Between my previous blog on The Invention of Yesterday, A 50,00 Year of Human Culture and this one on Yuval Harari’s Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind, I should be completely versed on the entirety of human affairs from our literal beginnings and beyond. I guess I could quit reading altogether, but I’m far too addicted for that and well beyond the help of any program 12 steps or 12,000.
What’s most remarkable to me about Sapiens is the manner and extent in which Harari melds scientific and biological evidence with sociological and cultural. We go back to pre-neanderthal times (100,000 years ago and more) when probably several different editions of our species were roaming the earth. Whether and how they met, intermarried, or otherwise communicated with one another is speculative, but Harari’s point is that we can’t buy into the linear progression from ape-neanderthal-homo sapiens (means “wise man,” by the way. Some joke that.) that most early textbooks imagined.
Rather, we somehow outran, outdueled, outlived our ancestors despite our smaller brains and inferior muscle mass. How? We outsmarted them, and we were better able to work cooperatively. In so doing, we wiped out the larger species of every other animal group we encountered as we migrated from east to west and north to south. [That doesn’t include dinosaurs, of course, who came a few tens of millions of years earlier.]
Why are there no more sabertooth tigers or mammoths, or giant kangaroos or a host of other creatures whose bones archeologists have excavated? They couldn’t reproduce fast enough or in sufficient numbers to keep up with the rate at which we slaughtered them. And all this without the aid of a single elephant gun. Thus did we dominate our earth.
But Harari doesn’t stop there. What’s the next stage? Obviously AI, where our own inventions will produce “fundamental transformations in human consciousness and identity.” And with the possibility of replacing our biological parts with mechanical and electronic ones, we maybe could become, not immortal, but as he terms it “amortal”. Beings whose longevity will extend far beyond anything we’ve been able to achieve so far.
Between you and me I’m not enough of a “Homo Sapien” to think that would be a good thing. But maybe I’m just in a sort of neanderthal stage and can’t appreciate the possibilities.