Trust in Institutions and the Political Process

Source: Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP)
Levels of Trust Continue to Slide Across there Board, All Institutions Below 50%
Compared to one year ago, the level of trust that young Americans between 18- and 29- years old have in most American institutions tested in our survey has dissipated compared even to last year’s historically low numbers. For example, in the last 12 months, trust in the President has decreased from 39 percent to 32 percent, the U.S. military has decreased from 54 percent to 47 percent (the first time below a majority) and the Supreme Court from 40 to 36 percent. Below is a graph that charts the composite trust index (an average of six public institutions tracked using the same methodology) since 2010.

The level of trust that young Americans have in the President and the U.S. Military has suffered the most over the last year. The growing lack of trust in the President comes from Democrats (64% trusted the President to do the right thing all or most of the time in 2013, today the number is 53%) and Independents (31% in 2013, 23% today) — and not from Republicans whose opinion has not changed in the last year. Thirteen percent (13%) of Republicans trust the President to do the right thing all or most of the time.

These findings stand in contrast to the U.S. Military; over the last year, the military has lost trust across all parties (Democrats are down 6 points to 44%, Republicans 5 points to 63% and Independents down 8 points to 40%).


FEB 2010FEB 2011MAR 2012APR 2013APR 2014
THE PRESIDENT44%41%41%39%32%
THE US MILITARY53%50%55%54%47%
THE CONGRESS25%23%23%18%14%
THE SUPREME COURT45%44%45%40%36%
THE UNITED NATIONS40%38%38%34%34%
WALL STREET11%_13%12%12%
THE MEDIA17%__11%11%
THE NSA____24%
In 2010, the question asked about “Wall Street executives” and “traditional media.”

Appeal and Effectiveness of Politics Also on Decline
While we have seen a consistent and across the board drop in trust levels for some time, we also see a similar pattern on issues relation to the efficacy of the political process more generally. For example, since 2010, there has been a consistent six-point increase in those who agree with the statement that“elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons,” more than three-in-five (62%) now agree with this; and a similar six-point increase with agreement that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results” (23% in 2010, 29% in 2014) and “political involvement rarely has any tangible results”23% in 2010, 29% in 2014).
We also have tracked a seven-point increase in the number who agree with the statement, “electedofficials don’t seem to have the same priorities I have” (51% in 2010, 58% in 2014).

FEB 2010FEB 2011MAR 2012APR 2013APR 2014

President Barack Obama Weekly Address March 28, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
March 28, 2015
Hi, everybody.  Five years ago, after the worst financial crisis in decades, we passed historic Wall Street reform to end the era of bailouts and too big to fail. 
As part that reform, we created an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with one mission: to protect American consumers from some of the worst practices of the financial industry. 

They’ve already put $5 billion back in the pockets of more than 15 million families.  And this week, they took an important first step towards cracking down on some of the most abusive practices involving payday loans. 

Millions of Americans take out these loans every year.  In Alabama, where I visited this week, there are four times as many payday lending stores as there are McDonald’s.  But while payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt.  If you take out a $500 loan, it’s easy to wind up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees. 

The step the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced this week is designed to change that.  The idea is pretty common sense: if you’re a payday lender preparing to give a loan, you should make sure that the borrower can afford to pay it back first. 

As Americans, we believe there’s nothing wrong with making a profit.  But there is something wrong with making that profit by trapping hard-working men and women in a vicious cycle of debt.  

Protecting working Americans’ paychecks shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  But the budget Republicans unveiled last week would make it harder, not easier, to crack down on financial fraud and abuse.  And this week, when Republicans rolled out their next economic idea, it had nothing to do with the middle class.  It was a new, more-than-$250 billion tax cut for the top one-tenth of the top one percent of Americans.  That would mean handing out an average tax cut of $4 million a year to just 4,000 Americans per year, and leaving the rest of the country to pay for it. 

I don’t think our top economic priority should be helping a tiny number of Americans who are already doing extraordinarily well, and asking everybody else to foot the bill.  I think our top priority should be helping everybody who works hard get ahead.  This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. 
That’s what middle-class economics is all about, and as long as I’m your President, that’s what I’ll keep on fighting to do.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

President Barack Obama Weekly Address March 21, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
March 21, 2015
Hi, everybody.  One of the most important positions in the President’s Cabinet – and to our national security, our law enforcement, and our criminal justice system – is Attorney General.

It has been more than four months since I nominated Loretta Lynch to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States.  For 30 years, Loretta has distinguished herself as a tough, fair, and independent attorney.  As the U.S.
Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, she successfully prosecuted the terrorists who plotted to bomb the Federal Reserve Bank and the New York City subway.  She helped secure billions in settlements for people wronged by some of the world’s biggest banks.  She’s been dogged in her pursuit of public corruption.  She’s jailed some of New York’s most violent and notorious mobsters and gang members.  And through it all, she’s worked closely with law enforcement and local communities to get the job done.

In short, her qualifications are superb.  That’s why, in the past, the Senate easily confirmed Loretta to lead one of the most prominent U.S. Attorney offices in the country – not once, but twice.

Still – it has been more than four months since I nominated Loretta Lynch to serve as Attorney General.

And this time, Republican leaders in Congress won’t even let her nomination come up for a vote.  In fact, by Monday, Loretta will have been languishing on the Senate floor for longer than the seven previous Attorneys General combined.  Let me say that again – she will have been waiting for a simple yes-or-no vote on the Senate floor for longer than the seven previous Attorneys General combined.
No one can claim she’s unqualified.  No one’s saying she can’t do the job.

Senators from both parties say they support her.  This is purely about politics.  First, Republicans held up her nomination because they were upset about the actions I took to make our broken immigration system smarter and fairer.  Now they’re denying her a vote until they can figure out how to pass a bill on a completely unrelated issue.  But they could bring her up for a yes-or-no vote at any time.

