Aids did not kill sex. Covid19 will not kill hugging.

Can we talk about dr. Mayim Chaya Bialik for a second? You might know her as the neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s love interest in “The Big Bang Theory”.  She was so stunning beautiful that the production had to dress her down, to make her an acceptable academic. Because, well beautiful women cannot have brains. *sigh*. Bialik actually has a doctorate in neuroscience, with a dissertation on hypothalamic activity.

Watching her debate today with Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, historian,  bestselling author, and considered one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals, made my brain happy.  In a world where half of the internet finds arguments for a flat earth on YouTube, and another third believes Bill Gates is interested in injecting 5G controlled nano-bots in our bloodstreams, finding two consenting adults in a sapiosexual parler-vrai is re-assuring.

Killing witches

Harari, in his bone-dry way, manipulates words like The Witcher wields his sword: precise, relentless, efficient. Information kills. The first mass medium, printing press, through solid catholic books, labelled smart women as “witches”. Sleeping with the devil, turning decent people into frogs, the works.  Men, already feeling threatened by women with brains, found in these books the permission to kill: thousands of innocent women and girls were tortured, burned or drowned. Because the book said so.  The parallel to today’s witch-hunt with virologists, epidemiologists and immunologists is frightening: a second mass-medium (the internet) is slowly stigmatizing them as “the enemy”, the “deep state”, “paid for by the 1 percenters”, “wanting to de-populate the world”.  Information with the potential to kill. Because the web said so.

Weeks ago, thousands of people invaded The Capitol,  because The Man said so… and the ones who said otherwise, the media, were ‘enemies of the state’: fake news. A story well-crafted, well told for years, grooms the masses.

It does not have to be true   

Bialik chimed in on how we are programmed, neuro-scientifically, to react to stories. Stories wire us to believe, to do, to feel, to act. Stories make us understand, make us feel safe. Stories have a beginning, an ending. Innovation makes that if you change the story-line, you change the ending. You hurt our hard-wired programming. You will be met with resistance.  If God created us, in the middle of the universe, a story placing the sun in the middle of the solar system, will be met with disbelieve, with anger, with violence.

Harari points out a bone chilling truth: the story does not need to be true. The truth does not matter, the story-line does. Find the story that is easier to believe, and it will become truth.  The better told story wins over scientific evidence. Time after time.  Look at religions, complot theories, sects; look how wars were started…  Trying to point to the truth with facts and science is laudable, but very inefficient. Few people that have the right background to point out the truth, have the storytelling skills to make that truth compelling.

We are afraid of change

The debate showed how the introduction of almost any transformative technology has been met with wonder as well as fear, aggression and rejection. Our  greatest inventors were considered heretics. The mad scientist is burned in our brain-wiring from our very youth. The new still scares us.  We are afraid of change.

Media are stuck

Where journalists in bona-fida media for long showed the way through the muddy waters between disinformation and truth, they seem to have lost their magic. The fourth power has lost its steam. Logic investigative journalism is not great at storytelling.  Some kids with a collective low double digit IQ, weaponed with a 4k camcorder  and a YouTube channel  tell way better and more compelling stories.  A scary amount of people is not even able -or willing- to understand the very arguments that set out a theory in the first place.  “Journalists are now stuck in arguments about basic established facts instead of moving the ball forward. This prevents true conversations… instead we’re wasting breath on whether or not the Earth is round” says news anchor Ben Collins.

Ethics should rule

Harari and Bialik point out that every single doctor needs to pass tests on his ethical skills before he can claim his degree. He swears an oath to Hippocrates. So do judges. And the rest of us?

What is the staggering power teachers have? The tremendous power -and responsibility- the coders have that build the very platforms that are designed to feed us with news? The people bringing the news? The corporations and brands that pay for the news? The spin-doctors creating the political and brand stories? The  communication and media wizards and their data-loaded, AI driven programmatic machinery?

Is it not time that they take ethic courses? Pass an ethical exam? Swear an oath that matters? Should we not start working on a society that embeds ethics-by-design?

United, we conquer

How can we ensure that innovators, legislators, coders, data-architects, communicators and educators should consider these ethical issues and understand their staggering responsibility in ensuring outcomes that lead to the betterment of people and the planet?

In the end, the truth always prevails, like oil on water. Aids did not kill sex. Covid19 will not kill hugging. We will all be fine. Science will save us, once again.

But the better story, in the wrong skilled hands, with the wrong intentions, might cost humanity a lot more than a pandemic.

And you, you are the very first line of defense.  I will do my part. I will tell my five year old daughter about dr. Mayim Chaya Bialik.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Hebrew: קיצור תולדות האנושות‎, [Ḳitsur toldot ha-enoshut]) is a book by Yuval Noah Harari first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011and in English in 2014. Harari cites Jared Diamond‘s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as one of the greatest inspirations for the book by showing that it was possible to “ask very big questions and answer them scientifically”.


Harari’s work situates its account of human history within a framework provided by the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology: he sees biology as setting the limits of possibility for human activity, and sees culture as shaping what happens within those bounds. The academic discipline of History is the account of cultural change.

Harari surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on our own species of human, Homo sapiens. He divides the history of Sapiens into four major parts:

  1. The Cognitive Revolution (c. 70,000 BCE, when Sapiens evolved imagination).
  2. The Agricultural Revolution (c. 10,000 BCE, the development of farming).
  3. The unification of humankind (the gradual consolidation of human political organisations towards one global empire).
  4. The Scientific Revolution (c. 1500 CE, the emergence of objective science).

Harari’s main argument is that Sapiens came to dominate the world because it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. He argues that prehistoric Sapiens were a key cause of the extinction of other human species such as the Neanderthals, along with numerous other megafauna. He further argues that the ability of Sapiens to cooperate in large numbers arises from its unique capacity to believe in things existing purely in the imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. Harari claims that all large-scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions – owe their emergence to Sapiens’ distinctive cognitive capacity for fiction. Accordingly, Harari reads money as a system of mutual trust and sees political and economic systems as more or less identical with religions.

Harari’s key claim regarding the Agricultural Revolution is that while it promoted population growth for Sapiens and co-evolving species like wheat and cows, it made the lives of most individuals (and animals) worse than they had been when Sapiens were mostly hunter-gatherers, since their diet and daily lives became significantly less varied. Humans’ violent treatment of other animals is indeed a theme that runs throughout the book.

In discussing the unification of humankind, Harari argues that over its history, the trend for Sapiens has increasingly been towards political and economic interdependence. For centuries, the majority of humans have lived in empires, and capitalist globalization is effectively producing one, global empire. Harari argues that money, empires and universal religions are the principal drivers of this process.

Harari sees the Scientific Revolution as founded in an innovation in European thought, whereby elites became willing to admit to and hence to try and remedy their ignorance. He sees this as one driver of early modern European imperialism and of the current convergence of human cultures. Harari also emphasises the lack of research into the history of happiness, positing that people today are not significantly happier than in past eras. He concludes by considering how modern technology may soon end the species as we know it, as it ushers in genetic engineering, immortality and non-organic life. Humans have, in Harari’s chosen metaphor, become Gods: they can create species.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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