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Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

If Harari's Sapiens was a blog post

September 09, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

If Sapiens were a blog post (30 min, via) is, in words of the author:

I spent over 25 hours building a cut-down version of Sapiens. The goal? Future-me should be happy to read this once future-me forgets how we evolved. It's massive for a blog post, just under 30 minutes, but that's the best I could do, condensing 9 hours worth of material.

The book is fantastic, a must-read, despite its flaws and objections. The blogpost has one big problem, despite the meritable effort: it summarizes the whats but not the whys.

I've skimmed through it, trying to find if it talks about what, for me, was the biggest realization of Sapiens: why humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer tribes into agricultural civilizations.

Hunterer-gatherer foraging was enough to feed a small tribe; a group of 30 people can be fed with a deer and some apples. A town of 200 people needs something more, so agriculture was developed. This new technology allowed for bigger human concentrations in a small area.

But why would humans want to live in larger groups, if it brought a lower quality of life? Famines, infections, fights, enslaving work, extreme class differences?

Harari argues that this was due to the appearance of religion.

Religion demanded that people (well, it was self-imposed, but bear with me) overcame bigger and bigger projects, like temples, sacrifices, wars, and other, which require a minimum amount of people to succeed. 30 people cannot build a temple, but 200 people can.

Therefore, it was due to religion that civilization as we know it developed. Religion needs large groups of people to work, and that is why we transitioned from hunting to agricultural societies. Maybe it was the other way around? With agriculture came religion? Again, the direction of this implication is what Harari defends, and I don't know enough to argue otherwise.

The blogpost devotes one chapter to talk about religion but doesn't mention that concept. Since it is one of the main points of the book, I'm not sure to which degree this summary looks over other core conclusions. This is a bit disappointing, but maybe it was not the author's intent to begin with.

For me, the magic of Sapiens is that it's not just a Wikipedia-like compendium of timelines and events, but rather provides some theories as to why things happened.

In any case, if this blogpost encourages you to read Sapiens, it will be time well spent.

Tags: books

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