Sapiens by Yuval Harari
Highlight [page 10]: Three important revolutions shaped the course of history: the Cognitive Revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago. The Agricultural Revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago. The Scientific Revolution, which got under way only 500 years ago, may well end history and start something completely diʃerent. This book tells the story of how these three revolutions have affected humans and their fellow organisms.
Highlight [page 11]: 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.
Highlight [page 13]: On another Indonesian island – the small island of Flores – archaic humans underwent a process of dwarfing
Highlight [page 13]: This unique species, known by scientists as Homo floresiensis, reached a maximum height of only one metre and weighed no more than twenty-five kilograms
Highlight [page 14]: humans have extraordinarily large brains compared to other animals. Mammals weighing sixty kilograms have an average brain size of 200 cubic centimetres. The earliest men and women, 2.5 million years ago, had brains of about 600 cubic centimetres. Modern Sapiens sport a brain averaging 1,200–1,400 cubic centimetres. Neanderthal brains were even bigger
Highlight [page 14]: more time in search of food. Secondly, their muscles atrophied. energy Archaic humans paid for their large brains in two ways. Firstly, they spent By comparison, the brains of other apes require only 8 per cent of rest-time weight, but it consumes 25 per cent of the body’s energy when the body is at rest. In Homo sapiens, the brain accounts for about 2–3 per cent of total body
Highlight [page 15]: The more things these hands could do, the more successful their owners were, so evolutionary pressure brought about an increasing concentration of nerves and finely tuned muscles in the palms and fingers. As a result, humans can perform very intricate tasks with their hands.
Highlight [page 15]: developed. humans are born prematurely, when many of their vital systems are still underconsequently favoured earlier births. And, indeed, compared to other animals, supple, fared better and lived to have more children. Natural selection birth earlier, when the infants brain and head were still relatively small and Death in childbirth became a major hazard for human females. Women who gave birth canal – and this just when babies’ heads were getting bigger and bigger. Women paid extra. An upright gait required narrower hips, constricting the necks Humankind paid for its lofty vision and industrious hands with backaches and stiʃ challenge, especially when the scaʃolding had to support an extra-large cranium. had a relatively small head. Adjusting to an upright position was quite a developed for millions of years to support a creature that walked on all fours and The skeleton of our primate ancestors
Highlight [page 15]: It takes a tribe to raise a human. Evolution thus favoured those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialised to a far greater extent than any other animal. Most mammals emerge from the womb like glazed earthenware emerging from a kiln – any attempt at remoulding will scratch or break them. Humans emerge from the womb like molten glass from a furnace.
Highlight [page 16]: One of the most common uses of early stone tools was to crack open bones in order to get to the marrow
Highlight [page 16]: several species of man began to hunt large game on a regular basis all the while being hunted by larger predators It was only 400,000 years ago that millions of years, humans hunted smaller creatures and gathered what they could, position in the food chain was, until quite recently, solidly in the middle.
Highlight [page 16]: 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. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust.
Highlight [page 17]: But the best thing fire did was cook. Foods that humans cannot digest in their natural forms – such as wheat, rice and potatoes – became staples of our diet thanks to cooking. Fire not only changed food’s chemistry, it changed its biology as well. Cooking killed germs and parasites that infested food. Humans also had a far easier time chewing and digesting old favourites such as fruits, nuts, insects and carrion if they were cooked. Whereas chimpanzees spend five hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food.
Highlight [page 20]: Biological reality is not black and white. There are also important grey areas. Every two species that evolved from a common ancestor, such as horses and donkeys, were at one time just two populations of the same species, like bulldogs and spaniels.
Highlight [page 22]: Whether Sapiens are to blame or not, no sooner had they arrived at a new location than the native population became extinct. The last remains of Homo soloensis are dated to about 50,000 years ago. Homo denisova disappeared shortly thereafter. Neanderthals made their exit roughly 30,000 years ago. The last dwarflike humans vanished from Flores Island about 12,000 years ago. They left behind some bones, stone tools, a few genes in our DNA and a lot of unanswered questions. They also left behind us, Homo sapiens, the last human species
Highlight [page 23]: The period from about 70,000 years ago to about 30,000 years ago witnessed the invention of boats, oil lamps, bows and arrows and needles (essential for sewing warm clothing). The first objects that can reliably be called art date from this era (see the Stadel lion-man on this page), as does the first clear evidence for religion, commerce and social stratification.
Highlight [page 24]: It was not the first language. Every animal has some kind of language. Even insects, such as bees and ants, know how to communicate in sophisticated ways, informing one another of the whereabouts of food. Neither was it the first vocal language
Highlight [page 26]: Most likely, both the gossip theory and the there-is-a-lion-near-the-river theory are valid. Yet the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled
Highlight [page 27]: fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers
Highlight [page 28]: Under natural conditions, a typical chimpanzee troop consists of about twenty to fifty individuals. As the number of chimpanzees in a troop increases, the social order destabilises, eventually leading to a rupture and the formation of a new troop by some of the animals
Highlight [page 29]: Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in peoples collective imagination.
Highlight [page 32]: Much of history revolves around this question: how does one convince millions of people to believe particular stories about gods, or nations, or limited liability companies? Yet when it succeeds, it gives Sapiens immense power, because it enables millions of strangers to cooperate and work towards common goals. Just try to imagine how diɽcult it would have been to create states, or churches, or legal systems if we could speak only about things that really exist, such as rivers, trees and lions
Highlight [page 33]: Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens has thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations. As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as gods, nations and corporations
Highlight [page 33]: ever since the Cognitive Revolution Homo sapiens has been able to revise its behaviour rapidly in accordance with changing needs. This opened a fast lane of cultural evolution, bypassing the traɽc jams of genetic evolution. Speeding down this fast lane, Homo sapiens soon far outstripped all other human and animal species in its ability to cooperate
Highlight [page 37]: 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 Revolution, it is not enough to comprehend the interaction of genes, hormones and organisms. It is necessary to take into account the interaction of ideas, images and fantasies as well
Highlight [page 40]: The past 200 years, during which ever increasing numbers of Sapiens have obtained their daily bread as urban labourers and oɽce workers, and the preceding 10,000 years, during which most Sapiens lived as farmers and herders, are the blink of an eye compared to the tens of thousands of years during which our ancestors hunted and gathered.
Highlight [page 40]: If a Stone Age woman came across a tree groaning with figs, the most sensible thing to do was to eat as many of them as she could on the spot, before the local baboon band picked the tree bare. The instinct to gorge on high-calorie food was hardwired into our genes. Today we may be living in high-rise apartments with overstuʃed refrigerators, but our DNA still thinks we are in the savannah
Highlight [page 44]: The heated debates about Homo sapiens’ ‘natural way of life’ miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities
Highlight [page 44]: evidence of domesticated dogs from about 15,000 years ago Revolution. Experts disagree about the exact date, but we have incontrovertible animal domesticated by Homo sapiens, and this occurred before the Agricultural There was just one exception to this general rule: the dog. The dog was the first million Sapiens and 50 million sheep members all the same. Today, the society called New Zealand is composed of 4.5 domesticated animals. They are not equal to their masters, of course, but they are it is far from obvious. Most members of agricultural and industrial societies are all these individuals were humans. It is important to note this last point, because bands numbering several dozen or at most several hundred individuals, and that nevertheless? It seems safe to say that the vast majority of people lived in small What generalisations can we make about life in the pre-agricultural world
Highlight [page 45]: The Sapiens population was thinly spread over vast territories. Before the Agricultural Revolution, the human population of the entire planet was smaller than that of today’s Cairo
Highlight [page 46]: In some exceptional cases, when food sources were particularly rich, bands settled down in seasonal and even permanent camps. Techniques for drying, smoking and freezing food also made it possible to stay put for longer periods. Most importantly, alongside seas and rivers rich in seafood and waterfowl, humans set up permanent fishing villages – the first permanent settlements in history, long predating the Agricultural Revolution. Fishing villages might have appeared on the coasts of Indonesian islands as early as 45,000 years ago
Highlight [page 47]: Each individual had to understand how to make a stone knife, how to mend a torn cloak, how to lay a rabbit trap, and how to face avalanches, snakebites or hungry lions. Mastery of each of these many skills required years of apprenticeship and practice. The average ancient forager could turn a flint stone into a spear point within minutes. When we try to imitate this feat, we usually fail miserably
Highlight [page 47]: generation by working as a water carrier or an assembly-line worker. were opened up. You could survive and pass your unremarkable genes to the next increasingly rely on the skills of others for survival, and new ‘niches for imbeciles’ abilities from everyone. When agriculture and industry came along people could decreased since the age of foraging.5 Survival in that era required superb mental There is some evidence that the size of the average Sapiens brain has actually level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skilful people in history collective knows far more today than did the ancient bands. But at the individual The human
Highlight [page 47]: They moved with a minimum of eʃort and noise, and knew how to sit, walk and run in the most agile and eɽcient manner. Varied and constant use of their bodies made them as fit as marathon runners. They had physical dexterity that people today are unable to achieve even after years of practising yoga or t’ai chi
Highlight [page 48]: The forager economy provided most people with more interesting lives than agriculture or industry do. Today, a Chinese factory hand leaves home around seven in the morning, makes her way through polluted streets to a sweatshop, and there operates the same machine, in the same way, day in, day out, for ten long and mind-numbing hours, returning home around seven in the evening in order to wash dishes and do the laundry. Thirty thousand years ago, a Chinese forager might leave camp with her companions at, say, eight in the morning. They’d roam the nearby forests and meadows, gathering mushrooms, digging up edible roots, catching frogs and occasionally running away from tigers. By early afternoon, they were back at the camp to make lunch. That left them plenty of time to gossip, tell stories, play with the children and just hang out. Of course the tigers sometimes caught them, or a snake bit them, but on the other hand they didn’t have to deal with automobile accidents and industrial pollution.
