Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
Please visit my complete bookshelf. I took these notes to further my own learning.
[I. Brief Summary]
- Human history has been shaped by three major revolutions: the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago), the Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago), and the Scientific Revolution (500 years ago). These revolutions have empowered humans to do something no other form of life has done, which is to create and connect around stories and ideas that do not physically exist (religion, capitalism, and politics). These shared “myths” have enabled humans to take over the globe and have put humankind on the verge of overcoming the forces of natural selection.
[II. Big Ideas]
- Species: animals belong to the same species if they tend to mate and give birth to fertile offsprings. - Genus: species evolved from the common ancestor. They, usually, won’t mate but can be induced to do so. Eg. Mule (Horse and Donkey), and Liger (Lion and Tiger). - “Homo” genus and “Sapiens” (wise) are species. Wise man. Some other members of our genus are, now extinct, Homo Erectus and Homo Neanderthalensis. Homo Sapiens’ closest living species is Chimpanzees. - Prehistoric humans (2 million years old or so) were no more important and impressive than other mammals. - Members of the Homo genus evolved in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago. Only our species survived to the present day and we are not sure why this is. - The author believes it is unlikely Homo sapiens will survive for another 1,000 years.
The Cognitive Revolution
- The Rise of Homo Sapiens: - Human brains account for 2-3 percent of body size, but use 25 percent of energy, 8% is the norm for other apes. Homo genus has unusually big brains and big energy drains. The big brain is an even bigger cause of human infants which are born relatively prematurely (in terms of physical strength) compared to the other species. The long gestation period and the raising of the child implied that the evolution favored strong social ties in humans. - Human kind was very much in the middle of the food chain until 400,000 years ago and didn't leap to the top of the food chain until 100,000 years ago. - From about 300,000 years ago our genus began using fire not only to clear forests but for cooking food. This created a revolution as it allowed us to eat foods we normally can’t digest (faster to digest), killing bacteria and massively decreasing the amount of time chewing and digesting our food. - Long intestines and large brains are both energy drains, it is hard to have both. Cooking food lead to shortened intestines and hence, our brains could grow bigger. As Homo Sapiens spread from East Africa to Arabian peninsula, Europe, and Asia, they drove other Homo species like Neanderthals to extinction. Some interbreeding did happen but it was mostly the Sapien’s superior social skills which allowed them to tribe up and drove other Homo species everywhere into extinction. - About 100,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens migrated out of Africa but retreated after losing to Neanderthals. About 70,000 years ago they tried again, and this time they succeeded due to the invention of language which allowed them to invent tons of things like boats, lamps, needles, etc. This Cognitive revolution allowed Homo Sapiens to dominate the earth. Anthropologists believe that our complex language was used more for gossip than to discuss where to prey. And from there evolved the ability to create and believe in myths. The myths allowed us to collaborate and cooperate in large numbers in the form of tribes and now, in the form of nation-states. - Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, humans have been living in a dual reality: the physical reality and the imagined reality. An imagined reality is not a lie because the entire group believes it. - Religion is a myth; Nation-States are myths; the Limited-Liability corporation is a myth; US Declaration of Independence is a myth; all are figments of our imagination. Unlike animals, trees, fish, rivers, the aforementioned myths have no association with a real physical entity. These myths, surprisingly, allow the believers to work together and collectively. These myths are not different from the primitive myths of the tribal men most modern people would laugh at. Homo Sapiens ability to believe in myths allows us to form big groups of millions of individuals who have never met each other. Other animals like Apes and Chimpanzees are limited to the size of 25-30 animals who all know each other; such animals cannot form large groups. - The other big advantage of passing myths via language is that it does not require any DNA mutations. - Catholic & Buddhist monks pass on the celibacy, not via genes but by imparting their religion (myth) to the followers, some of who, convert. And that’s probably how Homo Sapiens defeated Neanderthals. - In academic circles, stories are known as fictions, social constructs, or imagined realities. - While Sapiens would have lost a one-on-one combat, they could form much larger groups which Neanderthals could not. - Except for the past 10,000 years, Sapiens evolved in pre-agricultural hunter forager societies. They shaped our psychological and social characteristics. These ancient foragers know a lot more about their surroundings than us. While we, collectively, as a human society know a lot more, the individuals today know a lot less. Forager societies tend to end wide and varied diet and hence, had a lower chance of malnutrition than the farmers who would eat a few staple crops. Their working hours were lesser(30-35 hours per week), and since they neither engaged in the domestication of the animals nor stayed in dense settlements, the epidemics were rare. Some anthropologists, therefore, call hunter-gather societies the original affluent society. Little beyond that is known about these hunter-gatherers. They probably had animistic beliefs. No one knows whether they were monogamous or not, had a concept of private property or not, had festivals and taboos or not. - About 45,000 years ago, some Sapiens living on Indonesian islands figured out the art of building boats and eventually reached Australia. This was the first time, Homo Sapiens stepped out of the Afro-Asian ecosystem, and they wreck havoc on the isolated Australian continent ecosystem. 