Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

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

Author Quotes

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

Treating living creatures possessing complex emotional worlds as if they were machines is likely to cause them not only physical discomfort, but also much social stress and psychological frustration.

Up until then humans had displayed some innovative adaptations and behaviours, but their effect on their environment had been negligible. They had demonstrated remarkable success in moving into and adjusting to various habitats, but they did so without drastically changing those habitats. The settlers of Australia, or more accurately, its conquerors, didn?t just adapt, they transformed the Australian ecosystem beyond recognition.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.

When agriculture and industry came along people could increasingly rely on the skills of others for survival, and new ?niches for imbeciles? were opened up. You could survive and pass your unremarkable genes to the next generation by working as a water carrier or an assembly-line worker.

Which will enable either a human or an automatic operator to control the insect?s movements remotely and to absorb and transmit information.

Yet over the last 200 years, the life sciences have thoroughly undermined this belief. Scientists studying the inner workings of the human organism have found no soul there. They increasingly argue that human behavior is determined by hormones, genes and synapses, rather than by free will ? the same forces that determine the behavior of chimpanzees, wolves, and ants. Our judicial and political systems largely try to sweep such inconvenient discoveries under the carpet.

The prevailing feeling is that too many opportunities are opening too quickly and that our ability to modify genes is outpacing our capacity for making wise and farsighted use of the skill. The result is that we?re at present using only a fraction of the potential of genetic engineering. Most of the organisms now being engineered are those with the weakest political lobbies ? plants, fungi, bacteria and insects. For

The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics.

There are about 80,000 giraffes in the world, compared to 1.5 billion cattle; only 200,000 wolves, compared to 400 million domesticated dogs; only 250,000 chimpanzees ? in contrast to billions of humans.

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

Thus producing the first Neanderthal child in 30,000 years.

turned out that 1?4 per cent of the unique human DNA of modern populations in the Middle East and Europe is Neanderthal DNA. That?s not a huge amount, but it?s significant. A second shock came several months later, when DNA extracted from the fossilised finger from Denisova was mapped. The results proved that up to 6 per cent of the unique human DNA of modern Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians is Denisovan DNA. If these results are valid ? and it?s important to keep in mind that further research is under way and may either reinforce or modify these conclusions ? the Interbreeders got at least some things right. But that doesn?t mean that the Replacement Theory is completely wrong. Since Neanderthals and Denisovans contributed only a small amount of DNA to our present-day genome, it is impossible to speak of a ?merger? between Sapiens and other human species. Although differences between them were not large enough to completely prevent fertile intercourse, they were sufficient to make such contacts very rare.

Us is not ?What do we want to become??, but ?What do we want to want?

We like to see underdogs win. But there is no justice in history. Most past cultures have sooner or later fallen prey to the armies of some ruthless empire, which have consigned them to oblivion. Empires, too, ultimately fall, but they tend to leave behind rich and enduring legacies. Almost all people in the twenty-first century are the offspring of one empire or another.

When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Whichever way it happened, the Neanderthals (and the other human species) pose one of history?s great what ifs. Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted? How, for example, would religious faiths have unfolded? Would the book of Genesis have declared that Neanderthals descend from Adam and Eve, would Jesus have died for the sins of the Denisovans, and would the Qur?an have reserved seats in heaven for all righteous humans, whatever their species? Would Neanderthals have been able to serve in the Roman legions, or in the sprawling bureaucracy of imperial China? Would the American Declaration of Independence hold as a self-evident truth that all members of the genus Homo are created equal? Would Karl Marx have urged workers of all species to unite?

Yet Smith?s claim that the selfish human urge to increase private profits is the basis for collective wealth is one of the most revolutionary ideas in human history ? revolutionary not just from an economic perspective, but even more so from a moral and political perspective. What Smith says is, in fact, that greed is good, and that by becoming richer I benefit everybody, not just myself. Egoism is altruism.

The principal difference between them and tribal shamans is that modern lawyers tell far stranger tales.

The stress of farming had far-reaching consequences. It was the foundation of large-scale political and social systems. Sadly, the diligent peasants almost never achieved the future economic security they so craved through their hard work in the present. Everywhere, rulers and elites sprang up, living off the peasants? surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.

There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.

They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

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 Catholics who have never met can nevertheless go together on crusade or pool funds to build a hospital because they both believe that God was incarnated in human flesh and allowed Himself to be crucified to redeem our sins. States are rooted in common national myths. Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag. Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Two lawyers who have never met can nevertheless combine efforts to defend a complete stranger because they both believe in the existence of laws, justice, human rights ? and the money paid out in fees. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.

Voltaire said about God that ?there is no God, but don?t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night?. Hammurabi would have said the same about his principle of hierarchy, and Thomas Jefferson about human rights. Homo sapiens has no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas and chimpanzees have no natural rights. But don?t tell that to our servants, lest they murder us at night.

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