Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

Israeli History Professor, Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Author Quotes

About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history.

Another possibility is that competition for resources flared up into violence and genocide. Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would

At the time of the Cognitive Revolution, the planet was home to about 200 genera of large terrestrial mammals weighing over 100 pounds. At the time of the Agricultural Revolution, only about a hundred remained. Homo sapiens drove to extinction about half of the planet?s big beasts long before humans invented the wheel, writing, or iron tools.

Language evolved as a way of gossiping. According to this theory Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal. Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. It?s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest, and who is a cheat.

A large number of strangers can successfully cooperate if they believe common myths.

accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language.

Any large-scale human cooperation ? whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe ? is rooted in common myths that exist only in people?s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths.

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.

Lasting happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

A lot of evidence indicates that we are destroying the foundations of human prosperity in an orgy of reckless consumption.

According to Buddhism, most people identify happiness with pleasant feelings, while identifying suffering with unpleasant feelings. People consequently ascribe immense importance to what they feel, craving to experience more and more pleasures, while avoiding pain. Whatever we do throughout our lives, whether scratching our leg, fidgeting slightly in the chair, or fighting world wars, we are just trying to get pleasant feelings. The problem, according to Buddhism, is that our feelings are no more than fleeting vibrations, changing every moment, like the ocean waves. If five minutes ago I felt joyful and purposeful, now these feelings are gone, and I might well feel sad and dejected. So if I want to experience pleasant feelings, I have to constantly chase them, while driving away the unpleasant feelings. Even if I succeed, I immediately have to start all over again, without ever getting any lasting reward for my troubles.

Archaeological evidence consists mainly of fossilized bones and stone tools. Artefacts made of more perishable materials ? such as wood, bamboo or leather ? survive only under unique conditions. The common impression that pre-agricultural humans lived in an age of stone is a misconception based on this archaeological bias. The Stone Age should more accurately be called the Wood Age, because most of the tools used by ancient hunter-gatherers were made of wood.

Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot the bill.

Many call this process 'the destruction of nature.' But it's not really destruction, it's change. Nature cannot be destroyed.

A natural order is a stable order. There is no chance that gravity will cease to function tomorrow, even if people stop believing in it. In contrast, an imagined order is always in danger of collapse, because it depends upon myths, and myths vanish once people stop believing in them. In order to safeguard an imagined order, continuous and strenuous efforts are imperative.

According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness. Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify. People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them. This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them. When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied. All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing ? joy, anger, boredom, lust ? but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been. The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it. It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain ?good? waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back ?bad? waves to prevent them from getting near him. Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise. Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please. How peaceful!

Archaic humans paid for their large brains in two ways. Firstly, they spent more time in search of food. Secondly, their muscles atrophied. Like a government diverting money from defence to education, humans diverted energy from biceps to neurons. It?s hardly a foregone conclusion that this is a good strategy for survival on the savannah. A chimpanzee can?t win an argument with a Homo sapiens, but the ape can rip the man apart like a rag doll.

Before the Agricultural Revolution, the human population of the entire planet was smaller than that of today?s Cairo.

Marx and other social critics quipped, Western governments were becoming a capitalist trade union.

A new branch of mathematics was developed over the last 200 years to deal with the more complex aspects of reality: statistics.

According to the science of biology, people were not ?created?. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ?equal?. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are ?equal?? Evolution is based on difference, not on equality. Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ?Created equal? should therefore be translated into ?evolved differently?.

As everyone from ancient times till today knows, clerks and accountants think in a non-human fashion. They think like filing cabinets. This is not their fault. If they don?t think that way their drawers will all get mixed up and they won?t be able to provide the services their government, company or organization requires. The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world. Free association and holistic thought have given way to compartmentalization and bureaucracy.

Before the industrialization of agriculture, most of the food produced in fields and farms was ?wasted? feeding peasants and farmyard animals. Only a small percentage was available to feed artisans, teachers, priests and bureaucrats. Consequently, in almost all societies peasants comprised more than 90 per cent of the population.

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Yuval Noah
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Israeli History Professor, Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind