Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah
Harari
1976

Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Author Quotes

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?

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.

Were the Australian extinction an isolated event, we could grant humans the benefit of the doubt. But the historical record makes Homo sapiens look like an ecological serial killer.

When the gods created man, Gilgamesh had learned, they set death as man?s inevitable destiny, and man must learn to live with it.

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?

We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society.

What do we want to become?

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 honor. We know from native sources that they found the newcomers? smell unbearable.)

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.

We cannot explain the choices that history makes, but we can say something very important about them: history?s choices are not made for the benefit of humans. There is absolutely no proof that human well-being inevitably improves as history rolls along. There is no proof that cultures that are beneficial to humans must inexorably succeed and spread, while less beneficial cultures disappear.

What enables banks ? and the entire economy ? to survive and flourish is our trust in the future. This trust is the sole backing for most of the money in the world.

When two males are contesting the alpha position, they usually do so by forming extensive coalitions of supporters, both male and female, from within the group. Ties between coalition members are based on intimate daily contact ? hugging, touching, kissing, grooming and mutual favors. Just as human politicians on election campaigns go around shaking hands and kissing babies, so aspirants to the top position in a chimpanzee group spend much time hugging, back-slapping and kissing baby chimps. The alpha male usually wins his position not because he is physically stronger, but because he leads a large and stable coalition. These coalitions play a central part not only during overt struggles for the alpha position, but in almost all day-to-day activities. Members of a coalition spend more time together, share food, and help one another in times of trouble.

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.

We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word ?domesticate? comes from the Latin domus, which means ?house?. Who?s the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It?s the Sapiens.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 neighbors 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.

Whatever is possible is by definition also natural.

When we try to guess or imagine how happy other people are now, or how people in the past were, we inevitably imagine ourselves in their shoes. But that won?t work because it pastes our expectations on to the material conditions of others. In modern affluent societies it is customary to take a shower and change your clothes every day. Medieval peasants went without washing for months on end, and hardly ever changed their clothes. The very thought of living like that, filthy and reeking to the bone, is abhorrent to us. Yet medieval peasants seem not to have minded. They were used to the feel and smell of a long-unlaundered shirt. It?s not that they wanted a change of clothes but couldn?t get it ? they had what they wanted. So, at least as far as clothing goes, they were content.

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

Author Picture
First Name
Yuval Noah
Last Name
Harari
Birth Date
1976
Bio

Israeli Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind