biology/body and technology.

During the 20th century the main purpose of medicine was to cure – it was an egalitarian project, everybody deserves a life and body on a “normal” level. The purpose for the next generation of medical research might be to upgrade healthy people – give them extra skills and produce a kind of übermensch. (It could be dangerous – it is possible that this superman will treat ordinary people just as bad as Europeans treated Africans in times of colonization.)

The history of the planet Earth is divided in eras – the current era is Holocene, but it could be called Anthropocene instead – Homo sapiens has made a huge impact on the ecosystem. Anthropocene could also be connected to the humanism of the last – let’s say – 300 years. Nature has definitely lost its magic, God is not the supervisor anymore – what is left to believe in? Humanity.

But our bodies and identities are never stable and constant. Nor is humanity. Experiments on Homo sapiens have given clear results – it is possible to create or even erase complex emotions like love, anger, hate, fear and depression by stimulating the right locations in the brain. Our brains and bodies are nothing but algorithms – emotions are mathematics, full of complexity?

Well, we should consider that statement as a metaphor rather than a fact. In the 19th and 20th century, the body was considered as a machine – run by steam or electricity. The machine was the golden technology at that time, not the computer. The body is obviously a battlefield for ideologies. I think we are heading a new clash of ideologies – the struggle between humanism and post-humanism.

The reality will, according to Harari, consist of a net of biochemical and digital algorithms without any distinct intersections, everything interwoven, nothing isolated. But also stratified. Think about the social consequences of the upgrading – who will have access to the emerging technology?

The new religions and philosophies will not emerge in the caves in the Middle East or on the Indian countryside. Their origin will be in the laboratory. Socialism promised salvation through steam and electricity – the new techno-religions will promise salvation through algorithms, technology, DNA etc.

One of the major questions for the future deals with the differences between consciousness and intelligence. AI will produce intelligence, far more intelligence than we can imagine right now. But what about consciousness – who will take care of that? And what do we need it for?

Anyway, the development is not deterministic – we can still shape the destiny. Please, read Homo Deus, it is a good starting point!


Yuval Noah Harari

A ruin is the present in drag

52 ruins #27–38

It has been an awesome weekend in the south-west of Region Kronoberg. Hedrén, Lundgren and I visited 12 ruins of different kinds – the highlights were Gustafsfors’ works (industries, powerstation and dungeon)Byvärma northern åbro (an old bridge and floodway) and Skagaholm (a medieval castle in a tremendous setting).

We stayed in the area one night in a mobile trailer – that fits our nomadic lifestyle perfect – in Sjöared on the border between Småland and Halland.

Please enjoy the movie below. I composed and recorded the sountrack to the film a few years ago, and I found that it carries the same feeling as the lifestyle of a ruin tracker. The danish title in translation: A bullet in the fog.


A speech

Last week I held a speech for graduating bachelors in Design, Music production and Arts and culture at the Linnaeus University. An honor for me! This is (approximately) what I said:

I am grateful for being invited here today. Through my profession I am used to collaborate with teachers and students in design, culture and music at the Linnaeus University. I work on cultural development at the culture and leisure services at Växjö municipality, and I have previously worked for many years at Växjö Art Gallery, so the field of design and arts at Linnaeus University is one of my co-players.

You have organized an awesome program here today – it definitely puts some pressure on me, since I am the last speaker. But I am excited as well, I get the chance to say the last words at the university to you – words that will call in your ears forever?!

Maybe I should tell you about the contemporary cultural world, about what you will meet out there, what I meet every day. And I will do that, but I will start at another end.

I love metaphors, pictures that help the mind understand. And one of the metaphors I abuse is the walker. I consider life as a walk, an inner journey through darkness and light, through gates, along paths and in crossroads.

I will tell you about one particular walk, it was twenty years ago. I saw my first elephant in freedom. I saw my first baboon, gorilla and lion cub. I had arrived in east Africa, and as a bonus I would climb the continent’s highest mountain – Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania. For some reason, man is like that –if there is a highest, you want to go there.

I remember it was very hot and humid when I took the first steps on the slope. Around me tropical vegetation. Further down the valley were open fields, some cultivated, with scarecrows and rusty plows. I felt like a snail – I could carry all I needed inside myself – and I did not need that much – my breath, some water and an inner compass.