Highlight [page 49]: Ancient foragers also suʃered less from infectious diseases. Most of the infectious diseases that have plagued agricultural and industrial societies (such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis) originated in domesticated animals and were transferred to humans only after the Agricultural Revolution. Ancient foragers, who had domesticated only dogs, were free of these scourges. Moreover, most people in agricultural and industrial societies lived in dense, unhygienic permanent settlements – ideal hotbeds for disease. Foragers roamed the land in small bands that could not sustain epidemics.
Highlight [page 49]: The wholesome and varied diet, the relatively short working week, and the rarity of infectious diseases have led many experts to define pre-agricultural forager societies as ‘the original aʀuent societies’. It would be a mistake, however, to idealise the lives of these ancients. Though they lived better lives than most people in agricultural and industrial societies, their world could still be harsh and unforgiving. Periods of want and hardship were not uncommon, child mortality was high, and an accident which would be minor today could easily become a death sentence. Most people probably enjoyed the close intimacy of the roaming band, but those unfortunates who incurred the hostility or mockery of their fellow band members probably suʃered terribly. Modern foragers occasionally abandon and even kill old or disabled people who cannot keep up with the band. Unwanted babies and children may be slain, and there are even cases of religiously inspired human sacrifice.
Underline [page 55]: castles in the air,
Highlight [page 57]: This curtain of silence shrouds tens of thousands of years of history. These long millennia may well have witnessed wars and revolutions, ecstatic religious movements, profound philosophical theories, incomparable artistic masterpieces. The foragers may have had their all-conquering Napoleons, who ruled empires half the size of Luxembourg; gifted Beethovens who lacked symphony orchestras but brought people to tears with the sound of their bamboo flutes; and charismatic prophets who revealed the words of a local oak tree rather than those of a universal creator god. But these are all mere guesses. The curtain of silence is so thick that we cannot even be sure such things occurred – let alone describe them in detail.
Highlight [page 60]: True, archaeologists have yet to unearth rafts, oars or fishing villages that date back as far as 45,000 years ago (they would be diɽcult to discover, because rising sea levels have buried the ancient Indonesian shoreline under a hundred metres of ocean)
Highlight [page 61]: Within a few thousand years, virtually all of these giants vanished. Of the twenty-four Australian animal species weighing fifty kilograms or more, twentythree became extinct. A large number of smaller species also disappeared. Food chains throughout the2entire Australian ecosystem were broken and rearranged. It was the most important transformation of the Australian ecosystem for millions of years. Was it all the fault of Homo sapiens?
Highlight [page 65]: The human blitzkrieg across America testifies to the incomparable ingenuity and the unsurpassed adaptability of Homo sapiens. No other animal had ever moved into such a huge variety of radically diʃerent habitats so quickly, everywhere using virtually the same genes
Highlight [page 65]: When the first Americans marched south from Alaska into the plains of Canada and the western United States, they encountered mammoths and mastodons, rodents the size of bears, herds of horses and camels, oversized lions and dozens of large species the likes of which are completely unknown today, among them fearsome sabre-tooth cats and giant ground sloths that weighed up to eight tons and reached a height of six metres. South America hosted an even more exotic menagerie of large mammals, reptiles and birds. The Americas were a great laboratory of evolutionary experimentation, a place where animals and plants unknown in Africa and Asia had evolved and thrived. But no longer. Within 2,000 years of the Sapiens arrival, most of these unique species were gone
Highlight [page 70]: Even today, with all our advanced technologies, more than 90 per cent of the calories that feed humanity come from the handful of plants that our ancestors domesticated between 9500 and 3500 BC – wheat, rice, maize (called ‘corn’ in the US), potatoes, millet and barley. No noteworthy plant or animal has been domesticated in the last 2,000 years
Highlight [page 78]: The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away
Highlight [page 83]: As humans spread around the world, so did their domesticated animals. Ten thousand years ago, not more than a few million sheep, cattle, goats, boars and chickens lived in restricted Afro-Asian niches. Today the world contains about a billion sheep, a billion pigs, more than a billion cattle, and more than 25 billion chickens. And they are all over the globe
Highlight [page 85]: In many New Guinean societies, the wealth of a person has traditionally been determined by the number of pigs he or she owns. To ensure that the pigs can’t run away, farmers in northern New Guinea slice oʃ a chunk of each pig’s nose. This causes severe pain whenever the pig tries to sniʃ. Since the pigs cannot find food or even find their way around without sniɽng, this mutilation makes them completely dependent on their human owners. In another area of New Guinea, it has been customary to gouge out pigs’ eyes, so that they cannot even see where they’re going
Highlight [page 87]: This discrepancy between evolutionary success and individual suʃering is perhaps the most important lesson we can draw from the Agricultural Revolution. When we study the narrative of plants such as wheat and maize, maybe the purely evolutionary perspective makes sense. Yet in the case of animals such as cattle, sheep and Sapiens, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, we have to consider how evolutionary success translates into individual experience
Highlight [page 88]: Around 10,000 BC, before the transition to agriculture, earth was home to about 5–8 million nomadic foragers. By the first century AD, only 1–2 million foragers remained (mainly in Australia, America and Africa), but their numbers were dwarfed by the world’s 250 million farmers
Highlight [page 90]: Since most villages lived by cultivating a very limited variety of domesticated plants and animals, they were at the mercy of droughts, floods and pestilence. Peasants were obliged to produce more than they consumed so that they could build up reserves. Without grain in the silo, jars of olive oil in the cellar, cheese in the pantry and sausages hanging from the rafters, they would starve in bad years. And bad years were bound to come, sooner or later. A peasant living on the assumption that bad years would not come didn’t live long
Highlight [page 90]: Until the late modern era, more than
Highlight [page 91]: 90 per cent of humans were peasants who rose each morning to till the land by the sweat of their brows. The extra they produced fed the tiny minority of elites kings, government oɽcials, soldiers, priests, artists and thinkers – who fill the history books. History is something that very few people have been doing while everyone else was ploughing fields and carrying water buckets
Highlight [page 91]: The problem at the root of such calamities is that humans evolved for millions of years in small bands of a few dozen individuals. The handful of millennia separating the Agricultural Revolution from the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires was not enough time to allow an instinct for mass cooperation to evolve
Highlight [page 100]: How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. People are unequal, not because Hammurabi said so, but because Enlil and Marduk decreed it. People are equal, not because Thomas Jeʃerson said so, but because God created them that way
Highlight [page 101]: today people believe in equality, so it’s fashionable for rich kids to wear jeans, which were originally working-class attire. In the Middle Ages people believed in class divisions, so no young nobleman would have worn a peasant’s smock
Highlight [page 103]: Consumerism tells us that in order to be happy we must consume as many products and services as possible. If we feel that something is missing or not quite right, then we probably need to buy a product (a car, new clothes, organic food) or a service (housekeeping, relationship therapy, yoga classes). Every television commercial is another little legend about how consuming some product or service will make life better. Romanticism, which encourages variety, meshes perfectly with consumerism. Their marriage has given birth to the infinite ‘market of experiences’, on which the modern tourism industry is founded. The tourism industry does not sell flight tickets and hotel bedrooms. It sells experiences
Highlight [page 103]: Like the elite of ancient Egypt, most people in most cultures dedicate their lives to building pyramids. Only the names, shapes and sizes of these pyramids change
Highlight [page 104]: from one culture to the other. They may take the form, for example, of a suburban cottage with a swimming pool and an evergreen lawn, or a gleaming penthouse with an enviable view. Few question the myths that cause us to desire the pyramid in the first place
Highlight [page 108]: data-processing system invented by the Sumerians is called ‘writing brain, opening the way for the appearance of cities, kingdoms and empires. The Sumerians thereby released their social order from the limitations of the human that was custom-built to handle large amounts of mathematical data. The invented a system for storing and processing information outside their brains, one Between the years 3500 BC and 3000 BC, some unknown Sumerian geniuses grew, so did the amount of information required to coordinate their aʃairs. produced plentiful harvests and prosperous towns. As the number of inhabitants southern Mesopotamia. There, a scorching sun beating upon rich muddy plains The first to overcome the problem were the ancient Sumerians, who lived in networks remained relatively small and simple collapsed. For thousands of years after the Agricultural Revolution, human social amounts of mathematical data. Since the human brain could not do it, the system crossed a critical threshold, it became necessary to store and process large collectives. When the amount of people and property in a particular society This mental limitation severely constrained the size and complexity of human
Highlight [page 111]: For hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, quipus were essential to the business of cities, kingdoms and empires.3 They reached their full potential under the Inca Empire, which ruled 10–12 million people and covered today’s Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as chunks of Chile, Argentina and Colombia
Highlight [page 124]: Religious and scientific myths were pressed into service to justify this division. Theologians argued that Africans descend from Ham, son of Noah, saddled by his father with a curse that his oʃspring would be slaves. Biologists argued that blacks are less intelligent than whites and their moral sense less developed. Doctors alleged that blacks live in filth and spread diseases – in other words, they are a source of pollution.
