Written by: Stephen Hsu
Primary Source: Information Processing
Yuval Noah Harari discusses his new book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be human. One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?
See also his Coursera MOOC: A Brief History of Humankind.
About 2 million years ago our human ancestors were insignificant animals living in a corner of Africa. Their impact on the world was no greater than that of gorillas, zebras, or chickens. Today humans are spread all over the world, and they are the most important animal around. The very future of life on Earth depends on the ideas and behavior of our species.
This course will explain how we humans have conquered planet Earth, and how we have changed our environment, our societies, and our own bodies and minds. The aim of the course is to give students a brief but complete overview of history, from the Stone Age to the age of capitalism and genetic engineering. The course invites us to question the basic narratives of our world. Its conclusions are enlightening and at times provocative. For example:
· We rule the world because we are the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in our own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights.
· Humans are ecological serial killers – even with stone-age tools, our ancestors wiped out half the planet’s large terrestrial mammals well before the advent of agriculture.
· The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud – wheat domesticated Sapiens rather than the other way around.
· Money is the most universal and pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised. Money is the only thing everyone trusts.
· Empire is the most successful political system humans have invented, and our present era of anti-imperial sentiment is probably a short-lived aberration.
· Capitalism is a religion rather than just an economic theory – and it is the most successful religion to date.
· The treatment of animals in modern agriculture may turn out to be the worst crime in history.
· We are far more powerful than our ancestors, but we aren’t much happier.
· Humans will soon disappear. With the help of novel technologies, within a few centuries or even decades, Humans will upgrade themselves into completely different beings, enjoying godlike qualities and abilities. History began when humans invented gods – and will end when humans become gods.