Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

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

Author Quotes

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.

We members of one of its final generations should devote some time to answering one last question:

When Cort‚s and his men landed on the sunny beaches of today?s Vera Cruz, it was the first time the Aztecs encountered a completely unknown people. The Aztecs did not know how to react. They had trouble deciding what these strangers were. Unlike all known humans, the aliens had white skins. They also had lots of facial hair. Some had hair the colour of the sun. They stank horribly. (Native hygiene was far better than Spanish hygiene. When the Spaniards first arrived in Mexico, natives bearing incense burners were assigned to accompany them wherever they went. The Spaniards thought it was a mark of divine honour. We know from native sources that they found the newcomers? smell unbearable.)

While people in today?s affluent societies work an average of forty to forty-five hours a week, and people in the developing world work sixty and even eighty hours a week, hunter-gatherers living today in the most inhospitable of habitats ? such as the Kalahari Desert ? work on average for just thirty-five to forty-five hours a week.

Yet the idea that all humans are equal is also a myth.

The problem at the root of such calamities is that humans evolved for millions of years in small bands of a few dozen individuals. The handful of millennia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires was not enough time to allow an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve.

The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion.7 More than 90 per cent of all money ? more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts ? exists only on computer servers.

There is little sense, then, in arguing that the natural function of women is to give birth, or that homosexuality is unnatural. Most of the laws, norms, rights and obligations that define manhood and womanhood reflect human imagination more than biological reality.

Think for a moment about the Agricultural Revolution from the viewpoint of wheat. Ten thousand years ago wheat was just a wild grass, one of many, confined to a small range in the Middle East. Suddenly, within just a few short millennia, it was growing all over the world. According to the basic evolutionary criteria of survival and reproduction, wheat has become one of the most successful plants in the history of the earth. In areas such as the Great Plains of North America, where not a single wheat stalk grew 10,000 years ago, you can today walk for hundreds upon hundreds of miles without encountering any other plant. Worldwide, wheat covers about 870,000 square miles of the globe?s surface, almost ten times the size of Britain. How did this grass turn from insignificant to ubiquitous? 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. Wheat didn?t like rocks and pebbles, so Sapiens broke their backs clearing fields. Wheat didn?t like sharing its space, water and nutrients with other plants, so men and women laboured long days weeding under the scorching sun. Wheat got sick, so Sapiens had to keep a watch out for worms and blight. Wheat was attacked by rabbits and locust swarms, so the farmers built fences and stood guard over the fields. Wheat was thirsty, so humans dug irrigation canals or lugged heavy buckets from the well to water it. Sapiens even collected animal faeces to nourish the ground in which wheat grew.

Titled The New Instrument. In it he argued that ?knowledge is power?. 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.

Two million years ago, genetic mutations resulted in the appearance of a new human species called Homo erectus.

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