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In Which I Argue With A Book

Argue is the right word. I argued with this book–or, to be more specific, the author of this book.

The author in question is Yuval Noah Harari and the book is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I picked it up at a bookstore during Christmastime. It is one of those books I buy from time to time to keep my wits sharp. I knew the worldview would be different from mine, and that is what I was looking for. The book has 323 pages of actual text, plus a large appendix of notes and an index. Although the material is weighty, it is an easy read written in a dialogue style. He has previously written two other bestsellers titled Sapiens and Homo Deus which I have not read. Unknown

At times it was enjoyable, funny, profound. At other times it was infuriating, depressing, and nonsensical.

What I Really Liked

There are two things I really liked about the book. The first is the opening 150 pages. If I narrowed it down even further, it would be the first 84 pages in which the author analyzes the technological challenges the future holds for human beings. I found this section riveting and spellbinding. Harari opened up ideas and thoughts, particularly about the role of AI in the human experience, I had never previously pondered, and for this I am thankful. In my opinion, the entire book is worth the buy and the read for just this part of the book.

The second thing I really liked about this book is that he devoted an entire chapter to science fiction. That’s right, Harari believes science fiction has a vital role to play in understanding and appropriating our human future. As an author who has a science fiction book he wants to release (Deep Cove Anthology) later this year and whose current WIP is a science fiction novel, this is good news. Now, I do think the author puts too much pressure on science fiction to perform a social good. Literature can only go so far, man. He does have a very interesting take on the movie Inside Out that any Pixar fan should take a look at.

What I Liked

I liked the way this book evoked in me a desire to think and argue with the author. I read it with a pencil nearby, and constantly wrote on the pages. Sometimes I agreed and wrote that, other times I wrote impromptu refutations. I must have sharpened my pencil twenty times. This is why I bought the book, but it far exceeded my expectations. Harari is an intellectual provocateur who takes things to an extreme situation in order to force us to ponder the logics of it. For people like me, this is fun.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like being called a fool. In several places in the book the author portrays anyone who believes in God–whether it is the God of the Bible, Allah, or Thor–as a fool. Harari portrays himself as a strict realist who only looks at the facts, but he deludes himself by shuffling the deck of facts in favor of himself and his worldview. This did not become fully apparent until the last chapter of the book, and it was then that I realized what as going on.

What Surprised Me

There were two surprises. One, Harari holds an odd position in that he is what I would call an Atheist Calvinist. He absolutely does not believe in free-will or choices. For him, everything is determined. His is not just biological determinism that tell us genes determine heart disease and lifespan. It goes much further. He perceives all our choices are made for us by culture, biases, religion, politics, and advertising. You didn’t have a taco for lunch today because you wanted it and you chose to. You and the taco for lunch today because your brain is preconditioned by pressures and stimuli you can’t possibly act against, so therefore, it was predetermined you would eat the taco.

The second surprise was the ending, and I have already alluded to it. Throughout the whole book Harari trashes any kind of spirituality or religious experiences, then in one of the boldest bait and switch moments he finishes by trying to convince the humble reader the key to it all is meditation and getting into contact with your mind as opposed to your brain.

I was very disappointed, and suddenly his anti-God stance made more sense. He is an evangelist for a new kind of faith–a faith not in God, not in self, and not in humanity. Harari peddles a faith in awareness and experience. This is why many of his thoughts are fatalistic.

Final Evaluation

Read this book if you want to be challenged, argue with the author, and think about things from a different perspective. Do not read this book if you are easily offended by other worldviews.

THE GIVER: A BOOK REVIEW

Actually, this is a book review of The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry. There are four books in all, even though most people are only familiar with the first one because it is on many high school reading lists, and also because of the unfortunate movie. I say unfortunate, not because I didn’t like it. I liked it, before I read the book. I liked it because Jeff Bridges is so good in it and the narrative pacing is tight. But after reading the books, I decidedly hated the movie adaption as it seemed to miss most of the main points of the book(s).

