Weekend Roundup: Being Is Not an Algorithm


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Recently, The WorldPost published an interview with “Sapiens” author Yuval Harari in which he envisioned a future where “organisms become algorithms” as computer and biological sciences converge. In a response, Deepak Chopra writes this week that being cannot be reduced to an algorithm, nor can the mind be reduced to the wiring of the brain which artificial intelligence strives to mimic.

“Of all the weird contradictions that plague modern life,” Chopra says, “the strangest is the collapse of philosophy with the triumph of science. Aesthetics, morals, love, transcendence, idealism — all of these fields of thought, having persisted for thousands of years, in the East and in the West, mean nothing in scientific terms because they cannot be reduced to data, measurements and experimentation.” “What we need,” he concludes, “is a wholesale commitment to a meaningful life, placing our best hopes there, not in logic machines and their parody of having a mind.”

In a related reflection, I explore how advances on the frontiers of science, especially our godlike capacity to read and write the genetic code, are paradoxically resurrecting the religious imagination by raising anew all the foundational questions of human origins and destiny. “Science has no knowledge of being,” I write by way of introducing several thinkers who have meditated deeply on the subject, “It can only report that we are a collection of cells. A bundle of nerves. An immune system. ‘Being,’ ‘the person’ and ‘human dignity’ are concepts arising instead from the religious imagination.” Can we rise to the spiritual challenge of defining what is sacred in the technological age, these thinkers ask, or must we in the end seek wisdom in the great religious and philosophical traditions of the past?

In contemporary politics, too, writes Daniel Foster, the ancient wisdom of Greek tragedy can offer some guiding light today. With the demagogic populism of Donald Trump in mind, Foster says, “Athenians understood that what they saw onstage taught them truths vital for their role as citizens. … tragedies reveal the horrible consequences of seeing things in black and white and so encourage” moderation.

Writing from Manila, Richard Javad Heydarian surveys the good and bad lessons of governance in Asia by way of advice to the president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte. He cites China’s Deng Xiaoping and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew as examples to follow. “Instead of mindlessly listening to (self-serving) foreign or Western-trained advisers,” he writes, “they tried to understand the unique developmental challenges they confronted and dedicated their lives not to narrow interests, whether ethnic or sectoral, but instead the well-being of the entire body politic. Thus, they served as true ‘national’ leaders.”

Other lessons for governance can be learned from the ongoing implosion of the populist left in South America. “Perhaps now,” Nikolas Kozloff writes, “having witnessed the shortcomings of populism and the ‘extractive’ model of development, which places more importance on commodity exports as opposed to local needs or the environment, South America’s social movements will soberly take stock of their political milieu. … such forces may behave much more warily before offering their support to future saviors riding in on a white horse.” World Reporter Nick Robins-Early explains what is behind Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. Writing from Brazil, Andrea Martinelli sees the recent incident of gang rape as symptomatic of a cultural acceptance of violence against women. Nana Soares worries that the new government in Brazil is threatening the rights of women, starting with, “stripping the Secretariat of Policies for Women of its ministerial status.”

Helen Clark reads the mood in Vietnam, where, she says, U.S. President Barack Obama was received enthusiastically on his recent visit as America’s former enemy falls further under the shadow of China’s rising power in the region. Deborah Lehr reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping is, “taking a page from his anti-corruption campaign” by deploying “green teams” of inspectors to make sure industry is complying with China’s commitments on climate change. Eric Olander discusses the online outrage over a racist Chinese ad that depicts a young black man who turns into a clean Chinese youth when washed with a special brand of detergent in a washing machine. Chatham House expert James Sherr fears that a NATO-Russia showdown is drawing nigh. WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports on the rift that has opened with Turkey as the German parliament this week approved a vote to call the 1915 mass killings of Armenians a “genocide.” Writing from Tehran, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former member of Iran’s National Security Council, discusses how, in the shifting geopolitical tides of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has become a national security threat to Iran. World Reporter Charlotte Alfred explains the global relevance of a historic verdict out of Africa this week that was viewed as a win for victims of injustice everywhere.

