Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

716e6dq4bxl I was reading this book while my girlfriend was reading “Better Angels of our nature”. We came to the conclusion that the concepts in these 2 books were pretty similar, but sometimes the takeway a bit different.

Humans wiped out many species, both humanoid and not. 300 000 years ago there were many humanoids, but humans prevailed. We were an ecological catastrophe for everything on our path. we wiped out nearly all of the big mammals.

50 000 years ago, Australia many of these amazing creatures, but once we’ve arrived – they were gone in couple of thousands of years.

The book is organized into retracing history of mankind through revolutions: Cognitive Revolution, Agricultural Revolution, Unification of Humankind, Scientific revolution.
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Cognitive Revolution – 70 000 years ago

We can point to bigger prefrontal cortex or ability to use tools, but the biggest cognitive revolution was that humans learned to believe and obey common myths. Money, Religion, Corporations and everything that is not a physical force or an object is actually an imaginary myth that works only if people believe in it. These myths are sometimes counterproductive and harmful, but we still obey it and believe its a law of nature.

The natural limit for a human group to operate is about 150 individuals. We cannot be in constant contact with more, but corporations and large institutions function because we have shared myths that trancend these limitations.

Sidenote – culture is more important the larger the organisation really is. Should we codify more culture in a8c? )

It’s worth pointing out that all this was actually thanks to the invention of language and the fact that our language enabled us to communicate effectively with one another, convey concepts and create these shared myths.

Agricultural Revolution – 12 000 years ago

We usually have 2 notions of human life before setting into agriculture: either we were very hungry or very happy.

The truth is probably less picturesque but its worth keeping in mind that people were covering long distances with their hunter-gatherer foraging. They had a pretty diverse diet of fruit, plants, vegetables, grains and nuts.

They had small tribes where they depended on each other and they couldn’t carry much stuff with them since they had to carry everything on their backs.

With the agricultural lifestyle that all changed. We started to have a “homebase” which constituted a safe place to store “stuff”. Since we had a place to store material belongings, some people started to accumulate them quicker and quicker.

Now there was wealth to conquer and that resulted in bloody conflict over borders. When we carried everything on our backs, that made no sense but now we were reluctant to abandon our stuff, so we fought for it. To the death.

Our diet also shrunk from pretty diverse to only a handful grains, vegetables and animals (often simple monocultures). The biggest evolutionary benefactor of agricultural revolution is actually a chicken, cow and a pig.

This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution

Suffice it to say, that new restricted diet did not result in better health or people being less hungry but with an explosion of population.

The sad fact about agricultural revolution is that farming is actually much harder and time-consuming than foraging.  It’s common to ask oneself: why bother with all of that?

Well, once people settled and populations exploded, we really hit a point of no return.

Once the population was big enough, we developed a “crust” sphere which could occupy their time with other pursuits

Unification of Humankind

In the book trade is pictured as a safe and benevolent unification force.

Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate

Writing was also invented at first to track money bu Summerians of Mesopothamia about 3000 BC.

Apart from money, there was another unification force: global empires.

With money, writing and shared beliefs it was much easier to provide peace and stability. we think of them as cruel and authoritarian, but the truth is that actually it was much safer in the empires than with many tribes  / smaller countries fighting for power.

Also, empires tended to provide steady law and protection (for the taxes of course).

The counclusion is : its much safer now than before

Scientific revolution 16th / 17th century

The biggest idea of scientific revolutions is that we don’t know it all. We have stuff to discover. Sacred texts do not contain all the answers.

Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital and organizational know-how. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or conquer it by military force

Before, it was common to loose 2-3 children to premature deaths. Now, infant mortality is only 1 / 1000 people.

Apart from opening trade as an option to increase quality of life, it has an interplay with science and progress.

Most of the scientific breakthroughs were privately funded by heads of state that wanted to invest in technology in order to reap material benefits.

Exploration pushed europe as emerging force, unfortunately at the expense of local populations.

Now whole world it a testiment to european imperialism.

