Rise of the Planet of the Sapiens

The Cognitive Revolution was “the appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating.” (Harari, 21)  It was the rise of human language. The ability to communicate information in nearly infinite ways with accuracy and detail allowed humans to better understand their environment and themselves. Language also gave rise to belief in common myths, which allowed for larger groups of humans to cooperate and live together. These larger groups needed more food to survive than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle could produce, and thus the Agricultural Revolution began. The Agricultural Revolution was a “revolution in the way humans lived,” that saw Sapiens transition from a life of hunting and gathering to one devoted to “manipulating the lives of a few animal and plant species.” (Harari, 77) While the agricultural lifestyle was not easier than the foraging one, the surplus of food it produced allowed human populations to grow exponentially. Larger population meant more mouths to feed, but it also meant more hands and more minds. People could now do more than just farm. They could build and expand, and the creation of social hierarchies meant further development of human civilization. These revolutions opened the door for humans to cooperate in large groups, and thus civilizations were able to grow.


I agree with Harari’s assessment of the rise of Sapiens. He attributes the success of Sapiens to the “imagined order,” and that shared belief in myths is what holds together civilizations. (Harari, 105) He cites two examples, the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of Independence, as myths that built successful societies. However, the two myths have different imagined orders for humans. Hammurabi’s Code states that humans are split into three social groups, while the Declaration of Independence states that all humans are equal. Despite this difference, both civilizations based upon these ideas were able to prosper. This, Harari says, is why the imagined order is so powerful. Even though there are differences in imagined orders for every civilization, they are “the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively.” (Harari, 110) The imagined order is the glue that binds modern civilizations together, so it no doubt played a major role in the rise of Sapiens. Without some common belief to bind groups of humans together, to create cooperation and a desire to advance, we would never have become the most dominant species on the planet.

5 thoughts on “Rise of the Planet of the Sapiens”

  1. I really like how you summarized the text by Harari. I didn’t really connect his critique of the Declaration of Independence to his original claim of how shared myths among sapiens helped bond people and cultures together. The socially created ideas of democracy and everyone “created equal” really are productions of the imagined order. The Declaration of Independence was loosely based on John Locke’s social contract theory which was essentially a story shared in the pre-colonial era and inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers. The imagined order from the Declaration of Independence still holds our society together today. Its fascinating how people communicating together to tell stories then led to explaining the natural world which later resulted in modern societies. I learned a lot from your post. Thank you!

  2. Your first paragraph is a good summary of the reading, but a sentence piqued my interest. The sentence where you stated that “people needed more food than they could gather from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, so the Agricultural Revolution began.” The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one centered around farming was most likely not smooth or fluid. As I see it, the transition began when one individual gathered a potato (or wheat plant), ate it, found out it tasted amazing, and told the rest of his group. This plant might have been gathered and eaten for a period of time, until some innovative soul wanted to see what would happen if he put the seeds in the dirt. This scenario, or one where wheat seeds survived the digestive tract, and stalks grew wherever they placed excrement. Personally I prefer the “what happens if I put this in the ground and give it water?” scenario. The second paragraph is very informative, but offers nothing for my brain to play with.

  3. I find these socially created imagined orders to be somewhat alarming. If every religion, government, and army is basically a lie to united us for subjective causes, then won’t the moral codes we all subscribe to be replaced by new imagined orders in the future? This reaffirms Harari’s point that studying imagined orders breeds cynicism. I can’t help but see a loose connection between imagined orders and evolutionary theory. Like how nature puts a “struggle for existence” upon species, perhaps human societies put a “struggle for belief” upon imagined orders. Maybe whichever imagined order that’s best suited for advancing the comfort and progress of its members is the one that can reproduce (be maintained from one generation to the next). The Code of Hammurabi has died out and been replaced by countless other creeds. Perhaps future people will similarly see the Declaration of Independence retire in our social environment and be replaced by “more fit” imagined orders.

  4. Imagined order can be a great way to get homo sapiens to cooperate with each other and the society that they live in. There are presidents, prime ministers, and still kings and queens in the world today, and not many people question that there should be a type of authority. I think that imagined order helps the world be a less chaotic place. If there were no imagined order like today, people may not have a desire to do good because they do not believe in the greater good of humanity, or people may not believe in religion and feel like there is no point in living. Imagined order also keeps people from going at each other’s throats, fighting for who should rule who. My point is that if there was not any imagined order, someone would create another imagined order eventually, as it is essential to society.

  5. While both Hammurabi’s Code and the Declaration of Independence are both myths that allowed their respective groups to prosper, they are indeed very different in nature. One specifically separates groups, another says they are all equal. Somehow, both were successful in uniting humankind in their respective time periods. The reason for this, I believe, is because the contents only need to be something that the people it applies to can believe in and understand. While the humans of the past were definitely humans, just like us, their culture and beliefs were different, meaning that the glue that held them together probably had to be different as well.

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