Posts Tagged ‘James Beniger’

I started reading Yuval Harari’s book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017). Had expected to read Sapiens (2014) first but its follow-up came into my possession instead. My familiarity with Harari’s theses and arguments stem from his gadfly presence on YouTube being interviewed or giving speeches promoting his books. He’s a compelling yet confounding thinker, and his distinctive voice in my mind’s ear lent to my reading the quality of an audiobook. I’ve only read the introductory chapter (“A New Human Agenda”) so far, the main argument being this:

We have managed to bring famine, plague and war under control thanks largely to our phenomenal economic growth, which provides us with abundant food, medicine, energy and raw materials. Yet this same growth destabilises the ecological equilibrium of the planet in myriad ways, which we have only begun to explore … Despite all the talk of pollution, global warming and climate change, most countries have yet to make any serious economic or political sacrifices to improve the situation … In the twenty-first century, we shall have to do better if we are to avoid catastrophe. [p. 20]

“Do better”? Harari’s bland understatement of the catastrophic implications of our historical moment is risible. Yet as a consequence of having (at least temporarily) brought three major historical pestilences (no direct mention of the fabled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) under administrative, managerial, and technical control (I leave that contention unchallenged), Harari states rather over-confidently — forcefully even — that humankind is now turning its attention and ambitions toward different problems, namely, mortality (the fourth of the Four Horsemen and one of the defining features of the human condition), misery, and divinity.

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This post is rewritten and expanded from a blog comment I made here.

In human biology, the part of the brain that controls appetite is called the hypothalamus, and it responds to four different hormones: insulin, leptin, CCK, and ghrelin. The first three signal when one has had enough to eat and the last inhibits the function of the first three. With normal foodstuffs, the satiety signal appears readily enough. However, food manufacturers through the application of science can now outwit our hormones so that, for instance, a 32-oz Big Gulp no longer seems like a lot of liquid to drink because the normal “I’m full” signal never reaches the brain even though the liquid reaches the bladder. Fructose and high-fructose corn syrup (more commonly known as HFCS, which has roughly equal parts fructose and glucose), major ingredients in soda, in particular fail to stimulate production of these hormones and are accordingly regarded as toxins or poisons by many dieticians. It might sound conspiratorial to suggest that food makers have purposely substituted HFCS for other sweeteners precisely to forestall the feeling of fullness, but then, no one believed the conspiracy to load cigarettes with addictive nicotine for a long while, either.

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