23 out of 24 species larger than Homo Sapiens became extinct within 1000 years. The marsupials, mammals with baby-carrying pouches, failed to adapt to the onslaught of the humans. Their slow pregnancy cycles with few kids, lack of fear of humans since humans don’t look that harmful, and potentially burning of the forests to set up agricultural land disrupted the food chain entirely. - The climate change just worsened everything. - About 16,000 years ago, the invasion of America happened via Siberia which was connected to north-western Alaska when the sea levels were lower. Unlike other species of Homos, Sapiens adapted to the harsh colder climate by sewing boots and thermal clothing. They thrived on eating the juicy animals like mammoths which given low temperatures can be eaten over days. Around 14,000 years ago, global warming melted the glaciers in Alaska which blocked the way to rest of the Americas. And that’s when Sapiens ventured into the American continents. With 2000 years, Sapiens reached the southern most point in America. - Americans fauna suffered. Mammoths (& mammoth ticks), Mastodons, and tons of animals which just like Australia, had survived in isolation from Afro-Asian ecosystem faltered. Fossils had repeatedly pointed these disappearances to be about 12,000 BC in Americas and around 5,000 BC in Hispaniola, both times when Sapiens entered the ecosystem. The same story has been repeated island after island. - First wave extinction: Sapiens as hunter-gatherer enter the ecosystem - Second wave extinction: Sapiens become farmers and forests burnt and reduced to grasslands - Third wave extinction: Industrial revolution - Throughout the history, Homo Sapiens have been the deadliest species to enter any ecosystem. -- In ancient human groups (over 10,000 years ago) there was very little privacy, but also very little loneliness. - Most of our ancient ancestors had much wider and deeper knowledge of their physical surroundings than we do. They were not unintelligent at all.
The Agriculture Revolution
- History’s biggest fraud is the Agricultural revolution. - The Agricultural Revolution actually didn't make the life of the average human better at first. It did, however, allow humans to collect more food per unit area and thus the overall population multiplied exponentially. - Agriculture started in about 9000 BC and domestication of crops was over by about 3500 BC. Today, we eat the same crops – Wheat, Maize, Rice, Potato, Millet, and Barley. Only a few species could be domesticated, and they were in the middle east, China, Central America but not in Australia or Africa. And that’s where, independently, domestication of crops started. Wheat went from an unknown crop to a crop which has spread everywhere on the planet. Human bodies were not designed for agriculture and farming. Wheat demand protection from pests, animals, and even other humans. The only advantage farming has is that it leads to more food per unit area and allowed humans to multiply exponentially. Overall, the agriculture revolution in the short run made the life of humans miserable, so, why did it happen? - Agricultural revolution leads to permanent settlements which allowed women to have more kids. Over time, as farmers multiplied they cleared, even more, lands, reducing the scopes for foragers even further. Just like the modern day luxury treadmill, agriculture soon became a necessity to support the ever-increasing population. And there was no going back. Similarly, domestication of animals proceeded with slaughtering the most aggressive, weak, and economically unworthy animals first. Over time, domesticated animals evolved to be more economically worthy and more submissive. While just like wheat, animals like chicken, sheep, pig, and cow spread over the world, they were treated brutally. From repeated impregnation to castration, their life became miserable compared to the life in the wild. - The dog was the first animal domesticated by humans around 15,000 years ago. - The builidng of Pyramids. Like the ancient Egyptians, most people dedicate their lives to building pyramids. It's just that the names, shapes, and sizes of the pyramids change from one culture to another. - The food surplus exploded the population from 5-8 million in 10,000 BC to 250 million in about 100 AD. The food surplus eventually lead to the emergence of bigger political orders like cities and nation-states. Rather than being based on some ingrained human characteristics, these were imagined human orders based on shared beliefs and myths. “All humans are created equal” is completely incorrect from a biological stance. All humans born are different from each other. Just like animistic beliefs are a myth, so are the human rights. There is nothing biological about them. They only exist in our shared imaginations. A natural order is a stable order. If people don’t believe in gravity, apples would still fall. If people don’t believe in human rights, society will collapse. While some violence (police and army) is required to enforce an (imaginary) order, they themselves have to believe in something to organize in favor of that. And same goes for the elites who rule. Christianity, capitalism, democracy, all are imagined orders with a large number of believers. - The biggest lie