I followed the same route as Ernest Hemingway, and I remember reading Hemingway. (At that time of my life, I could do that without being embarrassed.) Around here, many of his African stories took place.

I went through the rainforest, I went through the clouds.

At 4 500 meters, the landscape changes, I meet the alpine desert, bare stone beds, lava fields, loads of loose gray sand. The last walk towards the top started in the night, I was a lantern that slowly climbed through the darkness.

At the top of the mountain is the glacier and the volcano, and on the crater is Uhuru Peak, meaning “freedom” in Swahili.

The sun rose. In front of my feet, Africa is bathing in the sun’s first rays.

I move my gaze up and down, to the left and to the right, I like the vertical best. I am fascinated of birds and frogs, because they have the right perspectives. Some clouds down there, and in the west I see a brook in a ravine. In front of me a pink and yellow sky, and I think it is harvest time.

But at 6000 meters altitude everything is fragile. About ten climbers die of altitude sickness every year. I notice how I slowly loose contact with my senses – nausia, oxygen deficiency and headache.

And there, on the crater, on the top of Kilimanjaro, we leave that story …

The walks of life, up the slopes, over the hills and then down again. We crash in the valleys, and we start to live again on the peaks. That is the life that lies in front of all of you who really want to live.

Sometimes we talk about flow, sometimes we talk about peak experience – moments of devotion, cosmic experience, ecstasy. The peaks turn into an alpine desert or a wet marshland. But we who want to live – we keep on walking on the journey of life.

Everything is connected: Man and mountains and valleys. Man needs the mountains or we lose sight. And the mountains need their valleys to exist as mountains.

And what happened to the guy on the crater? Well, I came down to the foot of the mountain. I had mouth ulcers, fungal in my groins, and blisters on my feet. And I remember ending up in Dar es Salaam on the coast, from where I took an unreliable boat to Zanzibar, a paradise island. Diving on a reef, laying under palm trees. Zanzibar was a world of pineapples and coconuts and joints.

And right there I end this story – now it is time for you to keep on walking. And I have only one single advice for you: Dare to love a little bit more than your neighbor. Good luck!

Swedish version:

Jag är tacksam över att jag har fått komma hit idag. Jag är rätt van vid att möta lärare och studenter från design, kultur och musik, bl.a. genom mitt yrke. Jag arbetar idag som verksamhetsutvecklare inom kultur i Växjö kommun och har tidigare jobbat i många år på Växjö konsthall, så kulturfältet inom Lnu är givetvis en medspelare.

Jättefint program ni har ordnat idag – det sätter ju dock en viss press på mig. Samtidigt är jag lite förtjust över att få prata sist – visserligen är alla lite trötta, men jag får ju chansen att säga de sista orden på universitetet för er del – orden som kommer att ringa som en tinnitus i era öron i en evighet.

Jag borde kanske berätta om framtiden eller samtiden, kulturvärlden, om vad ni kommer att möta där ute, vad jag möter varje dag. Och det ska jag göra, men jag börjar i en annan ände – jag drar några skrönor från förr.

Såhär är det: Jag älskar metaforer, de där bilderna som hjälper sinnet att förstå. Och en av de metaforer som jag missbrukar är vandraren. Jag tänker att livet är en vandring, en inre resa genom mörker och ljus, genom portar, längs krokiga stigar, via krökar och korsvägar.

Lyssna nu! Det här är viktigt, jag ska berätta om en vandring! Det var tjugo år sedan. Jag såg min första fria elefant. Jag såg min första fria babian, gorilla, lejonunge. Jag hade hamnat i Östra Afrika och som en bonus skulle jag bestiga kontinentens högsta berg – Kilimanjaro i norra Tanzania. Av nån anledning är människan sån där – finns det nåt som är den högsta, så ska man fan i mig dit.

Jag minns att det var väldigt varmt och fuktigt på sluttningen när jag tog de första stegen, runt mig tropisk växtlighet, längre ner i dalen låg öppna fält, vissa uppodlade, med fågelskrämmor och rostiga plogar. Jag gick uppåt, var som en snigel – kunde bära allt jag behövde inom mig – och jag behövde inte så mycket – mina andetag, vatten och en inre kompass.

Jag följde samma led som Ernest Hemingway tog på sin tid, ni vet författaren, och jag minns att jag läste Hemingway. Det var sånt jag gjorde utan att bli generad på den tiden. Här i krokarna utspelas många av hans afrikanska berättelser.

