Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
Thoughts: It’s been a while since I read Sapiens, but I remember it being a very thought-provoking book. Would recommend.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)
Harari, Yuval Noah. 2016. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Signal.
- 31: stories invented by humans underlay the social structures of ‘primitive tribes’, but “modern institutions function on exactly the same basis.”
- 35: “much of history revolves around this question: how does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies?”
- 51: “Ever since the Cognitive Revolution there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.”
- 68: “Just as foragers exhibited a wide array of religions and social structures, so, too, did they probably demonstrate a variety of violence rates.”
- 124: “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”
- 164: “Biology enables, culture forbids.”
- 181: Culture is comprised of myths and fictions that tell us what to think and how to behave, in the service of allowing cooperation between people.
- 239: When a culture believes in multiple gods, the gods’ powers are limited/partial, have interests and biases, and thus humans can make deals with them to advance the humans’ causes.
- 247: Zoroastrianism, the most important dualistic religion. 1500-1000 BC, prophet Zoroaster active somewhere in Central Asia.
245-248: Catholicism is syncretic, combining polytheist, dualist and
- Monotheist: one omnipotent god
- Dualist: God vs. Devil, mind vs. body
- Polytheist: saints, ghosts, angels
- 269: “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 can imagine.”
- 188-189: Francis Bacon argued that ‘knowledge is power’. “The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists normally assume that no theory is 100 percent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test of knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.”
- 305: “Scientific research can flourish only in alliance with some religion or ideology. The ideology justifies the cost of research. In exchange, the ideology influences the scientific agenda and determines what to do with the discoveries.”
- 366: A country’s economic well-being today depends less on its natural resources and more on its credit rating.
- 409: The sole universal characteristic of modern society is incessant change.
- 447: to look up: Brazilian bio-artist Eduardo Kac and Alba, the flourescent green rabbit.
- 456: to look up: scientists from Duke University who have trained monkeys to use bionic limbs.
Posted: Jun 05, 2022. Last updated: Aug 31, 2023.