Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

If someone had said to me a year ago, “you’ll be reading books on anthropology, philosophy, history, and writing blog post about it” I would have laughed. A few months ago many influencers recommended Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari as a must-read. The moment I started reading the book I got hooked. I couldn’t wait to get back from work and continue exploring stories of my ancestors. Here are my 9 key takeaways from “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”.

David DiSalvo
David DiSalvo

“The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish” - Sapiens

Sapiens is a xenophobic and cruel creature

World War II, Opium Wars, Crusades, slavery. The list goes on and on. Sapiens has not been fighting only with another Sapiens. Harari argues that prehistoric humans were a key cause of the extinction of other human species such as the Neanderthals, along with other animals. Sapiens is the deadliest species.

History is full of coincidences and quirky individuals

Many unexpected twists, beginnings, and endings don’t make any sense. The rise of Christianity, the Five Good Emperors, Sea people, Trump becoming a POTUS. There is no way to explain the choices that history makes.

Happiness = Reality / Expectations

With all the technologies and improvements, one may think we are happier than previous generations. Surprisingly, history alternations are irrelevant to our subjective happiness. Humans experience short-term rises in happiness or sadness, but in the long-term, our happiness hovers around the same level. Changing reality affects expectations, and too high expectations make us miserable.

“The most common reaction of the human mind to achievement is not satisfaction, but craving for more.” - Sapiens

Communication and imagination made humans dominant species

Harari points to the development of language as one of the essential factors in humans rise to supremacy. Through language, Homo sapiens were not only able to plan hunting and gathering, but also to discuss abstract ideas. Believing in things existing just in the imagination, such as money, nations, gods, allowed them to form large groups and cooperate on complex tasks.

“You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” ― Sapiens

Homo Deus - the rise of gods

Harari argues that Homo Sapiens will eventually evolve into another species - Homo Deus. And to understand the difference between Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus, Harari compares monkeys to humans. When a monkey sees a fast-moving, a white pinpoint of light in the sky, it won’t be able to understand plains or a space station. It is just beyond monkey’s understanding. After some time, Homo Deus will create technologies that we won’t be able to grasp.

The importance of focusing on reality

Although commonly accepted stories about corporations, nations, and religions keep society together, we shouldn’t lose touch with reality. The rise of technology and advancement of humans will eventually replace existing stories with new ones. Therefore there is no point in sacrificing our lives, making stories our goals. Stories are just tools.

Future is already here

Artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, and other technologies will change our species.

“Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.” ― Homo Deus

Should we be afraid of machines?

“You want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary flesh-and-blood humans? Better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins. It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but it is the best archetype we can observe rather than just imagine” ― Homo Deus

Algorithmic emotions

An algorithm is a methodical set of steps to make calculations, resolve problems and reach decisions. What if organisms are just algorithms, and life is only a data processing task? That would mean human brains is merely a replaceable processor. For example, in transportation, a horse was not substituted with a faster horse, but an entirely new invention - the car.