Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Yuval Noah Harari: "Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights."

The topic is writer and historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book Sapiens. Those with an hour and a half to devote to this Sam Harris conversation with Harari are urged to do so.

Reality and the Imagination: A Conversation with Yuval Noah Harari (Sam Harris)

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Yuval Noah Harari about meditation, the need for stories, the power of technology to erase the boundary between fact and fiction, wealth inequality, the problem of finding meaning in a world without work, religion as a virtual reality game, the difference between pain and suffering, the future of globalism, and other topics.

Harari's web site dives straight into it.


Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.

Starting from this provocative idea, Sapiens goes on to retell the history of our species from a completely fresh perspective. It explains that money is the most pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised; that capitalism is the most successful religion ever invented; that the treatment of animals in modern agriculture is probably the worst crime in history; and that even though we are far more powerful than our ancient ancestors, we aren’t much happier.

By combining profound insights with a remarkably vivid language, Sapiens has already acquired almost cultic status among diverse audiences, captivating teenagers as well as university professors, animal rights activists alongside government ministers. It is currently being translated into close to thirty languages.

Some of the questions here are thought-provoking.

Yuval Noah Harari: ‘Homo sapiens as we know them will disappear in a century or so’, by Andrew Anthony (The Guardian)

The visionary historian, author of two dazzling bestsellers on the state of mankind, takes questions from Lucy Prebble, Arianna Huffington, Esther Rantzen and a selection of our readers

Last week, on his Radio 2 breakfast show, Chris Evans read out the first page of Sapiens, the book by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. Given that radio audiences at that time in the morning are not known for their appetite for intellectual engagement – the previous segment had dealt with Gary Barlow’s new tour – it was an unusual gesture. But as Evans said, “the first page is the most stunning first page of any book”.

If DJs are prone to mindless hyperbole, this was an honourable exception. The subtitle of Sapiens, in an echo of Stephen Hawking’s great work, is A Brief History of Humankind. In grippingly lucid prose, Harari sets out on that first page a condensed history of the universe, followed by a summary of the book’s thesis: how the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution and the scientific revolution have affected humans and their fellow organisms.

It is a dazzlingly bold introduction, which the remainder of the book lives up to on almost every page. Although Sapiens has been widely and loudly praised, some critics have suggested that it is too sweeping. Perhaps, but it is an intellectual joy to be swept along.

In closing, a review that explores "deep history" more ... well, deeply.

70,000 Years of Human History in 400 Pages, by Michael Saler (The Nation)

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and the rise of Deep History

... But those who dismiss Sapiens as just another installment of “History for Dummies” would be mistaken. Harari’s synthesis is hard-won: He has read widely, even if his citations don’t always reveal this, and his occasional glibness is a calculated strategy. Many of his grand pronouncements are followed by some reassuring version of “In fact, things were never quite that simple.” He intends to entertain, while posing serious questions worth entertaining. Sapiens will fascinate teenagers and adults alike, and it may be one of the few nonfiction books to have the crossover appeal of much of today’s “YA” fiction. (There is plenty of adolescent humor: Harari illustrates a point about how culture can trump biology by captioning a picture of Pope Francis, “The Catholic alpha male abstains from sexual intercourse and raising a family, even though there is no genetic or ecological reason for him to do so.”)

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