Not all that brief
A review of the not-so-brief series from Yuval Noah Harari
Some 443 + 448 pages later and here I am finally writing my review of Yuval’s not-so-brief series of books, Sapiens and Homo Deus. It is not all that brief as the cover’s suggest. Then again if you consider our long history, it is amazing how it fits in a book at all.
The genre is one of my favorites to read, even so it still took nearly a month to finish the first and another 3 weeks for the latter. It is popular science, gripping and thought-provoking. I was captivated from the get-go.
In short, it is a speculative summary of our human history and a guesstative, wait … I don’t think that is a word, so let’s say … guesstimate of where we are going.
H googles "guesstative".
Had to check…
Ya, I will stick with guesstimate!
With each paragraph I found myself more and more drawn in thanks to Yuval’s simple and story-telling style of writing.
The books are a monumental effort of work. I cannot begin to imagine how he managed to give such a thorough, methodically, well-organised breakdown of our history. Not that it is all actual history. It is more a bunch of illustrations that all make perfect sense. He continually opens your eyes as the chapters unfold.
In Sapiens the focus is on Homo Sapiens (meaning: “wise man”).
Yuval explores who we are, where we came from and where we are going.
I’ve never enjoyed books that offer more questions than answers. Sapiens is different in that it narrows the open-endedness right down to two or three real possibilities.
He draws from anthropology, biology and various resources to describe in detail how we as a species progressed.
The book tells the story of 3 great revolutions and how it affected us:
the cognitive (70,000 years ago),
the agricultural (10,000 years ago) and
the scientific (500 years ago).
But lets not forget the more recent
industrial revolution (about 250 years ago), and the big brother
information revolution (+- 50 years ago) and currently the super
Throughout the book it is easy to feel as if you yourself lived through all of the revolutions.
He says: “We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
He also shares that it is our ability to imagine that separates us from other animals and allows us to progress but, he doesn’t believe we will survive another 1,000 years. In fact, he thinks the biotechnological revolution could be our last.
Near the end he suggests that we have evolved so much that we are on the brink of becoming gods, and so … the sequel Homo Deus (meaning: “human god”) is introduced.
1. Humans are powerful because we can share stories and fictions.
It allows us to create a shared interest and collectively believe in things like money, religions, myths. As a species we literally are more concerned with the rise and fall of currencies (which are all fake), rather than the health of our people, which is a very real thing.
2. Everything we do is natural.
The ‘taboo’ behaviour is a result of theology, not biology. If it is biologically possible, it is natural. Again reinforcing the stories we as humans tell ourselves and the more people believe it, it then makes it truth. So we give it a name, and say it is unnatural and therefore illegal. Whatever it may be.
3. The need to eat and eat and eat.
Humans were wired to eat their fill of high-caloric foods because of scarcity. Why thousands or hundreds of years later they say this is still the reason for over-eating, is beyond me. I’d like to think that we have evolved enough to not carry such an imprint forward.
4. Wheat domesticated us.
Not the other way around. Chapter 5, read it, this had me glued reading through the night.
5. Liberal humanism believes in individualism.
Socialist humanists say it is all about the collective and seek equality between all humans. I strongly want to hold on to my individualism, while being a part of a whole. Does it have to be either or? We gave it a name…. we made it so….
6. Hunter gatherers were much happier than post agricultural humans.
So we are not much better off after all these many revolutions. I guess it would depend on how you look at it.
7. Happiness no longer comes from within.
Instead, in the ever growing world of science, now there are chemicals to make you happy. I personally prefer to be chemical free. Naturally happy. But if ever it became too much, I guess there is indeed an option number two.
8. Science is advancing at a faster rate.
Can we keep up?
I found the first two parts of Homo Deus to be a recap of Sapiens, reminding us where we come from. Then as I started the third part, I was pulled upright again by interest as Yuval explores what’s to come.
While the sequel starts off in a positive light, it doesn’t reveal a pretty preview of our future. It speaks of the end of individualism, work and what makes us, us. Work as we know it will change, that much I think is a given. But the technological developments is seen as a possible threat as humans may lose the ability to find meaning in life.
Yuval delves into dataism and algorithms that replace our human need for reasoning, as it simply does it better for us. Technologies merge with bio-devices. Perhaps merge directly with humans… At a stretch even become entities and have no need to merge with humans. We become slaves to these technologies.
The whole book reads like science fiction but is far from it. Yuval is convincing and writes with conviction and references experiments after studies after facts after bold statements. At times I felt the need to google and double check some facts, as I do in day to day life… And right there technology whispered ‘hello’. Same as when travelling, if it wasn’t for google maps, I’d find myself lost many times. I trust google maps with my life! Even when it once led me to a dead-end.
Technology is already an authority over us. It’s easy to see that the future Yuval speaks of is not all that far-fetched.
1. The soulless being
What made this book feel like a horror was nothing to do with technology, but that it describes us as soulless beings. That there is no authentic voice that lives within us. It’s all just biochemical connections. A thorough, in depth explanation of the split function of the human brain got my mind running wild with wonder. Then to consider what happens when we learn to re-engineer the mind all-together. … Well, I mean, it could be good. I have no qualms being a bionic woman.
2. Work is changing.
The way we work and make a living is changing. Automation and robots are filling most known roles already. It might not replace all jobs right away, but is likely to create new ones. Key takeaway here is to learn to adapt.
3. Well-being and wellness will rule.
It’s all about happiness and immortality… or perhaps living agelessly, cause you could still die by accident or force. Right? Or we are now technically re-engineered, so humans will not kill, we will not have accidents. God knows.
3. God does know.
The computer, or AI knows all. It sees all. It can prevent accidents! Look at self-driving cars, in control of the overall grid, it literally can prevent accidents.
4. Humans will become gods
Or slaves. But lets go with the wise man becomes the human god.
My final thought.
I enjoyed reading both books. Sapiens was definitely my favorite of the two. I would advise to read with caution.
Closed minds should not go there.
If we were only to progress a little faster than anticipated, the ageless era would kick in and I’d still be here in a 200 years to know how the future played out. Cause remember, death is only a technicality!