From Animals to Gods: Harari

From Animals to Gods: Harari

Written by Alfonso Elizondo

According to Yuval Noah Harari, the brilliant historian with a PhD from Oxford University, in his book titled From Animals into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind, there is very little that humans know about themselves since most of that knowledge comes from their imagination.


Harari asks what caused the human species to become dominant on the planet, or why men have dominated women in most societies, and why humans have become happier with the passing of time. He says that these questions cannot be answered by traditional historical research because it focuses on a single time period, and therefore we must deal with the full spectrum of the history of humankind.


Harari uses two basic perspectives in his analysis: 1. Biology, since humans are animals and everything they do has a biological basis, although biology cannot be the basis for the study of cultural, political, artistic and social phenomena. 2. Therefore his second perspective has to be cultural.


Harari goes on to address the complex relationship between happiness and power. He points out that historians of the past focused almost entirely on issues of power, ignoring happiness and suffering which are ultimately more important, since power by itself is meaningless. So it’s most important to reflect on how power makes the life of humans better, since their main purpose is to make a great discovery or to participate in a revolution that makes them happier.


According to Harari, the cognitive revolution is the result of a mutation of the DNA of an ape, which allowed it to create the basis of human culture by giving it the unique ability to create fiction and disseminate it to the point where it could be shared by many other humans. In this way the foundations of culture or the association of any group of people on a large scale were created, which meant the end of the biological narrative and the birth of the historical narrative.


In order to survive, humans need to belong to a particular group, so they have to know the members of that group and obtain different social information from that obtained by other animal species. For example, wolves and monkeys live in groups but obtain social data from their observation of humans.


Harari says that the development of spoken language allowed humans to ‘gossip’ and gather a great deal of sociability data. Up to the present, most communication between humans is still based on ‘gossip,’ since it is the least boring form of human intercommunication.


This type of communication through spoken language creates the basis of unity in human communities. A clear example is religion, where one finds supernatural stories about gods, angels and other creatures in whom the vast majority of people believe and which make it possible to undertake large-scale tasks, as was the case of the Crusades. Something similar happens in the field of economics, where there are certain fictitious items, such as money, but everyone believes in the same story, and this forms the foundations of the economy, particularly in large corporations with no physical or material backing, but they eventually become substantial and dominate the world when the original stories have already been forgotten.


Harari’s book is a response to the needs of people in today’s world, where large-scale phenomena can determine the survival of humans and knowledge of national histories is not enough for understanding their existence. What is required therefore is a global perspective to try to explain these evolutionary processes in a simple and fun way.


At the end of his book, Harari says that the world is full of dangers because changes are taking place with surprising speed, so no one can understand what is happening or has any idea what will happen in 20 years. More and more people live in fear and insecurity. Not being able to be involved in these processes generates enormous anxiety in humans of today.

Addendum. We still don’t know if the new technologies and new media are creating a better world, or if there is de facto a strong involution in the brain and in the behavior of humans.