Important to remember:

  • Humanity has never been as peaceful as now
  • Since 1945 no nation has been destroyed
  • During hunter-gathere times 30% of adult males were nilled in combat, now 1%.
  • Ofc, humans are not happier.
  • Future = trascending biology

My Kindle Highlights

  • This unique species, known by scientists as Homo floresiensis, reached a maximum height of only 3.5 feet and weighed no more than fifty-five pounds. They were nevertheless able to produce stone tools, and even managed occasionally to hunt down some of the island’s elephants – though, to be fair, the elephants were a dwarf species as well.
  • Homo ergaster, ‘Working Man’,
  • Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator.
  • And even if a Neanderthal Romeo and a Sapiens Juliet fell in love, they could not produce fertile children,
  • You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.
  • Just as human politicians on election campaigns go around shaking hands and kissing babies, so aspirants to the top position in a chimpanzee group spend much time hugging, back-slapping and kissing baby chimps. The
  • Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals.
  • Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.
  • Modern business-people and lawyers are, in fact, powerful sorcerers. The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales. The legend of Peugeot affords us a good example.
  • When in 1896 Armand Peugeot wanted to create his company, he paid a lawyer to go through all these sacred procedures. Once the lawyer had performed all the right rituals and pronounced all the necessary spells and oaths, millions of upright French citizens behaved as if the
  • Much of history revolves around this question: how does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies?
  • The Catholic alpha male abstains from sexual intercourse and raising a family, even though there is no genetic or ecological reason for him to do so.
  • The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time.
  • One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations.
  • Humanity’s search for an easier life released immense forces of change that transformed the world in ways nobody envisioned or wanted.
  • The Faustian bargain between humans and grains was not the only deal our species made.
  • In evolutionary terms, cattle represent one of the most successful animal species ever to exist. At the same time, they are some of the most miserable animals on the planet.
  • This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution.
  • We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or
  • Armies, police forces, courts and prisons are ceaselessly at work forcing people to act in accordance with the imagined order.
  • Of all human collective activities, the one most difficult to organise is violence.
  • An even more interesting question concerns those standing at the top of the social pyramid. Why should they wish to enforce an imagined order if they themselves don’t believe in
  • You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature.
  • a. The imagined order is embedded in the material world.
  • b. The imagined order shapes our desires.
  • Friends giving advice often tell each other, ‘Follow your heart.’ But the heart is a double agent that usually takes its instructions from the dominant myths of the day, and the very recommendation to ‘Follow your heart’ was implanted in our minds by a combination of nineteenth-century Romantic myths
  • Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can.
  • The Great Pyramid of Giza. The kind of thing rich people in ancient Egypt did with their money.
  • The imagined order is inter-subjective.
  • There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.
  • The queen does not cheat the cleaner bees of their food, and they never go on strike demanding higher wages.
  • In order to function, the people who operate such a system of drawers must be reprogrammed to stop thinking as humans and to start thinking as clerks and accountants
  • Most sociopolitical hierarchies lack a logical or biological basis – they are nothing but the perpetuation of chance events supported by myths.
  • A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’
  • Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural.
  • Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality.
  • Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other.
  • Rather, he should enquire into the catch-22s of Muslim culture, those places where rules are at war and standards scuffle. It’s
  • Tomatoes, chilli peppers and cocoa are all Mexican in origin; they reached Europe and Asia only after the Spaniards conquered Mexico.
  • Neither the Sioux nor any other Great Plains tribe had horses prior to 1492.
  • ‘Because I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart which can be cured only with gold.’
  • ‘Everyone would work according to their abilities, and receive according to their needs’ turned out in practice into ‘everyone would work as little as they can get away with, and receive as much as they could grab’.
  • The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion.
  • money isn’t a material reality – it is a psychological construct. It
  • Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, the most popular comic books in Spain weren’t about Superman and Spiderman – they told of the adventures of El Jabato, an imaginary ancient Iberian hero who fought against the Roman oppressors.
  • and Spanish cuisine and architecture owe a far greater debt to Roman legacies than to those of the Celts of Iberia. Nothing is really left of Numantia save ruins.
  • In order to unite under its aegis a large expanse of territory inhabited by disparate groups of human beings, a religion must possess two further qualities. First, it must espouse a universal superhuman order that is true always and everywhere. Second, it must insist on spreading this belief to everyone. In other words, it must be universal and missionary.
  • Hence the first religious effect of the Agricultural Revolution was to turn plants and animals from equal members of a spiritual round table into property.
