Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah

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

Author Quotes

This is the fly in the ointment of free-market capitalism. It cannot ensure that profits are gained in a fair way, or distributed in a fair manner. On the contrary, the craving to increase profits and production blinds people to anything that might stand in the way.

Today, parental authority is in full retreat. Youngsters are increasingly excused from obeying their elders, whereas parents are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the life of their child. Mum and Dad are about as likely to be found innocent in the Freudian courtroom as were defendants in a Stalinist show trial.

Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions. 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.

We have incontrovertible evidence of domesticated dogs from about 15,000 years ago. They may have joined the human pack thousands of years earlier.

What if it turns out that the subjects of large empires are generally happier than the citizens of independent states and that, for example, Ghanaians were happier under British colonial rule than under their own homegrown dictators? What would that say about the process of decolonization and the value of national self-determination?

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.

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?

The shape and size of the mark varied tremendously throughout history, but the message was always the same: ?I, the Great King So-And-So, give you my personal word that this metal disc contains exactly 0.2 ounces of gold. If anyone dares counterfeit this coin, it means he is fabricating my own signature, which would be a blot on my reputation. I will punish such a crime with the utmost severity.? That?s why counterfeiting money has always been considered a much more serious crime than other acts of deception. Counterfeiting is not just cheating ? it?s a breach of sovereignty, an act of subversion against the power, privileges and person of the king. The legal term is lese-majesty (violating majesty), and was typically punished by torture and death. As long as people trusted the power and integrity of the king, they trusted his coins. Total strangers could easily agree on the worth of a Roman denarius coin, because they trusted the power and integrity of the Roman emperor, whose name and picture adorned it.

The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus ? ?we do not know?. It

These long millennia may well have witnessed wars and revolutions, ecstatic religious movements, profound philosophical theories, incomparable artistic masterpieces. The foragers may have had their all-conquering Napoleons, who ruled empires half the size of Luxembourg; gifted Beethovens who lacked symphony orchestras but brought people to tears with the sound of their bamboo flutes; and charismatic prophets who revealed the words of a local oak tree rather than those of a universal creator god. But these are all mere guesses. The curtain of silence is so thick that we cannot even be sure such things occurred ? let alone describe them in detail.

This network of artificial instincts is called culture?.

Today, the global average is only 1.5 per cent, taking war and crime together. During the twentieth century, only 5 per cent of human deaths resulted from human violence ? and this in a century that saw the bloodiest wars

Unlike the laws of physics, which are free of inconsistencies, every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change.

We have no idea what the builders of G”bekli Tepe actually called the place. With the appearance of writing, we are beginning to hear history through the ears of its protagonists. When Kushim?s neighbours called out to him, they might really have shouted ?Kushim!? It is telling that the first recorded name in history belongs to an accountant, rather than a prophet, a poet or a great conqueror.1

What was so important about a metal that could not be eaten, drunk or woven, and was too soft to use for tools or weapons?

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.

worship of gods. Buddhism told people that they should aim for the ultimate goal of complete liberation from suffering, rather than for stops along the way such as economic prosperity and political power. However, 99 per cent of Buddhists did not attain nirvana, and even if they hoped to do so in some future lifetime, they devoted most of their present lives to the pursuit of mundane achievements. So they continued to worship various gods, such as the Hindu gods in India, the Bon gods in Tibet, and the Shinto gods in Japan. Moreover, as time went by several Buddhist sects developed pantheons of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. These are human and non-human beings with the capacity to achieve full liberation from suffering but who forego this liberation out of compassion, in order to help the countless beings still trapped in the cycle of misery. Instead of worshipping gods, many Buddhists began worshipping these enlightened beings, asking them for help not only in attaining nirvana, but also in dealing with mundane problems. Thus we find many Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout East Asia who spend their time bringing rain, stopping plagues, and even winning bloody wars ? in exchange for prayers, colourful flowers, fragrant incense and gifts of rice and candy.

The single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it.

The world?s first commercial railroad opened for business in 1830, in Britain. By 1850, Western nations were criss-crossed by almost 25,000 miles of railroads ? but in the whole of Asia, Africa and Latin America there were only 2,500 miles of tracks. In 1880, the West boasted more than 220,000 miles of railroads, whereas in the rest of the world there were but 22,000 miles of train lines (and most of these were laid by the British in India).5 The first railroad in China opened only in 1876. It was 15 miles long and built by Europeans ? the Chinese government destroyed it the following year. In 1880 the Chinese Empire did not operate a single railroad. The first railroad in Persia was built only in 1888, and it connected Tehran with a Muslim holy site about 6 miles south of the capital. It was constructed and operated by a Belgian company. In 1950, the total railway network of Persia still amounted to a meagre 1,500 miles, in a country seven times the size of Britain.

they are nothing but the perpetuation of chance events supported by myths.

This new religion has had a decisive influence on the development of modern science, too. Scientific research is usually funded by either governments or private businesses. When capitalist governments and businesses consider investing in a particular scientific project, the first questions are usually, ?Will this project enable us to increase production and profits? Will it produce economic growth?? A project that can?t clear these hurdles has little chance of finding a sponsor. No history of modern science can leave capitalism out of the picture. Conversely, the history of capitalism is unintelligible without taking science into account. Capitalism?s belief in perpetual economic growth flies in the face of almost everything we know about the universe. A society of wolves would be extremely foolish to believe that the supply of sheep would keep on growing indefinitely. The human economy has nevertheless managed to keep on growing throughout the modern era, thanks only to the fact that scientists come up with another discovery or gadget every few years ? such as the continent of America, the internal combustion engine, or genetically engineered sheep. Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot the bill.

Today, the society called New Zealand is composed of 4.5 million Sapiens and 50 million sheep.

Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, the large sea animals suffered relatively little from the Cognitive and Agricultural Revolutions. But many of them are on the brink of extinction now as a result of industrial pollution and human overuse of oceanic resources. If things continue at the present pace, it is likely that whales, sharks, tuna and dolphins will follow the diprotodons, ground sloths and mammoths to oblivion. Among all the world?s large creatures, the only survivors of the human flood will be humans themselves, and the farmyard animals that serve as galley slaves in Noah?s Ark.

We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology.

What was the Sapiens? secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn?t even the strong, brainy, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

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