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The four books are, in order: The Giver, Finding Blue, Messenger, and Son. I enjoyed them all, but Gathering Blue is the best, by far, of the four. A tiny disclaimer here, I read the bulk of these while on vacation on the sugar white beaches of Destin, Florida underneath a yellow umbrella enjoying the perfect ocean mist. Environment can often dictate how one feels about the art being consumed.

 

What I Really Liked

I really liked the way in which Lois Lowry develops characters. Jonas, Kira, Matty, and Claire are each complex, believable, and likeable adolescents. I really liked that there are two male and two female leads, providing balance to the narrative arc. Jonas is the dominant character, but for my taste Kira is the best character. The opening pages of Gathering Blue provide such a rich description not only of her physical situation but also of her emotional, psychological, sociological, and spiritual condition that one feels as if they’ve known Kira their whole life. At least I did.

Some of the tertiary characters can be shallow at times, or even clichés but I can forgive that because the MC’s are amazing.

There are two other things I really liked, and both are unique to these books. One, I loved the vehement pro-life message woven through the novels. I don’t mean this in a political sense, because Lowry is not writing from a Christian worldview. I mean in the sense that life, in all its stages, is viewed as precious and honored in the book. This life is often viewed as fragile in the midst of a world that would destroy the weak, the unwanted, and the old.

Two, I really liked the almost prophetic nature of the books set against our contemporary times. This is particularly true in Messenger. It was written in 2004–twelve years ago, but there is a major character in that book who acts as a strongman attempting to build a literal wall around the village to keep the flow of migrants/immigrants from coming in. There are other nearly prophetic elements as well regarding the ethics of medicine, redefinition of family units, and many other things.

 

What I liked

I liked the readability of these books. There are four of them, but I read them in the time of a regular novel. The easy reading is  part of the YA nature of the books, but also it is part of Lowry’s clear writing style. She does not use a lot of words when not needed.

I liked the recycling of characters–I try to do this in my own writing and greatly admired it in these books.

I liked the “Question authority” feel of the novels. I have learned that some schools don’t allow these books because they encourage a questioning of authority and, to some extent, rebellion in the face of evil. I like that about these books. Too many people automatically trust “The person in the white lab coat” or the “Guy behind the desk” when in reality these people are often wrong, or worse, manipulative. Experts might be smart, but they also have agendas.

I like the way she uses symbolism, metaphor, and allegory to connect with me as a reader.

 

What I Didn’t Like

There was one part of The Giver Quartet I didn’t like. This is true of almost every book–there is always something that doesn’t settle right with me. The last book, Son, feels too rushed. I actually think Lowry should have written more on Claire’s transformation in a stand alone book, and then wrote a fifth book to finish out the storyline. She jams too much into the last book.

That’s it, that is my only complaint.

Final Evaluation

Loved the books. They are suitable for all ages, but are ideal for young adults. People who enjoy Harry Potter, fantasy, science fiction, character stories, dystopia, and tales of good and evil will enjoy these excellent reads.

MANDELA EFFECT

I have plumbed the depths of the interwebs, and found this gem.

It is called the Mandela Effect.

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Until last Saturday I didn’t know that was a thing.

Here is the basic gist. People remember the past differently. Apparently large groups of people. The prime example is the death of Nelson Mandela–from which the name comes. Mandela died in 2013 (at least in our timeline) but many people report his death in the 1980s while still in prison. Their memories include television coverage of the funeral. The explanation for this difference in memory is that there are alternate, somewhat parallel universes, that have crossed over into each other.

People who remember Nelson Mandela’s funeral in the 1980s are from a different universe where he did actually die in the 1980s. That would be a very sad universe indeed.

untitledThere are host of things Mandela Effect people point to. Confusion about the name of the Berenstain Bears (Berenstein Bears) is one. Froot (Fruit) Loops is another. So is a portrait of Henry VIII holding a turkey leg that apparently never actually existed, except a lot of people remember it. I mention this one, because I am one of them. I distinctly remember learning about Henry VIII in school and seeing that portrait.