Carlos Pina profiles the vibrant murals that adorn the walls of bars and shops in one Madrid neighborhood. This 360-degree view of the Arctic will make you feel like you are there. In an excerpt from their new book, “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risk and Rewards of Our New Renaissance,” Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna advise that we should not let the steady disruptions of today’s technological transition blind us to the possibilities being created. But to realize those possibilities, they say, the benefits of change must be inclusive.

Jenna Amatulli writes about an entire office building in Dubai manufactured with 3D printers. Casey Williams reports that clean energy has crossed a breakout threshold that finally challenges cheap oil in the marketplace. Finally, our Singularity series this week takes you into the psychedelic virtual world of the future portrayed in the film “Hyper-Reality.”


EDITORS: Nathan Gardels, Co-Founder and Executive Advisor to the Berggruen Institute, is the Editor-in-Chief of The WorldPost. Kathleen Miles is the Executive Editor of The WorldPost. Farah Mohamed is the Managing Editor of The WorldPost. Alex Gardels and Peter Mellgard are the Associate Editors of The WorldPost. Katie Nelson is the National Editor at the Huffington Post, overseeing The WorldPost and HuffPost’s editorial coverage. Charlotte Alfred and Nick Robins-Early are World Reporters. Rowaida Abdelaziz is Social Media Editor.

CORRESPONDENTS: Sophia Jones in Istanbul

EDITORIAL BOARD: Nicolas Berggruen, Nathan Gardels, Arianna Huffington, Eric Schmidt (Google Inc.), Pierre Omidyar (First Look Media) Juan Luis Cebrian (El Pais/PRISA), Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute/TIME-CNN), John Elkann (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa), Wadah Khanfar (Al Jazeera), Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India) and Yoichi Funabashi (Asahi Shimbun).


CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Moises Naim (former editor of Foreign Policy), Nayan Chanda (Yale/Global; Far Eastern Economic Review) and Katherine Keating (One-On-One). Sergio Munoz Bata and Parag Khanna are Contributing Editors-At-Large.

The Asia Society and its ChinaFile, edited by Orville Schell, is our primary partner on Asia coverage. Eric X. Li and the Chunqiu Institute/Fudan University in Shanghai and Guancha.cn also provide first person voices from China. We also draw on the content of China Digital Times. Seung-yoon Lee is The WorldPost link in South Korea.

Jared Cohen of Google Ideas provides regular commentary from young thinkers, leaders and activists around the globe. Bruce Mau provides regular columns from MassiveChangeNetwork.com on the “whole mind” way of thinking. Patrick Soon-Shiong is Contributing Editor for Health and Medicine.

ADVISORY COUNCIL: Members of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council and Council for the Future of Europe serve as the Advisory Council — as well as regular contributors — to the site. These include, Jacques Attali, Shaukat Aziz, Gordon Brown, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Luis Cebrian, Jack Dorsey, Mohamed El-Erian, Francis Fukuyama, Felipe Gonzalez, John Gray, Reid Hoffman, Fred Hu, Mo Ibrahim, Alexei Kudrin, Pascal Lamy, Kishore Mahbubani, Alain Minc, Dambisa Moyo, Laura Tyson, Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar, Raghuram Rajan, Nouriel Roubini, Nicolas Sarkozy, Eric Schmidt, Gerhard Schroeder, Peter Schwartz, Amartya Sen, Jeff Skoll, Michael Spence, Joe Stiglitz, Larry Summers, Wu Jianmin, George Yeo, Fareed Zakaria, Ernesto Zedillo, Ahmed Zewail, and Zheng Bijian.

From the Europe group, these include: Marek Belka, Tony Blair, Jacques Delors, Niall Ferguson, Anthony Giddens, Otmar Issing, Mario Monti, Robert Mundell, Peter Sutherland and Guy Verhofstadt.


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