Highlight [page 128]: To say that a husband ‘raped’ his wife was as illogical as saying that a man stole his own wallet. Such thinking was not confined to the ancient Middle East. As of 2006, there were still fifty-three countries where a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife. Even in Germany, rape laws were amended only in 1997 to create a legal category of marital rape.5
Highlight [page 129]: How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’
Highlight [page 129]: Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realise this possibility. Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition. No culture has ever bothered to forbid men to photosynthesise, women to run faster than the speed of light, or negatively charged electrons to be attracted to each other. In truth, our concepts ‘natural’ and unnatural’ are taken not from biology, but from Christian theology. The theological meaning of ‘natural’ is ‘in accordance with the intentions of the God who created nature’
Highlight [page 134]: At least since the Agricultural Revolution, most human societies have been patriarchal societies that valued men more highly than women. No matter how a society defined ‘man’ and ‘woman’, to be a man was always better. Patriarchal societies educate men to think and act in a masculine way and women to think and act in a feminine way, punishing anyone who dares cross those boundaries. Yet they do not equally reward those who conform. Qualities considered masculine are more valued than those considered feminine, and members of a society who personify the feminine ideal get less than those who exemplify the masculine ideal. Fewer resources are invested in the health and education of women; they have fewer economic opportunities, less political power, and less freedom of movement. Gender is a race in which some of the runners compete only for the bronze medal
Highlight [page 135]: Since patriarchy is so universal, it cannot be the product of some vicious circle that was kick-started by a chance occurrence. It is particularly noteworthy that even before 1492, most societies in both America and Afro-Asia were patriarchal, even though they had been out of contact for thousands of years. If patriarchy in Afro-Asia resulted from some chance occurrence, why were the Aztecs and Incas patriarchal? It is far more likely that even though the precise definition of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ varies between cultures, there is some universal biological reason why almost all cultures valued manhood over womanhood. We do not know what this reason is. There are plenty of theories, none of them convincing.
Highlight [page 136]: In fact, human history shows that there is often an inverse relation between physical prowess and social power. In most societies, it’s the lower classes who do the manual labour. This may reflect Homo sapiens position in the food chain. If all that counted were raw physical abilities, Sapiens would have found themselves on a middle rung of the ladder. But their mental and social skills placed them at the top. It is therefore only natural that the chain of power within the species will also be determined by mental and social abilities more than by brute force
Highlight [page 137]: You do not waste good iron to make nails,’ went a common Chinese saying, meaning that really talented people join the civil bureaucracy, not the army.
Highlight [page 138]: The militarily incompetent Augustus succeeded in establishing a stable imperial regime, achieving something that eluded both Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, who were much better generals. Both his admiring contemporaries and modern historians often attribute this feat to his virtue of clementia – mildness and clemency
Highlight [page 139]: Bonobo and elephant societies are controlled by strong networks of cooperative females, while the self-centred and uncooperative males are pushed to the sidelines. Though bonobo females are weaker on average than the males, the females often gang up to beat males who overstep their limits.
Highlight [page 143]: Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have gradually come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better oʃ. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality. The entire political history of the world since 1789 can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile this contradiction
Highlight [page 145]: Teotihuacan
Highlight [page 146]: Today almost all humans share the same geopolitical system (the entire planet is divided into internationally recognised states); the same economic system (capitalist market forces shape even the remotest corners of the globe); the same legal system (human rights and international law are valid everywhere, at least theoretically); and the same scientific system (experts in Iran, Israel, Australia and Argentina have exactly the same views about the structure of atoms or the treatment of tuberculosis).
Highlight [page 147]: One of the most interesting examples of this globalisation is ‘ethnic’ cuisine. In an Italian restaurant we expect to find spaghetti in tomato sauce; in Polish and Irish restaurants lots of potatoes; in an Argentinian restaurant we can choose between dozens of kinds of beefsteaks; in an Indian restaurant hot chillies are incorporated into just about everything; and the highlight at any Swiss café is thick hot chocolate under an alp of whipped cream. But none of these foods is native to those nations. Tomatoes, chilli peppers and cocoa are all Mexican in origin; they reached Europe and Asia only after the Spaniards conquered Mexico. Julius Caesar and Dante Alighieri never twirled tomato-drenched spaghetti on their forks (even forks hadn’t been invented yet), William Tell never tasted chocolate, and Buddha never spiced up his food with chilli. Potatoes reached Poland and Ireland no more than 400 years ago. The only steak you could obtain in Argentina in 1492 was from a llama
Highlight [page 149]: 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.
Highlight [page 149]: We begin with the story of the greatest conqueror in history, a conqueror possessed of extreme tolerance and adaptability, thereby turning people into ardent disciples. This conqueror is money. People who do not believe in the same god or obey the same king are more than willing to use the same money
Highlight [page 154]: easily exchange one thing for another, and to store wealth conveniently. easily the value of diʃerent commodities (such as apples, shoes and divorces), to of exchanging goods and services. Money enables people to compare quickly and use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to
Highlight [page 154]: Cowry shells were used as money for about 4,000 years all over Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Oceania. Taxes could still be paid in cowry shells in British Uganda in the early twentieth century
Highlight [page 155]: In fact, even today coins and banknotes are a rare form of money. In 2006, the sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes was less than $6 trillion.7 More than 90 per cent of all money more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts – exists only on computer servers. Accordingly, most business transactions are executed by moving electronic data from one computer file to another, without any exchange of physical cash
Highlight [page 157]: he goes. Because money can convert, store and transport wealth easily and cheaply, it made a vital contribution to the appearance of complex commercial networks and dynamic markets. Without money, commercial networks and markets would have been doomed to remain very limited in their size, complexity and dynamism
Highlight [page 157]: Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised
Highlight [page 158]: History’s first known money Sumerian barley money – is a good example. It appeared in Sumer around 3000 BC, at the same time and place, and under the same circumstances, in which writing appeared. Just as writing developed to answer the needs of intensifying administrative activities, so barley money developed to answer the needs of intensifying economic activities
Highlight [page 158]: The real breakthrough in monetary history occurred when people gained trust in money that lacked inherent value, but was easier to store and transport. Such money appeared in ancient Mesopotamia in the middle of the third millennium BC. This was the silver shekel. The silver shekel was not a coin, but rather 8.33 grams of silver.
Highlight [page 161]: Similarly, the fact that another person believes in cowry shells, or dollars, or electronic data, is enough to strengthen our own belief in them, even if that person is otherwise hated, despised or ridiculed by us. Christians and Muslims who could not agree on religious beliefs could nevertheless agree on a monetary belief, because whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.
Highlight [page 162]: Money is based on two universal principles: a. Universal convertibility: with money as an alchemist, you can turn land into loyalty, justice into health, and violence into knowledge. b. Universal trust: with money as a go-between, any two people can cooperate on any project
Highlight [page 162]: Human communities and families have always been based on belief in ‘priceless’ things, such as honour, loyalty, morality and love. These things lie outside the domain of the market, and they shouldn’t be bought or sold for money. Even if the market oʃers a good price, certain things just aren’t done. Parents mustn’t sell their children into slavery; a devout Christian must not commit a mortal sin; a loyal knight must never betray his lord; and ancestral tribal lands shall never be sold to foreigners
Highlight [page 165]: Numantians are to this day Spain’s paragons of heroism and patriotism, cast as role models for the country’s young people.
Highlight [page 166]: Empires were one of the main reasons for the drastic reduction in human diversity. The imperial steamroller gradually obliterated the unique characteristics of numerous peoples (such as the Numantians), forging out of them new and much larger groups.