Jag gick genom en regnskog, jag gick genom moln.

Vid 4 500 meter förändras landskapet, nu möts jag av alpin öken, kala stenbäddar, lavafält, sträckor av lös, grå sand.

Den sista vandringen mot toppen startade i natten, jag var en lykta som sakta ringlade fram i mörkret.

På toppen av berget finns glaciären och vulkankratern, och på kraterkanten ligger Uhuru Peak, vilket betyder “frihet” på swahili.

Solen reste sig. Framför mina fötter badar Afrika i solens första strålar.

Jag lät min blick vandra i sidled och höjdled, jag gillar höjdleden bäst, jag fängslas av fåglar och grodor, eftersom de har de rätta perspektiven. Några molnbankar gäspar där nere, i väster ser jag en bäck i en ravin. Framför mig ligger en laxskär himmel och jag tror det är skördetid.

Men på 6000 meters höjd är allt skört. Ungefär tio klättrare dör av höjdsjuka varje år. Jag märker hur mina sinnen långsamt knyter sig i syrebrist och huvudvärk.

Och där på kraterkanten, på toppen av Kilimanjaro, lämnar vi den berättelsen…

Så här kan de se ut. vandringarna i livet, längs sluttningar, över höjder och sen ner igen, berg sjunken djup stån opp!  Och vi krisar i dalarna och blir yra på topparna. Och det är precis ett sånt liv som ligger framför alla av er som verkligen vill leva, tänker jag.

Ibland talar man om flow, ibland talar man om peak experience – ögonblick av hängivenhet, kosmisk upplevelse, lyckorus, extas. Topparna löser av en karg, alpin öken eller en suckande kärrmark. Men vi som vill leva – vi går och går som vandrare på livsresan.

Allt hänger samman: Människan och bergen och dalarna. Människan behöver bergen, annars förlorar hon utsikten. Och bergen behöver sina dalar för att vara berg.

Och vad gjorde jag sen då? När vi hade kommit ner till bergets fot… Jag hade munsår, svamp i ljumskarna och skoskav, minns jag. Och jag vet att jag efter ett tag hamnade i Dar es-Salaam ute vid kusten och att jag tog en skum båt till Zanzibar, en paradisö, där jag dök, låg under palmer. Zanzibar var en värld av ananas och kokosnötter och spliffar.

Och just där låter jag min röst tystna – nu är det dags för er att göra er vandring. Och jag har ett enda råd – våga älska lite mer än din granne. Lycka till!

A Wicked Game

Ruin # 22-26

Third of June, and another ruin trip with my enthusiastic colleagues. The starting point this time is Huseby bruk, where I and Lundgren meet up with Hedrén, who had ridden his speedy cyclocross bike from his home village Hunna.

We visit one prehistoric gravefield (close to Vislanda rectory) and three old churches – ÖjaVislanda and – the best one – Skatelöv. The location is beautiful, the living nature and the view over the poetic Skatelövsfjärden. (The former name of Skatelövsfjärden was probably Odensjö, the lake of the pagan god Odin, and on the opposite side of the lake you can find Blodberget, the Blood Mountain, with grave fields, erected stones and probably an old sacrificial grove.)

It is not much left of the old church in Skatelöv, some foundation stones that mark the place for the building, but the cemetery is interesting. We find the grave of Bengt Berg, the guy who brought the Canada goose to Sweden (not very flattering…). But the most prominent grave is the huge, decorated stone of Gunnar Olof Hyltén Cavallius, a local ethnologist.

Another spectacular object is a flat rune stone (brought to the new church), the text says: Bose hacked the church. Bose hacked the stones for the church of the people in Skatelöv. The inscription is ugly, one of the worse I have seen when it comes to runes…

The Rune Stone in Skatelöv

Another really interesting ruin is Huseby charcoal burning plant. During World War II it became difficult to get fuel to cars and buses. The solution was to use generator gas, based on charcoal, which was complicated, filthy and dangerous: The risk for fire was extremely high, and in 1941 the decision was made that every car had to have a fire extinguisher and ten liters of water on board. No one used generator gas after the end of the war. (Look at the enthusiastic inspection btw!)

When we drive home, we are actually halfway. We have visited 26 of the 52 ruins of the year. We feel it in our chests. A Wicked Game.