though is to train a human right from the childhood about the imagined order as a natural order. “God is one”, “People are equal because God created them that way”, and “Free markets are best because it is an immutable law of nature”. Overtime, the order is embedded in the material world, for example, individualism is enforced via private rooms. The imagined order heavily controls our desires. Consider the desire to travel abroad, a millionaire today might solve his relationship crisis by taking his wife to an expensive trip to Paris. In ancient Egypt, he would have built a tomb, which she always wanted. - The two of the biggest imagined orders of the modern world are romanticism and consumerism. Romanticism teaches us that we must have as many experiences as possible to fulfill our expectations. Consumerism teaches us that we must consume as many goods as possible. - To change an inter-subjective belief system, one has to convince everyone else and to convince everyone else; they have to believe in an even bigger imaginary order. For example, the existence of a particular company listed on NYSE is an inter-subjective order. To make everyone else not believe in its existence either, one has to go to a bigger imaginary order (NYSE). There is no way out of the imagined orders. We have to believe in a bigger one to dismantle a smaller one. - Unlike animals, humans pass a lot of information via teaching and not encoding it in the DNA. The empires generated a huge amount of information. The brain has a limited capacity to store information, humans die, and brains are best at storing social, topographical, and qualitative information. What empires want to store was numbers. And that’s how writing was invented by ancient Sumerians in about 3500 BC. The initial writing was only for the record-keeping, therefore, it was a partial script. A full script can express almost everything that can be spoken. Sumerians also invested in the cataloging of this information and the schools where these scribes were taught. This new bureaucracy specialized a new compartmentalized way of thinking as opposed to usual holistic thinking. - There is an ancient writing system used by the Incas known as a quipu. They are not written words at all, but a series of knots of different colors and strings that represent words and numbers. Writing has actually changed the way humans think. We can use writing and record keeping to think far more categorically than ever before. Numbers are the world's most prevalent language. - There is no justice in history. - Social hierarchies, inequality, and so on are human inventions. - American declaration of independence, empowered men over women, whites over blacks and native Americans. Many modern westerners scoff at one imaginary system (racial hierarchy) but believe that another one (different schools for rich and poor) is perfectly fine. Hierarchies allow two complete strangers to decide how to talk to each other. At the same time, they limit the potential of the individuals. - Every imagined system disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable. - Racism in the US: Purity and pollution are used as a standard argument for all the social hierarchies, some based on birth, some on race, and some on religion. In the US, white Europeans decided to import slaves from Africa since it was nearby, there was an existing slave market, and Africans had partial genetic immunity towards Malaria and Yellow Fever. This eventually was justified by the imagined order of white skin being superior to black. Such an imagined order is easier justification than to say that it is economically expedient to import slaves from Africa. Over time, this acted as a vicious cycle, where blacks are inferior fueled discrimination which further leads to poverty among blacks. - Most rich people are rich because they were born into rich families. Most poor people are poor because they were born into poor families. Unjust discrimination often gets worse, not better, with time. As of 2006, there were still 53 countries where a husband could not be legally prosecuted for raping his wife. When it comes to gender inequality: biology enables, culture forbids. The idea of “unnatural” behaviors is actually a result of Christian theology, not biology. If it is possible biologically, then it is natural. From a scientific perspective, two men having sex is natural. Traveling at the speed of light is not natural. - Hierarchy between men and women: one hierarchy more or less same all around the world is the superiority of men over women. In many societies, women were seen as a property of men. And crimes like rape were property violations where marry-the-rapist was seen as a solution. Of course, one notable difference between men and women is womb but as we have seen in modern times, women can vote, live independently, and think for themselves, all of which in the imagined reality of ancient cultures, they were incapable of doing. Since almost all societies (even before having any contact) around the world put men above women, it cannot be a pure coincidence, there are theories around it. One theory is that men have more muscle power, the objection is why are women historically excluded from less strenuous jobs like politicians and priests. Another theory suggests that men are more aggressive and thus, better suited to be soldiers, and wars have dominated our history. This theory falls apart as well since historically, soldiers from the bottom rung never rose to the top. The top was reserved for the aristocrats. Another theory suggests that since women need cooperation from men during pregnancy, they have to become more submissive to the man they are bearing the child of, so that, he sticks around. This theory falls apart since support network does not have to be a male. Bonobos have all female support networks.
