Clones, drones and phones : old geezers my age and some even younger just can’t get over how much has changed since we were kids. No one ever dreamt there could be a cloned sheep like Dolly. No one imagined we would use a drone to see things no one had ever seen before, like detailed spectacular views of K 2’s inaccessible crevasses at 6000 meters (a recent world record). And we all remember looking desperately for a phone booth to make an urgent call, when now life in unimaginable without the omnipresent smartphone.
So much else has changed, notably the religions we used to believe in. The Catholic piety of my youth is no longer practised even by devout Catholics. How many of them today recite prayers every day from their “Prayerbook”, or emit “ejaculations” (!) from their “Golden Book of Indulgences” ?
Before we get much older, far more radical changes, including in belief systems, are in store for all of us, and especially for those lucky enough to live during the rest of this century. Yuval Harari’s “Homo Deus” spells out the detail of what we can expect. For this Blog, let’s consider just what he calls “the formidable religious revolution” in store for mankind (my translation from the French edition) :
“In the time of Locke, of Hume and of Voltaire, humanists defended the idea that ‘God is a product of human imagination’. Data-ism turns this weapon against them and replies : ‘Yes, God is a product of human imagination, but human imagination is itself only the product of biochemical algorithms’. In the 18th century, humanism dismissed God by moving from a vision of the deocentric world to a homocentric vision. In the 21st century, data-ism dismisses men by abandoning the homocentric vision in favor of a data-centric vision.”
Central to Harari’s vision is the evolution of the idea of the SACRED. From : humans were sacred because they were created by God and destined for eternal bliss, to : humans are sacred in themselves; God does not exist, to : the future SuperInternet is sacred because humans created it to provide for their needs. He insists that his vision of the future dominance of Information Technology and the resultant insignificance if not the disappearance of Homo Sapiens, is a spelling out of possibilities, not of prophecies. But the “religion” he foresees in “data-ist dogma” leaves little hope for man. His reflection at very least invites us to deeper thought about our reasons for believing or not believing what we were taught in the past, about the choices left us to make sense of the present, and about the Great Unknown we call the Future.