Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

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

Author Quotes

Yet the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it?s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled. Legends, myths, gods and religions

The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mythical glue that binds together large numbers of individuals, families and groups. This glue has made us the masters of creation.

The tourism industry does not sell flight tickets and hotel bedrooms. It sells experiences. Paris is not a city, nor India a country ? they are both experiences, the consumption of which is supposed to widen our horizons, fulfil our human potential, and make us happier. Consequently,

There is no proof that Christianity was a better choice than Manichaeism, or that the Arab Empire was more beneficial than that of the Sassanid Persians.

This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution. When we study the narrative of plants such as wheat and maize, maybe the purely evolutionary perspective makes sense. Yet in the case of animals such as cattle, sheep and Sapiens, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, we have to consider how evolutionary success translates into individual experience.

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.7

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 destabilises, 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 neighbouring band.

We assume that a large brain, the use of tools, superior learning abilities and complex social structures are huge advantages. It seems self-evident that these have made humankind the most powerful animal on earth. But humans enjoyed all of these advantages for a full 2 million years during which they remained weak and marginal creatures. Thus humans who lived a million years ago, despite their big brains and sharp stone tools, dwelt in constant fear of predators, rarely hunted large game, and subsisted mainly by gathering plants, scooping up insects, stalking small animals, and eating the carrion left behind by other more powerful carnivores.

We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.

When Pakistan buys advanced aeroplanes, India responds in kind. When India develops nuclear bombs, Pakistan follows suit. When Pakistan enlarges its navy, India counters. At the end of the process, the balance of power may remain much as it was, but meanwhile billions of dollars that could have been invested in education or health are spent on weapons.

Why did the military?industrial?scientific complex blossom in Europe rather than India? When Britain leaped forward, why were France, Germany and the United States quick to follow, whereas China lagged behind? When the gap between industrial and non-industrial nations became an obvious economic and political factor, why did Russia, Italy and Austria succeed in closing it, whereas Persia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire failed? After all, the technology of the first industrial wave was relatively simple. Was it so hard for Chinese or Ottomans to engineer steam engines, manufacture machine guns and lay down railroads?

Yet why should Chinese, Indians, Muslims and Spaniards ? who belonged to very different cultures that failed to agree about much of anything ? nevertheless share the belief in gold? Why didn?t it happen that Spaniards believed in gold, while Muslims believed in barley, Indians in cowry shells, and Chinese in rolls of silk? Economists have a ready answer. Once trade connects two areas, the forces of supply and demand tend to equalise the prices of transportable goods. In order to understand why, consider a hypothetical case. Assume that when regular trade opened between India and the Mediterranean, Indians were uninterested in gold, so it was almost worthless. But in the Mediterranean, gold was a coveted status symbol, hence its value was high. What would happen next? Merchants travelling between India and the Mediterranean would notice the difference in the value of gold. In order to make a profit, they would buy gold cheaply in India and sell it dearly in the Mediterranean. Consequently, the demand for gold in India would skyrocket, as would its value. At the same time the Mediterranean would experience an influx of gold, whose value would consequently drop. Within a short time the value of gold in India and the Mediterranean would be quite similar. The mere fact that Mediterranean people believed in gold would cause Indians to start believing in it as well. Even if Indians still had no real use for gold, the fact that Mediterranean people wanted it would be enough to make the Indians value it. Similarly, the fact that another person believes in cowry shells, or dollars, or electronic data, is enough to strengthen our own belief in them, even if that person is otherwise hated, despised or ridiculed by us. Christians and Muslims who could not agree on religious beliefs could nevertheless agree on a monetary belief, because whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something. For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don?t know each other and don?t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

The real test of ?knowledge? is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.

The tragedy of industrial agriculture is that it takes great care of the objective needs of animals, while neglecting their subjective needs.

There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.

This enterprise may sound a little strange to us, but in the early modern age it was common for private companies to hire not only soldiers, but also generals and admirals, cannons and ships, and even entire off-the-shelf armies. The international community took this for granted and didn?t raise an eyebrow when a private company established an empire.

To explain ?why? means to find causal connections that account for the occurrence of this particular series of events to the exclusion of all others.

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.

We begin with the story of the greatest conqueror in history, a conqueror possessed of extreme tolerance and adaptability, thereby turning people into ardent disciples. This conqueror is money. People who do not believe in the same god or obey the same king are more than willing to use the same money.

We thought we were saving time; instead we revved up the treadmill of life to ten times its former speed and made our days more anxious and agitated.

When the Europeans conquered America, they opened gold and silver mines and established sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations. These mines and plantations became the mainstay of American production and export. The sugar plantations were particularly important. In the Middle Ages, sugar was a rare luxury in Europe. It was imported from the Middle East at prohibitive prices and used sparingly as a secret ingredient in delicacies and snake-oil medicines. After large sugar plantations were established in America, ever-increasing amounts of sugar began to reach Europe. The price of sugar dropped and Europe developed an insatiable sweet tooth. Entrepreneurs met this need by producing huge quantities of sweets: cakes, cookies, chocolate, candy, and sweetened beverages such as cocoa, coffee and tea. The annual sugar intake of the average Englishman rose from near zero in the early seventeenth century to around eighteen pounds in the early nineteenth century.

Why would any sane person lower his or her standard of living just to multiply the number of copies of the Homo sapiens genome? Nobody agreed to this deal: the Agricultural Revolution was a trap.

You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.

The remains of the wall built by WIC to defend its colony against Indians and British are today paved over by the world?s most famous street ? Wall Street.

The transition first to agriculture and then to industry has condemned us to living unnatural lives that cannot give full expression to our inherent inclinations and instincts, and therefore cannot satisfy our deepest yearnings.

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