What is it to be human and how long have we been this way? What is history and does it have a trajectory towards something larger than we can imagine? Were we better off before compared to the technological age of today? Did hunter and gatherer societies live more earnest lives than we do as modern people?

In the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind written by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, those are some of the many intriguing questions one is confronted with when reading it. In his book Harari describes three major revolutions that happened in human history, namely the Cognitive Revolution (ca 70,000 years ago), the Agricultural Revolution (ca 10,000 years ago), and the Scientific Revolution (about 500 years ago). These major developments have allowed humans to advance in an unprecedented direction in nature, propelled through the usage of language, ideas and writing we’ve created ideologies and world-views that doesn’t exist anywhere else in nature. This cognitive leap has resulted in “collective myths” that we make use of to continue our march into the future as the most dominant species around. Humankind is no longer limited by natural selection alone, in many ways, we as a species are carving out our own uncertain path into the future.

In a nutshell, the book explores the history of human beings on this blue-green planet. Our ups and downs as a species, from hunter-gatherers to modern individuals living in cubicles and buying our foods from the supermarket. The myriad preceding events that led to us being here, as we are.

Nirvanic Insights: Subscribe for Access to e-Book on Spirituality

In this article I’ve collected a handful of quotes and excerpts from the influential book accompanied with some imagery.

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: Earlier traditions usually formulated their theories in terms of stories. Modern science uses mathematics.

Earlier traditions usually formulated their theories in terms of stories. Modern science uses mathematics.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the time.

It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the time.
Yuval Noah Harari

The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: Understanding human history in the millennia following the Agricultural Revolution boils down to a single question: how did humans organise themselves in mass-cooperation networks, when they lacked the biological instincts necessary to sustain such networks? The short answer is that humans created imagined orders and devised scripts. These two inventions filled the gaps left by our biological inheritance.

Understanding human history in the millennia following the Agricultural Revolution boils down to a single question: how did humans organise themselves in mass-cooperation networks, when they lacked the biological instincts necessary to sustain such networks? The short answer is that humans created imagined orders and devised scripts. These two inventions filled the gaps left by our biological inheritance.
Yuval Noah Harari

We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.
Yuval Noah Harari

We cannot explain the choices that history makes, but we can say something very important about them: history’s choices are not made for the benefit of humans. There is absolutely no proof that human well-being inevitably improves as history rolls along.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived. The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueller with the passing of the centuries.

Domesticated chickens and cattle may well be an evolutionary success story, but they are also among the most miserable creatures that ever lived. The domestication of animals was founded on a series of brutal practices that only became crueller with the passing of the centuries.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.

You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.
Yuval Noah Harari

Consistency is the playground of dull minds.
Yuval Noah Harari

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.
Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Quote: Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways...

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history’s biggest fraud.
Who was responsible? Neither kings, nor priests, nor merchants. The culprits were a handful of plant species, including wheat, rice and potatoes. These plants domesticated Homo sapiens, rather than vice versa.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions?...

How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. 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 people’s collective imagination.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: 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.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities...

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.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realize some possibilities while forbidding others. Biology enables women to have children – some cultures oblige women to realize this possibility. Biology enables men to enjoy sex with one another – some cultures forbid them to realize 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 behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist.
Yuval Noah Harari

Most mammals emerge from the womb like glazed earthenware emerging from a kiln – any attempt at remoulding will only scratch or break them. Humans emerge from the womb like molten glass from a furnace. They can be spun, stretched and shaped with a surprising degree of freedom.
Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Quote: There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.

There are no gods, no nations, no money and no human rights, except in our collective imagination.
Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval Noah Harari Quote: Seventy thousand years ago, homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction.

Seventy thousand years ago, homo sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa. In the following millennia it transformed itself into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem. Today it stands on the verge of becoming a god, poised to acquire not only eternal youth, but also the divine abilities of creation and destruction.
Yuval Noah Harari

In fact, monotheism, as it has played out in history, is a kaleidoscope of monotheist, dualist, polytheist and animist legacies, jumbling together under a single divine umbrella. The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.
Yuval Noah Harari


Nirvanic Insights: Subscribe for Access to e-Book on Spirituality

Easily Distracted?

Subscribe and Get Free Access to 12 Powerful Ways of Focusing on the Present Moment. Be here now. Learn how to cut the distractions, both internal and external.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest