65 Quotes from Sapiens book by Yuval Noah Harari



Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the New York Times bestseller book - Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind) by Yuval Noah Harari.

Sapiens has been described as bold, wide-ranging, and provocative book that integrates history and science to challenge everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our heritage ... and our future.

Chapter 1-5 Quotes

We are so enamoured of our high intelligence that we assume that when it comes to cerebral power, more must be better. But if that were the case, the feline family would also have produced cats who could do calculus. [...] The fact is that a jumbo brain is a jumbo drain on the body. It's not easy to carry around, especially when encased inside a massive skull. It's even harder to fuel. In Homo sapiens, the brain accounts for about 2-3 per cent of total body weight, but it consumes 25 per cent of the body's energy when the body is at rest.   - Sapiens, Chapter 1

Compared to other animals, humans are born prematurely, when many of their vital systems are still under-developed. A colt can trot shortly after birth; a kitten leaves its mother to forage on its own when it is just a few weeks old. Human babies are helpless, dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.  This fact has contributed greatly both to humankind's extraordinary social abilities and to its unique social problems. - Sapiens, Chapter 1

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. They can be spun, stretched and shaped with a surprising degree of freedom. This is why today we can educate our children to become Christian or Buddhist, capitalist or socialist, warlike or peace-loving. - Sapiens, Chapter 1

Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump. - Sapiens, Chapter 1

When humans domesticated fire, they gained control of an obedient and potentially limitless force. [...] humans could choose when and where to ignite a flame, and they were able to exploit fire for any number of tasks. Most importantly, the power of fire was not limited by the form, structure or strength of the human body. A single woman with a flint or fire stick could burn down an entire forest in a matter of hours. The domestication of fire was a sign of things to come. - Sapiens, Chapter 1

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it's hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. [...] Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate. - Sapiens, Chapter 1

Our language is amazingly supple. We can connect a limited number of sounds and signs to produce an infinite number of sentences, each with a distinct meaning. We can thereby ingest, store and communicate a prodigious amount of information about the surrounding world. A green monkey can yell to its comrades, 'Careful! A lion!' But a modern human can tell her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

Our language evolved as a way of gossiping. [...] Homo sapiens is primarily a social animal. Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bison. It's much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest, and who is a cheat. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

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. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

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. [...] That's why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

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. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. [...] States are rooted in common national myths. [...] Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

Telling effective stories is not easy. The difficulty lies not in telling the story, but in convincing everyone else to believe it. 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 difficult 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 2

The human collective knows far more today than did the ancient bands. But at the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skilful people in history. - Sapiens, Chapter 3

The hunter-gatherer way of life differed significantly from region to region and from season to season, but on the whole foragers seem to have enjoyed a more comfortable and rewarding lifestyle than most of the peasants, shepherds, labourers and office clerks who followed in their footsteps. - Sapiens, Chapter 3

The journey of the first humans to Australia is one of the most important events in history, at least as important as Columbus' journey to America or the Apollo 11 expedition to the moon. It was the first time any human had managed to leave the Afro-Asian ecological system - indeed, the first time any large terrestrial mammal had managed to cross from Afro-Asia to Australia. - Sapiens, Chapter 4

It's common today to explain anything and everything as the result of climate change, but the truth is that earth's climate never rests. It is in constant flux. Every event in history occurred against the background of some climate change. - Sapiens, Chapter 4

Humans, like many mammals, have hormonal and genetic mechanisms that help control procreation. In good times females reach puberty earlier, and their chances of getting pregnant are a bit higher. In bad times puberty is late and fertility decreases. - Sapiens, Chapter 5

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. - Sapiens, Chapter 5

One of history's few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can't live without it. - Sapiens, Chapter 5

Chapter 6-10 Quotes

The Agricultural Revolution made the future far more important than it had ever been before. Farmers must always keep the future in mind and must work in its service. [...] Although there was enough food for today, next week, and even next month, they had to worry about next year and the year after that. - Sapiens, Chapter 6

Until the late modern era, more than 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 officials, 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 6

'Cooperation' sounds very altruistic, but is not always voluntary and seldom egalitarian. Most human cooperation networks have been geared towards oppression and exploitation. - Sapiens, Chapter 6

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. Paris is not a city, nor India a country – they are both experiences, the consumption of which is supposed to widen our horizons, fulfil our human potential, and make us happier. - Sapiens, Chapter 6

Writing was born as the maidservant of human consciousness, but is increasingly becoming its master. Our computers have trouble understanding how Homo sapiens talks, feels and dreams. So we are teaching Homo sapiens to talk, feel and dream in the language of numbers, which can be understood by computers. - Sapiens, Chapter 7

It is an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable. For instance, [...] Aristotle argued that slaves have a 'slavish nature' whereas free people have a ‘free nature’. Their status in society is merely a reflection of their innate nature. - Sapiens, Chapter 8

Unjust discrimination often gets worse, not better, with time. Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance. Those once victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again. - Sapiens, Chapter 8

Patriarchy has been the norm in almost all agricultural and industrial societies. It has tenaciously weathered political upheavals, social revolutions and economic transformations. [...] 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 8

An aggressive brute is often the worst choice to run a war. Much better is a cooperative person who knows how to appease, how to manipulate and how to see things from different perspectives. This is the stuff empire-builders are made of. - Sapiens, Chapter 8

Contradictions are an inseparable part of every human culture. In fact, they are culture's engines, responsible for the creativity and dynamism of our species. Just as when two clashing musical notes played together force a piece of music forward, so discord in our thoughts, ideas and values compel us to think, reevaluate and criticise. Consistency is the playground of dull minds. - Sapiens, Chapter 9

Perceiving the direction of history is really a question of vantage point. When we adopt the proverbial bird's-eye view of history, [...] it's hard to say whether history moves in the direction of unity or of diversity. However, to understand long-term processes the bird's-eye view is too myopic. We would do better to adopt instead the viewpoint of a cosmic spy satellite, which scans millennia rather than centuries. From such a vantage point it becomes crystal clear that history is moving relentlessly towards unity. - Sapiens, Chapter 9

From a practical perspective, the most important stage in the process of global unification occurred in the last few centuries, when empires grew and trade intensified. Ever-tightening links were formed between the people of Afro-Asia, America, Australia and Oceania. Thus Mexican chilli peppers made it into Indian food and Spanish cattle began grazing in Argentina. - Sapiens, Chapter 9

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. [...] 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 9

Money is thus a universal medium of exchange that enables people to convert almost everything into almost anything else. Brawn gets converted to brain when a discharged soldier finances his college tuition with his military benefits. Land gets converted into loyalty when a baron sells property to support his retainers. Health is converted to justice when a physician uses her fees to hire a lawyer - or bribe a judge. It is even possible to convert sex into salvation, as fifteenth-century prostitutes did when they slept with men for money, which they in turn used to buy indulgences from the Catholic Church. - Sapiens, Chapter 10

Counterfeiting money has always been considered a much more serious crime than other acts of deception. Counterfeiting is not just cheating – it's a breach of sovereignty, an act of subversion against the power, privileges and person of the king. - Sapiens, Chapter 10

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don't trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively. - Sapiens, Chapter 10

Chapter 11-15 Quotes

As of 2014, the world is still politically fragmented, but states are fast losing their independence. Not one of them is really able to execute independent economic policies, to declare and wage wars as it pleases, or even to run its own internal affairs as it sees fit. States are increasingly open to the machinations of global markets, to the interference of global companies and NGOs, and to the supervision of global public opinion and the international judicial system. - Sapiens, Chapter 11

Monotheists have tended to be far more fanatical and missionary than polytheists. [...] Since monotheists have usually believed that they are in possession of the entire message of the one and only God, they have been compelled to discredit all other religions. Over the last two millennia, monotheists repeatedly tried to strengthen their hand by violently exterminating all competition. - Sapiens, Chapter 12

Every point in history is a crossroads. A single travelled road leads from the past to the present, but myriad paths fork off into the future. Some of those paths are wider, smoother and better marked, and are thus more likely to be taken, but sometimes history - or the people who make history - takes unexpected turns. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline - the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realised. They offer a just-so story to explain with hindsight why that outcome was inevitable. Those more deeply informed about the period are much more cognisant of the roads not taken. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

It is an iron rule of history that what looks inevitable in hindsight was far from obvious at the time. Today is no different. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

History cannot be explained deterministically and it cannot be predicted because it is chaotic. So many forces are at work and their interactions are so complex that extremely small variations in the strength of the forces and the way they interact produce huge differences in outcomes. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means for making accurate predictions. 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

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. There is no proof that cultures that are beneficial to humans must inexorably succeed and spread, while less beneficial cultures disappear. There is no proof that Christianity was a better choice than Manichaeism, or that the Arab Empire was more beneficial than that of the Sassanid Persians. - Sapiens, Chapter 13

The willingness to admit ignorance has made modern science more dynamic, supple and inquisitive than any previous tradition of knowledge. This has hugely expanded our capacity to understand how the world works and our ability to invent new technologies. - Sapiens, Chapter 14

The real test of 'knowledge' is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge. - Sapiens, Chapter 14

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 know-how to overcome the world’s fundamental problems. - Sapiens, Chapter 14

Science can explain what exists in the world, how things work, and what might be in the future. By definition, it has no pretensions to knowing what should be in the future. Only religions and ideologies seek to answer such questions. - Sapiens, Chapter 14

The discovery of America was the foundational event of the Scientific Revolution. It not only taught Europeans to favour present observations over past traditions, but the desire to conquer America also obliged Europeans to search for new knowledge at breakneck speed. If they really wanted to control the vast new territories, they had to gather enormous amounts of new data about the geography, climate, flora, fauna, languages, cultures and history of the new continent. Christian Scriptures, old geography books and ancient oral traditions were of little help. - Sapiens, Chapter 15

Chapter 16-20 Quotes

Capitalism began as a theory about how the economy functions. [...] But capitalism gradually became far more than just an economic doctrine. It now encompasses an ethic - a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children and even think. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good, or at least a proxy for the supreme good, because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth. - Sapiens, Chapter 16

In its extreme form, belief in the free market is as naïve as belief in Santa Claus. […] 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 16

This is the fly in the ointment of free-market capitalism. It cannot ensure that profits are gained in a fair way, or distributed in a fair manner. On the contrary, the craving to increase profits and production blinds people to anything that might stand in the way. When growth becomes a supreme good, unrestricted by any other ethical considerations, it can easily lead to catastrophe. - Sapiens, Chapter 16

Some religions, such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred. Capitalism has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed.   - Sapiens, Chapter 16

Two centuries ago electricity played no role in the economy, and was used at most for arcane scientific experiments and cheap magic tricks. A series of inventions turned it into our universal genie in a lamp. We flick our fingers and it prints books and sews clothes, keeps our vegetables fresh and our ice cream frozen, cooks our dinners and executes our criminals, registers our thoughts and records our smiles, lights up our nights and entertains us with countless television shows. Few of us understand how electricity does all these things, but even fewer can imagine life without it. - Sapiens, Chapter 17

The modern capitalist economy must constantly increase production if it is to survive, like a shark that must swim or suffocate. Yet it’s not enough just to produce. Somebody must also buy the products, or industrialists and investors alike will go bust. To prevent this catastrophe and to make sure that people will always buy whatever new stuff industry produces, a new kind of ethic appeared: consumerism. - Sapiens, Chapter 17

Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products - contributing to economic growth twice over. - Sapiens, Chapter 17

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. [...] The supreme commandment of the rich is 'Invest!' The supreme commandment of the rest of us is 'Buy!' - Sapiens, Chapter 17

Humans cut down forests, drained swamps, dammed rivers, flooded plains, laid down tens of thousands of kilometres of railroad tracks, and built skyscraping metropolises. As the world was moulded to fit the needs of Homo sapiens, habitats were destroyed and species went extinct. Our once green and blue planet is becoming a concrete and plastic shopping centre. - Sapiens, Chapter 18

Our children's books, our iconography and our TV screens are still full of giraffes, wolves and chimpanzees, but the real world has very few of them left. There are about 80,000 giraffes 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 18

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. - Sapiens, Chapter 18

Real peace is not the mere absence of war. Real peace is the implausibility of war. [...] Today humankind has broken the law of the jungle. There is at last real peace, and not just absence of war. For most polities, there is no plausible scenario leading to full-scale conflict within one year. [...] This situation might of course change in the future and, with hindsight, the world of today might seem incredibly naïve. Yet from a historical perspective, our very naïvety is fascinating. Never before has peace been so prevalent that people could not even imagine war. - Sapiens, Chapter 18

For most of history, polities could enrich themselves by looting or annexing enemy territories. Most wealth consisted of fields, cattle, slaves and gold, so it was easy to loot it or occupy it. Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital, technical know-how and complex socio-economic structures such as banks. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or incorporate it into one's territory. - Sapiens, Chapter 18

When judging modernity, it is all too tempting to take the viewpoint of a twenty-first-century middle-class Westerner. We must not forget the viewpoints of a nineteenth-century Welsh coal miner, Chinese opium addict or Tasmanian Aborigine. Truganini is no less important than Homer Simpson. - Sapiens, Chapter 19

We can congratulate ourselves on the unprecedented accomplishments of modern Sapiens only if we completely ignore the fate of all other animals. Much of the vaunted material wealth that shields us from disease and famine was accumulated at the expense of laboratory monkeys, dairy cows and conveyor-belt chickens. [...] When evaluating global happiness, it is wrong to count the happiness only of the upper classes, of Europeans or of men. Perhaps it is also wrong to consider only the happiness of humans. - Sapiens, Chapter 19

Most history books focus on the ideas of great thinkers, the bravery of warriors, the charity of saints and the creativity of artists. They have much to tell about the weaving and unravelling of social structures, about the rise and fall of empires, about the discovery and spread of technologies. Yet they say nothing about how all this influenced the happiness and suffering of individuals. This is the biggest lacuna in our understanding of history. We had better start filling it. - Sapiens, Chapter 19

Physicists define the Big Bang as a singularity. It is a point at which all the known laws of nature did not exist. [...] 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. - Sapiens, Chapter 20



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