A World of Pure Imagination

The Cognitive Revolution was a large turning point for homo sapiens. It marked when sapiens gained enough intelligence to imagine things that didn’t exist or were more abstract, before this no animals could have imaginary friends. But imagined more than friends, according to Harari, “The immense diversity of imagined realities that Sapiens invented and the resulting diversity of behavior patterns, are the main components of what we call ‘cultures’.” (Harari, Pg. 41) I agree with this because without our ability to believe in things that don’t physically exist, like governments, deities, and time modern culture would not exist. The Agricultural Revolution played an equally as important role in laying down the foundation for modern civilization. For “2.5 million years humans” (Harari, Pg. 80.) were mainly foragers and hunters, but “all this changed about 10,000 years ago, when Sapiens began to devote almost all their time and effort to manipulating the lives of a few animal and plant species.” (Harari, Pg,80) For whatever reason, after millions of years of foraging, sapiens decided to start cultivating plants and animals, which led to them building permanent settlements. These settlements quickly became bigger and more complex with laws and social orders possible due to the Cognitive Revolution.

I find Harari’s argument very persuasive, because it points out a fundamental difference between us and other animals; the ability to communicate and think about things that are imagined or abstract. Which seems most likely true but I would like to know if we are really the only animal that can do that. I found his argument about the Agricultural Revolution compelling as well. Although the idea that we couldn’t have modern society without agriculture isn’t crazy it was very interesting reading a timeline of how we got there. I would like a better understanding of why we transitioned from foragers to farmers, but there is no written evidence from that time so it is hard for historians to study. Overall I found Harari’s argument convincing but thought some areas still need to be researched more.

6 thoughts on “A World of Pure Imagination”

  1. I really like your thoughts on weather or not we really are the only animals that can imagine. If we assume that we aren’t the only animals that can imagine,that would mean that there’s a different explanation to why we have become dominant. What do you think that could be?

  2. Great post! I liked how you made the point that the cognitive revolution continued to be an influence even during the agricultural revolution in developing more complex laws and social orders. I tend to think more linearly in thinking that we are simply going from revolution to revolution and forget that the effects of the cognitive and agricultural revolutions continue to be an impact even today. As for how sapiens transitioned from foragers to farmers, Harari briefly mentioned a few theories – which you most likely read already considering it’s not too much further than the pages you cited – but I’ll reiterate them anyways for the sake of filling up the word count. Like you mentioned there exists no written evidence, however, the main theory was that the shift from foragers to farmers was a gradual result of plant species, particularly wheat, domesticating humans. This started as sapiens simply foraging plant species instead of growing them, but over time farming strategies began to develop as humans realized certain plants grew more plants, grew better when buried deeper underground which resulted in plowing techniques, grew better with water, had to be protected from weeds and locust, etc (Harari p. 85). Gradually farmer tribes appeared as the amount of food per territory increased to a point where humans could grow sufficient amounts of food in relative proximity and thus begun the agricultural revolution. As a side note, the cognitive revolution was most likely similarly due to a gradual change in the form of a mutation of the MYH16 gene which resulted in smaller jaw muscles and allowed for larger and more powerful brains to develop.

  3. I agree with the statement that Harari’s points need to be researched more. It’s hard to really read the text when he doesn’t give too many reasons for his observations. Although, like you said, it’s hard for historians to understand these reasons anyways because of the unclear and lack of proper documentation throughout the course of humanity. In my mind, maybe some things are better left unclear. It’s plausible that the struggles humans had in the past are not problems we deal with now (other than harsh dictators in some areas of the world), so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the works these people created. But that’s just my opinion.

  4. I think the argument that Harari is trying to get across is very interesting indeed. Particularly when he discusses the fiction comprehension being the thing that allows groups to work over a certain number threshold. The fact that we are the only animals that have used imagination to cultivate an entire society is obvious, but are we the only creatures that can think this way? or simply the only ones with the physical attributes to carry out such drastic experiments. I think that it is really impossible to know for sure as our ability to communicate with other species is quite limited. It is very clear thought how much the agricultural revolution has taken ahold of our species and changed the way we think and live. Without agriculture today’s society would implode, but with it we damage the very lifeblood for our survival.

  5. Wonderful post, and although it’s true that more research is certainly needed in discovering WHY humans decided to get into agriculture, I think Harari’s emphasis on the effects of us doing so is much more appropriate to the novel’s theme. Sapiens seems focused on what historical human movements, both literal and metaphorical, led to where we are today and where we’re going to go in the future. Thus, I think it’s really more appropriate, and practical with the immense information we have, that Harari tells about what came out of the agricultural revolution. You do bring up a good point in asking if humans are the only animals that can think up and subscribe to abstract ideologies/deities. I remember hearing how elephants are known to mourn their dead and can be seen carrying around the horns of their late relatives. Perhaps in an abstract sense this could be evidence of elephants believing in an afterlife? Or at the very least, proof of some kind of belief that their deceased are still among them? Whatever the case, I’d be greatly interested in some further research.

  6. Well-thought post. On the subject of distinguishing between the idea of what is human and what is “animal”, a similar way to look at this is understanding, which is kinda an umbrella term to cover what basically Harari and you have both asked. A fun trick lots of people do is hold a blanket up and run away as they drop the blanket making it look like they disappeared, the dogs or cat usually freaks out about it. This is a show of the lack of “object-permanence” animals have. The same happens when we play beek-a-boo with infants. The only exception is that over time human infants start to understand object-permanence. Could it be we as humans simply understand our thoughts or understand ourselves better than an animal can? Your question on imagination may be same thing in concept. We most likely understand what our imagination is…or atleast hope we do.

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