Republicans promised that Congress would function smoothly with them in charge.  Here’s a chance for them to prove it.  Congress should stop playing politics with law enforcement and national security.  They should support good people in both parties who want to reform our criminal justice system.  And that means they should end the longest confirmation process for an Attorney General in three decades, and give Loretta Lynch a vote.

Thank you.  And have a great weekend.


President Barack Obama Weekly Address March 14, 2015 (Video/Trascript )

President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
March 14, 2015

Hi, everybody.  Earlier this week, I visited with students at Georgia Tech to talk about the importance of higher education in the new economy, and how we can make it more affordable.

In an economy increasingly built on innovation, the most important skill you can sell is your knowledge.  That’s why higher education is, more than ever, the surest ticket to the middle class.

But just when it’s never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive.  The average undergrad who borrows to pay for college ends up graduating with about $28,000 in student loan debt.

That’s why my Administration has worked hard to make college more affordable.  We expanded tax credits and Pell Grants, enacted the largest reform to student loan programs in history, and fought to keep interest rates on student loans low.  We’ve acted to let millions of graduates cap loan payments at 10 percent of their income, so they don’t have to choose between paying the rent and paying back their debt.  I’ve sent Congress my plan to bring the cost of community college down to zero – because two years of higher education should be as free and universal as high school is today.

But all of us – elected officials, universities, business leaders – everybody – needs to do more to bring down college costs. Which is why this week, I unveiled another way that we can help more Americans afford college.  It doesn’t involve any new spending or bureaucracy.  It’s a simple declaration of values – what I call a Student Aid Bill of Rights.  It says that every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education.  Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college.  Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan.  And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans.
That’s it.  Just a few simple principles.  But if we all rally around these principles, there’s a lot that colleges, lenders, and the people you sent to Washington and to your state legislatures can do to realize them across the country.

So if you believe in a Student Aid Bill of Rights that will help more Americans pay for a quality education, I’m asking you to visit  Sign your name to this declaration.  Tell your families, and your friends, and fellow students.  I’m going to ask Members of Congress, and lenders, and as many business leaders as I can find.  Because making sure that students aren’t saddled with debt before they even get started in life is in all our interests.

In America, a higher education cannot be a privilege reserved for only the few.  It has to be available to everybody who’s willing to work for it.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Russell Foster: Why do we sleep? (Video/Transcript)


What I'd like to do today is talk about one of my favorite subjects, and that is the neuroscience of sleep.
Now, there is a sound -- (Alarm clock) -- aah, it worked -- a sound that is desperately, desperately familiar to most of us, and of course it's the sound of the alarm clock. And what that truly ghastly, awful sound does is stop the single most important behavioral experience that we have, and that's sleep. If you're an average sort of person, 36 percent of your life will be spent asleep, which means that if you live to 90, then 32 years will have been spent entirely asleep.
Now what that 32 years is telling us is that sleep at some level is important. And yet, for most of us, we don't give sleep a second thought. We throw it away. We really just don't think about sleep. And so what I'd like to do today is change your views, change your ideas and your thoughts about sleep. And the journey that I want to take you on, we need to start by going back in time.
"Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber." Any ideas who said that? Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Yes, let me give you a few more quotes. "O sleep, O gentle sleep, nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee?" Shakespeare again, from -- I won't say it -- the Scottish play. [Correction: Henry IV, Part 2] (Laughter) From the same time: "Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together." Extremely prophetic, by Thomas Dekker, another Elizabethan dramatist.
But if we jump forward 400 years, the tone about sleep changes somewhat. This is from Thomas Edison, from the beginning of the 20th century. "Sleep is a criminal waste of time and a heritage from our cave days." Bang. (Laughter) And if we also jump into the 1980s, some of you may remember that Margaret Thatcher was reported to have said, "Sleep is for wimps." And of course the infamous -- what was his name? -- the infamous Gordon Gekko from "Wall Street" said, "Money never sleeps."
What do we do in the 20th century about sleep? Well, of course, we use Thomas Edison's light bulb to invade the night, and we occupied the dark, and in the process of this occupation, we've treated sleep as an illness, almost. We've treated it as an enemy. At most now, I suppose, we tolerate the need for sleep, and at worst perhaps many of us think of sleep as an illness that needs some sort of a cure. And our ignorance about sleep is really quite profound.
 Why is it? Why do we abandon sleep in our thoughts? Well, it's because you don't do anything much while you're asleep, it seems. You don't eat. You don't drink. And you don't have sex. Well, most of us anyway. And so therefore it's -- Sorry. It's a complete waste of time, right? Wrong. Actually, sleep is an incredibly important part of our biology, and neuroscientists are beginning to explain why it's so very important. So let's move to the brain.
 Now, here we have a brain. This is donated by a social scientist, and they said they didn't know what it was, or indeed how to use it, so -- (Laughter) Sorry. So I borrowed it. I don't think they noticed. Okay.

