Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
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Read between April 02 - April 28, 2020
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Biologists classify organisms into species. Animals are said to belong to the same species if they tend to mate with each other, giving birth to fertile offspring. Horses and donkeys have a recent common ancestor and share many physical traits. But they show little sexual interest in one another. They will mate if induced to do so – but their offspring, called mules, are sterile. Mutations in donkey DNA can therefore never cross over to horses, or vice versa. The two types of animals are consequently considered two distinct species, moving along separate evolutionary paths. By contrast, a ...more
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Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.
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Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to cooperate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered. In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust.
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Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.
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Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals.
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Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.
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The Cognitive Revolution is accordingly the point when history declared its independence from biology. Until the Cognitive Revolution, the doings of all human species belonged to the realm of biology, or, if you so prefer, prehistory (I tend to avoid the term ‘prehistory’, because it wrongly implies that even before the Cognitive Revolution, humans were in a category of their own). From the Cognitive Revolution onwards, historical narratives replace biological theories as our primary means of explaining the development of Homo sapiens. To understand the rise of Christianity or the French ...more
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the two species co-evolved to communicate well with each other. Dogs that were most attentive to the needs and feelings of their human companions got extra care and food, and were more likely to survive.
Swati Jaiswal
maybe that's why dogs are so loyal to humans. it's because of their survival instinct from ancient times.
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Animism (from ‘anima’, ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ in Latin) is the belief that almost every place, every animal, every plant and every natural phenomenon has awareness and feelings, and can communicate directly with humans.
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all eighteen indeed died violently, it means that about 4.5 per cent of deaths in the ancient Danube Valley were caused by human violence. Today, the global average is only 1.5 per cent, taking war and crime together. During the twentieth century, only 5 per cent of human deaths resulted from human violence – and this in a century that saw the bloodiest wars and most massive genocides in history. If this revelation is typical, the ancient Danube Valley was as violent as the twentieth century.
Swati Jaiswal
This comparison seems out of sync. It is very possible that the sample is skewed. 4.5% from a sample of 400 can't really do parallels with a world of billions.
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At the time of the Cognitive Revolution, the planet was home to about 200 genera of large terrestrial mammals weighing over fifty kilograms. At the time of the Agricultural Revolution, only about a hundred remained.
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Homo sapiens drove to extinction about half of the planet’s big beasts long before humans invented the wheel, writing or iron tools.
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No noteworthy plant or animal has been domesticated in the last 2,000 years.
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We did not domesticate wheat. It domesticated us. The word ‘domesticate’ comes from the Latin ‘domus’, which means ‘house’. Who’s the one living in a house? Not the wheat. It’s the Sapiens.
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This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suffering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution.
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In 1776 BC Babylon was the world’s biggest city.
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According to the science of biology, people were not ‘created’. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal’. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are ‘equal’?
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Evolution is based on difference, not on equality.
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Every person carries a somewhat different genetic code, and is exposed from birth to different environmental influences. This leads to the development of different qualities that carry with them different chances of survival. ‘Created eq...
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So here is that line from the American Declaration of Independence translated into biological terms: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.
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Hammurabi’s Code was a myth, but we do not want to hear that human rights are also a myth.
Swati Jaiswal
that's exactly where I came thinking. human rights is an imagined order thing. it doesn't exist objectively. after we are just another species.
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Romanticism tells us that in order to make the most of our human potential we must have as many different experiences as we can. We must open ourselves to a wide spectrum of emotions; we must sample various kinds of relationships; we must try different cuisines; we must learn to appreciate different styles of music. One of the best ways to do all that is to break free from our daily routine, leave behind our familiar setting, and go travelling in distant lands, where we can ‘experience’ the culture, the smells, the tastes and the norms of other people. We hear again and again the romantic ...more
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Paris is not a city, nor India a country – they are both experiences,
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It follows that in order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.
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Aristotle argued that slaves have a ‘slavish nature’ whereas free people have a ‘free nature’.
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many scholars surmise that the Hindu caste system took shape when Indo-Aryan people invaded the Indian subcontinent about 3,000 years ago, subjugating the local population. The invaders established a stratified society, in which they – of course – occupied the leading positions (priests and warriors), leaving the natives to live as servants and slaves.
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These dramatic changes are precisely what makes the history of gender so bewildering. If, as is being demonstrated today so clearly, the patriarchal system has been based on unfounded myths rather than on biological facts, what accounts for the universality and stability of this system?
Swati Jaiswal
As like other myths that just were made up by sapiens in power at a particular time, the myth of the superiority of men also came from somewhere. But how at any moment in history were males in a position of power and how women were so powerless that they let these myths run. Who were those women, how their life looked like. Who were those that agreed to the idea of male superiority.
