Notes From Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”


Sunday 8.01pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. – Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’ve finished reading Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Here’s a summary of the main points for me. They are mostly questions.

  1. It’s hard to think clearly in our increasingly complicated world.
  2. We need a new story for humanity. Fascism lost. Communism depends on the workers – who are these now? Liberalism limps on but its promises ring hollow.
  3. An age of smart machines will not need workers. What will humans do?
  4. Will those that control the algorithms have wealth and power? Will the rest of us be irrelevant? Obsolete?
  5. Who owns your data? Do they know you better than you know yourself?
  6. What is going to happen to online and offline communities?
  7. We are increasingly connected as part of a global civilization.
  8. Nationalism cannot resolve problems of nuclear war, ecological collapse, information technology and AI or bioengineering.
  9. Religion won’t either.
  10. Immigration is a deal. Resolving cultural conflicts is a challenge.
  11. We should not let terrorism win.
  12. Waging war is no longer a profitable exercise. Wealth is in minds, not in treasure or oil fields.
  13. You have to realize that you are less important than you might think.
  14. God’s existence or not is not that important.
  15. Secular values: truth, compassion, equality, freedom, courage and responsibility are perhaps what we need now.
  16. We don’t know that much any more, acknowledging our ignorance is important to examine big issues.
  17. Is there justice in the world? Have we failed?
  18. ‘A lie once told remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’ Humans have always been suckered by liars seeking power.
  19. Stories and science fiction in particular help us understand our world.
  20. Learn how to learn – your education is your defence.
  21. We think and believe and live by stories. Stories make us feel better. But they are fictions. The only real thing is suffering.
  22. Watch yourself. Know who you are. Learn about your mind.

When I list the questions and statements like this, they’re not actually that easy to follow. Read the book, it’s worth ploughing through, but if you have to just take two takeaways from it, it’s these.

First, watch and read more science fiction and fantasy. They can be surprisingly insightful.

Second, if you’re looking for a way to contribute to the world, work to alleviate suffering. That’s the most real thing you can do.


Karthik Suresh

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