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Have You Been to A Book Discussion?

Ever since I became a member of The Classics Challengers group nearly a year ago, I join their book discussions as much as I can because there is a lot of learning that can happen within the two-scheduled-hours. I get really excited when I know I’m able to attend any of the meet-up (they convene at least three times a month) and I would attend prepared to ensure I make full use of my presence there.

The first discussion I attended with The Classics Challengers was for the book Sapiens, also by Yuval Noah Harari, and I was blown by the weight of the discussion. The attendees were very articulate, learned, experienced, respectful and knew very well to present opposing opinions with grace. I knew immediately I wanted to be part of this group.

Fast forward a few months, I led the 21 Lessons for The 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari discussion for The Classics Challengers. I was honoured to be given such opportunity. And a few weeks ago I attended the Homo Deus discussion (also authored by Yuval Noah Harari) hosted by The Classics Challengers.

As you can see, Yuval Noah Harari is a contemporary writer who pens his thought provoking findings un-apologetically. Being able to discuss all his three books with The Classics Challengers made me feel ‘alive’ that there are Malaysians who value books of a different ‘wavelength’ and are happy to discuss their thoughts openly.

So on the 14th of July 2019, 17 members of The Classics Challengers convened at The PODs cafe to discuss a highly controversial book, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Prior to the meet up, The Classics Challengers’ Whatsapp group was abuzz with the gang professing their like and dislike about the book and the author. Such differing points of view is the ultimate recipe to an interesting learning discussion.

Presenting disagreement in an agreeable manner is simply an art one sculpts by religiously attending such book discussions.

True to The Classics Challengers style, our discussion started at 2pm sharp. Silence fell after the discussion leader, Azita, read out the first question. She expertly maneuvered with an ice-breaking question, “What is algorithm?”.

With that, more people spoke of their understanding about algorithm, which can be concluded as a set of microsteps to determine an outcome – whether welcomed, foreseen or helpful, is the gist of our discussion that day. The terms ‘mind’, ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness’ needed to be defined as The Classics Challengers agrees that humans have yet to identify the mind despite undergoing thousand years of evolution.

Although the advancement of science and technology has addressed some issues such as famine, it had inadvertently introduced new problems such as obesity and sedentary lifestyle. With that, The Classics Challengers agrees that no matter how perfected technology may become in the future, there would always be unforeseen flaws cropping up.

There was a brief mention of a book published in the 1930s, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley that depicted the futuristic world as a World State with genetically modified citizens and intelligence-based social hierarchy. Members of the discussion familiar with the book nodded in agreement to the connection between Brave New World and Harari’s Homo Deus.

On the topic of embryo selection, The Classics Challengers agreed that given the opportunity to select the best health traits to our future children is a big yes. In fact, many agreed that selective breeding will be THE natural breeding. Attendees also chimed in that in the future, it is probably made compulsory to select a preset of traits to ensure that all world citizens are fit and strong, and more importantly do not become a costly burden due to health issues. Having said that, the attendees also agreed that perfect embryos might not bloom into perfect adults. There would definitely be some problems that us humans do not foresee as of now.

In terms of automation taking over our jobs, the attendees agree that white-collar jobs will be the ones to go first as years of experience and skill can be easily downloaded and upgraded in a neural network. However, automation would not be able to take over an artist’s job although automation could easily replicate it. This is because the creation of art has a meaning, a story and an original intent by the artist and no form of automation can emulate that.

The conversation on Homo Deus extended for another 30 minutes with an open discussion on AI, supreme AI, Big Data and whether or not the whole spectrum of AI will happen in the future. The attendees also aired their concern for the future shall Mars domination happen via SpaceX. Would we be one of those given the opportunity/having the luxury of starting over at a new planet? Or would we be the ones left behind, forced to swallow a happy pill and become slaves to AI because we chose not to get in touch with our ‘mind’, ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness’?

Any book discussion I attend with The Classics Challengers would leave me in heightened spirit, uplifted and with more vim. I invite you to join their Facebook page to check out their activities and if you are more keen, you could join one of their book discussions to see how the members jive 🙂 .

Reading doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, when there are existing great reading groups to support your reading goals. It is far easier and joyous to read when you have a quality support group filled with encouragement and fun to endure/tolerate/savour your current read.

Now I would like to hear from you.

Have ever tried to attend any meet-up with strangers to foster your interest/hobby (not necessarily a reading group)? Do you find it intimidating that you decide not to attend? If you did not attend, what could have made you change your mind? Let me know in the comments below or by replying to me if you’re a subscriber to The Baini Mustafa Newsletter.

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