Highlight [page 167]: Jonah from the belly of the great fish
Highlight [page 168]: This does not mean, however, that empires leave nothing of value in their wake. To colour all empires black and to disavow all imperial legacies is to reject most of human culture. Imperial elites used the profits of conquest to finance not only armies and forts but also philosophy, art, justice and charity. A significant proportion of humanity’s cultural achievements owe their existence to the exploitation of conquered populations. The profits and prosperity brought by Roman imperialism provided Cicero, Seneca and St Augustine with the leisure and wherewithal to think and write; the Taj Mahal could not have been built without the wealth accumulated by Mughal exploitation of their Indian subjects; and the Habsburg Empire’s profits from its rule over its Slavic, Hungarian and Romanianspeaking provinces paid Haydn’s salaries and Mozart’s commissions
Highlight [page 169]: Egyptians speak Arabic, think of themselves as Arabs, and identify wholeheartedly with the Arab Empire that conquered Egypt in the seventh century and crushed with an iron fist the repeated revolts that broke out against its rule
Highlight [page 182]: caprice, but are ordained by an absolute and supreme authority fragile structures. Religions assert that our laws are not the result of human crucial historical role of religion has been to give superhuman legitimacy to these imagined, they are all fragile, and the larger the society, the more fragile it is. The alongside money and empires Since all social orders and hierarchies are disunion. Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, Today religion is often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement and
Highlight [page 183]: Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order. This involves two distinct criteria: 1. Religions hold that there is a superhuman order, which is not the product of human whims or agreements. Professional football is not a religion, because despite its many laws, rites and often bizarre rituals, everyone knows that human beings invented football themselves, and FIFA may at any moment enlarge the size of the goal or cancel the offside rule. 2. Based on this superhuman order, religion establishes norms and values that it considers binding. Many Westerners today believe in ghosts, fairies and reincarnation, but these beliefs are not a source of moral and behavioural standards. As such, they do not constitute a religion
Highlight [page 183]: In order to unite under its aegis a large expanse of territory inhabited by disparate groups of human beings, a religion must possess two further qualities. First, it must espouse a universal superhuman order that is true always and everywhere. Second, it must insist on spreading this belief to everyone. In other words, it must be universal and missionary
Highlight [page 183]: As far as we know, universal and missionary religions began to appear only in the first millennium BC. Their emergence was one of the most important revolutions in history, and made a vital contribution to the unification of humankind, much like the emergence of universal empires and universal money
Highlight [page 187]: In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine, polytheistic Roman emperors initiated no more than four general persecutions of Christians. Local administrators and governors incited some anti-Christian violence of their own. Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians.1 In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly diʃerent interpretations of the religion of love and compassion
Highlight [page 188]: On 23 August 1572, French Catholics who stressed the importance of good deeds attacked communities of French Protestants who highlighted God’s love for humankind. In this attack, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, between 5,000 and 10,000 Protestants were slaughtered in less than twenty-four hours.
Highlight [page 190]: The monotheist religions expelled the gods through the front door with a lot of fanfare, only to take them back in through the side window. Christianity, for example, developed its own pantheon of saints, whose cults diʃered little from those of the polytheistic gods. Just as the god Jupiter defended Rome and Huitzilopochtli protected the Aztec Empire, so every Christian kingdom had its own patron saint who helped it overcome diɽculties and win wars. England was protected by St George, Scotland by St Andrew, Hungary by St Stephen, and France had St Martin. Cities and towns, professions, and even diseases – each had their own saint.
Highlight [page 191]: Monotheists have to practise intellectual gymnastics to explain how an all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good God allows so much suʃering in the world. One well-known explanation is that this is God’s way of allowing for human free will. Were there no evil, humans could not choose between good and evil, and hence there would be no free will.
Highlight [page 193]: During the first millennium BC, religions of an altogether new kind began to spread through Afro-Asia. The newcomers, such as Jainism and Buddhism in India, Daoism and Confucianism in China, and Stoicism, Cynicism and Epicureanism in the Mediterranean basin, were characterised by their disregard of gods
Highlight [page 196]: According to Buddhist tradition, Gautama himself attained nirvana and was fully liberated from suʃering. Henceforth he was known as ‘Buddha’, which means ‘The Enlightened One’. Buddha spent the rest of his life explaining his discoveries to others so that everyone could be freed from suʃering. He encapsulated his teachings in a single law: suʃering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suʃering 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
Highlight [page 197]: The last 300 years are often depicted as an age of growing secularism, in which religions have increasingly lost their importance. If we are talking about theist religions, this is largely correct. But if we take into consideration natural-law religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary eʃorts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.
Highlight [page 206]: What is the diʃerence between describing ‘how’ and explaining ‘why’? To describe ‘how’ means to reconstruct the series of specific events that led from one point to another. To explain ‘why means to find causal connections that account for the occurrence of this particular series of events to the exclusion of all others
Highlight [page 209]: This approach is sometimes called memetics. It assumes that, just as organic evolution is based on the replication of organic information units called ‘genes’, so cultural evolution is based on the replication of cultural information units called ‘memes’.1 Successful cultures are those that excel in reproducing their memes, irrespective of the costs and benefits to their human hosts
Highlight [page 212]: money than all the world’s premodern kingdoms put together single medieval library with room to spare. Any large bank today holds more easily store every word and number in all the codex books and scrolls in every cargo borne by the whole world’s merchant fleets.5 A modern computer could sustaining a scratch. Five modern freighters could have taken onboard all the and then sink the navies of every great world power of the time without a matter of seconds it could make driftwood out of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria Suppose a single modern battleship got transported back to Columbus’ time. In energy consumption 115-fold.) figures – human population has increased fourteen-fold, production 240-fold, and Today, we consume 1,500 trillion calories a day.4 (Take a second look at those trillion.3 In 1500, humanity consumed about 13 trillion calories of energy per day. dollars.2 Nowadays the value of a year of human production is close to $60 produced by humankind in the year 1500 is estimated at $250 billion, in today’s entire world. Today, there are 7 billion.1 The total value of goods and services human power. In the year 1500, there were about 500 million Homo sapiens in the The last 500 years have witnessed a phenomenal and unprecedented growth in
Highlight [page 215]: Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into these ancient texts and traditions and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures
Highlight [page 218]: n 1687, Isaac Newton published The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, arguably the most important book in modern history
Highlight [page 219]: Only around the end of the nineteenth century did scientists come across a few observations that did not fit well with Newton’s laws, and these led to the next revolutions in physics – the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.
Highlight [page 221]: We need merely look at the history of education to realise how far this process has taken us. Throughout most of history, mathematics was an esoteric field that even educated people rarely studied seriously. In medieval Europe, logic, grammar and rhetoric formed the educational core, while the teaching of mathematics seldom went beyond simple arithmetic and geometry. Nobody studied statistics. The undisputed monarch of all sciences was theology
Highlight [page 226]: Until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress. They thought the golden age was in the past, and that the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating. Strict adherence to the wisdom of the ages might perhaps bring back the good old times, and human ingenuity might conceivably improve this or that facet of daily life. However, it was considered impossible for human knowhow to overcome the world’s fundamental problems. If even Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius – who knew everything there is to know – were unable to abolish famine, disease, poverty and war from the world, how could we expect to do so?
Highlight [page 230]: In those days, carpenters and butchers who enlisted to the army were often sent to serve in the medical corps, because surgery required little more than knowing your way with knives and saws
Highlight [page 231]: Genetic engineers have recently managed to double the average life expectancy of Caenorhabditis elegans worms.12 Could they do the same for Homo sapiens? Nanotechnology experts are developing a bionic immune system composed of millions of nano-robots, who would inhabit our bodies, open blocked blood vessels, fight viruses and bacteria, eliminate cancerous cells and even reverse ageing processes.13 A few serious scholars suggest that by 2050, some humans will become a-mortal (not immortal, because they could still die of some accident, but a-mortal, meaning that in the absence of fatal trauma their lives could be extended indefinitely
Highlight [page 240]: All successful late modern empires cultivated scientific research in the hope of harvesting technological innovations, and many scientists spent most of their time working on arms, medicines and machines for their imperial masters. A common saying among European soldiers facing African enemies was, ‘Come what may, we have machine guns, and they don’t.’ Civilian technologies were no less important. Canned food fed soldiers, railroads and steamships transported soldiers and their provisions, while a new arsenal of medicines cured soldiers, sailors and locomotive engineers. These logistical advances played a more significant role in the European conquest of Africa than did the machine gun
Highlight [page 241]: The world’s first commercial railroad opened for business in 1830, in Britain. By 1850, Western nations were criss-crossed by almost 40,000 kilometres of railroads – but in the whole of Asia, Africa and Latin America there were only 4,000 kilometres of tracks
Highlight [page 249]: The Zheng He expeditions prove that Europe did not enjoy an outstanding technological edge. What made Europeans exceptional was their unparalleled and insatiable ambition to explore and conquer. Although they might have had the ability, the Romans never attempted to conquer India or Scandinavia, the Persians never attempted to conquer Madagascar or Spain, and the Chinese never attempted to conquer Indonesia or Africa. Most Chinese rulers left even nearby Japan to its own devices. There was nothing peculiar about that. The oddity is that early modern Europeans caught a fever that drove them to sail to distant and completely unknown lands full of alien cultures, take one step on to their beaches, and immediately declare, ‘I claim all these territories for my king
Highlight [page 254]: When the Muslims conquered India, they did not bring along archaeologists to systematically study Indian history, anthropologists to study Indian cultures, geologists to study Indian soils, or zoologists to study Indian fauna. When the British conquered India, they did all of these things
Highlight [page 259]: Scientists have provided the imperial project with practical knowledge, ideological justification and technological gadgets.