The concept was first introduced by Fiona Broome in 2010. Click here to visit her website. Better yet, google Mandela Effect–That’s how I got sucked in. Believers in this theory point to these remembered differences as proof of parallel universes with a leaky valve.

One theme on this tangent is that the leaky valve is caused by CERN–the large atom smasher in Switzerland.

Do I believe in the Mandela Effect?

Of Course not. Don’t be ridiculous.

Although this might explain the dilemna dilemma (click here for a dilemma dilemna).

People do remember things differently, but this is more about the brain, false memories, and perfectly logical and provable tricks that our memories play on us. We always color our memories, and we get confused. Easily confused.

I don’t think I lived in another universe where there was a portrait of Henry VIII with a giant turkey leg. I think I misremember it because of a television show, a bad textbook, or a misprint. Mandela Effect believers remind me of those Ancient Alien people. They have some data right–people misremember things, there are odd artifacts–but they come to the wrong conclusion about what caused it.

The value of the Mandela Effect for me, though, is the possibilities for science fiction. I bet someone has already gotten there ahead of me, but I see a great treasure hoard of material in the idea of sliding in and out of universes. Some of this has been done, of course, in big ways like Star Trek, 12 Monkeys, Asimov and Philip Dick, but I think the surface is only being scraped, especially if we think about large groups of people with different histories–What joyous conflict could be hatched, for example, if some people remembered the U.S. losing the Revolutionary War, while others remember our current history? Or Hitler. Or Shakespeare?

Oh, that is good. Someone who loves Shakespeare, but then realizes she or he is in a universe that never had Shakespeare.

Yeah, that is what I’m talking about. *rubs hands together with glee, then stares out into the distance with a far-away look in his eyes*

WATER ON MARS–FIRST REACTIONS

So, NASA announced today that they had found liquid water on Mars.  Flowing liquid water.

Personally, I think this is Mars just being jealous of the Super Blood Moon getting all the attention lately.

Mars is clearly jealous of Earth's water
Mars is clearly jealous of Earth’s water

This is Mars’ not so passive-aggressive way of saying, “Hey, I was red before red was cool.”

Some of you might remember that I predicted we’d find life on Mars in 2014.  That is not looking so outrageous now, is it? (For Mars posts–click here or here).

What does flowing water mean?  At least three things.  One, there might be more water on Mars than in California.  Two, Disney is probably already thinking about a water park.  Three, astronauts can take along Mio and Kool-Aid for their trip.

What are the implications, though, for everyday life?  For starters, the plot for the upcoming movie The Martian may have to be altered.  Now Mark Watley can have a hot tub.  By the way, The Martian is an excellent book, although the language is a little harsh.  I hope the movie doesn’t mess it up.  I just finished reading Starship Troopers and thought to myself, “How cool could the movie have been if they’d just followed the book.”  Here’s hoping Hollywood doesn’t mess up science fiction, again.

How did the water get there?  I speculate that it is where the water from the toilet goes when you flush on a plane.  It lands on Mars.  That means the liquid water on Mars is blue.  Very blue.

Maybe we’ve been putting the water there?  All those space shuttle missions were really missions to stretch a giant water hose to Mars so that we can live there someday.  Where did they get the water for this?  California.

NASA, you say there is water on Mars.  Fine, but is there coffee?  That, is what really matters.  To quote Captain Janeway, “There is coffee in that nebula.”88e6cf329324038e2c142f751f81be1e

If there is water on Mars, does that justify the old thought that there were canals on Mars?  If so, will scientists and astronomers apologize to Giovanni Schiaparelli and Percival Lowel?  

The real problem is that the presence of water does not tell us why Martians hate doves so much.

Water on Mars means we can baptize on Mars.  That means space is ready for Baptists!  It remains to be seen, however, if Baptists are ready for space.

image from telegraph.co.uk and pinterest.com