  • Much of ancient mythology is in fact a legal contract in which humans promise everlasting devotion to the gods in exchange for mastery over plants and animals – the first chapters of the book of Genesis are a prime example. For
  • More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.
  • nirvana (the literal meaning of which is ‘extinguishing the fire’).
  • The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism.
  • If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.
  • Those more deeply informed about the period are much more cognisant of the roads not taken.
  • Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it, and therefore can never be predicted accurately.
  • Rather, cultures are mental parasites that emerge accidentally, and thereafter take advantage of all people infected by them.
  • There is no basis for thinking that the most successful cultures in history are necessarily the best ones for Homo sapiens. Like
  • Rulers financed educational institutions whose mandate was to spread traditional knowledge for the purpose of buttressing the existing order.
  • Beauvoir. The only modern ideology that still awards death a central role is nationalism.
  • In contrast, European imperialists set out to distant shores in the hope of obtaining new knowledge along with new territories.
  • The ship’s captain, who was an amateur scientist, decided to add a geologist to the expedition to study geological formations they might encounter on the way. After several professional geologists refused his invitation, the captain offered the job to a twenty-two-year-old Cambridge graduate, Charles Darwin.
  • ‘Don’t believe a single word these people are telling you. They have come to steal your lands.’
  • The idea that he had discovered a completely unknown continent was inconceivable for him and for many of his generation.
  • There is poetic justice in the fact that a quarter of the world, and two of its seven continents, are named after a little-known Italian whose sole claim to fame is that he had the courage to say, ‘We don’t know.’
  • Around 1517, Spanish colonists in the Caribbean islands began to hear vague rumours about a powerful empire somewhere in the centre of the Mexican mainland. A mere four years later, the Aztec capital was a smouldering ruin, the Aztec Empire was a thing of the past, and Hernán Cortés lorded over a vast new Spanish Empire in Mexico.
  • When the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, natives bearing incense burners were assigned to accompany them wherever they went. The Spaniards thought it was a mark of divine honour. We know from native sources that they found the newcomers’ smell unbearable.)
  • Banks are allowed to loan $10 for every dollar they actually possess,
  • You could cut the pie in many different ways, but it never got any bigger. That’s why many cultures concluded that making bundles of money was sinful.
  • they are creating trillions of dollars, euros and yen out of thin air, pumping cheap credit into the system, and hoping that the scientists, technicians and engineers will manage to come up with something really big, before the bubble bursts.
  • Furthermore, the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug trafficking (Hong
  • The new ethic promises paradise on condition that the rich remain greedy and spend their time making more money, and that the masses give free rein to their cravings and passions – and buy more and more. This is the first religion in history whose followers actually do what they are asked to do.
  • Rats and cockroaches, for example, are in their heyday.
  • Well-off British subjects travel daily from Nottingham to London through Sherwood Forest without fear that a gang of merry green-clad brigands will ambush them and take their money to give to the poor
  • Anthropological studies have indicated that between a quarter and a half of their menfolk die sooner or later in violent conflicts over property, women or prestige.8
  • At least some of the praise usually heaped on Mahatma Gandhi for his non-violent creed is actually owed to the British Empire.
  • The Soviet collapse in 1989 was even more peaceful, despite the eruption of ethnic conflict in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Never before has such a mighty empire disappeared so swiftly and so quietly.
  • It is chilling to contemplate what might have happened if Gorbachev had behaved like the Serbian leadership – or like the French in Algeria.
  • Since 1945, no independent country recognised by the UN has been conquered and wiped off the map.
  • Never before has peace been so prevalent that people could not even imagine war.
  • Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into collective suicide, and made it impossible to seek world domination by force of arms.
  • Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital and organizational know-how. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or conquer it by military force.
  • Like previous empires, this one, too, enforces peace within its borders. And since its borders cover the entire globe, the World Empire effectively enforces world peace.
  • Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile.
  • As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how.
  • . Sapiens who dreamed of fat, slow-moving chickens discovered that if they mated the fattest hen with the slowest cock, some of their offspring would be both fat and slow.
  • the whole of human history up to that point might, with hindsight, be reinterpreted as a process of experimentation and apprenticeship that revolutionised the game of life.
  • we can now implant reconstructed Neanderthal DNA into a Sapiens ovum, thus producing the first Neanderthal child in 30,000 years. Church claimed that he could do the job for a paltry $30 million. Several women have already volunteered to serve as surrogate mothers.10
  • In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem.
  • We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.
  • Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?


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