I mentioned I’m reading “Sapiens” and although I could incorporate some of it into other threads, I thought I’d give it its own. It’s not bad as a brief history of humans. I like the early tribal stuff, but he gets in to myth and as others have pointed out, when he speculates, he often misses the mark. He uses Puegeot, the car company, as an example of a fiction that we all accept. It is even called a “legal fiction” by lawyers. Corporations have helped us advance large ideas without requiring individuals to carry all the risk. But then he starts beating this idea to death, comparing it to religion, nations, and our ideas of what a good life is. It doesn’t always fit.

For example, he talks of the young man who wants to have an adventurous life, so he figures out how to make a few bucks, then finds himself stuck with kids and a mortgage. What is wrong with this guy’s life that having a nice home and family is a bad thing? He even contradicts himself a couple chapters later when talking about Bonobo chimps and how they don’t “go on holiday”. He goes on for a few paragraphs about how vacations are a myth, invented by the travel industry. He has a few points, but he connects them in ways I don’t think are helpful or insightful.

He does a better job with money, another myth, although I’d want to check with some economic historians. I’m in the religion chapter now, which I will probably have something to say about.

This guy seems to like it:

Those 5 points ring true to me.

That we developed the ability to believe fiction, so long ago, and how that was so critical to our success in large groups, is a new idea to me, in some ways. I have known that the dollar has value simply we all believe it does. But I had not conceptualized the importance of group fiction-believing in the development of our civilizations, beyond the apparent importance of religion in that development. And had not clearly thought of how mono-theism has advantages in spreading more than polytheism.

I have often thought that our tendency, as individuals of our species, to be religious, is to a large extent, an evolved trait. But I have generally thought that being “believers” by faith instead of by facts, was more a product of religious indoctrination. But it may be that believing by faith is more of an evolved tendency. And that the tendency toward religiosity arises out of that. I think that we may be seeing the effect of this evolved trait in our political schizms, such that the irrational beliefs of certain groups are so fixed and prominent without correspondence to reality.


He’s hit a new low on his ideas about the scientific revolution. It’s a great question, that I don’t think is fully answered anywhere, “why did science catch on in Western Europe and not elsewhere?” He talks a lot about the marriage of conquering and science, for example, Darwin was an add-on, an afterthought, to what was otherwise a military mission to learn about the people in the area. He completely ignores religion in this discussion. He discusses religion in the two previous chapters (some included in Tim’s link), then notes differences of how Europeans didn’t just sail the world for knowledge, they conquered, wiping out previous populations. This is otherwise pretty rare in human history.

He says “they had a fever” for conquering, but makes no mention of doing it for God. In fact he says they did it to acquire knowledge. (Please don’t bother Mike). He makes no mention of the Muslim Abassid dynasty creating libraries of knowledge from around the world, or of the Mongols who destroyed much of that. He claims it’s a difference in attitude, which is wild speculation.

What are the author’s credentials? Is he a main-stream scientist, a conspiracy nut, a speculative thinker who’s researched the topic, or something else?

He’s a historian from Israel. His written a few books, but this is the first one to give him celebrity status.

Well we may have conquered and wiped out the Neanderthals. And we have recent examples of how major war lead to scientific advancement. Nuclear science and Man on the Moon was directly precipitated by WWII.

In this video (not too long, but has some subtitles) he is pretty much lauded for his ideas, combining history, biology, and science (and, in this case, for his crediting meditation to help him have clearer thinking and a sense of peace.)

I think that his conception of how our societies can be and are controlled by our stories (mentally developed fictions) is particularly important, I think. Objective reality becomes less important than, or subordinate to, the fictions that a social culture or system comes to believe.

On the downside, he looks like a glasses wearing Stephen Miller, but without the evil-dead-looking eyes


Okay, at least he’s blasting capitalism. Although it didn’t start out that way. He made a direct connection with it and the rise of the African slave trade. This somewhat redeems him from an earlier blatant error when he said “they started importing slaves from Africa to replace the Natives who had died from disease or maltreatment”. He says this while talking about Cortez, who was enslaving the Aztecs in the 1530’s. The “they” is referring are the colonies started by Columbus. A basic google search shows no African slave trade at that time.

I’ve read one book and numerous articles on this but I’m definitely an amateur. I shouldn’t have to fact check someone who makes their living as an historian. Not on such an easily checked fact.

The next to last chapter is titled “Happily Ever After” and examines how we measure happiness. He makes a couple of his reductionist errors, but makes some good points, like a rich man living on a river in France is not really happier than a poor man on a pig farm, those are fleeting measures of happiness and people respond differently to material wealth. Our biology is key to the physical feelings we have that we call happiness.

He explores Buddhism, and does a good job of describing it, as far as I understand it anyway. Buddhism doesn’t fall into these traps of pursuing wealth or even of pursuing family or whatever things someone might do thinking they’ll find joy. Buddhism recognizes no matter what, we’ll always try to pursue something to adjust to whatever discomfort we perceive. The practice of Buddhism is thus to be with who you are, know yourself and accept the suffering or the joy, knowing either will pass. In one of his more brilliant insights Harari points out that when this came to the West, they turned it into another way to find joy, they made it a system with rules; look inward and then you will find true peace.

Just started reading Sapiens last night.

I like the writing style and so far the ideas are interesting. The fact he doesn’t support every assertion and conjecture is fine, because he isn’t stating them as anything other than his personal thoughts.

I’m glad I went to the used book store last night.

Only around page 100. I’m both busy and very lazy, so my reading time isn’t what I’d like it to be.

Still enjoying it. Yes, there are unsupported opinions and ideas I don’t think I agree with, but the writing style is conversational and light, so those issues aren’t even issues.

I’m trying to catch a bad cold so I can lay around and read on the weekend. Wish me luck.

About the origin of religion, I think it has something to do with the origin of schizophrenia. They’re probably related. They seem to have similar symptoms, like seeing the handiwork of invisible beings, hearing voices, seeing apparitions, making bizarre irrational connections, etc. A lot of religious people also experience an invisible being controlling events and setting up situations in weird ways, like they’re being monitored. A lot of religion sounds like paranoia.