[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Discover What It Means To Be Human



Copyright © 2002 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

What Price Privacy?

As the world steps up its battle against terrorism, much thought has been given to finding a suitable balance between fundamental liberties and the safety of society. In Robert J. Sawyer's new book Hominids, he introduces the idea of personal black boxes: implanted devices that make flawless recordings of everything a person sees and does, and, by tying into the Global Positioning System, keep an exact record of where you are at every moment.

All this information is transmitted in a safely encrypted format to secure "alibi archives." The technology for such perfect logging of a person's life exists today, and it could put an end to everything from misplaced keys and lost hikers to kidnapping, rape, armed robbery, child abuse, and almost all other crimes. Of course, such records would only be accessible by you and, when needed, by the courts.

We could do this today. Why don't we? What safeguards would we need to put in place to make sure such a system wasn't abused?

Was Religion Inevitable?

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience suggest that the human brain is hardwired for mystical experiences — or, to put it more bluntly, that there's a "god organ" in the brain, genetically programmed to believe in a higher power, out-of-body experiences, life after death, and so on.

Now that we're on the track of explaining faith scientifically, there will be those who will claim that humanity can be "cured" of religion — and maybe it should be. In his provocative new book HOMINIDS, Robert J. Sawyer argues that religion has been the single greatest negative force in human history, responsible for most suffering, intolerance, injustice, and war, and that, ironically, it's our belief in an afterlife that allowed us to send our children off to die in battle, to keep slaves, and so on.

Would any intelligent lifeform develop a belief in a god and devise creation myths? Or were these odd quirks of human psychology that might not be duplicated in other lifeforms? We can talk to our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, with sign language. They don't believe in God or an afterlife, so why do we?

Farming: The Hidden Evil

We know where and when farming began: 10,500 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. And we tend to think of it as humanity's single greatest invention.

But even back in Biblical times, it was viewed with suspicion: God accepted Abel's gift of meat, but rejected Cain's gift of crops. And today, after millennia of agriculture, we still have over a billion people starving on this planet.

New studies suggest that the adoption of farming and animal husbandry led directly to overpopulation, most modern human diseases, the devaluing of the elderly, slavery, and a host of other ills. In Robert J. Sawyer's provocative new book HOMINIDS, we get to examine what Earth might have been like if we'd built our technological world on a hunter/gatherer base, instead of an agricultural one, and we examine whether it's too late to change our course.

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