Sapiens: Human Reality and Fiction

I just heard a fascinating TED talk, due to the recommendation of a friend. The young Israeli historian Yuval Harari gives a short and fascinating account of how human beings, of all creatures, rose to rule the world. The talk is reportedly a shortened version of his book Sapiens , which I have not yet read. The book is widely praised as not only historical but also deeply philosophical. I’m no historian, so I can’t judge that. I think his talk showed some interesting psychological and anthropological insight, but that it also displayed some overly simplistic and sloppy philosophy. We need to be able to disentangle the two. Harari claims that we’re able to do two things that other species can’t manage. We can organize ourselves to work together (1) flexibly, and (2) on a large scale. Ant and bees can organize on a large scale, but their behavior seems determined, and not flexible in any robust sense. They don’t ever decide to displace the Queen and substitute a democratic form of governance, for example. They do what they’ve always done. Other species, like chimpanzees, can do things together flexibly, but not on a large scale. Harari gives the […]

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