Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Author Quotes

The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus ? ?we do not know?. It

They are nothing but the perpetuation of chance events supported by myths.

Throughout history most human societies were so busy with local conflicts and neighborhood quarrels that they never considered exploring and conquering distant lands.

Two million years ago, genetic mutations resulted in the appearance of a new human species called Homo erectus.

Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.

Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New Age slogan: ?Happiness begins within.? Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful houses, powerful positions ? none of these will bring you happiness. Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

Other organisms are doing quite well. Rats and cockroaches, for example, are in their heyday. These tenacious creatures would probably creep out from beneath the smoking rubble of a nuclear Armageddon, ready and able to spread their DNA. Perhaps 65 million years from now, intelligent rats will look back gratefully on the decimation wrought by humankind, just as we today can thank that dinosaur-busting asteroid.

People invented stories about great gods, motherlands and joint stock companies to provide the needed social links.

Regrettably, the Aryans who invaded India and Persia intermarried with the local natives they found in these lands, losing their light complexions and blond hair, and with them their rationality and diligence. The civilizations of India and Persia consequently declined.

Sex is child?s play; but gender is serious business. To get to be a member of the male sex is the simplest thing in the world. You just need to be born with an X and a Y chromosome. To get to be a female is equally simple. A pair of X chromosomes will do it. In contrast, becoming a man or a woman is a very complicated and demanding undertaking. Since most masculine and feminine qualities are cultural rather than biological, no society automatically crowns each male a man, or every female a woman. Nor are these titles laurels that can be rested on once they are acquired. Males must prove their masculinity constantly, throughout their lives, from cradle to grave, in an endless series of rites and performances. And a woman?s work is never done ? she must continually convince herself and others that she is feminine enough.

States are based on common national myths.

The Agricultural Revolution was history?s biggest fraud. Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa.

The currency of evolution is neither hunger nor pain, but rather copies of DNA helixes. Just as the economic success of a company is measured only by the number of dollars in its bank account, not by the happiness of its employees, so the evolutionary success of a species is measured by the number of copies of its DNA. If no more DNA copies remain, the species is extinct, just as a company without money is bankrupt. If a species boasts many DNA copies, it is a success, and the species flourishes. From such a perspective, 1,000 copies are always better than a hundred copies. This is the essence of the Agricultural Revolution.

The food surpluses produced by peasants, coupled with new transportation technology, eventually enabled more and more people to cram together first into large villages, then into towns, and finally into cities, all of them joined together by new kingdoms and commercial networks. Yet in order to take advantage of these new opportunities, food surpluses and improved transportation were not enough. The mere fact that one can feed a thousand people in the same town or a million people in the same kingdom does not guarantee that they can agree how to divide the land and water, how to settle disputes and conflicts, and how to act in times of drought or war. And if no agreement can be reached, strife spreads, even if the storehouses are bulging. It was not food shortages that caused most of history?s wars and revolutions. The

The insight of polytheism is conducive to far-reaching religious tolerance. Since polytheists believe, on the one hand, in one supreme and completely disinterested power, and on the other hand in many partial and biased powers, there is no difficulty for the devotees of one god to accept the existence and efficacy of other gods. Polytheism is inherently open-minded, and rarely persecutes ?heretics? and ?infidels?.

The only thing we can try to do is to influence the direction scientists are taking. Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, perhaps the real questions facing us is not 'What do we want to become?', but ?What do we want to want?' Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven't given it enough thought.

The shape and size of the mark varied tremendously throughout history, but the message was always the same: ?I, the Great King So-And-So, give you my personal word that this metal disc contains exactly 0.2 ounces of gold. If anyone dares counterfeit this coin, it means he is fabricating my own signature, which would be a blot on my reputation. I will punish such a crime with the utmost severity.? That?s why counterfeiting money has always been considered a much more serious crime than other acts of deception. Counterfeiting is not just cheating ? it?s a breach of sovereignty, an act of subversion against the power, privileges and person of the king. The legal term is lese-majesty (violating majesty), and was typically punished by torture and death. As long as people trusted the power and integrity of the king, they trusted his coins. Total strangers could easily agree on the worth of a Roman denarius coin, because they trusted the power and integrity of the Roman emperor, whose name and picture adorned it.

The world?s first commercial railroad opened for business in 1830, in Britain. By 1850, Western nations were crisscrossed by almost 25,000 miles of railroads ? but in the whole of Asia, Africa and Latin America there were only 2,500 miles of tracks. In 1880, the West boasted more than 220,000 miles of railroads, whereas in the rest of the world there were but 22,000 miles of train lines (and most of these were laid by the British in India). The first railroad in China opened only in 1876. It was 15 miles long and built by Europeans ? the Chinese government destroyed it the following year. In 1880 the Chinese Empire did not operate a single railroad. The first railroad in Persia was built only in 1888, and it connected Tehran with a Muslim holy site about 6 miles south of the capital. It was constructed and operated by a Belgian company. In 1950, the total railway network of Persia still amounted to a meagre 1,500 miles, in a country seven times the size of Britain.

They did not foresee that by increasing their dependence on a single source of food, they were actually exposing themselves even more to the depredations of drought. Nor did the farmers foresee that in good years their bulging granaries would tempt thieves and enemies, compelling them to start building walls and doing guard duty.

Thus the Romans conquered Etruria in order to defend Rome (c.350?300 BC). They then conquered the Po Valley in order to defend Etruria (c.200 BC). They subsequently conquered Provence to defend the Po Valley (c.120 BC), Gaul to defend Provence (c.50 BC), and Britain in order to defend Gaul (c. AD 50). It took them 400 years to get from Rome to London. In 350 BC, no Roman would have conceived of sailing directly to Britain and conquering it.

Two thousand years of monotheistic brainwashing have caused most Westerners to see polytheism as ignorant and childish idolatry. This is an unjust stereotype.

Monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe ? and He?s evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief.

Most Westerners today believe in individualism. They believe that every human is an individual, whose worth does not depend on what other people think of him or her.

NUWC is developing a fish tag whose goal is behavior control of host animals via neural implants.

Our computers have trouble understanding how Homo sapiens talks, feels and dreams. So we are teaching Homo sapiens to talk, feel and dream in the language of numbers, which can be understood by computers.

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Yuval Noah
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Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind