Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Illusions of Sapiens


Yuval Noah Harari’s book, Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, was a best seller when it was originally published in Hebrew in Israel.  The English version is released in hardbound form. 

I’m waiting for the paperback edition and will definitely get hold of one as soon as it is available.  Why?  Harari’s ideas are revolutionary, radical and tickling.  Let me focus on one of the main themes.

How did man come to dominate the earth though there were many other more powerful animals on the earth?  As I gather from an article which introduced me to Harari’s book, man created stories which in turn created an immense sense of cooperation among people. 

Let us understand that better.  The other animals don’t create stories.  Man creates stories about many things like gods, nations, money, human rights, etc.  These are all imaginary entities given reality to by man’s stories.  What does the thousand rupee note actually mean without the support of the story created by people about it – stories about the equivalent gold in the Reserve Bank and so on.  What do human rights mean, for example?  One group’s rights are another group’s nuisance.  Who decides the veracity of any of these?

The stories we create attract followers.  People love stories.  Stories unite people.  Stories are imaginative and emotive.  Soon the stories create their own rules.  Those who believe any story follow the rules dictated by the story.  Gods begin to dictate their own rules now.  Money dictates its rules.  A group of people begin to draw a line somewhere and call it the national boundary.  Nationalism is as very charming a story as religious beliefs. 

The other animals who don’t create stories don’t also cooperate the way humans do to get followers for the story and to impose the story on others as the ultimate truth(s).  Moreover, the human brain is far more complex than the brains of the other animals and hence can make the cooperation to seem more necessary, meaningful and purposeful. 

Illusions become absolute truths.  We live for them, fight for them, and may die for them.  That is the human being, a unique animal that sent thousands and thousands of other animals, animals without illusions, into extinction. 

8 comments:

  1. We are the stories we tell ourselves ~ Shekhar Kapur

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    1. And the story can make all the difference! In psychology, there is a kind of counselling based on story telling: the client is asked to re-script his/her own story.

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  2. And the only gift that made the difference is the Forbidden Gift (Biblically Speaking)

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    1. Yes, the gift of awareness which helps in evolution of the consciousness. In fact, Harari's book also speaks about evolution. Another possible mutation will take place, he argues, after which people will look more like robots with hardly any feelings. Not even sexual feelings will be there, he says, it seems.

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  3. Insightful and interesting. But don't beings other than humans also have boundaries and work in tandem....while I surely agree than humans are far intelligent and can create stories and thus rule. Nice article Tomichand...surely the book will too be.

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    1. I'm sure the book will be fascinating. The argument as I understand looks convincing enough. The other animals too cooperate and Harari does speak about them too. But their cooperation - like the honeybees and the ants - is limited to certain basic needs such as producing honey or amassing food. Human stories create a complex kind of cooperation based on the illusions that the stories materialise as reality.

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  4. I think human beings are more intelligent. Story telling is one aspect of this intelligence.

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    1. Of course, story telling is certainly one aspect of human intelligence. But people don't seem to apply that intelligence in analysing the stories created. For example, why should a story of an Adam and Eve or Rama and his Ayodhya or any other become a bone of contention?

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