 The point I'm trying to make is that when you're asleep, this thing doesn't shut down. In fact, some areas of the brain are actually more active during the sleep state than during the wake state. The other thing that's really important about sleep is that it doesn't arise from a single structure within the brain, but is to some extent a network property, and if we flip the brain on its back -- I love this little bit of spinal cord here -- this bit here is the hypothalamus, and right under there is a whole raft of interesting structures, not least the biological clock. The biological clock tells us when it's good to be up, when it's good to be asleep, and what that structure does is interact with a whole raft of other areas within the hypothalamus, the lateral hypothalamus, the ventrolateral preoptic nuclei. All of those combine, and they send projections down to the brain stem here. The brain stem then projects forward and bathes the cortex, this wonderfully wrinkly bit over here, with neurotransmitters that keep us awake and essentially provide us with our consciousness. So sleep arises from a whole raft of different interactions within the brain, and essentially, sleep is turned on and off as a result of a range of interactions in here.
Okay. So where have we got to? We've said that sleep is complicated and it takes 32 years of our life. But what I haven't explained is what sleep is about. So why do we sleep? And it won't surprise any of you that, of course, the scientists, we don't have a consensus. There are dozens of different ideas about why we sleep, and I'm going to outline three of those.
The first is sort of the restoration idea, and it's somewhat intuitive. Essentially, all the stuff we've burned up during the day, we restore, we replace, we rebuild during the night. And indeed, as an explanation, it goes back to Aristotle, so that's, what, 2,300 years ago. It's gone in and out of fashion. It's fashionable at the moment because what's been shown is that within the brain, a whole raft of genes have been shown to be turned on only during sleep, and those genes are associated with restoration and metabolic pathways. So there's good evidence for the whole restoration hypothesis.
What about energy conservation? Again, perhaps intuitive. You essentially sleep to save calories. Now, when you do the sums, though, it doesn't really pan out. If you compare an individual who has slept at night, or stayed awake and hasn't moved very much, the energy saving of sleeping is about 110 calories a night. Now, that's the equivalent of a hot dog bun. Now, I would say that a hot dog bun is kind of a meager return for such a complicated and demanding behavior as sleep. So I'm less convinced by the energy conservation idea.
But the third idea I'm quite attracted to, which is brain processing and memory consolidation. What we know is that, if after you've tried to learn a task, and you sleep-deprive individuals, the ability to learn that task is smashed. It's really hugely attenuated. So sleep and memory consolidation is also very important. However, it's not just the laying down of memory and recalling it. What's turned out to be really exciting is that our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep. In fact, it's been estimated to give us a threefold advantage. Sleeping at night enhances our creativity. And what seems to be going on is that, in the brain, those neural connections that are important, those synaptic connections that are important, are linked and strengthened, while those that are less important tend to fade away and be less important.
Okay. So we've had three explanations for why we might sleep, and I think the important thing to realize is that the details will vary, and it's probable we sleep for multiple different reasons. But sleep is not an indulgence. It's not some sort of thing that we can take on board rather casually. I think that sleep was once likened to an upgrade from economy to business class, you know, the equivalent of. It's not even an upgrade from economy to first class. The critical thing to realize is that if you don't sleep, you don't fly. Essentially, you never get there, and what's extraordinary about much of our society these days is that we are desperately sleep-deprived.
So let's now look at sleep deprivation. Huge sectors of society are sleep-deprived, and let's look at our sleep-o-meter. So in the 1950s, good data suggests that most of us were getting around about eight hours of sleep a night. Nowadays, we sleep one and a half to two hours less every night, so we're in the six-and-a-half-hours-every-night league. For teenagers, it's worse, much worse. They need nine hours for full brain performance, and many of them, on a school night, are only getting five hours of sleep. It's simply not enough. If we think about other sectors of society, the aged, if you are aged, then your ability to sleep in a single block is somewhat disrupted, and many sleep, again, less than five hours a night. Shift work. Shift work is extraordinary, perhaps 20 percent of the working population, and the body clock does not shift to the demands of working at night. It's locked onto the same light-dark cycle as the rest of us. So when the poor old shift worker is going home to try and sleep during the day, desperately tired, the body clock is saying, "Wake up. This is the time to be awake." So the quality of sleep that you get as a night shift worker is usually very poor, again in that sort of five-hour region. And then, of course, tens of millions of people suffer from jet lag. So who here has jet lag? Well, my goodness gracious. Well, thank you very much indeed for not falling asleep, because that's what your brain is craving.
One of the things that the brain does is indulge in micro-sleeps, this involuntary falling asleep, and you have essentially no control over it. Now, micro-sleeps can be sort of somewhat embarrassing, but they can also be deadly. It's been estimated that 31 percent of drivers will fall asleep at the wheel at least once in their life, and in the U.S., the statistics are pretty good: 100,000 accidents on the freeway have been associated with tiredness, loss of vigilance, and falling asleep. A hundred thousand a year. It's extraordinary. At another level of terror, we dip into the tragic accidents at Chernobyl and indeed the space shuttle Challenger, which was so tragically lost. And in the investigations that followed those disasters, poor judgment as a result of extended shift work and loss of vigilance and tiredness was attributed to a big chunk of those disasters.

So when you're tired, and you lack sleep, you have poor memory, you have poor creativity, you have increased impulsiveness, and you have overall poor judgment. But my friends, it's so much worse than that.
If you are a tired brain, the brain is craving things to wake it up. So drugs, stimulants. Caffeine represents the stimulant of choice across much of the Western world. Much of the day is fueled by caffeine, and if you're a really naughty tired brain, nicotine. And of course, you're fueling the waking state with these stimulants, and then of course it gets to 11 o'clock at night, and the brain says to itself, "Ah, well actually, I need to be asleep fairly shortly. What do we do about that when I'm feeling completely wired?" Well, of course, you then resort to alcohol. Now alcohol, short-term, you know, once or twice, to use to mildly sedate you, can be very useful. It can actually ease the sleep transition. But what you must be so aware of is that alcohol doesn't provide sleep, a biological mimic for sleep. It sedates you. So it actually harms some of the neural proccessing that's going on during memory consolidation and memory recall. So it's a short-term acute measure, but for goodness sake, don't become addicted to alcohol as a way of getting to sleep every night.
Another connection between loss of sleep is weight gain. If you sleep around about five hours or less every night, then you have a 50 percent likelihood of being obese. What's the connection here? Well, sleep loss seems to give rise to the release of the hormone ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Ghrelin is released. It gets to the brain. The brain says, "I need carbohydrates," and what it does is seek out carbohydrates and particularly sugars. So there's a link between tiredness and the metabolic predisposition for weight gain.
Stress. Tired people are massively stressed. And one of the things of stress, of course, is loss of memory, which is what I sort of just then had a little lapse of. But stress is so much more. So if you're acutely stressed, not a great problem, but it's sustained stress associated with sleep loss that's the problem. So sustained stress leads to suppressed immunity, and so tired people tend to have higher rates of overall infection, and there's some very good studies showing that shift workers, for example, have higher rates of cancer. Increased levels of stress throw glucose into the circulation. Glucose becomes a dominant part of the vasculature and essentially you become glucose intolerant. Therefore, diabetes 2. Stress increases cardiovascular disease as a result of raising blood pressure. So there's a whole raft of things associated with sleep loss that are more than just a mildly impaired brain, which is where I think most people think that sleep loss resides.

