I first heard about the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari from Bill Gates’s video “5 Books To Read This Summer”, and as someone who was always interested in evolution, I was really keen to read it.
I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about early human history. Here are a few things I learned from reading this book:
1) There were more than one species of humans living at the same time. Although I knew this on some level, I never really took the time to really think about this. Fossil records prove that there were more than one species of archaic humans on earth living at the same time, besides just Homo Sapiens. Our main competitor were Neanderthals, who had larger brains and other biological advantages. Another species that I found out about (that wasn’t discussed in detail in this book), were Homo floresiensis “ the hobbit people”.
It’s crazy to think how different the world would be now if there were still 2 different species of people walking around. Would we still be as racist to each other, or would we gang up on the Neanderthals? It’s an interesting thought.
2) The next thing I found really interesting was how humans became the dominant species, between the other animals from a scientific point of view. It wasn’t the size of our brain or our ability to speak that set us apart (although those helped), but it was mainly our ability to think of and explain abstract ideas.
As far as we know, no other animal can describe an imagined scenario to another animal like we can. The example that was given was a deer can tell other deers that there is a lion by the watering hole, but humans can explain there is a lion by the watering hole in the morning, and he looked hungry, or explain how he might come back at the same time next week, or invent a million other details about him. That goes to the next point in the book, which is…
3) Common myths unite us. This is something that is amazing to think about. How in order for any society in the world to function, it is necessary that we all believe in the same abstract concepts. In the past it was all of us had to believe in the same god, or in the same myth of how the world works. Today, our biggest myth is how money and business works and how we all attribute value to products and services. There is no inherent “value” in money, just what we assign to it and collectively agree on. The same is true with an incorporated business for example, which in reality only exists on paper (it will still exist if you take away all of the physical components of it: the people, assets etc.).
4) The agriculture revolution was bad for individuals in the short term. What was interesting in the book was how it described how humans working on farms and coming together as an agrarian society only helped a select few at the top (because of the long hours of manual labor). Most of the people doing most of the work were promised a better future, but few saw it. Humans were a lot happier and healthier as a whole, before farming took off, whenever we worked in “packs” and before we developed societies. This only changed for the better after the industrial revolution. It’s sad to think about how much human suffering there was in the past, and how grateful we should all be living in this modern time of relative abundance and ease.
I definitely recommend you read it yourself!