The Unification of Humankind
- History is moving relentlessly toward unity. The whole planet is moving toward one world culture. - All human cultures are filled with inconsistencies. For example, America currently values individual freedom and equality. But these two ideals don't always play nicely. It is part of the human experience to reconcile them. These inconsistencies aren't necessarily bad. They force us to think critically. Consistency is the playground of dull minds. - Unlike the self-consistent law of physics, cultures have internal contradictions in them. Solving them leads to a change. The modern world continuously fights with contradictory ideas of equality and liberty. All cultures from a psychological perspective are “cognitively dissonant”. But the human-world has unified and are connected to each other over time and have similar ideas, nation-states, similar concept of monetary transactions (currency), and similar legal system (international law). For a long while, humans still believed in “us” vs. “them”. Merchants, prophets, and conquerors to expand their territories of customers, believers, and subjects made us believe in a new imagined reality of the global brotherhood. - Money: - A barter system does not scale. If there are 100 types of goods than the two parties who are exchanging the goods have to know C(100, 2) = 4950 combinations of exchange rates every day. Money ends up being a central mechanism to linearize the problem since every seller has to know the price of their good in a single currency. Of course, just like religion, money is an intersubjective reality which only exists in our imaginations. And it does not have to be coins or notes. In Nazi concentration camps, cigarettes were a currency. The only requirement is that it should be easy to transport, store, and has a wide enough acceptance. - The original form of money like Barley had an intrinsic biological value. Over time, we moved to unmarked gold and silver which had no biological value. Then to marked gold and silver coins, so, no weighing required to find the value. And then to fiat currency which had no intrinsic value, and then to electronic currency which had no physical existence. Money as a source of universal convertibility and trust has replaced priceless things like honor, loyalty, morality, and love. When we use money as a medium of exchange, we don’t trust each other; we trust money. When someone runs out of money, we run out of trust in them. - More than 90 percent of all money is just electronic data, not physical money. - Imperial Visions: - Empires have been the world's most common form of political organization for the last 2,500 years. - An empire is characterized by cultural diversity and territorial flexibility. All empires have engaged in the brutal slaughter and assimilation of the people outside its borders to extend its territory. Slowly, the newly acquired population forgets what they stood for. For example, in 7th century AD, Arab empire crushed Egyptians with an iron fist, today Egyptians think of themselves as Arabs. One major change which happened over time in the Imperial vision was that empires changed their imagined reality from “we are conquering you from our benefit” to a more benevolent “we are conquering you for your benefit”. Persian king changed from “Persian king” to “everyone’s king”. This was the first time in history, Sapiens were (pretending) to get rid of “us” vs “them” feeling. - These imagined realities of benefitting the Conqueror exist even today when the US presidents use F-16 to deliver democracy and human rights in Iraq and Syria. - Almost, all imperial empires follow the same style. First, they conquered territories. Then those territories adopt the new culture. Then the people of these territories demand equal stature. And then eventually empire flames out but the imperial culture remains. - Not only all empires are founded on blood and used war and oppression to maintain themselves, but also they are the source of almost all modern cultures. There is no untainted authentic civilization which is without those sins. - In general, empires do not fall because of uprisings. They almost always succumb to outside invasion or splits from within the empower class. - Despite the obvious negatives of empires taking over a culture, there are many benefits too. Art, music, governance, and more are the result of empires forming. Often, they blended new together with the conquered people to create a new culture. - It seems obvious that we are moving fast toward a singe global empire. Global markets, global warming, and commonly accepted concepts like human rights make it clear we all need one collective entity, not man states and countries. - The Law of Religion: - Along with money and empires, religion is the third unifier of the mankind. Religion is a system of human norms and values founded on the belief in a superhuman order. The religions which are universal and missionary like Islam and Christianity succeed in spreading themselves. - Interestingly, polytheism is more open and accepting of multiple beliefs even though we often look at it as more barbarian and uneducated than our current beliefs. - Monotheism (Animist) seems to push away polytheism, but actually is very similar to polytheistic gods with the use of patron saints. Praying to the patron saints of farmers isn't much different than praying to the god of rain. - The central tension with monotheism is how to deal with the fact that there is evil in the world while the omnipoten God is believed to be good and caring. If God is good why would he allow evil things to happen? - Origin of Religion: - Animistic religions originated since hunter-foragers wanted to maintain interests of other plants and animals (Eg. cutting a tree would anger the tree spirit, and it will take revenge). As Sapiens evolved to farmers, they desired absolute control over their animals. Gods acted as mediators. Sacrifice a lamb to fertility god and the god will ensure a bumper harvest. As kingdoms and trade networks established, multiple gods (like gods of war) appeared in a typical polytheistic fashion. While Animists thought Sapiens are just another creature, polytheists treated the world as a reflection of the relation between Sapiens and God. Polytheist religions like Hinduism believe that there is a supreme power which is devoid of any interest in the mundane desires of human beings. Therefore, a worldly human would not pray to that supreme power. They would, however, pray to a god with a sub-divided power for wealth. Since these gods have only partial power, they have interests and biases, and it is possible to negotiate with them. - They don’t normally engage in conversion either. Romans, Egyptians, and Aztecs rarely send missionaries. When empires expanded locals were never asked to give up the gods, they can worship the new god along with the local god. Romans happily added Asian god Cybele to their pantheon. Though they refused to add monotheist Christ. Roman Emperor did force Christians to worship the Emperor’s protector god as a mark of political loyalty and prosecuted them when they refused. Romans prosecuted