So at this point in the talk, this is a nice time to think, well, do you think on the whole I'm getting enough sleep? So a quick show of hands. Who feels that they're getting enough sleep here? Oh. Well, that's pretty impressive. Good. We'll talk more about that later, about what are your tips.
So most of us, of course, ask the question, "Well, how do I know whether I'm getting enough sleep?" Well, it's not rocket science. If you need an alarm clock to get you out of bed in the morning, if you are taking a long time to get up, if you need lots of stimulants, if you're grumpy, if you're irritable, if you're told by your work colleagues that you're looking tired and irritable, chances are you are sleep-deprived. Listen to them. Listen to yourself.
What do you do? Well -- and this is slightly offensive -- sleep for dummies: Make your bedroom a haven for sleep. The first critical thing is make it as dark as you possibly can, and also make it slightly cool. Very important. Actually, reduce your amount of light exposure at least half an hour before you go to bed. Light increases levels of alertness and will delay sleep. What's the last thing that most of us do before we go to bed? We stand in a massively lit bathroom looking into the mirror cleaning our teeth. It's the worst thing we can possibly do before we went to sleep. Turn off those mobile phones. Turn off those computers. Turn off all of those things that are also going to excite the brain. Try not to drink caffeine too late in the day, ideally not after lunch. Now, we've set about reducing light exposure before you go to bed, but light exposure in the morning is very good at setting the biological clock to the light-dark cycle. So seek out morning light. Basically, listen to yourself. Wind down. Do those sorts of things that you know are going to ease you off into the honey-heavy dew of slumber.
 Okay. That's some facts. What about some myths?
Teenagers are lazy. No. Poor things. They have a biological predisposition to go to bed late and get up late, so give them a break.

We need eight hours of sleep a night. That's an average. Some people need more. Some people need less. And what you need to do is listen to your body. Do you need that much or do you need more? Simple as that. 
 Old people need less sleep. Not true. The sleep demands of the aged do not go down. Essentially, sleep fragments and becomes less robust, but sleep requirements do not go down.
And the fourth myth is, early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Well that's wrong at so many different levels. (Laughter) There is no, no evidence that getting up early and going to bed early gives you more wealth at all. There's no difference in socioeconomic status. In my experience, the only difference between morning people and evening people is that those people that get up in the morning early are just horribly smug.

Okay. So for the last part, the last few minutes, what I want to do is change gears and talk about some really new, breaking areas of neuroscience, which is the association between mental health, mental illness and sleep disruption. We've known for 130 years that in severe mental illness, there is always, always sleep disruption, but it's been largely ignored. In the 1970s, when people started to think about this again, they said, "Yes, well, of course you have sleep disruption in schizophrenia because they're on anti-psychotics. It's the anti-psychotics causing the sleep problems," ignoring the fact that for a hundred years previously, sleep disruption had been reported before anti-psychotics.
 So what's going on? Lots of groups, several groups are studying conditions like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar, and what's going on in terms of sleep disruption. We have a big study which we published last year on schizophrenia, and the data were quite extraordinary. In those individuals with schizophrenia, much of the time, they were awake during the night phase and then they were asleep during the day. Other groups showed no 24-hour patterns whatsoever. Their sleep was absolutely smashed. And some had no ability to regulate their sleep by the light-dark cycle. They were getting up later and later and later and later each night. It was smashed.
 So what's going on? And the really exciting news is that mental illness and sleep are not simply associated but they are physically linked within the brain. The neural networks that predispose you to normal sleep, give you normal sleep, and those that give you normal mental health are overlapping. And what's the evidence for that? Well, genes that have been shown to be very important in the generation of normal sleep, when mutated, when changed, also predispose individuals to mental health problems. And last year, we published a study which showed that a gene that's been linked to schizophrenia, which, when mutated, also smashes the sleep. So we have evidence of a genuine mechanistic overlap between these two important systems.
Other work flowed from these studies. The first was that sleep disruption actually precedes certain types of mental illness, and we've shown that in those young individuals who are at high risk of developing bipolar disorder, they already have a sleep abnormality prior to any clinical diagnosis of bipolar. The other bit of data was that sleep disruption may actually exacerbate, make worse the mental illness state. My colleague Dan Freeman has used a range of agents which have stabilized sleep and reduced levels of paranoia in those individuals by 50 percent.
So what have we got? We've got, in these connections, some really exciting things. In terms of the neuroscience, by understanding the neuroscience of these two systems, we're really beginning to understand how both sleep and mental illness are generated and regulated within the brain. The second area is that if we can use sleep and sleep disruption as an early warning signal, then we have the chance of going in. If we know that these individuals are vulnerable, early intervention then becomes possible. And the third, which I think is the most exciting, is that we can think of the sleep centers within the brain as a new therapeutic target. Stabilize sleep in those individuals who are vulnerable, we can certainly make them healthier, but also alleviate some of the appalling symptoms of mental illness.
So let me just finish. What I started by saying is take sleep seriously. Our attitudes toward sleep are so very different from a pre-industrial age, when we were almost wrapped in a duvet. We used to understand intuitively the importance of sleep. And this isn't some sort of crystal-waving nonsense. This is a pragmatic response to good health. If you have good sleep, it increases your concentration, attention, decision-making, creativity, social skills, health. If you get sleep, it reduces your mood changes, your stress, your levels of anger, your impulsivity, and your tendency to drink and take drugs. And we finished by saying that an understanding of the neuroscience of sleep is really informing the way we think about some of the causes of mental illness, and indeed is providing us new ways to treat these incredibly debilitating conditions.
Jim Butcher, the fantasy writer, said, "Sleep is God. Go worship." And I can only recommend that you do the same.
 Thank you for your attention.


