Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

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

Author Quotes

No single step separated the woman gathering wild wheat from the woman farming domesticated wheat, so it?s hard to say exactly when the decisive transition to agriculture took place. But, by 8500 BC, the Middle East was peppered with permanent villages such as Jericho, whose inhabitants spent most of their time cultivating a few domesticated species.

A person who just won the lottery or found new love and jumps from joy is not really reacting to the money or the lover. She is reacting to various hormones coursing through her bloodstream, and to the storm of electric signals flashing between different parts of her brain.

Advocates of equality and human rights may be outraged by this line of reasoning. Their response is likely to be, ?We know that people are not equal biologically! But if we believe that we are all equal in essence, it will enable us to create a stable and prosperous society.? I have no argument with that. This is exactly what I mean by ?imagined order?. 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.

As far as we can tell from a purely scientific viewpoint, human life has absolutely no meaning. Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose. Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people inscribe to their lives is just a delusion.

Behind the meteoric rise of both science and empire lurks one particularly important force: capitalism. Were it not for businessmen seeking to make money, Columbus would not have reached America, James Cook would not have reached Australia, and Neil Armstrong would never have taken that small step on the surface of the moon.

A modern calf in an industrial meat farm. Immediately after birth the calf is separated from its mother and locked inside a tiny cage not much bigger than the calf?s own body. There the calf spends its entire life ? about four months on average. It never leaves its cage, nor is it allowed to play with other calves or even walk ? all so that its muscles will not grow strong. Soft muscles mean a soft and juicy steak. The first time the calf has a chance to walk, stretch its muscles and touch other calves is on its way to the slaughterhouse. 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. {Photo and ? Anonymous for Animal Rights (Israel).}

Some of the earliest Chinese texts are oracle bones, dating to 1200 BC, used to divine the future. On one was engraved the question: ?Will Lady Hao?s childbearing be lucky?? To which was written the reply: ?If the child is born on a ding day, lucky; if on a geng day, vastly auspicious.? However, Lady Hao was to give birth on a jiayin day. The text ends with the morose observation: ?Three weeks and one day later, on jiayin day, the child was born. Not lucky. It was a girl.

A pirate who loots a Spanish treasure fleet and buries a chest full of glittering coins on the beach of some Caribbean island is not a capitalist.

After the agricultural revolution, human societies grew ever larger and more complex, while the imagined constructs sustaining the social order also became more elaborate. Myths and fictions accustomed people, nearly from the moment of birth, to think in certain ways, to behave in accordance with certain standards, to want certain things, and to observe certain rules. They thereby created artificial instincts that enabled millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. This network of artificial instincts is called ?culture?.

As Jesus said, ?It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God? (Matthew 19:24).

Between 1885 and 1908 the pursuit of growth and profits cost the lives of 6 million individuals (at least 20 per cent of the Congo?s population).

Any attempt to define the characteristics of modern society is akin to defining the color of a chameleon.

The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution. What caused it? We?re not sure. The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of

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.

All other animals that went into the sea (seals, Sirenia, dolphins) had to evolve over eons to develop specialized organs and streamlined body. Sapiens Indonesia, descendants of apes that lived in the African savannah, became navigators of the Pacific without grow their fins without having to wait for your nose migrate to the top of the head, as happened to cetaceans . Instead, they built boats and learned how to govern. And these skills enabled them to reach and colonize Australia.

As long as my personal narrative is in line with the narratives of the people around me, I can convince myself that my life is meaningful, and find happiness in that conviction.

Between the years 3500 BC and 3000 BC, some unknown Sumerian geniuses invented a system for storing and processing information outside their brains, one that was custom-built to handle large amounts of mathematical data. The Sumerians thereby released their social order from the limitations of the human brain, opening the way for the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires. The data-processing system invented by the Sumerians is called ?writing?.

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.

Unfortunately, complex human societies seem to require imagined hierarchies and unjust discrimination. Of course not all hierarchies are morally identical, and some societies suffered from more extreme types of discrimination than others, yet scholars know of no large society that has been able to dispense with discrimination altogether. Time and again people have created order in their societies by classifying the population into imagined categories, such as superiors, commoners and slaves; whites and blacks; patricians and plebeians; Brahmins and Shudras; or rich and poor. These categories have regulated relations between millions of humans by making some people legally, politically or socially superior to others.

A significant number of human cultures have viewed homosexual relations as not only legitimate but even socially constructive, ancient Greece being the most notable example. The Iliad does not mention that Thetis had any objection to her son Achilles? relations with Patroclus. Queen Olympias of Macedon was one of the most temperamental and forceful women of the ancient world, and even had her own husband, King Philip, assassinated. Yet she didn?t have a fit when her son, Alexander the Great, brought his lover Hephaestion home for dinner.

Almost everything people did throughout history was fuelled by solar energy that was captured by plants and converted into muscle power. Human history was consequently dominated by two main cycles: the growth cycles of plants and the changing cycles of solar energy (day and night, summer and winter). When sunlight was scarce and when wheat fields were still green, humans had little energy. Granaries were empty, tax collectors were idle, soldiers found it difficult to move and fight, and kings tended to keep the peace. When the sun shone brightly and the wheat ripened, peasants harvested the crops and filled the granaries. Tax collectors hurried to take their share. Soldiers flexed their muscles and sharpened their swords. Kings convened councils and planned their next campaigns. Everyone was fuelled by solar energy ? captured and packaged in wheat, rice and potatoes.

As long as people are willing to trade goods and services in exchange for electronic data, it?s even better than shiny coins and crisp banknotes ? lighter, less bulky, and easier to keep track of. For

Biological reality is not black and white. There are also important grey areas.

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