Highlight [page 259]: There are very few scientific disciplines that did not begin their lives as servants to imperial growth and that do not owe a large proportion of their discoveries,
Highlight [page 260]: collections, buildings and scholarships to the generous help of army oɽcers, navy captains and imperial governors.
Highlight [page 261]: Yet to understand modern economic history, you really need to understand just a single word. The word is growth. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, the modern economy has been growing like a hormone-soused teenager. It eats up everything it can find and puts on inches faster than you can count
Highlight [page 261]: In 1500, global production of goods and services was equal to about $250 billion; today it hovers around $60 trillion. More importantly, in 1500, annual per capita production averaged $550, while today every man, woman and child produces, on the average, $8,800 a year.1 What accounts for this stupendous growth?
Highlight [page 262]: Banks are allowed to loan $10 for every dollar they actually possess, which means that 90 per cent of all the money in our bank accounts is not covered by actual coins and notes.2 If all of the account holders at Barclays Bank suddenly demand their money, Barclays will promptly collapse (unless the government steps in to save it). The same is true of Lloyds, Deutsche Bank, Citibank, and all other banks in the world
Highlight [page 264]: That’s why many cultures concluded that making bundles of money was sinful. As Jesus said, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:24). If the pie is static, and I have a big part of it, then I must have taken somebody else’s slice. The rich were obliged to do penance for their evil deeds by giving some of their surplus wealth to charity.
Highlight [page 265]: t was lose-lose. Because credit was limited, people had trouble financing new businesses. Because there were few new businesses, the economy did not grow. Because it did not grow, people assumed it never would, and those who had capital were wary of extending credit. The expectation of stagnation fulfilled itself.
Highlight [page 267]: et cetera ad infinitum
Highlight [page 267]: The idea that ‘The profits of production must be reinvested in increasing production’ sounds trivial. Yet it was alien to most people throughout history. In premodern times, people believed that production was more or less constant. So why reinvest your profits if production won’t increase by much, no matter what you do? Thus medieval noblemen espoused an ethic of generosity and conspicuous consumption. They spent their revenues on tournaments, banquets, palaces and wars, and on charity and monumental cathedrals. Few tried to reinvest profits in increasing their manors’ output, developing better kinds of wheat, or looking for new marke
Highlight [page 269]: expectations before the bubble bursts, we are heading towards very rough times. the banks and governments have created since 2008. If the labs do not fulfil these new industries, whose profits could back the trillions of make-believe money that discoveries in fields such as biotechnology and nanotechnology could create entire before the bubble bursts. Everything depends on the people in the labs. New technicians and engineers will manage to come up with something really big, of thin air, pumping cheap credit into the system, and hoping that the scientists, growth of the economy. So they are creating trillions of dollars, euros and yen out money. Everybody is terrified that the current economic crisis may stop the Over the last few years, banks and governments have been frenziedly printing the bill Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot of America, the internal combustion engine, or genetically engineered sheep. come up with another discovery or gadget every few years – such as the continent exponentially throughout the modern era, thanks only to the fact that scientists indefinitely. The human economy has nevertheless managed to grow extremely foolish to believe that the supply of sheep would keep on growing almost everything we know about the universe. A society of wolves would be account. Capitalisms belief in perpetual economic growth flies in the face of Conversely, the history of capitalism is unintelligible without taking science into modern science can leave capitalism out of the picture. that can’t clear these hurdles has little chance of finding a sponsor. No history of us to increase production and profits? Will it produce economic growth?’ A project particular scientific project, the first questions are usually, ‘Will this project enable businesses. When capitalist governments and businesses consider investing in a science, too. Scientific research is usually funded by either governments or private This new religion has had a decisive influence on the development of modern
Highlight [page 270]: In Europe, on the other hand, kings and generals gradually adopted the mercantile way of thinking, until merchants and bankers became the ruling elite. The European conquest of the world was increasingly financed through credit rather than taxes, and was increasingly directed by capitalists whose main ambition was to receive maximum returns on their investments. The empires built by bankers and merchants in frock coats and top hats defeated the empires built by kings and noblemen in gold clothes and shining armour. The mercantile empires were simply much shrewder in financing their conquests. Nobody wants to pay taxes, but everyone is happy to invest
Highlight [page 271]: This was the magic circle of imperial capitalism: credit financed new discoveries; discoveries led to colonies; colonies provided profits; profits built trust; and trust translated into more credit.
Highlight [page 278]: In 1840 Britain duly declared war on China in the name of ‘free trade’. It was a walkover. The overconfident Chinese were no match for Britain’s new wonder weapons – steamboats, heavy artillery, rockets and rapid-fire rifles. Under the subsequent peace treaty, China agreed not to constrain the activities of British drug merchants and to compensate them for damages inflicted by the Chinese police. Furthermore, the British demanded and received control of Hong Kong, which they proceeded to use as a secure base for drug traɽcking (Hong Kong remained in British hands until 1997). In the late nineteenth century, about 40 million Chinese, a tenth of the country’s population, were opium addicts
Highlight [page 278]: French and British investors lent huge sums to the rulers of Egypt, first in order to finance the Suez Canal project
Highlight [page 279]: Capital and politics influence each other to such an extent that their relations are hotly debated by economists, politicians and the general public alike. Ardent capitalists tend to argue that capital should be free to influence politics, but politics should not be allowed to influence capital. They argue that when governments interfere in the markets, political interests cause them to make unwise investments that result in slower growth. For example, a government may impose heavy taxation on industrialists and use the money to give lavish unemployment benefits, which are popular with voters
Highlight [page 280]: Claus But in its extreme form, belief in the free market is as naïve as belief in Santa nothing They oʃer governments the same advice that Zen masters oʃer initiates: just do military adventures abroad with as much zeal as welfare programmes at home. capitalist creed. The most enthusiastic advocates of the free market criticise free-market doctrine is today the most common and influential variant of the industrialists and workers – is for the government to do as little as possible. This way to ensure the most economic growth – which will benefit everyone, considerations, will invest their money where they can get the most profit, so the forces free rein to take their course. Private investors, unencumbered by political reduce taxation and government regulation to a minimum, and allow market In this view, the wisest economic policy is to keep politics out of the economy,
Highlight [page 280]: When kings fail to do their jobs and regulate the markets properly, it leads to loss of trust, dwindling credit and economic depression. That was the lesson taught by the Mississippi Bubble of 1719, and anyone who forgot it was reminded by the US housing bubble of 2007, and the ensuing credit crunch and recession.
Highlight [page 281]: When the Europeans conquered America, they opened gold and silver mines and established sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations. These mines and plantations became the mainstay of American production and export. The sugar plantations were particularly important. In the Middle Ages, sugar was a rare luxury in Europe. It was imported from the Middle East at prohibitive prices and used sparingly as a secret ingredient in delicacies and snake-oil medicines. After large sugar plantations were established in America, ever-increasing amounts of sugar began to reach Europe. The price of sugar dropped and Europe developed an insatiable sweet tooth. Entrepreneurs met this need by producing huge quantities of sweets: cakes, cookies, chocolate, candy, and sweetened beverages such as cocoa, coʃee and tea. The annual sugar intake of the average Englishman rose from near zero in the early seventeenth century to around eight kilograms in the early nineteenth century
Highlight [page 283]: After 1908, and especially after 1945, capitalist greed was somewhat reined in, not least due to the fear of Communism. Yet inequities are still rampant. The economic pie of 2014 is far larger than the pie of 1500, but it is distributed so unevenly that many African peasants and Indonesian labourers return home after a hard day’s work with less food than did their ancestors 500 years ago
Highlight [page 285]: THE MODERN ECONOMY GROWS THANKS to our trust in the future and to the willingness of capitalists to reinvest their profits in production. Yet that does not suɽce. Economic growth also requires energy and raw materials, and these are finite. When and if they run out, the entire system will collapse.