Death Is Optional (Video/Transcript)

 Source: Edge
  • Yuval Noah Harari
Professor, Department of History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Author, Sapiens

  • Daniel Kahneman
Recipient, Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002; Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Princetin; Author, Thinking Fast and Slow
DANIEL KAHNEMAN: Before asking you what are the questions you are asking yourself, I want to say that I've now read your book Sapiens twice and in that book you do something that I found pretty extraordinary. You cover the history of mankind. It seems to be like an invitation for people to dismiss it as superficial, so I read it, and I read it again, because in fact, I found so many ideas that were enriching. I want to talk about just one or two of them as examples.

Your chapter on science is one of my favorites and so is the title of that chapter, "The Discovery of Ignorance". It presents the idea that science began when people discovered that there was ignorance, and that they could do something about it, that this was really the beginning of science. I love that phrase.

And in fact, I loved that phrase so much that I went and looked it up. Because I thought, where did he get it? My search of the phrase showed that all the references were to you. And there are many other things like that in the book.

How did you transition from that book to what you're doing now?

YUVAL NOAH HARARI: It came naturally. My big question at present is what is the human agenda for the 21st century. And this is a direct continuation from covering the history of humankind, from the appearance of Homo Sapiens until today, so when you finish that, immediately, you think, okay, what next? I'm not trying to predict the future, which is impossible, now more than ever. Nobody has a clue how the world will look like in, say, 40, 50 years. We may know some of the basic variables but, if you really understand what's going on in the world, you know that it's impossible to have any good prediction for the coming decades. This is the first time in history that we're in this situation.

I'm trying to do something that is the opposite of predicting the future. I'm trying to identify what are the possibilities, what is the horizon of possibilities that we are facing? And what will happen from among these possibilities? We still have a lot of choice in this regard.

KAHNEMAN: Could you elaborate on these possibilities? I mean, what's the distinction between predicting and setting up a range of possibilities?

HARARI: I think about it in visual terms, whether you try to narrow your field of vision, or to broaden it. For example, when you try to predict the weather for tomorrow, there are a lot of possibilities to begin with. It might rain, it might snow, there might be sunshine. And a good meteorologist, according to one view of science, is a meteorologist that takes this horizon of possibilities and narrows it down to a single possibility or just two possibilities. It will certainly rain, maybe hard, maybe less so. That's it.

And after you finish reading the book or taking the course or whatever, your view of the world in this sense is narrower, because you have fewer possibilities to consider. You know it's going to rain. The same thing in economics, in medicine, and also in history. People ask what will happen next? You have all these possibilities, and I'm telling you, China is going to be the superpower, end of story. You narrow down the range.

There is room of course for that. When I go to the doctor to get a medicine, I want him to narrow down the possibilities, not just to enumerate all the options. But I personally like the kind of science that broadens the horizons. I often tell my students at the University that my aim is that after three years, you basically know less than when you first got here. When you first got here, you thought you knew what the world is like and what is war and what is a state, and so forth. After three years, my hope is that you will understand that you actually know far, far less, and you come out with a much broader view of the present and of the future.

KAHNEMAN: But do you get to a broader view by becoming more differentiated, that is, by having more detailed views? Or is it just that you get people to consider a possibility that wouldn't occur to them?

HARARI: Mainly, the second way. The main thing, and my main task as a historian is to get people to consider the possibilities which usually are outside their field of vision, because our present field of vision has been shaped by history and has been narrowed down by history, and if you understand how history has narrowed down our field of vision, this is what enables you to start broadening it.

Let me give you an example that I'm thinking about a lot today, concerning the future of humankind in the field of medicine. At least to the best of my understanding, we're in the middle of a revolution in medicine. After medicine in the 20th century focused on healing the sick, now it is more and more focused on upgrading the healthy, which is a completely different project. And it's a fundamentally different project in social and political terms, because whereas healing the sick is an egalitarian project ... you assume there is a norm of health, anybody that falls below the norm, you try to give them a push to come back to the norm, upgrading is by definition an elitist project. There is no norm that can be applicable to everybody.

And this opens the possibility of creating huge gaps between the rich and the poor, bigger than ever existed before in history. And many people say no, it will not happen, because we have the experience of the 20th century, that we had many medical advances, beginning with the rich or with the most advanced countries, and gradually they trickled down to everybody, and now everybody enjoys antibiotics or vaccinations or whatever, so this will happen again.

And as a historian, my main task is to say no, there were peculiar reasons why medicine in the 20th century was egalitarian, why the discoveries trickled down to everybody. These unique conditions may not repeat themselves in the 21st century, so you should broaden your thinking, and you should take into consideration the possibility that medicine in the 21st century will be elitist, and that you will see growing gaps because of that, biological gaps between rich and poor and between different countries. And you cannot just trust a process of trickling down to solve this problem.

There are fundamental reasons why we should take this very seriously, because generally speaking, when you look at the 20th century, it's the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value, simply because he or she is a human being, and this goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory.

But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it's done, it's over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy. Maybe the biggest question of 21st century economics is what will be the need in the economy for most people in the year 2050.

And once most people are no longer really necessary, for the military and for the economy, the idea that you will continue to have mass medicine is not so certain. Could be. It's not a prophecy, but you should take very seriously the option that people will lose their military and economic value, and medicine will follow.

KAHNEMAN: You seem to be describing this as something that is already happening. Are you referring to developments such as the plans to do away with death? That absolutely would not be a mass project. But could you elaborate on that?

HARARI: Yes, the attitude now towards disease and old age and death is that they are basically technical problems. It is a huge revolution in human thinking. Throughout history, old age and death were always treated as metaphysical problems, as something that the gods decreed, as something fundamental to what defines humans, what defines the human condition and reality.
Even a few years ago, very few doctors or scientists would seriously say that they are trying to overcome old age and death. They would say no, I am trying to overcome this particular disease, whether it's tuberculosis or cancer or Alzheimers. Defeating disease and death, this is nonsense, this is science fiction.

