Some books can follow you around. That appeared to have happened in the past few months with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (HarperCollins). It just seemed to be popping up everywhere.
I got curious and before long, I placed a reservation request to the library. The moment I got my hands on it, I got engrossed, immediately. Sapiens, is an extraordinary and provocative book, often funny and wonderfully written. Its scope is ambitious, it traces the evolution of our species from the rise of our ancient and insignificant ancestors, around 70,000 years ago, when Sapiens “started doing very special things,” to our current place in the modern, technological age of the twenty-first century.
In his book, Yuval Noah Harari, a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, attempts to answer how we did it, how humans succeeded to become the most significant species, to basically rule the planet Earth. His thesis is that Homo Sapiens has succeeded to become the dominant species and control the world because of his ability to cooperate flexibly in very big numbers. Humans are the only animals that can do that. Using their imagination, they are able to create imaginative realities, such as religions, empires, states, ideologies, companies, human rights, and money. The latter is the most important story ever, because it has enabled humans to construct complex and sophisticated economic cooperative networks.
Three big revolutions shaped the Sapiens. First, the ‘cognitive’ revolution, about 11,000 years ago when humans began to change the way they live, by shifting from hunting and gathering to agricultural economies. Second, it was the ‘scientific’ revolution which began about 500 years ago when humans discovered their own ignorance, and they decided to do something about it. It was the beginning of science which brought major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation and had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions, in Britain initially, and then in Europe and North America. It also led to the Industrial revolution, about 250 years ago.
We are now experiencing the third one, the ‘biotechnological’ evolution which started after the World War II, about 70 years ago. Harari’s conclusion is that humans are about to change again and he is trying to identify the new possibilities and choices we are facing. We are entering a new era where the inevitable merger of human and machine might signal the end of Sapiens as a biological species, and the beginning of post-humans, bioengineered cyborgs that will be able to live forever.