Highlight [page 285]: For millennia prior to the Industrial Revolution, humans already knew how to make use of a large variety of energy sources. They burned wood in order to smelt iron, heat houses and bake cakes. Sailing ships harnessed wind power to move around, and watermills captured the flow of rivers to grind grain
Highlight [page 286]: An even bigger problem was that people didn’t know how to convert one type of energy into another. They could harness the movement of wind and water to sail ships and push millstones, but not to heat water or smelt iron. Conversely, they could not use the heat energy produced by burning wood to make a millstone move. Humans had only one machine capable of performing such energy conversion tricks: the body. In the natural process of metabolism, the bodies of humans and other animals burn organic fuels known as food and convert the released energy into the movement of muscles. Men, women and beasts could consume grain and meat, burn up their carbohydrates and fats, and use the energy to haul a rickshaw or pull a plough. Since human and animal bodies were the only energy conversion device available, muscle power was the key to almost all human activities. Human muscles built carts and houses, ox muscles ploughed fields, and horse muscles transported goods. The energy that fuelled these organic muscle-machines came ultimately from a single source – plants. Plants in their turn obtained their energy from the sun. By the process of photosynthesis, they captured solar energy and packed it into organic compounds. Almost everything people did throughout history was fuelled by solar energy that was captured by plants and converted into muscle power. Human history was consequently dominated by two main cycles: the growth cycles of plants and the changing cycles of solar energy (day and night, summer and winter). When sunlight was scarce and when wheat fields were still green, humans had little energy. Granaries were empty, tax collectors were idle, soldiers found it diɽcult to move and fight, and kings tended to keep the peace. When the sun shone brightly and the wheat ripened, peasants harvested the crops and filled the granaries. Tax collectors hurried to take their share. Soldiers flexed their muscles and sharpened their swords. Kings convened councils and planned their next campaigns. Everyone was fuelled by solar energy – captured and packaged in wheat, rice and potatoes.
Highlight [page 287]: In the decades that followed, British entrepreneurs improved the eɽciency of the steam engine, brought it out of the mineshafts, and connected it to looms and gins. This revolutionised textile production, making it possible to produce everlarger quantities of cheap textiles. In the blink of an eye, Britain became the workshop of the world. But even more importantly, getting the steam engine out of the mines broke an important psychological barrier. If you could burn coal in order to move textile looms, why not use the same method to move other things, such as vehicles?
Highlight [page 288]: how electricity does all these things, but even fewer can imagine life without it our nights and entertains us with countless television shows. Few of us understand and executes our criminals, registers our thoughts and records our smiles, lights up clothes, keeps our vegetables fresh and our ice cream frozen, cooks our dinners universal genie in a lamp. We flick our fingers and it prints books and sews experiments and cheap magic tricks. A series of inventions turned it into our played no role in the economy, and was used at most for arcane scientific The career of electricity was more startling yet. Two centuries ago electricity gold, pepper or slaves, but not oil for the sake of oil would have seemed ludicrous. You might fight a war over land, nobody thought it was useful for much more than that. The idea of spilling blood was used to waterproof roofs and lubricate axles. Yet until just a century ago into liquid political power. Petroleum had been known for thousands of years, and more than a generation to revolutionise human transportation and turn petroleum Another crucial discovery was the internal combustion engine, which took little globe Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear power stations mushroomed all over the energy – that’s what E = mc2 means – and the moment atom bombs obliterated the moment Einstein determined that any kind of mass could be converted into cannon pulverised the walls of Constantinople. Only forty years passed between moment Chinese alchemists discovered gunpowder and the moment Turkish power submarines and annihilate cities. Six hundred years passed between the thinking about how this energy could be released and used to make electricity, immense amount of energy is stored within atoms, they immediately started just invent the right machine. For example, when physicists realised that an anywhere in the world, might be harnessed to whatever need we had, if we could could be used to convert one type of energy into another. Any type of energy, Henceforth, people became obsessed with the idea that machines and engines
Highlight [page 289]: Why are so many people afraid that we are running out of energy? Why do they warn of disaster if we exhaust all available fossil fuels? Clearly the world does not lack energy. All we lack is the knowledge necessary to harness and convert it to our needs. The amount of energy stored in all the fossil fuel on earth is negligible compared to the amount that the sun dispenses every day, free of charge. Only a tiny proportion of the sun’s energy reaches us, yet it amounts to 3,766,800 exajoules of energy each year (a joule is a unit of energy in the metric system, about the amount you expend to lift a small apple one yard straight up; an exajoule is a billion billion joules – that’s a lot of apples).2 All the world’s plants capture only about 3,000 of those solar exajoules through the process of photosynthesis.3 All human activities and industries put together consume about 500 exajoules annually, equivalent to the amount of energy earth receives from the sun in just ninety minutes.4 And that’s only solar energy. In addition, we are surrounded by other enormous sources of energy, such as nuclear energy and gravitational energy, the latter most evident in the power of the ocean tides caused by the moon’s pull on the earth
Highlight [page 290]: Chemists discovered aluminium only in the 1820s, but separating the metal from its ore was extremely diɽcult and costly. For decades, aluminium was much more expensive than gold. In the 1860S, Emperor Napoleon III of France commissioned aluminium cutlery to be laid out for his most distinguished guests. Less important visitors had to make do with the gold knives and forks.5 But at the end of the nineteenth century chemists discovered a way to extract immense amounts of cheap aluminium, and current global production stands at 30 million tons per year. Napoleon III would be surprised to hear that his subjects’ descendants use cheap disposable aluminium foil to wrap their sandwiches and put away their leftovers
Highlight [page 290]: During World War One, Germany was placed under blockade and suʃered severe shortages of raw materials, in particular saltpetre, an essential ingredient in gunpowder and other explosives. The most important saltpetre deposits were in Chile and India; there were none at all in Germany. True, saltpetre could be replaced by ammonia, but that was expensive to produce as well. Luckily for the Germans, one of their fellow citizens, a Jewish chemist named Fritz Haber, had discovered in 1908 a process for producing ammonia literally out of thin air. When war broke out, the Germans used Haber’s discovery to commence industrial production of explosives using air as a raw material. Some scholars believe that if it hadn’t been for Haber’s discovery, Germany would have been forced to surrender long before November 1918.6 The discovery won Haber (who during the war also pioneered the use of poison gas in battle) a Nobel Prize in 1918. In chemistry, not in peace
Highlight [page 292]: Evolutionary psychology maintains that the emotional and social needs of farm
Highlight [page 293]: animals evolved in the wild, when they were essential for survival and reproduction. For example, a wild cow had to know how to form close relations with other cows and bulls, or else she could not survive and reproduce. In order to learn the necessary skills, evolution implanted in calves – as in the young of all other social mammals – a strong desire to play (playing is the mammalian way of learning social behaviour). And it implanted in them an even stronger desire to bond with their mothers, whose milk and care were essential for survival
Highlight [page 295]: who is going to buy all this stuff history, supply began to outstrip demand. And an entirely new problem was born: bulbs, mobile phones, cameras and dishwashers. For the first time in human produce a mind-boggling array of previously unimaginable goods, such as light more clothing, and build many more structures than ever before. In addition, they avalanche of products. Humans now produce far more steel, manufacture much were released from fieldwork, they began pouring out an unprecedented As those factories and oɽces absorbed the billions of hands and brains that brains to staff factories and offices. could never have taken place – there would not have been enough hands and world.9 Without the industrialisation of agriculture the urban Industrial Revolution feed the entire US population, but also to export surpluses to the rest of the makes a living from agriculture, yet this 2 per cent produces enough not only to Today in the United States, only 2 per cent of the population
Highlight [page 296]: Throughout most of history, people were likely to be have been repelled rather than attracted by such a text. They would have branded it as selfish, decadent and morally corrupt. Consumerism has worked very hard, with the help of popular psychology (‘Just do it!’) to convince people that indulgence is good for you, whereas frugality is self-oppression.
Highlight [page 296]: Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all
Highlight [page 297]: the hungry people in the rest of the world.
Highlight [page 297]: How can we square the consumerist ethic with the capitalist ethic of the business person, according to which profits should not be wasted, and should instead be reinvested in production? It’s simple. As in previous eras, there is today a division of labour between the elite and the masses. In medieval Europe, aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries, whereas peasants lived frugally, minding every penny. Today, the tables have turned. The rich take great care managing their assets and investments, while the less well heeled go into debt buying cars and televisions they don’t really need
Highlight [page 298]: Today, the earths continents are home to almost 7 billion Sapiens. If you took all these people and put them on a large set of scales, their combined mass would be about 300 million tons. If you then took all our domesticated farmyard animals – cows, pigs, sheep and chickens – and placed them on an even larger set of scales, their mass would amount to about 700 million tons. In contrast, the combined mass of all surviving large wild animals – from porcupines and penguins to elephants and whales – is less than 100 million tons. Our children’s books, our iconography and our TV screens are still full of giraʃes, wolves and chimpanzees, but the real world has very few of them left. There are about 80,000 giraʃes in the world, compared to 1.5 billion cattle; only 200,000 wolves, compared to 400 million domesticated dogs; only 250,000 chimpanzees – in contrast to billions of humans. Humankind really has taken over the world
Highlight [page 299]: Many call this process ‘the destruction of nature’. But it’s not really destruction, it’s change. Nature cannot be destroyed. Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, but in so doing opened the way forward for mammals. Today, humankind is driving many species into extinction and might even annihilate itself. But other organisms are doing quite well. Rats and cockroaches, for example, are in their heyday. These tenacious creatures would probably creep out from beneath the smoking rubble of a nuclear Armageddon, ready and able to spread their DNA. Perhaps 65 million years from now, intelligent rats will look back gratefully on the decimation wrought by humankind, just as we today can thank that dinosaur-busting asteroid
Highlight [page 299]: Since the Industrial Revolution, the world’s human population has burgeoned as never before. In 1700 the world was home to some 700 million humans. In 1800 there were 950 million of us. By 1900 we almost doubled our numbers to 1.6 billion. And by 2000 that quadrupled to 6 billion. Today there are just shy of 7 billion Sapiens.