But, the new attitude is to treat old age and death as technical problems, no different in essence than any other disease. It's like cancer, it's like Alzheimers, it's like tuberculosis. Maybe we still don't know all the mechanisms and all the remedies, but in principle, people always die due to technical reasons, not metaphysical reasons. In the middle ages, you had an image of how does a person die? Suddenly, the Angel of Death appears, and touches you on the shoulder and says, "Come. Your time has come." And you say, "No, no, no. Give me some more time." And Death said, "No, you have to come." And that's it, that is how you die.

We don't think like that today. People never die because the Angel of Death comes, they die because their heart stops pumping, or because an artery is clogged, or because cancerous cells are spreading in the liver or somewhere.
These are all technical problems, and in essence, they should have some technical solution. And this way of thinking is now becoming very dominant in scientific circles, and also among the ultra-rich who have come to understand that, wait a minute, something is happening here. For the first time in history, if I'm rich enough, maybe I don't have to die.

KAHNEMAN: Death is optional.

HARARI: Death is optional. And if you think about it from the viewpoint of the poor, it looks terrible, because throughout history, death was the great equalizer. The big consolation of the poor throughout history was that okay, these rich people, they have it good, but they're going to die just like me. But think about the world, say, in 50 years, 100 years, where the poor people continue to die, but the rich people, in addition to all the other things they get, also get an exemption from death. That's going to bring a lot of anger.

KAHNEMAN: Yes. I really like that phrase of "people not being necessary," can you elaborate on this dystopia? It's a new phrase for me. Such things, by the way, are developing very, very slowly. I was worrying about what computers would do in displacing people. I was worried about this when I was a graduate student, and that was more than 50 years ago, and I thought that's a very serious, immediate problem. It wasn't a serious immediate problem then, but a serious ... not immediate, but it may be a serious problem now. You have thought about it deeply, can you tell us about people becoming unnecessary, economically, and unnecessary militarily? What will that do?

HARARI: The basic process is the decoupling of intelligence from consciousness. Throughout history, you always had the two together. If you wanted something intelligent, this something had to have consciousness at its basis. People were not familiar with anything not human, that didn't have consciousness, that could be intelligent, that could solve problems like playing chess or driving a car or diagnosing disease.

Now, what we're talking about today is not that computers will be like humans. I think that many of these science fiction scenarios, that computers will be like humans, are wrong. Computers are very, very, very far from being like humans, especially when it comes to consciousness. The problem is different, that the system, the military and economic and political system doesn't really need consciousness.

KAHNEMAN: It needs intelligence.

HARARI: It needs intelligence. And intelligence is a far easier thing than consciousness. And the problem is, computers may not become conscious, I don't know, ever ... I would say 500 years ... but they could be as intelligent or more intelligent than humans in particular tasks very quickly. And if you think, for example, about this self-driving car of Google, and you compare the self-driving car to a taxi driver, a taxi driver is immensely more complex than the self-driving car.

There are a zillion things that the taxi driver can do and the self-driving car cannot. But the problem is that from a purely economic perspective, we don't need all the zillion things that the taxi driver can do. I only need him to take me from point A to point B as quickly and as cheaply as possible. And this is something a self-driving car can do better, or will be able to do better very quickly.

And when you look at it more and more, for most of the tasks that humans are needed for, what is required is just intelligence, and a very particular type of intelligence, because we are undergoing, for thousands of years, a process of specialization, which makes it easier to replace us. To build a robot that could function effectively as a hunter-gatherer is extremely complex. You need to know so many different things. But to build a self-driving car, or to build a "Watson-bot" that can diagnose disease better than my doctor, this is relatively easy.

And this is where we have to take seriously, the possibility that even though computers will still be far behind humans in many different things, as far as the tasks that the system needs from us are concerned, most of the time computers will be able to do better than us. And again, I don't want to give a prediction, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, but what you do see is it's a bit like the boy who cried wolf, that, yes, you cry wolf once, twice, three times, and maybe people say yes, 50 years ago, they already predicted that computers will replace humans, and it didn't happen. But the thing is that with every generation, it is becoming closer, and predictions such as these fuel the process.

The same thing will happen with these promises to overcome death. My guess, which is only a guess, is that the people who live today, and who count on the ability to live forever, or to overcome death in 50 years, 60 years, are going to be hugely disappointed. It's one thing to accept that I'm going to die. It's another thing to think that you can cheat death and then die eventually. It's much harder.

While they are in for a very big disappointment, in their efforts to defeat death, they will achieve great things. They will make it easier for the next generation to do it, and somewhere along the line, it will turn from science fiction to science, and the wolf will come.

KAHNEMAN: What you are doing here, in terms of prediction, is about trends. The trend is clear, what progress means is clear, but when you describe people as superfluous, you are presenting the background for a huge problem. Who decides what to do with the superfluous people. Especially, what are the social implications that you see, the technical or technological development that you foresee?

HARARI: Well, again, I am an historian, I am not a biologist, I'm not a computer scientist, I am not in a position to say whether all these ideas are realizable or not. I can just look from the view of the historian and say what it looks from there. So the social and philosophical and political implications are the things that interest me most. Basically, if any of these trends are going to actually be fulfilled, then the best I can do is quote Marx and say that everything solid melts into air.

Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface ... when brains and computers can interact directly, to take just one example, that's it, that's the end of history, that's the end of biology as we know it. Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this. If life can basically break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, you cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences will be, because your imagination at present is organic. So if there is a point of Singularity, as it's often referred to, by definition, we have no way of even starting to imagine what's happening beyond that.