a few thousand Christians in three centuries, Christians prosecuted millions of other Christians over next 1500 years to defend their slightly different interpretation of their religion. Over time, some polytheistic worshippers started to believe that their god, while having interests and biases, is supreme. Christianity, an esoteric sect of Jews, whose leader Paul of Tarsus, claimed that the Jesus of Nazareth was their Messiah and if he has incarnated in the flesh then his message is worth spreading to the world. The esoteric sect of Christianity took over the Roman empire. Islam, another monotheist religion, repeated this model of success. Since monotheists are usually more fanatical in their beliefs, they took over the world. Most of the world today outside of East Asia follows monotheism. Christianity, however, adopted most polytheist gods back as Saints. For example, Celtic Ireland uses to worship Brigid, today, Christian Ireland worships St. Brigid. - Monotheism also gave birth to Dualism. Dualism explains evil by saying that there are two powers – a good and a bad. This explains the existence of evil why mystifies monotheism but is itself mystified by the order which governs the universe (since “good” and “bad” have equal power). Zoroastrianism is a notable dualistic religion. Monotheists like Christians, Muslims, and Jews absorbed dualistic beliefs. They not only accepted the concept of a powerful Satan but also believed that the god need helps in its battle against Satan and labeled those battles Jihads and Crusades. Even the concept of Heaven and Hell is dualist in origin, with no mention in the Old Testament. Most modern monotheists are syncretic in their beliefs. Several natural law religions like Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Stoicism appeared as well. They disregarded the existence of super-human Gods and prescribed more in terms of the way of living to attain a good life. For example, Buddhism’s central teaching is that suffering arises from craving and the only way to liberate your mind from craving is to train your mind to accept the reality as it is. Of course, since most Buddhists don’t spend their life attaining Nirvana but in the more mundane worldly tasks, they worship for bringing rain in exchange of fragrance sticks and gift of rice. - Buddhism’s central teaching is that suffering arises from craving and the only way to liberate your mind from craving is to train your mind to accept the reality as it is. - Communism, Capitalism, and Liberalism, are modern religions. - Worshipping The Man: - Liberal Humanism is the most famous religion (“ideology”) which worships humans as being scared and with belief that they have certain basic “human rights” which cannot be normally withdrawn from them. A murder is effectively destabilizing the cosmos order and punishing the murderer brings the nature back in order. Social Humanism thinks about humans in a collective way, it holds a strong belief in equality. Evolutionary Humanism, the most radical one, was popularized by Nazis, it thinks of humans as a mutable species, and strongly believes that advancing the quality of the species and eliminating everything which is of lower quality should be the end-goal of the humanity. - Over the last 200 years, science has increasingly revealed that human behavior is determined by hormones, genes, and neurological synapses. If this is true, then for how much longer will we ignore that biology does not agree with the concept of free will? - To describe how something happened means to reconstruct the series of specific events that led from one point to another. - To describe why something happened means to find causal connections that led to this particular series of events to the exclusion of all others. - The deeper your knowledge of a particular area of history, the harder it becomes to explain why one particular outcome occurred and not another. - While a globally interconnected society was inevitable (given the ability of humans to form large networks), the contemporary global society is one of the possibilities which got realized. - The success of monotheism, nationalism, and liberal humanism was one of the potential outcomes out of several possible ones. History is a complex level 2 chaotic system (Level 1 chaotic systems like the weather is unchanged when we try to predict, Level 2 chaotic systems like stock market react to predictions). Genes lead to organic evolution; memes lead to cultural evolution. Some scholars see culture as a mental parasite, as soon as one country is infected with nationalism, slowly, the surrounding ones catch the infection as well.
The Sceintific Revolution
- One difference between religion and science is that science assumes humankind does not know the answers to many of life's biggest questions. Religion, however, assumes that the important stuff is already known. Science assumes human ignorance. - Before the scientific tradition, it was believed that the religious books contained everything that was important. Scientific tradition, in western Europe, a part of the world which played little role in the history till about 1500 AD. The scientific tradition is willing to admit that a lot is unknown and even what’s known can be incorrect if the new evidence to the contrary shows up. - Modern culture has been able to admit ignorance more than any previous culture. Previous cultures and belief systems compiled their theories using stories. Science compiles its theories using mathematics. - The story of how Scottish Widows was founded is an awesome example of the power of probability. - Scientists generally agree that no theory is 100 percent correct. Thus, the real test of knowledge is not truth, but utility. Science gives us power. The more useful that power, the better the science. - The focus of education has shifted from Theology to Mathematics and other “exact” sciences. Even the heavy emphasis on the technology in the military is a recent phenomenon beginning in the 19th century. Most cultures used to believe that golden age used to be in the past and hence, nothing much can be done to improve things. - Scientific myth busting fixed all that. The scientific progress has drastically elongated the life expectancies. The scientific research, however, is almost always funded by entities who have their own social, political, or economic agenda. Science in itself cannot set its priorities, an ideology (religious, racial, or economic) determines the same. - Western Europe and Britain which had played almost no important role in the history of the human civilization till about 1500 AD started to emerge and Europe took over to become the economic powerhouse between 1750 and 1850. While the development of both the modern science and capitalism in Britain in a mere accident. The similar social structures (and imagined realities) of France, Germany, US, and the other western nations allowed them to quickly follow up and copy Britain’s success. Societies in the India and China, the economic powerhouse of that era, were organized differently and hence, they could not do the same. - While the Arab world, India, and China also produced