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Book review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

There were humans long before there was history. According to carbon dating humans, or their Latin name, Homo Sapiens, appeared about 25 million years ago in East Africa. Yet for more than 2 million years they accomplished nothing of note. Then came the collaboration of hunters to kill larger game, the daily use of fire, and 100,000 years ago Sapiens jumped to the top of the food chain. During the next 90,000 years Sapiens eliminated all other human species, along with the majority of the Earth's large mammals. "Sapiens" is the eye-opening crime report of ecology's serial killer, Homosapiens.

Author Yuval Noah Harari likens Sapiens' cognitive revolution, which occurred about 70,000 years ago, to the biblical term, tree of knowledge. Through the genetic mutation impelled by Sapiens' migration to Northern climates modern humans were able to think in unprecedented ways and communicate in increasingly complex languages. Surprisingly, to this reader at least, gossip enabled Sapien bands to grow from 20-50 members to 150 when they were able to receive information about people they didn't personally know, thereby allowing them to develop accurate judgements.

This book travels along Humanity's timeline from hunter-gatherer bands to the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago which tied humanity to the land. The collective belief in the value of money allowed populations to be taxed and Empires to form. Now the global link of the media has paradoxically broken down the barriers of distance and divided the world like no other time in Sapiens' existence.

Harari shares how myths, or collective imaginings by humanity, have allowed civilizations to advance through the utilization of money, religion, and corporations. Through these myths man has, "subdued the Earth and gained dominion over it." (Gen 1:28) However, if Sapiens are stewards of the earth it is hard to imagine how we could have done a worst job.

The Agricultural Revolution led to genetically modified monoculture crops that have decreased biodiversity. Biological engineering of farmyard animals, intelligent design not of God but of humans, has created breeds of meaty slow chickens, pigs, and cows that exist in deplorable, unnatural conditions just long enough to be harvested. Population of Sapiens have exploded as a result of our decimation of the Earth, like locusts we ravage every source of sustenance with little to no thought of long-term consequences.

Sapiens is a splash of ice water thrown into the face of humanity. It removes the rose colored glasses that most Sapiens wear when they look in the mirror at the highest state of consciousness this Earth has ever seen.

If "Sapiens" weren't frightening enough Harari's sequel "Homo Deus" explores Humanity's future in our quest for immortality. His research of technological advances in artificial intelligence and medical treatment foreshadows a quest to transform humans into gods. Considering the damage that humanity is able to inflict in the relatively short span of a lifetime what horrors could we achieve if we are able to evolve to Homo Deus?


Enigma writes from a South Carolina facility. He has authored other articles on this site as well. We look forward to his future articles as well. Like, share and subscribe to receive the latest articles from Enigma.

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