Every page of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is packed with a plethora of such intricate history and neat thoughts that I truly do not know where to begin. Harari leads us through the history of Homo Sapiens, starting from how our species wiped out all other human species (Contrary to popular belief, we are not the only humans to ever exist.) to what is going to happen post-humans, or post-Homo-Sapiens to be exact.
The development timeline of Homo Sapiens has three major milestone, for now: the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution and the Scientific Revolution (which triggers the Industrial Revolution which triggers the Biotechnological Revolution.) Harari suspects that the rise of the Biotechnological Revolution which brings about nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, genetic engineering, etc might be the end of Homo Sapiens once and for all. Soon we will be replaced by genetically engineered post-Homo-Sapiens capable of living forever.
The most interesting section is the Cognitive Revolution. Before the Cognitive Revolution, forager bands couldn’t not sustain more members than the Dunbar number of 150. The Cognitive Revolution solved this problem with the evolvement of imagined orders, or “intersubjectives” that exist for as long as we believe they do.
“Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have been living in a dual reality. On one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so
that today the very survival of river, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google.”
Prominent examples of intersubjectives are religions, countries, laws and money. In the natural world, none of these things actually exists. However, because most humans believe they exists so they are as real as any rivers, trees or lions. Objective matters exist independent of human consciousness, like the galaxy or the ocean. Subjective matters exist solely in our imagination, like the imagined friend you used to have when you were a child.
“The intersubjective 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.”
Harari lays out these intricate matter to the readers in an informative and engaging fashion. Sapiens is a page turner for those who are eager to learn about how humans become humans. If anthropology, history, biology and psychology ever had a child together, this would be it.
Reviewed by Nghi L ’18