Looking before the point of Singularity, just as the trend is gathering pace, one thing we can say is there may be a repeat of what happened in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution, of the opening of huge gaps between different classes and different countries. Generally speaking, the 20th century was a century of closing gaps, fewer gaps between classes, between genders, between ethnic groups, between countries. So maybe we are starting to see the reopening of these gaps with a vengeance, gaps that will be far greater then were between the industrialized and the non-industrialized part of the world, 150 or 200 years ago.

In the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, what humanity basically learned to produce was all kinds of stuff, like textiles and shoes and weapons and vehicles, and this was enough for the very few countries that underwent the revolution to subjugate everybody else. What we're talking about now is like a second Industrial Revolution, but the product this time will not be textiles or machines or vehicles, or even weapons. The product this time will be humans themselves.

We're basically learning to produce bodies and minds. Bodies and minds are going to be the two main products of the next wave of all these changes. And if there is a gap between those that know how to produce bodies and minds and those that do not, then this is far greater than anything we saw before in history.

And this time, if you're not fast enough to become part of the revolution, then you'll probably become extinct. Countries like China, missed the train for the Industrial Revolution, but 150 years later, they somehow have managed to catch up, largely, speaking in economic terms, thanks to the power of cheap labor.

Now, those who miss the train will never get a second chance. If a country, if a people, today are left behind, they will never get a second chance, especially because cheap labor will count for nothing. Once you know how to produce bodies and brains and minds, cheap labor in Africa or South Asia or wherever, it simply counts for nothing. So in geopolitical terms, we might see a repeat of the 19th century, but in a much larger scale.

KAHNEMAN: What I find difficult to imagine is that as people are becoming unnecessary, the translation of that into sort of 20th-century terms is mass unemployment. Mass unemployment means social unrest. And it means there are things going to happen, processes going to happen in society, as a result of people becoming superfluous, and that is a gradual process, people becoming superfluous.

We may be seeing that in the growing inequality now, we may be seeing the beginning of what you're talking about. But have you thought, in the same way as you're thinking in interesting and novel ways about technology, have you thought about the social side?

HARARI: Yes, the social side is the more important and more difficult one. I don't have a solution, and the biggest question maybe in economics and politics of the coming decades will be what to do with all these useless people. I don't think we have an economic model for that. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. The problem is more boredom, and what to do with people, and how will they find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless.

My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games as a solution for most ... it's already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games, both legal drugs and illegal drugs. But this is just a wild guess.

What I can say is that maybe we are again in analogous position to the world in 1800. When the Industrial Revolution begins, you see the emergence of new classes of people. You see the emergence of a new class of the urban proletariat, which is a new social and political phenomenon. Nobody knows what to do with it. There are immense problems. And it took a century and more of revolutions and wars for people to even start coming up with ideas what to do with the new classes of people.

What is certain is that the old answers were irrelevant. Today, everybody is talking about ISIS, and the Islamic fundamentalism, and the Christian revival, and things like that. There are new problems, and people go back to the ancient texts, and think that there is an answer in the Sharia, in the Qur'an, in the Bible. We also had the same thing in the 19th century. You had the Industrial Revolution. You had huge sociopolitical problems all over the world, as a result of industrialization, of modernization. You got lots of people thinking that the answer is in the Bible or in the Qur'an. You had religious movements all over the world.

In the Sudan, for example, you have the Mahdi establishing Muslim theocracy according to the Sharia. An Anglo-Egyptian army comes to suppress the rebellion, and they are defeated. They behead General Charles Gordon.
Basically, this is the same thing that you're now seeing with ISIS. Nobody remembers the Mahdi today because the answers that he found in the Qur'an and the Sharia to the problem of industrialization didn't work.

In China, the biggest war of the 19th century is not the Napoleonic war, it's not the American Civil War, it's the Taiping Rebellion in China, which started in 1850, when a failed scholar named Hong Xuiquan, if I remember correctly, had a vision from God that he, Hong, is the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and that he had a divine mission to establish the Kingdom of Heavenly Peace on Earth, and to solve all the problems China had due to the coming of the British and of modern industry. He started the rebellion, and millions followed him. According to the most moderate estimates, 20 million people were killed in the Taiping Rebellion, and it was 14 years before they suppressed it. He didn't establish a Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, and he didn't solve the problems of industrialization.

Eventually, people came up with new ideas, not from the Sharia, and not from the Bible, and not from some vision. People studied industry, they studied coalmines, they studied electricity, they studied steam engines, railroads, they looked at how these developments transformed the economy and society, and they came up with some new ideas. Not necessarily everybody liked the new ideas, but it was something at least to argue against.

And looking from the perspective of 2015, I don't think we now have the knowledge to solve the social problems of 2050, or the problems that will emerge as a result of all these new developments. We should be looking for new knowledge and new solutions, and starting with the realization that in all probability, nothing that exists at present offers a solution to these problems.

KAHNEMAN: What is very interesting and frightening about this scenario is that it is true, as you point out, that people have lived to work, or worked to live, and that what you are describing is a scenario in which work is unnecessary for most people.

There is a class of people who work because they enjoy it, and are able to do it, and then there is most of humanity, for which work no longer exists. That mass of people cannot work, but they can still kill people. How do you see the possibility of strife and conflict, between the superfluous people and those who are not?

HARARI: Once you are superfluous, you don't have power. Again, we are used to the age of the masses, of the 19th and 20th century, where you saw all these successful massive uprisings, revolutions, revolts, so we are used to thinking about the masses as powerful, but this is basically a 19th century and 20th century phenomenon.

If you go back in most periods in history, say to the middle ages, you do see peasant uprisings. They all failed, because the masses were not powerful. And once you become superfluous, militarily and economically, you can still cause trouble, of course, but you don't have the power to really change things.

Once you have the revolution we are undergoing in the military in which the number of soldiers simply becomes irrelevant in comparison with factors like technology, you still need people, but you don't need the millions of soldiers, each with a rifle. You need much smaller numbers of experts, who know how to produce and how to use the new technologies. Against such military powers, the masses, even if they somehow organize themselves, don't stand much of a chance. We are not in Russia of 1917, or in 19th century Europe.

