Israeli History Professor, Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari
Israeli History Professor, Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Whenever they decided to do a bit of extra work ? say, to hoe the fields instead of scattering seeds on the surface ? people thought, ?Yes, we will have to work harder. But the harvest will be so bountiful! We won?t have to worry any more about lean years. Our children will never go to sleep hungry.? It made sense. If you worked harder, you would have a better life. That was the plan.
Writing was born as the maidservant of human consciousness, but is increasingly becoming its master. 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.
The Spanish and Portuguese empires proclaimed that it was not riches they sought in the Indies and America, but converts to the true faith. The sun never set on the British mission to spread the twin gospels of liberalism and free trade. The Soviets felt duty-bound to facilitate the inexorable historical march from capitalism towards the utopian dictatorship of the proletariat. Many Americans nowadays maintain that their government has a moral imperative to bring Third World countries the benefits of democracy and human rights, even if these goods are delivered by cruise missiles and F-16s.
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 specialising in chocolate cakes and croissants without causing bakeries specialising 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 expect the first mammoth in 5,000 years to be born.
Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven?t given it enough thought.
Traditional agricultural societies lived in the awful shade of starvation. In the affluent world of today one of the leading health problems is obesity, which strikes the poor (who stuff themselves with hamburgers and pizzas) even more severely than the rich (who eat organic salads and fruit smoothies). Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. 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.
Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human know-how to overcome the world?s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius ? who knew everything there is to know ? were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 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?. Just as people were never created, neither, according to the science of biology, is there a ?Creator? who ?endows? them with anything. There is only a blind evolutionary process, devoid of any purpose, leading to the birth of individuals. ?Endowed by their creator? should be translated simply into ?born?. Equally, there are no such things as rights in biology. There are only organs, abilities and characteristics. Birds fly not because they have a right to fly, but because they have wings. And it?s not true that these organs, abilities and characteristics are ?unalienable?. Many of them undergo constant mutations, and may well be completely lost over time. The ostrich is a bird that lost its ability to fly. So ?unalienable rights? should be translated into ?mutable characteristics?. And what are the characteristics that evolved in humans? ?Life?, certainly. But ?liberty?? There is no such thing in biology. Just like equality, rights and limited liability companies, liberty is something that people invented and that exists only in their imagination. From a biological viewpoint, it is meaningless to say that humans in democratic societies are free, whereas humans in dictatorships are unfree. And what about ?happiness?? So far biological research has failed to come up with a clear definition of happiness or a way to measure it objectively. Most biological studies acknowledge only the existence of pleasure, which is more easily defined and measured. So ?life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? should be translated into ?life and the pursuit of pleasure?. So here is that line from the American Declaration of Independence translated into biological terms: 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.
Wheat did it by manipulating Homo sapiens to its advantage. This ape had been living a fairly comfortable life hunting and gathering until about 10,000 years ago, but then began to invest more and more effort in cultivating wheat. Within a couple of millennia, humans in many parts of the world were doing little from dawn to dusk other than taking care of wheat plants. It wasn?t easy. Wheat demanded a lot of them.
Which we?ve immodestly named Homo sapiens, ?Wise Man?.
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.
the St Bartholomew?s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours. When the pope in Rome heard the news from France, he was so overcome by joy that he organised festive prayers to celebrate the occasion and commissioned Giorgio Vasari to decorate one of the Vatican?s rooms with a fresco of the massacre (the room is currently off-limits to visitors).2 More Christians were killed by fellow Christians in those twenty-four hours than by the polytheistic Roman Empire throughout its entire existence.
Then what will happen tomorrow? Nobody knows.
They hunted and the plants they gathered. Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history?s biggest fraud.2 Who was responsible? Neither kings,
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.