intellectuals and scholars (which Europeans did study), it was only in Europe that these intellectuals worked alongside the capitalists towards for-profit initiatives. - The Imperial voyages to the distant lands would consist not only of military but also some scientists to make discoveries. - This scientific mindset is illustrated by the example of Columbus vs. Vespucci. Columbus reached the Bahamas and the Americas in 1492, but he simply did not want to believe that there exists a new continent which Bible and all other religious text could have missed. Vespucci reached there around 1500, and he argued that this is a new continent unknown till then. - Europeans did not have an exceptional technological edge in the 1500s over other cultures what made them different was their insatiable desire to explore and conquer. In 1492, Columbus reached the Caribbean; the local population was colonized, killed, and enslaved. And the Aztecs in Mexico knew nothing about it. In 1517, after hearing rumors about a powerful Aztec empire, 300 Spaniards landed in Mexico. An empire of millions, unprepared for interacting with unknown humans, did not perceive a threat from 300 Spaniards. They pretended to be the diplomats of the king of Spain and use that deceit to capture the king Montezuma. They held him, hostage while planning out a coup. By the time, Aztec elite revolted and kicked the Spaniards out; they had found huge support among subjected people, who preferred unknown Spaniards over Aztec rulers. That miscalculation was costly. Within a century, 90 percent of the local population was wiped out. The survivors were under an even greedier regime. The same story was repeated by the Spaniards with the Inca empire. - The Ottomans, the Indians, and the Chinese heard about these stories but showed little interest in Europe. Their world revolved around their empires while the Europeans enjoyed the undisputed mastery of the America and Oceania. The wealth and the accumulated knowledge was then used to invade Asia. The detailed understanding of the local culture allowed Europeans to leverage and rule the populations far larger than theirs. While Imperialists claim that their empires were altruistic projects, a white man’s burden, the truth was locals were subjugated with an iron fist. - The linguistic basis of Indo-Aryan languages was further used to come up with the argument of a superior Aryan race – a race of tall, blue-eyed, blond, fair complexion, super-rational humans. They emerged in the north and invaded Persia and India, regrettably, degenerating themselves by intermingling with the locals (the core of Hitler’s argument). - The Capitalist Creed - Throughout human history, “economic pie/wealth is fixed in size and not growing” was the self-fulfilling prophecy. The idea of extending credit, therefore, was meaningless. - The modern-day belief, based on The Wealth of Nations, is that the individual greed is good for the collective prosperity. While the idea of reinvesting profits to increase production further sounds trivial today, for a long while, humans believed that the production and consumption are more or less fixed; and had it not been for the scientific revolution that would have been true. - For capitalism to work, profits must be reinvested in new production. - Until the Industrial Revolution, human behavior was largely dictated by solar energy and plant growth. Day and night. Summer and winter. Everything was determined by man power and animal power, which were determined by food, which is determined by photosynthesis. - Many of the imperialist voyages could not have been easily funded by a single investor, and that’s what lead to the emergence of joint-stock ownerships and eventually stock exchanges (and bubbles). In many cases, the government came to the defense of the investors. In Opium war in 1839 in China, Britain fought Qing dynasty for protecting opium trade from India to China by British traders. Greek rebellions raised funds via bonds in London Stock Exchange, and where their fight against the Ottoman Empire started to lose momentum, the British Navy sent their ships to defend their bond investors by ensuring that Greece becomes free. The popular free-market doctrine wants us to believe that there should be no political interference in the market and left to its markets would benefit everyone. Except that is only a half-truth, all the Atlantic slave trade, most of the colonization, and millions of deaths of slaves on the plantations happened because of free markets and not the government. The European middle class happily bought shares of the slave trading companies and made about 6% a year in the 18th century. - The Wheels of Industry - the invention of Steam Engine and further Electricity freed us from the day-night and winter-summer cycle of nature. The rise of industrial agriculture increased the production drastically. And who will consume all this? Consumerism came to the rescue. All prior religions had encouraged austerity; consumerism encouraged conspicuous consumption. In fact, capitalism won twice when people overconsumed since it allowed them to sell the cure for overconsumption later. The capitalists follow the commandant of “Invest” while consumers follow the commandment of “Buy”. Two sides of the same coin. - A Permanent Revolution - the Industrial Revolution turned timetable and assembly into a template for almost all human activities. With the advent of the railroad, local time differences across cities became a nuisance. In 1880, Britain legislated a single time for the whole country. Today a single family has more time pieces than an entire medieval country. The biggest change, however, is how the Industrial Revolution broke the family into individuals. Throughout human history, the family and the community were the biggest support system a human had. Even the kings maintained themselves primarily via support of family heads. The market and the nation-state made a new offer to the individuals, free yourself from the family and become an individual, follow our rules instead, they won. The sacred parental authority, the (lack of) right to choose a spouse, and all such family powers have been taken over by the nation-state. - The nation and the consumer are the new imagined communities of our era which have replaced families. And just like money and human-rights, these are inter-subjective realities which live in the minds of millions. Given that most wealth is not physical anymore, the wars have become less profitable. Simultaneously, due to trade, the peace has become even more profitable. We are living in one of the most peaceful eras in the human history. - Most people don't realize just how peaceful of the times are we live in. In recent years, more people die from suicide each year than from war and violent crime. The same can said for car accidents. Live a safe community, drive as little as possible, and love yourself. Violent local crime, car accidents, and suicide are some of the biggest killers of humans. - If happiness is based on pleasurable feelings, then increasing our happiness is a matter of increases biochemical release. If happiness is based