Yuval Noah Harari (1976) is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, a book recently published in Spanish that has been a worldwide success. Educated at Oxford in History, Harari is currently working at the department of humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It seems relevant to highlight his humanistic background because of the encyclopaedic knowledge found in numerous pages of the book, but it is especially important because this author claims that history should be studied from a humanist point of view, and not from a materialistic and inspired by natural science standpoint.
In recent decades we had come to deem natural that scientists from disciplines such as biology or physics –the so called natural sciences– venture into traditionally humanistic areas. Platforms like John Brockman’s The Third Culture encouraged biologists to discuss issues such as freedom, and persuaded neurologists to claim to be listened to when law and justice are discussed. Humanism seemed doomed to gradually back down, letting others address the big questions, which had traditionally been addressed by this field of knowledge. Harari, however, vindicates the role of humanities when it comes to studying history, as he believes that this can only be properly understood considering culture and the mind. Both nature and our brain –i.e. the subject of the natural sciences– only provide anecdotal and secondary information. The attempt to bring everything down to genetics, for example, is a mistake that leads to just forgetting about the most important thing: our minds.
Harari has also become a kind of contemporary sophist when he calls fiction everything that is not capable of suffering. Gods, nations and money are constructions created by the human mind and have no root in reality. This ability to control fictional worlds is, according to this author, what makes humans unique. We humans are special beasts because of our mind.
In this book you split human history into three periods and turning from one to another is the product of successive revolutions.
You claim that the cognitive revolution consisted basically on becoming able to imagine things not yet in existence and that this is a very important characteristic of the human species.
And despite their being fictions, you also claim that, along with the gods, they played a major role in economy.
In your own words, the cognitive revolution had a biological cause, something changed in our brain. But how can we consider this transformation in light of natural selection?
Do you consider yourself an optimistic when studying the history of humankind?
What is your solution to that?
If I understand your reasoning, you are saying that by understanding our brain better we will end up developing an economic system that is more harmonious with nature.
|«For the human mind success is not enough; after reaching a goal you always want more. We never feel satisfied despite our successes»
«The best theory we have today about the Homo Spaiens ‘s brain great change is the belief that its internal structure was altered right after we left Africa»
|Jordi Play||«Historical facts are cultural processes, many of which are accidental. If the cultural side of history is ignored, we are missing the point»|
What do you understand by mind? Which aspects should we study?
Ideas have an influence on reality.
How could we define Homo sapiens?
Is fiction then the human being’s main feature?
What about science? It is precisely the opposite of fiction. It is the search for truth.
Some scientists, like Nicholas Wade, have given rise to a strong controversy for defending that there are indeed different races within the human species. What is your opinion regarding this topic?
You seem enthusiastic about the notion of singularity given by Ray Kurzweil in the last chapters of this book.
Roger Corcho. Journalist, Barcelona.
«Technology will eventually be able to change the basic laws of the game of life. Anything that is significant for us will cease to be relevant, as we will be able to modify both our body and mind»