Highlight [page 300]: The Industrial Revolution turned the timetable and the assembly line into a template for almost all human activities. Shortly after factories imposed their time frames on human behaviour, schools too adopted precise timetables, followed by hospitals, government oɽces and grocery stores. Even in places devoid of assembly lines and machines, the timetable became king. If the shift at the factory ends at 5 p.m., the local pub had better be open for business by 5:02.
Highlight [page 301]: This modest beginning spawned a global network of timetables, synchronised down to the tiniest fractions of a second. When the broadcast media – first radio, then television – made their debut, they entered a world of timetables and became its main enforcers and evangelists. Among the first things radio stations broadcast were time signals, beeps that enabled far-flung settlements and ships at sea to set their clocks
Highlight [page 301]: Today, a single aʀuent family generally has more timepieces at home than an entire medieval country
Highlight [page 302]: The typical person consults these clocks several dozen times a day, because almost everything we do has to be done on time. An alarm clock wakes us up at 7 a.m., we heat our frozen bagel for exactly fifty seconds in the microwave, brush our teeth for three minutes until the electric toothbrush beeps, catch the 07:40 train to work, run on the treadmill at the gym until the beeper announces that half an hour is over, sit down in front of the TV at 7 p.m. to watch our favourite show, get interrupted at preordained moments by commercials that cost $1,000 per second, and eventually unload all our angst on a therapist who restricts our prattle to the now standard fifty-minute therapy hour
Highlight [page 302]: The Industrial Revolution brought about dozens of major upheavals in human society. Adapting to industrial time is just one of them
Highlight [page 303]: elders into government agents Qin Empire in China), they did so by converting family heads and community intensively in the daily lives of the peasantry (as happened, for example, in the communities. Even on rare occasions when rulers tried to intervene more systems or educational systems. They left such matters in the hands of families and Consequently, most rulers did not develop mass welfare systems, health-care crowds of government oɽcials, policemen, social workers, teachers and doctors. diɽculty. Traditional agricultural economies had few surpluses with which to feed communities. Even if they wanted to intervene, most kings could do so only with exceptions, they tended to stay out of the daily aʃairs of families and raised taxes and occasionally enlisted soldiers and labourers. Yet, with few waging wars, building roads and constructing palaces. For these purposes kings There were also kingdoms and empires that performed important tasks such as community the market. Most human needs were taken care of by the family and the Yet less than 10 per cent of commonly used products and services were bought in could buy rare spices, cloth and tools, and hire the services of lawyers and doctors. payments. There were some markets, of course, but their roles were limited. You against brigands and barbarians. Village life involved many transactions but few castle without paying us a penny. In exchange, we counted on him to defend us time, the local potentate might have drafted all of us villagers to construct his in return. When I was in need, my neighbour returned the favour. At the same need, I helped build his hut and guard his sheep, without expecting any payment market. In an old-fashioned medieval community, when my neighbour was in favours, which often diʃered greatly from the supply and demand laws of the free The community oʃered help on the basis of local traditions and an economy of
Highlight [page 304]: Many kingdoms and empires were in truth little more than large protection rackets. The king was the capo di tutti capi who collected protection money, and in return made sure that neighbouring crime syndicates and local small fry did not harm those under his protection. He did little else.
Highlight [page 305]: In order really to break the power of family and community, they needed the help of a fifth column. The state and the market approached people with an oʃer that could not be refused. ‘Become individuals,’ they said. ‘Marry whomever you desire, without asking permission from your parents. Take up whatever job suits you, even if community elders frown. Live wherever you wish, even if you cannot make it every week to the family dinner. You are no longer dependent on your family or your community. We, the state and the market, will take care of you instead. We will provide food, shelter, education, health, welfare and employment. We will provide pensions, insurance and protection.’
Highlight [page 305]: Not only adult men, but also women and children, are recognised as individuals. Throughout most of history, women were often seen as the property of family or community. Modern states, on the other hand, see women as individuals, enjoying economic and legal rights independently of their family and community. They may hold their own bank accounts, decide whom to marry, and even choose to divorce or live on their own
Highlight [page 306]: The deal between states, markets and individuals is an uneasy one. The state and the market disagree about their mutual rights and obligations, and individuals complain that both demand too much and provide too little. In many cases individuals are exploited by markets, and states employ their armies, police forces and bureaucracies to persecute individuals instead of defending them. Yet it is amazing that this deal works at all – however imperfectly. For it breaches countless generations of human social arrangements. Millions of years of evolution have designed us to live and think as community members. Within a mere two centuries we have become alienated individuals. Nothing testifies better to the awesome power of culture
Highlight [page 307]: Until not long ago, the suggestion that the state ought to prevent parents from beating or humiliating their children would have been rejected out of hand as ludicrous and unworkable.
Highlight [page 307]: Today, parental authority is in full retreat. Youngsters are increasingly excused from obeying their elders, whereas parents are blamed for anything that goes wrong in the life of their child. Mum and Dad are about as likely to get oʃ in the Freudian courtroom as were defendants in a Stalinist show trial
Highlight [page 309]: In recent decades, national communities have been increasingly eclipsed by tribes of customers who do not know one another intimately but share the same consumption habits and interests, and therefore feel part of the same consumer tribe – and define themselves as such. This sounds very strange, but we are surrounded by examples. Madonna fans, for example, constitute a consumer tribe. They define themselves largely by shopping. They buy Madonna concert tickets, CDs, posters, shirts and ring tones, and thereby define who they are. Manchester United fans, vegetarians and environmentalists are other examples. They, too, are defined above all by what they consume. It is the keystone of their identity. A German vegetarian might well prefer to marry a French vegetarian than a German carnivore.
Highlight [page 310]: Hence any attempt to define the characteristics of modern society is akin to defining the colour of a chameleon. The only characteristic of which we can be certain is the incessant change. People have become used to this, and most of us think about the social order as something flexible, which we can engineer and improve at will. The main promise of premodern rulers was to safeguard the traditional order or even to go back to some lost golden age. In the last two centuries, the currency of politics is that it promises to destroy the old world and build a better one in its place. Not even the most conservative of political parties vows merely to keep things as they are. Everybody promises social reform, educational reform, economic reform – and they often fulfil those promises
Highlight [page 311]: Yet these decades were also the most peaceful era in human history – and by a wide margin. This is surprising because these very same decades experienced more economic, social and political change than any previous era. The tectonic plates of history are moving at a frantic pace, but the volcanoes are mostly silent. The new elastic order seems to be able to contain and even initiate radical structural changes without collapsing into violent conflict.
