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

Under natural conditions, a typical chimpanzee troop consists of about twenty to fifty individuals. As the number of chimpanzees in a troop increases, the social order destabilizes, eventually leading to a rupture and the formation of a new troop by some of the animals. Only in a handful of cases have zoologists observed groups larger than a hundred. Separate groups seldom cooperate, and tend to compete for territory and food. Researchers have documented prolonged warfare between groups, and even one case of ?genocidal? activity in which one troop systematically slaughtered most members of a neighboring band.

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.

People throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality.

Reliable information about who could be trusted meant that small bands could expand into larger bands, and Sapiens could develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation.

Shepherds and farmers throughout history showed affection for their animals and have taken great care of them, just as many slaveholders felt affection and concern for their slaves. It was no accident that kings and prophets styled themselves as shepherds and likened the way they and the gods cared for their people to a shepherd?s care for his flock.

Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians.1 In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.

The Americas were a great laboratory of evolutionary experimentation, a place where animals and plants unknown in Africa and Asia had evolved and thrived. But no longer. Within 2,000 years of the Sapiens? arrival, most of these unique species were gone. According to current estimates, within that short interval, North America lost thirty-four out of its forty-seven genera of large mammals. South America lost fifty out of sixty. The sabre-tooth cats, after flourishing for more than 30 million years, disappeared, and so did the giant ground sloths, the oversized lions, native American horses, native American camels, the giant rodents and the mammoths. Thousands of species of smaller mammals, reptiles, birds and even insects and parasites also became extinct (when the mammoths died out, all species of mammoth ticks followed them to oblivion).

The data-processing system invented by the Sumerians is called ?writing?.

The forager economy provided most people with more interesting lives than agriculture or industry

The journey of the first humans to Australia is one of the most important events in history, at least as important as Columbus? journey to America or the Apollo II expedition to the moon. It was the first time any human had managed to leave the Afro-Asian ecological system ? indeed, the first time any large terrestrial mammal had managed to cross from Afro-Asia to Australia. Of even greater importance was what the human pioneers did in this new world. The moment the first hunter-gatherer set foot on an Australian beach was the moment that Homo sapiens climbed to the top rung in the food chain on a particular landmass and thereafter became the deadliest species in the annals of planet Earth.

The ostrich is a bird that lost its ability to fly. So ?unalienable rights? should be translated into ?mutable characteristics?.

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.

Then came the Scientific Revolution and the idea of progress. The idea of progress is built on the notion that if we admit our ignorance and invest resources in research, things can improve. This idea was soon translated into economic terms. Whoever believes in progress believes that geographical discoveries, technological inventions and organizational developments can increase the sum total of human production, trade and wealth. New trade routes in the Atlantic could flourish without ruining old routes in the Indian Ocean. New goods could be produced without reducing the production of old ones. For instance, one could open a new bakery specializing in chocolate cakes and croissants without causing bakeries specializing in bread to go bust. Everybody would simply develop new tastes and eat more. I can be wealthy without your becoming poor; I can be obese without your dying of hunger. The entire global pie can grow.

They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called ?culture?.

To ensure that the pigs can?t run away, farmers in northern New Guinea slice off a chunk of each pig?s nose. This causes severe pain whenever the pig tries to sniff. Since the pigs cannot find food or even find their way around without sniffing, this mutilation makes them completely dependent on their human owners. In another area of New Guinea, it has been customary to gouge out pigs? eyes, so that they cannot even see where they?re going.

Understand the Muslims who attend that mosque down the street, he shouldn?t look for a pristine set of values that every Muslim holds dear. Rather, he should enquire into the catch-22s of Muslim culture, those places where rules are at war and standards scuffle. It?s at the very spot where the Muslims teeter between two imperatives that you?ll understand them best.

More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.

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.

Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products - contributing to economic growth twice over.

Our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah.

People were unable to fathom the full consequences of their decisions.

Religion is a system of norms and human values that is based on the belief in a superhuman order. The theory of relativity is not a religion because (at least so far) there are no norms and human values that are based on it. Football is not a religion because no one argues that its rules reflect superhuman edicts. Islam, Buddhism and communism are religions because they are systems of norms and human values that are based on the belief superhuman order.

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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