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Contemporary American politics also revolve around this contradiction. Democrats want a more equitable society, even if it means raising taxes to fund programmes to help the poor, elderly and infirm. But that infringes on the freedom of individuals to spend their money as they wish. Why should the government force me to buy health insurance if I prefer using the money to put my kids through college? Republicans, on the other hand, want to maximise individual freedom, even if it means that the income gap between rich and poor will grow wider and that many Americans will not be able to afford ...more
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Discord in our thoughts, ideas and values compels us to think, re-evaluate and criticise.
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If tensions, conflicts and irresolvable dilemmas are the spice of every culture, a human being who belongs to any particular culture must hold contradictory beliefs and be riven by incompatible values. It’s such an essential feature of any culture that it even has a name: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture.
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We still talk a lot about ‘authentic’ cultures, but if by ‘authentic’ we mean something that developed independently, and that consists of ancient local traditions free of external influences, then there are no authentic cultures left on earth. Over the last few centuries, all cultures were changed almost beyond recognition by a flood of global influences.
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humankind. The first millennium BC witnessed the appearance of three potentially universal orders, whose devotees could for the first time imagine the entire world and the entire human race as a single unit governed by a single set of laws. Everyone was ‘us’, at least potentially. There was no longer ‘them’. The first universal order to appear was economic: the monetary order. The second universal order was political: the imperial order. The third universal order was religious: the order of universal religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Merchants, conquerors and prophets were ...more
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The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion,
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money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.
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The first coins in history were struck around 640 BC by King Alyattes of Lydia, in western Anatolia. These coins had a standardised weight of gold or silver, and were imprinted with an identification mark.
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Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.
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‘We are conquering you for your own benefit,’ said the Persians. Cyrus
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Indians are passionate cricket players and chai (tea) drinkers, and both game and beverage are British legacies. Commercial tea farming did not exist in India until the mid-nineteenth century, when it was introduced by the British East India Company.
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So, monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: to argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe – and He’s evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief.
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In fact, monotheism, as it has played out in history, is a kaleidoscope of monotheist, dualist, polytheist and animist legacies, jumbling together under a single divine umbrella. The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.
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He encapsulated his teachings in a single law: suffering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving; and the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is. This law, known as dharma or dhamma, is seen by Buddhists as a universal law of nature. That ‘suffering arises from craving’ is always and everywhere true, just as in modern physics E always equals mc2.
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The first principle of monotheist religions is ‘God exists. What does He want from me?’ The first principle of Buddhism is ‘Suffering exists. How do I escape it?’
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Today, the most important humanist sect is liberal humanism, which believes that ‘humanity’ is a quality of individual humans, and that the liberty of individuals is therefore sacrosanct.
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Even though liberal humanism sanctifies humans, it does not deny the existence of God, and is, in fact, founded on monotheist beliefs. The liberal belief in the free and sacred nature of each individual is a direct legacy of the traditional Christian belief in free and eternal individual souls. Without recourse to eternal souls and a Creator God, it becomes embarrassingly difficult for liberals to explain what is so special about individual Sapiens. Another important sect is socialist humanism. Socialists believe that ‘humanity’ is collective rather than individualistic.
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Like liberal humanism, socialist humanism is built on monotheist foundations. The idea that all humans are equal is a revamped version of the monotheist conviction that all souls are equal before God. The only humanist sect that has actually broken loose from traditional monotheism is evolutionary humanism, whose most famous representatives were the Nazis. What distinguished the Nazis from other humanist sects was a different definition of ‘humanity’, one deeply influenced by the theory of evolution. In contrast to other humanists, the Nazis believed that humankind is not something universal ...more
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history is what is called a ‘level two’ chaotic system. Chaotic systems come in two shapes. Level one chaos is chaos that does not react to predictions about it. The weather, for example, is a level one chaotic system. Though it is influenced by myriad factors, we can build computer models that take more and more of them into consideration, and produce better and better weather forecasts. Level two chaos is chaos that reacts to predictions about it, and therefore can never be predicted accurately. Markets, for example, are a level two chaotic system. What will happen if we develop a computer ...more
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Around AD 1500, history made its most momentous choice, changing not only the fate of humankind, but arguably the fate of all life on earth. We call it the Scientific Revolution.
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But the single most remarkable and defining moment of the past 500 years came at 05:29:45 on 16 July 1945. At that precise second, American scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. From that point onward, humankind had the capability not only to change the course of history, but to end it. The historical process that led to Alamogordo and to the moon is known as the Scientific Revolution.
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The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.
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For example, if a peasant in some thirteenth-century Yorkshire village wanted to know how the human race originated, he assumed that Christian tradition held the definitive answer. All he had to do was ask the local priest.
Swati Jaiswal
a key point to think here is, our knowledge of past comes from history which was written in past only. we didn't time travel and found that out. so were people in past not aware of all what we now know? they sure were.
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