I have been listening to a book on tape, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I do this while I walk-about during my ample new-found freedom during the normal work week. On most days lately, it’s been too cold to bicycle, so walking has seemed to be the next best recourse for exercise. Listing to Mr. Harari’s book while I wander seems like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. I can exercise the body, while I exercise the mind. This pairing offers me a heighten level of concentration. I have to thank Harry for this steer. He asked for this book for Christmas. I got it for him, but I also borrowed it from Hoopla, a digital lending service that our library now supports.
Overheard in the human evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian, “What I don’t like is the way they present it as if it was gospel. It’s just a theory isn’t it?”
Harari begins his human history about 100,000 years ago. At that time there were more members of the homo genius than just our sapiens specie. Harari spends little time on our cousins though, belaying his subtitle, A Brief history of Humankind. Instead, he concentrates on us, his readers. Harari hypothesis four revolutions that have occurred through the course of the development of modern humans. The first revolution, which he terms the cognitive revolution is supposed to have occurred coincidently about 100,000 years ago. At that time our ancestors developed a set of beliefs that propelled them and us to our current position of world domination. He terms these beliefs myths and extends them beyond their ancestral origins to the present day. He heretically extends his conceit on myths to almost most of our modern foundational belief systems. He is a skilled and persuasive devil’s advocate.
“Crocodilians, Crocodilians, one is short, one is tall, Crocodilians, Crocodilians“, sung by a young girl in the Smithsonian’s bones exhibit.
After having studied other primate species, Harari explains that the maximum size of their social orders is limited to about 150 individuals. Organizations larger than that cannot be sustained. They simply break apart into new subgroups of us versus them. He contends that a shared belief system of something greater than ourselves has allowed humankind to transcend this boundary. He calls this shared belief system our myths. Our shared belief in these myths have allowed us to organize into social groups orders of magnitude larger than any of our brother species. It is this power of numbers that has propelled us to our current place at the apex of the world. Other common explanations for our advancement, like tool building and language, are dismissed, because they also occur in other species.
What Anne said to me, after I told her about all the great pictures that I had taken in the Smithsonian’s minerals and gems exhibit, “That was very gneiss of you. I won’t take you for granite. Shale we go now?”
In Sapiens Mr. Harari puts forward many interesting ideas, but they have not been universally accepted. He has been criticized for errors in his book. These reviews seem like nitpicking. I find many of his theories to be fascinating. I look forward to stepping further in to his work and in the future sharing what I find.