on meaning, then increasing our happiness is a matter of deluding ourselves about the meaning of our lives. - History talks about facts but rarely talks about how has human happiness evolved. Studies have shown that people with more money, good marriages, better social support, and lower subjective expectations (vs. the reality) are happier. Illness decreases happiness in the short-term. The subjective expectation is the most crucial aspect; advertisements make us miserable by increasing the subjective expectations. The bigger question might be the meaning of life. From a scientific perspective, life has no meaning. But for our happiness, meaningless life is an unacceptable choice. It’s when our delusions about the meaning of our life synchronize with the collective delusions, that’s when we feel happy. - Most of these studies take the “liberal” approach of believing that humans are best to decide when they are happy or not. Religious leaders, as well as psychologists, disagree. - Buddhism has studied happiness for over 2,000 years. Interestingly, Buddhism shares many viewpoints on happiness with science. - Buddhism believes that the real happiness comes when one disassociates oneself from the inner feelings and can just calmly observe them. - The Buddhist philosophy of happiness centers around the idea that you are not the events that happen to you, but you are also not the feelings you have. You are not your feelings. They are just feelings. Thus, if you understand this, you can release the needs to keep chasing the need to feel happy or to not feel angry or to not feel sad. In other words, you have to understand yourself. - Genetic engineering is allowing humans to break the laws of natural selection. - Till now all evolution has been evolutionary, it is likely that the future evolution will be Intelligent Design based designed in Laboratories. Either we will enhance human genes (CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing), we will add non-organic parts (cyborgs), or we will create life from completely inorganic material based on Artificial Intelligence. Due to a massive PR risk around ethical issues, most of these debates have focused on targeting plants, targeting amputated humans, and building AI for targeted tasks. - The next stage of human history will not only involve biological and technological changes, but also changes in human consciousness and identity. Changes that are this fundamental will call the very term “human” into question. - Many people think the question we should ask to guide our scientific pursuits is, “What do we want to become?” However, because we seem to be on the path to genetically engineering and programming nearly every facets of our wants, desires, and consciousness, the real question we should ask is, “What do we want to want?” - In the past 1000 years, humans have evolved to take over the world and are on the verge of overcoming natural selection and becoming gods. Yet, we still seem unhappy in many ways and we are unsure of what we want. Is there anything more dangerous that dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?
- "About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics."
- "About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry."
- "About 3.8. billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology."
- "About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human cultures is called history."
- "Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago. The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago. The Scientific Revolution, which got under way only 500 years ago, may well end history and start something completely different. This book tells the story of how these three revolutions have affected humans and their fellow organisms."
- "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."
- "People easily understand that 'primitives' cement their social order by believing in ghosts and spirits, and gathering each full moon to dance together around the campfire. What we fail to appreciate is that our modern institutions function on exactly the same basis."
- "An objective phenomenon exists independently of human consciousness and human beliefs. ... [Radioactivity is his example.]"
- "The subjective is something that exists depending on the consciousness and beliefs of a single individual. ... [A child's imaginary friend is his example.]"
- "The inter-subjective is something that exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals. If a single individual changes his or her beliefs, or even dies, it is of little importance. However, if most individuals in the network die or change their beliefs, the inter-subjective phenomenon will mutate or disappear. ..."
- "Many of history's most important drivers are inter-subjective: law, money, gods, nations."
- "...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 must disappear."
- "Over the millennia, small simple cultures gradually coalesce into bigger and more complex civilisations, so that the world contains fewer and fewer mega-cultures, each of which is bigger and more complex."
- "The first millennium BC witnessed the appearance of three potentially universal orders, whose devotees could for the first time imagine the entire world and the entire human race as a single unit governed by a single set of laws. Everyone was 'us', at least potentially. There was no longer 'them'. The first universal order to appear was economic: the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious: the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam."
- "Merchants, conquerors, and prophets were the first people who managed to transcend the binary evolutionary division, 'us vs them', and to foresee the potential unity of humankind. For the merchants, the entire world was a single market and all humans were potential customers. The tried to establish an economic order that would apply to all, everywhere. For the conquerors, the entire world was a single empire and all humans were potential subjects, and for the prophets, the entire world held a single truth and all humans were potential believers. They too tried to establish an order that would be applicable for everyone everywhere."
- "Christians and Muslims who could not agree on religious beliefs could nevertheless agree on a monetary belief, because whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something."
- "For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers, and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance."
- "The Chinese Mandate of Heaven was given by Heaven to solve the problems of humankind. The modern Mandate of Heaven will be given by humankind to solve the problems of heaven, such as the hole in the ozone layer and the accumulation of green-house gases. The colour of the global empire may well be green."
- "When animism was the dominant belief system, human norms and values had to take into consideration the outlook and interests of a multitude of other beings, such as animals, plants, faeries, and ghosts."
- "So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe - and He's evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief."
