Homo brainius

Harari argues that the Cognitive Revolution is what initially set Homo sapiens apart from other human species and allowed them to coalesce into larger, collective bands. Communicating through language, and more specifically, fictive language, allowed “Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers” (25). Myths and religions through which people came to believe in spirits or some greater power vastly increased the number of humans that could work and live together, allowing them to outcompete Neandertals and other human species. The adaptability that came from the development of culture meant that their limitations were not longer biological, and the Sapiens species spread rapidly across the globe, invading various harsh environments that they could nevertheless adapt to. This set the base for the Agricultural Revolution, which arose independently in several different areas of the world. Although it can be argued that this shift in food sourcing caused more hardship and unhappiness, the overall human population saw a huge expansion because permanent homes and a need for more workers increased the benefit of having more children. The Agricultural Revolution was also the impetus for the development of a written language; initially as a way for keeping track of mathematical records, it soon expanded into forms that could record qualitative data. Divisions within the social structures of communities also prevailed, many of which set the stage for today’s inequalities.

The explanation Harari has for human dominance is quite compelling, especially as he relates it to the myths that were the epitome of the Cognitive Revolution. Without these fictions, the inter-subjectivity that “exists within the communication network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals” (117), society as we know it today probably would have failed to develop. Of course, this is all a happy accident—probably the most important point Harari makes and the one the reader is most likely to miss. Homo sapiens are the product of routine evolution, and our dominance is not the result of some great plan but rather millions of small-scale, unconscious changes we made in our social structure.

Leave a Reply