Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Sapiens: A brief history of Human Kind, a book by Yuval Noah Harari.....Has earned another fan

Let me just start with my conclusion - it is a great book and a must read for anyone remotely interested in History, Prehistory, Anthropology, Genetics, Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Human Rights, Animal Rights, Meta Physicists etc..,

Theologicians or more specifically the religious, please keep away from it if you are fanatics.  Or should I say, you definitely should give it a read with an open (relatively) mind?

Yes, that's how many fields it covers in its Venn diagram, showing the intersection of all these fields, comprising us, our lives, the bigger and more difficult questions from time immemorial.

As part of the conclusion let me also warn you that if you are seeking answers for these big Life questions (or even the small ones), no you will not find them there.  But that is the point!

This book charismatically states the whole of "Human" history and that of the world around us, from our perspective, with all its intricacies and shows us how everything is so interconnected. 
Although this is something most of us educated in the modern (westen as Yuval might like to point out) education system, are vaguely aware of, even if we do not completely grasp the depth of it, is what this book gives us...the depth and perception that is required to see the Big Picture of Life as we know it.

It asks all the basic Big questions, What and who are we? Why are we? Where are we (less addressed in the physical sense and more in the 'timeline of life' sense)? Where would we go, what would be, and why?  And most disconcertingly, for us sometimes, the why not'?s

I felt transported back in time, to the days when I discovered that I was not crazy or dumb to be asking certain questions that I was.  Yes, it's true that 'partially educated' and 'inquisitive' are usually not a good combination, but that is how most of us "normal" folks  run most of our lives.

Such as, the time when I first read about Higgs Boson; I was probably 19 years old.  This was a time I was going through a frenzy to learn the chart of particle physics by heart.  Or rather, I was making a chart of all the "known" (or theorised should I say) particles in the known universe.  Not that my volatile memory held it for long or my poor & almost dysfunctional mathematical comprehension helped me understand the nuances.  But can't say I did not try!  Well, back to Boson, I was shocked to learn that my teenage question - what distinguishes Matter and Energy - that was dismissed or (ambiguously) not explained, was not, just a stupid question arising out of a brain ill suited to understanding.  But rather a question still puzzling the human kind and (like all questions ever are) VALID.

This time Yuval gave me a pat on the back and said, "see, you are not crazy nor alone to be suffering doubts and questions" such as
1)  about one's identities and nationalities in an increasingly global civilisation,
2) the conflict between passion and pride for a native language while repulsed by caste system although both are rooted in cultural identities,
3) the "agnostic"ism towards religion, spiritual and paranormal curiosities
are all not because I am not "FULLY"formed.  But are rather natural and healthy and already being discussed in full swing for many years now among "scholars". 
As a gene-obeying, evolution-complying, social "Human", yes this did comfort me, the fact that I am not alone (both literally and figuratively).

However, the questions remain to be answered.  The big picture is interesting, intriguing, fascinating, depressing all in various measures.  But that does not mean, we are doomed. The message is clearly optimisitic, with almost a hint of doubt, for the benefit of hindsight. 

The one thing that I did wish he had explained better was, that though climate change has happened all the time, and that we like all our predecessor natural beings are only contributing to it (albeit too fast and too destructive in our case), although we may yet survive and do something to help heal the world, we are STILL NOT out of the danger zone!  But this message, that he DOES leave, I felt, was not explicit enough.

My thoughts are hence, thus:

1) Yuval says, Climate change is not a problem in itself, it has always happened. True!

2) My thoughts on the lines of what he too said:

Ecological destruction is the main key issue but that too is probably "natural" in the evolutionary process, this time intensified by the fact of evolution having created a naturally selfish and destructive being, us.  Or may be all species are if you think about it, the selfish part atleast.

3) When I say evolution, I am taking the view that cultural and cognitive evolution which before Sapiens were not too great which are new in this age old process but still a "natural" factor although the end products of this may not be - such as missiles and factory emissions.

4) The problem with climate change and destruction is that, becase Humans are trying to retain the world as they knew it ('know it' would not be true for we have already lost some contemporories of ours, in the evolution speak - lookup the extinct specis from the not too distant past).  But from an evolutionary point of view this will never be true.  By this, I mean the world staying the same in someone's context!

5) Accelerated destruction and eco imbalance are a menace because, even if Sapiens -with our enlarged brains and extensive cognitive abilities- may yet come up with great advancements that would give us new source and let us contruct a Noah's Arc to provide sanctuary to all the beings of the world, we still are in the danger of "YET". 

To put it simple, It may not happen before the events are set in motion! 

And that is probably the worst fear of all.

6) Evolution in itself might be changing (point 3).  From only genetic and organic, came cognitive and resultantly, (agri)cultural, industrial and now technological (r)evolutions!

This might be why we are changing from beings of US to beings of ME.  Whether or not it is a good thing, Yuval says - much like a musing elder - only time will tell.

7) All in all it is an exciting time to be living in.  I might even consider proliferation(!!!) to make sure my genes get to experience the changes of the FANTASTIC (not necessarily good) changes!!!
OR NOT, for precisely that reason!!?  What is after all My genome and My (extant) experience?

Well, in all, it was an excellent and enlightening book that keeps you hooked.  Not sure if listening to the audiobook somehow made it even more awesomatic!

Thanks to a friend (Sanjay, if you are reading this) for sharing his "read" on goodreads and thus introducing it to me!

Thanks for the book Yuval!  I am almost at once wanting to read Duedus and not... for what you might choose to tell us (or not?). 

Will I be similarly enthralled or disappointed?!  I suppose Time will tell?!! :)

Thank you for reading.  I would much appreciate, comments and conversations here, than on my FB post even if you found this through my post there.  Cheers!


Dhandy said...

Good one... Now I will try to read that book :)

Ujwala Joshi said...

Sure Dhandapany, I am sure you will enjoy it and find a few things to agree with. :)