- "Today, the most important humanist sect is liberal humanism, which believes that 'humanity' is a quality of individual humans, and that the liberty of individuals is therefore sacrosanct. According to liberals, the sacred nature of humanity resides within each and every individual Homo sapiens. The inner core of individual humans gives meaning to the world, and is the source for all ethical and political authority. If we encounter an ethical or political dilemma, we should look inside and listen to our inner voice - the voice of humanity. The chief commandments of liberal humanism are meant to protect the liberty of this inner voice against intrusion or harm. These commandments are collectively known as 'human rights'. ..."
- "The liberal belief in the free and sacred nature of each individual is a direct legacy of the traditional Christian belief in the free and eternal souls. Without recourse to eternal souls and a Creator God, it becomes embarrassingly difficult for liberals to explain what is so special about individual Sapiens."
- "Another important sect is socialist humanism. Socialists believe that 'humanity' is a collective rather than individualistic. They hold as sacred not the inner voice of each individual, but the species Homo sapiens as a whole. Whereas liberal humanism seeks as much freedom as possible for individual humans, socialist humanism seeks equality between all humans. According to socialists, inequality is the worst blasphemy against the sanctity of humanity, because it privileges peripheral qualities of humans over their universal essence. For example, when the rich are privileged over the poor, it means that we value money more than the universal essence of all humans, which is the same for rich and poor alike."
- "Like liberal humanism, socialist humanism is built on monotheist foundations. The idea that all humans are equal is a revamped version of the monotheist conviction that all souls are equal before God. The only humanist sect that has actually broken loose from traditional monotheism is evolutionary humanism, whose most famous representatives are the Nazis. What distinguished the Nazis from other humanist sects was a different definition of 'humanity', one deeply influenced by the theory of evolution. In contrast to the other humanists, the Nazis believed that humankind is not something universal and eternal, but rather a mutable species that can evolve or degenerate. Man can evolve into superman, or degenerate into a subhuman."
- "The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions."
- "Modern-day science is a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits collective ignorance regarding the most important questions. Darwin never argued that he was 'The Seal of the Biologists', and that he had solved the riddle of life once and for all. After centuries of extensive scientific research, biologists admit that they still don't have any good explanation for how brains produce consciousness."
- "The willingness to admit ignorance has made modern science more dynamic, supple, and inquisitive than any previous tradition of knowledge. This has hugely expanded our capacity to understand how the world works and our ability to invent new technologies."
- "As science began to solve one unsolvable problem after another, many became convinced that humankind could overcome any and every problem by acquiring and applying new knowledge. Poverty, sickness, wars, famines, old age and death itself were not the inevitable fate of humankind. They were simply the fruits of our ignorance."
- "A man can be convinced to die fighting for his nation for the promise of heaven; a monkey cannot be."
- "Unlike the Afro-Asian animals who evolved with humans over thousands of years, the Australian animals were caught completely by surprise with no time, on the evolutionary scale, to adjust."
- "No animal had moved so quickly through variety of habitats virually using the same genes."
- "The currency of evolution is not pain or misery but copies of DNA helixes."
- "The evolutionary correlated with the individual suffering for animals and humans."
- "Christianity, capitalism, democracy, all are imagined orders with a large number of believers."
- "A millionaire today might solve his relationship crisis by taking his wife to an expensive trip to Paris. In ancient Egypt, he would have built a tomb, which she always wanted."
- "The imagined order is inter-subjective. Radioactivity is objective, it happens whether you believe in it or not. An imaginary friend is subjective, since it exists only as long as you believe in it. Preciousness of gold is inter-subjective since it exists not only in your imagination (belief system) but also in the belief system of millions of others."
- "How did this happen that the species, Homo Sapiens, whose success depends on being more cooperative with each other has less cooperative individuals (man) dominate woman is still a mystery."
- "Biology is willing to tolerate a wide spectrum of possibilities. Nature does not prohibit homosexuality; it’s the culture which labels it unnatural to restrict it. Something which is unnatural like humans doing photosynthesis just won’t happen."
- "Biology enables, culture forbids."
- "Money is the most useful and efficient system of mutual trust ever devised."
- "Its when our personal delusions about meaning of our life synchronize with the collective delusions, that’s when we feel happy."
- "Previously, bride and groom met in the family living room and the money passed from one father to another. Today, courting is done at bars and cafes and money passes from the hands of the lovers to the waitresses."
- "Consumerism is the first religion in the history of mankind whose followers do what they are asked to."
- "While Nazism killed millions out of burning hatred. Capitalism killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed."
- "In 1764, Britishers conquered Bengal, the richest province of India, due to the policies of the British East India Company, a third of the population (about 10 million) died from 1769-73 in the Bengal Famine."
- "Lack of interest in the world beyond their empire ended up being costly for the Incas and the Aztecs."
- "For the first time in the history of the world, a culture was making maps with empty areas marked for exploration."
- "Europe’s biggest success was the marriage of modern science and capitalism."
- "History has wide array of possibilities, many are never realized."
- "This plurality of gods results in open-mindedness, therefore, polytheists rarely prosecute infidels."
- "Religion legitimises imagined realities (like “Eating pork is sin”) by claiming them to be coming from a superhuman entity."