Some meandering thoughts on:
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
My dad got me Sapiens from the library while I was home during Christmas time. Getting Library books for other people is one of my dad's principle hobbies. Every time I come home there's a dozen or so waiting for me. Usually I don't find the time to read them but it so happened I was interested in reading the book after listening to some podcasts with Harari. There are definitely some things about Harari that make some of my 'grifter' alarm bells go off, like following up his best seller with a listicle and talking about things like big data and meditation. But in all his interviews he comes across as so earnest and I found Sapiens to be a very interesting and engaging book.
There's a lot of human history so the book is sort of a whirlwind tour. It definitely raises more questions than answers, as any book so ambitious will. Some fun facts I picked up along the way:
- Humans have been precipitating ecological collapse since the beginning. Most large mammals in Australia and South America had gone extinct long before European colonization. In particular there used to be 300 lb. kangaroos.
- The Spanish word Dinero comes from the Roman word for coin. Actually Harari doesn't say this so it may be false but I inferred it from him saying the Muslim Caliphs issued dinars, deriving from denarius. This is still the official name of currency in several countries.
- Zarathustra, who I only know about from Nietzsche, is the principle prophet of Zoroastrianism.
Some passages which stuck in my mind:
- The passage on Buddhism: 'The Law of Nature'. It's so obvious in his retelling of religions that he sees Christianity and other monotheistic religions as essentially preposterous scams which inexplicably duped billions whereas Buddhism is a deep, essentially correct, philosophy.
- His passage on memetics: 'Blind Cleo'. It strangely felt like a blog post I've been drafting in my mind for a while. The strange thing about memetics is how the idea has spread mostly memetically. I never read Dawkin's original stuff on memes (I could even tell you what the source is. The Red Queen?). Just somehow the idea that how ideas spread is worth studying is viral. It's also interesting how Dawkin's notion of meme has been out-competed ecologically by internet memes. It seems like internet memes have out-competed a lot of forms of human expression.
Overall I love the perspective Yuval gives. Reading the book you get the sense of how strange a world we've all gotten used to. How it all could have gone differently. Maybe some processes are inevitable, but many thing's prevalence seems purely accidental when you consider their origin.