Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sapiens, a brief history of humankind (2015)

The scope of the book Sapiens is extraordinary.  From the birth of our species, about 150,000 years ago until about 70,000 years ago, we were just another unremarkable "Great Ape."  Then about 70,000 years ago, we went through what Harari calls the "Cognitive Revolution," and we began to
...behave in far more ingenious ways than before, ... and we spread rapidly across the planet. About 11,000 years ago we enter on the agricultural revolution, converting in increasing numbers from foraging (hunting and gathering) to farming. The "scientific revolution" begins about 500 years ago. It triggers the industrial revolution, about 250 years ago, which triggers in turn the information revolution, about 50 years ago, which triggers the biotechnological revolution, which is still wet behind the ears. Harari suspects that the biotechnological revolution signals the end of sapiens: we will be replaced by bioengineered post-humans, "amortal" cyborgs, capable of living forever.  [Guardian Book review

Harari's grand vision is compelling, and his writing is engaging and fast moving.  So fast, in fact, that when you take time to dissect and critique what he is saying, you will find much with which to disagree.  For example, I would have had capitalism and religion playing a much bigger role in our history.  But this kind of conflict leads to growth, and after reading the book, I think I have a much better understanding of how we got here and, maybe, where we are going.

The book exhausted me, and I am reading some fiction before I go to the next two books in his trilogy.

Harari meditates for two hours every day, and goes on a 60-day silent retreat each year.  He attributes his extraordinary productivity (three books in three years) to this practice:

... It's so difficult, especially when you deal with long-term history, to get bogged down in the small details or to be distracted by a million different tiny stories and concerns. It's so difficult to keep reminding yourself what is really the most important thing that has happened in history or what is the most important thing that is happening now in the world. The discipline to have this focus I really got from the meditation.

This was enough to get me back to my paltry 15-minute prayer discipline.

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