Like Harari’s other books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, this book 21 Lessons has the feeling of easy first draft writing, but the ideas are turtles all the way down into his depths. He claims he writes from his experiences developed from his two hours per day of meditation and that none of these three books would exist without his meditations.
The science of brain exploration is progressing well, that is, an understanding of chemistry, electricity, synapses and such, but that isn’t the mind; it is just mechanistic functioning of the brain. It is like examining the mechanical operation of a car and thinking you understand cars. Whereas, for a human, the mind is more like using the car and having living experiences that are created by that car and in combination with the car’s unique qualities. The mind is not chemistry, it is the felt emotion in response to something internal to the body. There may be an external input of some kind that goes through the mechanism of the body and into the brain, but it is the mind that is experiencing the emotions and mediating what is to be learned from the experience. Probably there is another level within the mind that should have a separately defined state within this hierarchy. That is, the mind performs its functions, but it isn’t until the individual attends to these available ideas as a conscious interaction with other things that they become available for useful action. There may be reflexive reactions that occur as brain responses instantly to a threat stimulus, and mental responses that are slower emotionally driven actions, but when there is an interplay of a few ideas that are conscious they can become new and useful ideas never before encountered by humanity.
21 Lessons is ultimately about self-observation and Harari’s form of it is called Vipassana meditation, which may go back to the Buddha. I’ve been meditating for twenty minutes per day, but my mind is still a wild thing. It’s like watching squirrels chasing one another in the spring mating season. Harari says there are many forms of meditation and he has explored many of them in an attempt to understand his mind.
Following that idea into deeper meditations seems like a good idea to me.