Websites of 7 Indian missions ‘hacked’, data allegedly put online
Spahiens : A brief history of humankind.
How did humans get smart?
When melinda and I went on our spring vacation, I encouraged her to pack a copy of Yuval Noah harari’s Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind. I had just finished the book and I was dying to talk to her about it. It’s so provocative and raises so many euqestions about human history that I knew it would spark great converstaions around the dinner table. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, in the weeks since we have been back from our holiday, we still talk about Sapiens.
harari, who is and Israeli historian, takes on a daunting challenge : to tell the entire history of us, the uman race, in a mere 400 pages. I have always been a fan of writhers who try to connect the dots and make sense of the sweep of history. Probably no one has done it better than David Christian in his Big History lectures, which distill 13.7 billion years of histroy, from the Big bang on, into a manageable framework that spans biology, physics, humanities, and the social sciences, While Harari concerns himself with a shorter time frame, the alst 70,000 years of human histroy, his job is no less difficult. He sets out to explain how we, Homo sapiens(Latin for wise person), came to dominate the Earth and what may lie ahead for our species.
Most humans assume that we were always the ones in charge, lording over the rest of the animals. But harari remind us that long before we bult te pyramids, wrote symphonies, or walked on the moon, there was nothing special about us. The most important thing to knwo about prehistroci humans, Harari writers, it that they wer insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.
One hundred thousand years ago, Homo sapiens was just one of a number of different human species, all cometing for supremacy. Just as today we see different species of bears or pigs, there were different species of humans, While our own ancestors lived mainly in East Africa, our relatives Homo neanderthalensis, better known as neanderthals, inhabited Europe. Another species, Homo erectus, populated Asia, and the island of Java was home to Hoo soloensis.
Each species adapted to its own environment. Some were big, fearsome hunters, while otheres were deaerf-like plant gatheres. As diferent as each species may have been, there is evidence of interbreeding among them. Scientists mapping the neaderthal genome, for example, discovered that people of European orgin today have a small percentage of genes from their Neanderthal ancestors. That will make an interesting addition to many family trees!
Today, of course, there is just one human species alive. How did we Homo sapiens become so successful and others did not? Harari believes it was our unique cognitive abilities that made the difference. About 70,000 years ago, Homo sapiens underwent a cognitive revolution, Harari writes, which gave them the edge over their rivals to spread from East Africa across the planet.
Other species had big brains too, but what mad homo sapiens so successful is that we are the only animals who are capable of large-scale cooperation. We knwo how to organize ourselves as nations, companies, and religions, giving us th power to accmplish complex tasks. Harari’s concept of a cognitive revolution remineded me of David Christian’s notion in big History of collective learning, how the ability to share, sotre, and build upon information truly distinguishes us as humans and allowed us to thrive.
What’s unique about Harari’s take is that he focuses on the power of stories and myths to bring people together. Baboons, wolves, and other animals also knwo how to function as a group, of couse, but their groups are defined by close social ties that limit their groups to small numbers, Homo sapiens has the special ability to unite millions of strangers around commons myths. Ideas like freedom, human rights, gods, laws, and capitalism exist in our imaginations, yet they can bind us together and motivate us to cooperate on complex tasks.
As much as I enjoyed Sapiens, there was plenty to disagree with i nthe book. For example, Harari sets out to prove that the agricultural revolution was one of the biggest mistake sin human history. Yes, it allowed civilizations to thrive, but on an individual level, he writes, we were much better off as hunter-gatherers. As farmers, people had to work a lot harder and in exchange they had a worse diet than they had as foragers. Agricultural societies also crated social hierarchiese in which the majority tiled as peasants and a minority of elites ruled over them.