Highlight [page 311]: Most people don’t appreciate just how peaceful an era we live in. None of us was alive a thousand years ago, so we easily forget how much more violent the world used to be. And as wars become more rare they attract more attention. Many more people think about the wars raging today in Afghanistan and Iraq than about the peace in which most Brazilians and Indians live
Highlight [page 312]: The decline of violence is due largely to the rise of the state. Throughout history, most violence resulted from local feuds between families and communities. (Even today, as the above figures indicate, local crime is a far deadlier threat than international wars.) As we have seen, early farmers, who knew no political organisations larger than the local community, suʃered rampant violence.6 As kingdoms and empires became stronger, they reined in communities and the level of violence decreased. In the decentralised kingdoms of medieval Europe, about twenty to forty people were murdered each year for every 100,000 inhabitants. In recent decades, when states and markets have become all-powerful and communities have vanished, violence rates have dropped even further. Today the global average is only nine murders a year per 100,000 people, and most of these murders take place in weak states such as Somalia and Colombia. In the centralised states of Europe, the average is one murder a year per 100,000 people
Highlight [page 320]: Nothing in the comfortable lives of the urban middle class can approach the wild excitement and sheer joy experienced by a forager band on a successful mammoth hunt. Every new invention just puts another mile between us and the Garden of Eden
Highlight [page 321]: If we accept a mere tenth of what animal-rights activists are claiming, then modern industrial agriculture might well be the greatest crime in
Highlight [page 322]: history
Highlight [page 322]: So far we have discussed happiness as if it were largely a product of material factors, such as health, diet and wealth. If people are richer and healthier, then they must also be happier. But is that really so obvious? Philosophers, priests and poets have brooded over the nature of happiness for millennia, and many have concluded that social, ethical and spiritual factors have as great an impact on our happiness as material conditions. Perhaps people in modern aʀuent societies suʃer greatly from alienation and meaninglessness despite their prosperity. And perhaps our less well-to-do ancestors found much contentment in community, religion and a bond with nature
Highlight [page 324]: You might say that we didn’t need a bunch of psychologists and their questionnaires to discover this. Prophets, poets and philosophers realised thousands of years ago that being satisfied with what you already have is far more important than getting more of what you want. Still, it’s nice when modern research – bolstered by lots of numbers and charts – reaches the same conclusions the ancients did
Highlight [page 327]: evolution provided pleasant feelings as rewards to males who spread their genes by having sex with fertile females. If sex were not accompanied by such pleasure, few males would bother. At the same time, evolution made sure that these pleasant feelings quickly subsided. If orgasms were to last for ever, the very happy males would die of hunger for lack of interest in food, and would not take the trouble to look for additional fertile females
Highlight [page 330]: without harming their productivity and eɽciency each person takes a dose of ‘soma’, a synthetic drug which makes people happy drugs replace the police and the ballot as the foundation of politics. Each day, height of the Great Depression, happiness is the supreme value and psychiatric In Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, published in 1932 at the happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin houses, powerful positions – none of these will bring you happiness. Lasting slogan: ‘Happiness Begins Within.’ Money, social status, plastic surgery, beautiful Nothing captures the biological argument better than the famous New Age
Highlight [page 331]: Rather, happiness consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness. Our values make all the diʃerence to whether we see ourselves as ‘miserable slaves to a baby dictator’ or as ‘lovingly nurturing a new life’.2 As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.
Highlight [page 335]: Buddha agreed with modern biology and New Age movements that happiness is independent of external conditions. Yet his more important and far more profound insight was that true happiness is also independent of our inner feelings. Indeed, the more significance we give our feelings, the more we crave them, and the more we suʃer. Buddha’s recommendation was to stop not only the pursuit of external achievements, but also the pursuit of inner feelings.
Highlight [page 337]: The beauty of Darwin’s theory is that it does not need to assume an intelligent designer to explain how giraffes ended up with long necks
Highlight [page 338]: Sapiens who dreamed of fat, slow-moving chickens discovered that if they mated the fattest hen with the slowest cock, some of their oʃspring would be both fat and slow. If you mated those oʃspring with each other, you could produce a line of fat, slow birds. It was a race of chickens unknown to nature, produced by the intelligent design not of a god but of a human.
Highlight [page 339]: At the time of writing, the replacement of natural selection by intelligent design could happen in any of three ways: through biological engineering, cyborg engineering (cyborgs are beings that combine organic with non-organic parts) or the engineering of inorganic life
Highlight [page 339]: There is nothing new about biological engineering, per se. People have been using it for millennia in order to reshape themselves and other organisms. A simple example is castration. Humans have been castrating bulls for perhaps 10,000 years in order to create oxen. Oxen are less aggressive, and are thus easier to train to pull ploughs. Humans also castrated their own young males to create soprano singers with enchanting voices and eunuchs who could safely be entrusted with overseeing the sultans harem
Highlight [page 340]: Most of the organisms now being engineered are those with the weakest political lobbies – plants, fungi, bacteria and insects. For example, lines of E. coli, a bacterium that lives symbiotically in the human gut (and which makes headlines when it gets out of the gut and causes deadly infections), have
Highlight [page 341]: been genetically engineered to produce biofuel.2 E. coli and several species of fungi have also been engineered to produce insulin, thereby lowering the cost of diabetes treatment.3 A gene extracted from an Arctic fish has been inserted into potatoes, making the plants more frost-resistant.4
Highlight [page 341]: much-improved memory and learning skills. 7 average life expectancy of worms, but also to engineer genius mice that display like child’s play. Geneticists have managed not merely to extend sixfold the The next generation of genetic engineering will make pigs with good fat look healthy cousin, omega 3.6 from a worm. The new genes cause the pigs to turn bad omega 6 fatty acid into its has hopes for a still-experimental line of pigs implanted with genetic material falling sales because consumers are wary of the unhealthy fats in ham and bacon, The pork industry, which has suʃered from
Highlight [page 342]: The Cognitive Revolution that turned Homo sapiens from an insignificant ape into the master of the world did not require any noticeable change in physiology or even in the size and external shape of the Sapiens brain. It apparently involved no more than a few small changes to internal brain structure. Perhaps another small change would be enough to ignite a Second Cognitive Revolution, create a completely new type of consciousness, and transform Homo sapiens into something altogether different
Highlight [page 343]: There is another new technology which could change the laws of life: cyborg engineering. Cyborgs are beings which combine organic and inorganic parts, such as a human with bionic hands. In a sense, nearly all of us are bionic these days, since our natural senses and functions are supplemented by devices such as eyeglasses, pacemakers, orthotics, and even computers and mobile phones (which relieve our brains of some of their data storage and processing burdens)
Highlight [page 346]: A prototype for such a program already exists – it’s called a computer virus. As it spreads through the Internet, the virus replicates itself millions upon millions of times, all the while being chased by predatory antivirus programs and competing with other viruses for a place in cyberspace. One day when the virus replicates itself a mistake occurs – a computerised mutation. Perhaps the mutation occurs because the human engineer programmed the virus to make occasional random replication mistakes. Perhaps the mutation was due to a random error. If, by chance, the modified virus is better at evading antivirus programs without losing its ability to invade other computers, it will spread through cyberspace. If so, the mutants will survive and reproduce. As time goes by, cyberspace would be full of new viruses that nobody engineered, and that undergo non-organic evolution. Are these living creatures? It depends on what you mean by ‘living creatures’. They have certainly been produced by a new evolutionary process, completely independent of the laws and limitations of organic evolution.
Highlight [page 346]: The Human Brain Project,
Highlight [page 347]: founded in 2005
Highlight [page 347]: Mapping the first human genome required fifteen years and $3 billion. Today you can map a person’s DNA within a few weeks and at the cost of a few hundred dollars.20 The era of personalized medicine – medicine that matches treatment to DNA – has begun. The family doctor could soon tell you with greater certainty that you face high risks of liver cancer, whereas you needn’t worry too much about heart attacks
Highlight [page 348]: the Gilgamesh Project and of our potential new abilities to create superhumans.
Highlight [page 349]: Physicists define the Big Bang as a singularity. It is a point at which all the known laws of nature did not exist. Time too did not exist. It is thus meaningless to say that anything existed ‘before’ the Big Bang. We may be fast approaching a new singularity, when all the concepts that give meaning to our world – me, you, men, women, love and hate – will become irrelevant. Anything happening beyond that point is meaningless to us.
Highlight [page 349]: We would have a hard time swallowing the fact that scientists could engineer spirits as well as bodies, and that future Dr Frankensteins could therefore create something truly superior to us, something that will look at us as condescendingly as we look at the Neanderthals
Highlight [page 350]: The future is unknown, and it would be surprising if the forecasts of the last few pages were realised in full. History teaches us that what seems to be just around the corner may never materialise due to unforeseen barriers, and that other unimagined scenarios will in fact come to pass. When the nuclear age erupted in the 1940S, many forecasts were made about the future nuclear world of the year 2000. When sputnik and Apollo 11 fired the imagination of the world, everyone began predicting that by the end of the century, people would be living in space colonies on Mars and Pluto. Few of these forecasts came true. On the other hand, nobody foresaw the Internet
Highlight [page 350]: If the curtain is indeed about to drop on Sapiens history, we members of one of its final generations should devote some time to answering one last question: what do we want to become? This question, sometimes known as the Human Enhancement question, dwarfs the debates that currently preoccupy politicians, philosophers, scholars and ordinary people. After all, today’s debate between today’s religions, ideologies, nations and classes will in all likelihood disappear along with Homo sapiens. If our successors indeed function on a diʃerent level of consciousness (or perhaps possess something beyond consciousness that we cannot even conceive), it seems doubtful that Christianity or Islam will be of interest to them, that their social organisation could be Communist or capitalist, or that their genders could be male or female
Highlight [page 351]: The only thing we can try to do is to influence the direction scientists are taking. Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, perhaps the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.
Highlight [page 352]: Unfortunately, the Sapiens regime on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of. We have mastered our surroundings, increased food production, built cities, established empires and created far-flung trade networks. But did we decrease the amount of suʃering in the world? Time and again, massive increases in human power did not necessarily improve the well-being of individual Sapiens, and usually caused immense misery to other animals.
Highlight [page 352]: We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?