Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.What a wonderful analogy! No wonder the author is a celebrated thinker, futurist!
I have quoted the author, Yuval Noah Harari, in a previous blog-post. I am now all the more convinced that Harari is now my go-to-guy to think about the future.
So, yes, those strange critters are invisible to me because I don't play that game, even though I carry a smartphone. A technological approach to understanding maya too? Nah, I don't want to digress.
If it were not for those religious "smartbooks" the stones of Jerusalem will be mere stone and nobody would fight over them. Of course, this fight over the stones is not a new insight. What is awesome about Harari's essay--read it in full because I am doing injustice to it by excerpting to tell my own stories--is how he compares religions to multiplayer virtual reality computer games:
What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).Can one get addicted to such a virtual reality game that religion is? Harari has thought this through:
n Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religion rituals.Talk about game addicts!
Harari's essay is awesome. Lemme say it again--read the entire essay. Do not base your thoughts on whatever I have excerpted for my own selfish reasons.
Harari's point is that in the near future, when computers/AI will make more and more among us unemployable--the useless class, as he calls them--sophisticated video games will keep them busy and entertained, just like how religions have forever kept humans busy and addicted.
Harari ends the essay with quite a flourish:
In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.It is all in our imagination! It is maya!
But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.