Thursday, November 28, 2019

SAPIENS BY YUVAL NOAH HARARI: From Human to Posthuman



Writing a review of a book one has loved deeply is difficult. This is one of the matters, which the unsung heroes of book reviewers often unite upon. Sapiens is one such book. I could click a picture of the cover of the book, with its blackened human thumb impression and multi-colour typesetting on the cover with a white background, post this picture on various social media pages. However, that does not mean I reviewed it. For me, to be able to articulate the many nuances of the book is a herculean task. To make my job easier, therefore, I'd like to point out some of the important points and areas in the book. Sapiens is a nonfiction book about the origin and growth of the human species. 
Sapiens underscores the Cognitive Revolution as the decisive geological/biological event that carved out a trajectory for Homo sapiens. The author raises several arguments to suggest that an animal of no special importance became a geological force 1500 years ago. The book tries to answer a few questions such as: 
1. What is the significance of addressing human history regarding the cognitive revolution?
2. How is the agricultural revolution significant? What are the disadvantages the agricultural revolutions brought to humanity? 
3. What's the importance of unification of a large number of members of the Homo Sapiens?
4. How does the scientific revolution endow the human species with superhuman potential?
Each question is dealt with a clarity that could be attributed to the skill of the writer. Under several crucial subsections, each of these questions receives deeper elaborations. The text analyses the rise of the early species of humans under the part that discusses cognitive revolution. Several species of humans populated the earth until 70000 years ago when the Cognitive Revolution was triggered in Homo Sapiens in Africa. Gradually, Sapiens dominated all the other species of humans on the earth. In his evocative language, the author points out many research outcomes that prove that just as the only extant human species, the sapiens crossed paths with any of the other ancestral species of humans the population of those other species has deteriorated. Although the author does not point out the exact reasons for the disappearance of all the other early human species the certainty that their demise and their contiguity with Homo Sapiens is indisputable. 
The point of view that the author adopts to describe the agricultural revolution is a multidisciplinary one. When it says the agricultural revolution is history's biggest fraud, one has to wonder if history itself is alive, has a mind of its own. The major difference between animals and human sapiens is that sapiens can cooperate, coordinate, and function as a system under an idea. Animals are limited by a certain biological determinism. For example, a large number of ants can cooperate, often better than humans. However, the laws that govern their genes and biological systems bind them to function with a queen ant. No ant colony would ever revolt against an ant queen. Homo sapiens overthrew monarchies and ruling parties with a set of ideas or stories. Religion and money are shown as two major forces that played in favour of unifying sapiens across the globe.  
Finally, the scientific revolution transforms the potential of sapiens and makes them "god-like" in their capability to transcend their natural barriers. By using advanced instruments on their body sapiens can magnify their natural strength, be it vision, heartbeats, or memory. The book argues that 1500 years ago, sapiens became a geological force. The final triumph was not just that of science in unifying and strengthening sapiens. There was yet another claim for the space of influence- from colonialism. The relationship between science and colonialism is narrated in detail. 
First published in 2014, Sapiens is a book written with a post-humanist perspective as if the humanist tradition is a mere prelude to the more majestic and cosmic changes wrought by the posthumans. Certainly, this will make the reader wonder if Homo sapiens itself would give way to another, technologically empowered being. 
Yuval Noah Harari has a PhD in History and runs an online course titled A Brief History of Humankind. He now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018) is another nonfiction book written by Harari. It is interesting to note that the questions he tackles in Sapiens, are the same questions he investigates as a researcher: Is there justice in History? What's the relationship between biology and history? Did people become happier as history unfolded? 
I read the paperback volume of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It's priced at Rs 499. I received a discount from a major online store. We must give this book to our younger generation to read. A copy of this book should be in our home library. With its detailed Notes and Indexes, it is easy to use as a reference book. The typesetting is commendable. The cover has a white dominance. This catches dirt easily. Looking at it now, after more than a month that I took to read it, the book looks well worn and used. This is a rare case in my way of doing things since I keep the book as much neat as possible and many of my books even after rough handling, still look just as fine as the new volumes we buy from bookstores. Should we blame this on the production quality of the book? 
The shortest chapter of Sapiens is the "Afterword" titled "The Animal that Became God". The title of this chapter veritably portrays the journey of the "self-made gods with only the laws of physics to keep us company." The author concludes the one and a half page long chapter by asking an evocative question: "Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don't know what they want?" Perhaps, he answers the question in his other book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016).  

1 comment:

Mariam Winter said...
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