I just finished listening to and reading the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Hariri. Fascinating book, the kind that changes your perspective on history and the future. This book has been recommended by the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, I wanted to find out what the fuss was all about. The book did not disappoint. If you read Bill Gates’s notes you can see the emphasis is on how did humans get smart and if you read Mark’s notes it is on sociology and how we humans evolved to create things like Governments, Money and Technology. Maybe the core of the message is that Homo-sapiens got lucky with some of the things that we take for granted.
The author claims through research, archeological studies and literature survey that the only reason we i.e Homo-sapiens survived and the other categories of humans like Homo neanderthalensis (Europe and western Asia), Homo erectus (East Asia) or Homo rudolfensis (East Africa) did not survive is because of our innate ability to 1) communicate through language, 2) create fiction and 3) coordinate in a large group on a common mission. How did Homo-sapiens happens to get this insight or rather the Tree of Knowledge gene mutation and other humans did not? Pure chance, according to the author. Yes, it is a random chance event and we just happen to have gotten lucky.
I was impressed with the narrative of this book and I think I will read Yuval’s new book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Yuval makes a number of leaps based on his research and hypothesis, it made me think and I recommend the book. If you read other book reviews of the same book, you will notice that most of the journalists and blogs go for the sensational message and conclusion from the book.
Given our proclivity to create fiction, I will take most of the projections and forecasts in the book with a pinch of salt. Most of the projections based on the book is likely, but I am not so sure that they will come to pass. The reason why I believe that is because we live in a world that is path dependent i.e. we adjust our path by looking back at History like the author has done with the book and when we see a fork in the road and one path leads to something that we don’t like vs the other leads to possibly less uncomfortable. I think Nuclear proliferation is one example, given what we know about Nuclear arms, there has been a concerted effort to curb any global scale war. Actually since World War II end we have had an unprecedented time of peace. I am not saying that everything is hunky dory, but I am saying that the last 80 years have seen tremendous progress in increasing the human footprint. Maybe that is not such a good thing because according to Yuval, we have not been very good stewards of our environment.
The book made me ponder about our future, given the unbridled march of technological progress where are we really going? Are we going to be a multi-planetary species like Elon Musk envisions or are we doomed to go in cycles where we destroy progress and go back to dark ages and rebuild again? I am not sure. I believe a lot has to do with choices, having an open mind and education, especially about history. I am becoming a big fan of history because in the last 70,000 years we have done a lot of things but our reptilian brain continues to take charge when we are faced with a threat. It served us well to survive the sabre tooth tiger but maybe we don’t need to resort to the reptilian brain when we face challenges in our current environment.
We as a species have done wonders to bring more understanding to the world around us, but maybe what we need to do more now is get better understanding of how our system works. What is consciousness? What about spirituality? how about our genes and can we consciously modify them? I am intrigued by these questions. The promise of meditation and combining that with the progress of technology is fertile ground. I looking forward to reading more books and research around this subject.