Science

Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind

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In his book, Sapiens, the author takes us on an anthropological journey. He goes through history through the eyes of a scientist, rather than a historian. Yuval Harari separates facts from theory; making sure to inform the reader when he’s discussing which.

That being said, I absolutely loved the first half of the book. Not so much the second. The first half was about the cognitive revolution of 70k years ago and the agricultural revolution of round 30k years ago. These aspects of human history were almost completely unknown to me. I did not, however, enjoy his analysis of human history after these periods; it felt negative. To be fair, his analytical style remained consistent through out the book. However, his conclusion was incredibly depressing.

I recommend this book only to those interested in scientific research as it pertains to human behavior. It’s not a spell-binding thriller or action-packed adventure. If that’s what you’re looking for, pick another title.

Spoiler Alert: don’t read further if you don’t want to know the end.

At the end of the book, the author basically concludes that we have “nothing to show for” all of our progress and haven’t actually increased our happiness from 70,000 years ago. His case is that, as a result of human psychology, a person can only experience so much happiness. Our brains are capable of producing and absorbing only so many endorphins. Therefore, we aren’t more happy or sad than someone who lived 100k years ago. I disagree.

First, it’s important to accept the fact that we don’t actually know what we are. True, we understand some biological mechanisms that drive our sense of self, our feelings and our actions. However, we’re only now beginning to understand them; and there’s a lot more that we don’t know. The mind today remains the least understood part of our body. Therefore, it’s intellectually dangerous to infer what we are based on processes which we do not fully understand.

Second, to boil a person down to our chemical make-up is to deny our own humanity. Perhaps this part of my analysis is subjective, but I like to think that we’re more than just a combination of chemicals and that there’s something spiritual (if not religious) about being a living being; in other words we aren’t just “meatbags”.