Discussion: Do you know yourself?

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Whether you are a Sam Harris fan or not, I truly recommend listening to the interview Sam Harris did live with Yuval Noah Harari (the interview itself is about an hour with an hour of Q&A afterwards.  The first hour is most valuable).  Harari is a brilliant man, and somebody who I think we should be listening to.  I transcribed this passage from the interview.

“…however complicated the humanity entity is, we are now reaching a point when somebody out there can really hack it. It can never be done perfectly.  We are so complicated, I am under no illusion that any corporation or government or organization can completely understand me.  This is impossible.  But the yardstick or the critical threshold is not perfect understanding, the threshold is just better than me.  Then the key inflection point in the history of humanity is the moment when an external system can reliably, on a large scale, understand people better than they understand themselves.  This is not an impossible mission, because so many people don’t really understand themselves very well. With the whole idea of shifting authority from humans to algorithms, so I trust the algorithm to recommend TV shows for me, and I trust the algorithm to tell me how to drive from mountain view to this place this evening, and then I trust the algorithm to tell me what to study and where to work, whom to date and whom to marry, and who to vote for. People say, no, no, no, no, no…that won’t happen, because they will say there will be all these mistakes and glitches and bugs, and the algorithm won’t know everything, and it can’t do it.  And if the yardstick is to trust the algorithm (or) to give authority to the algorithm it must make perfect decisions than yes it will never happen.  But that’s not the yardstick…the algorithm just needs to make better decisions than me.”

There are many ways I think one can know one’s self better, and I don’t think we spend enough time doing that.  Moreover he argues that this is even more critical today because the technologies out there are far more capable of hacking us than ever before.  Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes often talk about the importance of understanding cognitive science and neuroscience, and how the brain works…this needs to be a regular part of our education systems, because awareness is key.  But knowing one’s self should also come from meditation, introspection, and taking time to just unplug and think about who you are and what you want to be.  Find yourself.


7 thoughts on “Discussion: Do you know yourself?

  1. This is an excellent post, Swarn, and a subject I had planned to post about this coming week based on this article by Yuval Noah Harari. But since you beat me to the punch, I’ll post an excerpt that really stood out:


    “In order to survive and prosper in the 21st century, we need to leave behind the naive view of humans as free individuals – a view inherited from Christian theology as much as from the modern Enlightenment – and come to terms with what humans really are: hackable animals. We need to know ourselves better.
    Yuval Noah Harari extract: ‘Humans are a post-truth species’
    Read more

    Of course, this is hardly new advice. From ancient times, sages and saints repeatedly advised people to “know thyself”. Yet in the days of Socrates, the Buddha and Confucius, you didn’t have real competition. If you neglected to know yourself, you were still a black box to the rest of humanity. In contrast, you now have competition. As you read these lines, governments and corporations are striving to hack you. If they get to know you better than you know yourself, they can then sell you anything they want – be it a product or a politician.

    It is particularly important to get to know your weaknesses. They are the main tools of those who try to hack you. They are the main tools of those who try to hack you. Computers are hacked through pre-existing faulty code lines. Humans are hacked through pre-existing fears, hatreds, biases and cravings. Hackers cannot create fear or hatred out of nothing. But when they discover what people already fear and hate it is easy to push the relevant emotional buttons and provoke even greater fury.”

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yep, really great stuff here. I am reminded of an interview Sam Harris did with the former CIA and NSA director (can’t remember the generals name) but he said that propaganda campaigns like that perpetrated by the Russians during the election can’t create divisions, but they can prey on existing divisions and make them worse.

      Ultimately social media isn’t going away, and a lot of the ethics used by these big tech companies isn’t going away, unless we are actively educating ourselves about what’s going on. This is where, as I mentioned in this short piece, why educating people about what’s going on is the only thing that is going to change the paradigm and lead to a more ethical future in tech companies if their money making model no longer works. The lack of education about how “hackable” we are is an increasingly big hole that allows corporations to exploit people. There are probably more people catching on to the fake stuff posted on social media, but the gap is still large especially in other parts of the world. John Oliver’s most recent expose on Facebook and the impact it’s having in other countries is frightening and they are doing a lot of political damage in countries that are less aware and internet savvy.


  2. I think this can come in different ways. So many now are settled into fad life and following along to what’s marketed their way. When they have some time off it’s Netflix binging and video games. I have had two unique opportunities in my life to be alone. Three weeks in the mountains alone in my late teens, and three weeks alone in the Panama jungle as an adult. Unplugged and mindful of who we want to be, taking a step towards self awareness that matters. Realizing that without this introspective approach we won’t be OK. I kept having this recurring statement pop up in dialog, and they would say “yes, but through all this or that, I turned out ok”. This is where we fail. We didn’t turn out ok because we assimilated to someone else’s way of life. Real, positive change can only happen by breaking free, breaking barriers, pressing to better, because we choose to through meaningful awareness.

    Liked by 3 people

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