And so again, it's not a prophecy. Maybe it will turn out differently. But as a historian, the most important thing to realize is that the power of the masses, that we are so used to, is rooted in particular historical conditions, economic, military, political, which characterized the 19th and 20th centuries. These conditions are now changing, and there is no reason to be certain that the masses will retain their power.

KAHNEMAN: What you're describing, the scenario that you're pointing to, is one of fairly rapid technological progress, and it really doesn't matter whether we're talking about 50 years or 150 years. There is a social arrangement that has been around for a long time, for decades and centuries. And they change relatively slowly. So what you bring to my mind, as I hear you, is a major disconnect between rapid technological change and quite rigid cultural and social arrangements that will not actually keep up.

HARARI: Yes, this is one of the big dangers, one of the big problems with technology. It develops much faster than human society and human morality, and this creates a lot of tension. But, again, we can try and learn something from our previous experience with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, that actually, you saw very rapid changes in society, not as fast as the changes in technology, but still, amazingly fast.

The most obvious example is the collapse of the family and of the intimate community, and their replacement by the state and the market. Basically, for the entirety of history, humans lived as part of these small and very important units, the family and the intimate community, say 200 people, who are your village, your tribe, your neighborhood. You know everybody; they know you. You may not like them, but your life depends on them. They provide you with almost everything you need in order to survive. They are your healthcare. There is no pension fund; you have children, they are your pension fund. They are your bank, your school, your police, everything. If you lose your family and the intimate community, you're dead, or you have to find a replacement family.

And this was the situation for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Even once history started, say 70,000 years ago, and you see all the changes and agriculture and cities and empires and religions, you don't see any significant change on that level. Even in the year, say, 1700, most people in the world still live as part of families and intimate communities, which provide them with most of what they need in order to survive. And you could have easily imagined, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, that this will continue to be the situation.
If you were, say, an evolutionary psychologist back in 1800, and you saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, you could have very confidently said all these changes in technology are well and good, but they won't change the basic structure of human society. Human society is built from these small building blocks, the family and intimate community, because this is kind of an evolutionary given. Humans must have this. They cannot live in any other way.

And you look at the last 200 years, and you see them collapse after millions of years of evolution. Suddenly, within 200 years, the family and the intimate community break, they collapse. Most of the roles filled by the family and by the intimate community for thousands and tens of thousands of years, are transferred very quickly to new networks provided by the state and the market. You don't need children, you can have a pension fund. You don't need somebody to take care of you. You don't need neighbors and sisters or brothers to take care of you when you're sick. The state takes care of you. The state provides you with police, with education, with health, with everything.

And you can say that maybe life today is in some ways worse than in 1700, because we have lost much of the connection to the community around us ... it's a big argument ... but it happened. People today actually manage to live, many people, as isolated, alienated individuals. In the most advanced societies, people live as alienated individuals, with no community to speak about, with a very small family. It's no longer the big extended family. It's now a very small family, maybe just a spouse, maybe one or two children, and even they, they might live in a different city, in a different country, and you see them maybe once in every few months, and that's it. And the amazing thing is that people live with that. And that's just 200 years.

What might happen in the next hundred years on that level of daily life, of intimate relationships? Anything is possible. You look at Japan today, and Japan is maybe 20 years ahead of the world in everything. And you see these new social phenomena of people having relationships with virtual spouses. And you have people who never leave the house and just live through computers. And I don't know, maybe it's the future, maybe it isn't, but for me, the amazing thing is that you'd have thought, given the biological background of humankind, that this is impossible, yet we see that it is possible. Apparently, Homo Sapiens is even more malleable than we tend to think.

We can also learn something from the Agricultural Revolution. Some experts think that agriculture was the biggest mistake in human history, in terms of what it did to the individual. It's obvious that on the collective level, agriculture enhanced the power of humankind in an amazing way. Without agriculture, you could not have cities and kingdoms and empires and so forth, but if you look at it from the viewpoint of the individual, then for many individuals, life was probably much worse as peasants in ancient Egypt then as hunter gatherers 20,000, 30,000 years earlier. You had to work much harder. The body and mind of Homo Sapiens evolved for millions of years in adaptation to climbing trees and picking fruits and to running after gazelles and looking for mushrooms. And suddenly you start all day digging canals and carrying water buckets from the river and harvesting the corn, and grinding the corn, this is much more difficult for the body, and also much more boring to the mind.

In exchange for all this hard work, most peasants got a far worse diet than hunter-gatherers, because hunter-gatherers relied on dozens of species of animals and plants and mushrooms and whatever, that provided them with all the nutrients and vitamins they needed, whereas peasants relied on usually just a single crop, like wheat or rice or potatoes. And on top of that, you had all the new social hierarchies and the beginning of mass exploitation, where you have small elites exploiting everybody else. Putting all this together, there is a good case to be said for the idea that for the individual, agriculture was perhaps the biggest mistake in history.

This may provide us with a lesson, or at least something to think about with regard to the new technological revolution. Nobody would doubt that all the new technologies will enhance again the collective power of humankind, but the question we should be asking ourselves is what's happening on the individual level. We have enough evidence from history that you can have a very big step forward, in terms of collective power, coupled with a step backwards in terms of individual happiness, individual suffering. We need to ask ourselves about the new technologies emerging at present, not only how are they going to impact the collective power of humankind, but also how are they going to impact the daily life of individuals.

In terms of history, the events in Middle East, of ISIS and all of that, is just a speed bump on history's highway. The Middle East is not very important. Silicon Valley is much more important. It's the world of the 21st century ... I'm not speaking only about technology.

In terms of ideas, in terms of religions, the most interesting place today in the world is Silicon Valley, not the Middle East. This is where people like Ray Kurzweil, are creating new religions. These are the religions that will take over the world, not the ones coming out of Syria and Iraq and Nigeria.