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A Brief History of Humankind

Hebrew University of Jerusalem


with Dr. Yuval Noah Harari

About 2 million years ago our human ancestors were insignificant animals living
in a corner of Africa. Their impact on the world was no greater than that of
gorillas, zebras, or chickens. Today humans are spread all over the world, and
they are the most important animal around. The very future of life on Earth
depends on the ideas and behavior of our species.
This course will explain how we humans have conquered planet Earth, and how
we have changed our environment, our societies, and our own bodies and
minds. The aim of the course is to give students a brief but complete overview of
history, from the Stone Age to the age of capitalism and genetic engineering.
The course invites us to question the basic narratives of our world. Its
conclusions are enlightening and at times provocative. For example:
We rule the world because we are the only animal that can believe in
things that exist purely in our own imagination, such as gods, states, money and
human rights.
Humans are ecological serial killers even with stone-age tools, our
ancestors wiped out half the planet's large terrestrial mammals well before the
advent of agriculture.
The Agricultural Revolution was historys biggest fraud wheat
domesticated Sapiens rather than the other way around.
Money is the most universal and pluralistic system of mutual trust ever
devised. Money is the only thing everyone trusts.
Empire is the most successful political system humans have invented, and
our present era of anti-imperial sentiment is probably a short-lived aberration.
Capitalism is a religion rather than just an economic theory and it is the
most successful religion to date.
The treatment of animals in modern agriculture may turn out to be the
worst crime in history.
We are far more powerful than our ancestors, but we arent much happier.
Humans will soon disappear. With the help of novel technologies, within a
few centuries or even decades, Humans will upgrade themselves into
completely different beings, enjoying godlike qualities and abilities. History
began when humans invented gods and will end when humans become gods.

Syllabus
Part I: The Cognitive Revolution

Lecture 1: The Human Family


One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans
inhabited planet Earth. Our species, Homo sapiens, was just one among them.
Who were the others? Where did they come from? And what happened to them?
Why is there today only one species of humansHomo sapiens?

Lecture 2: The Cognitive Revolution


The Cognitive Revolution, about 70,000 years ago, enabled Homo sapiens to
conquer the world and drive all other human species to extinction. During this
revolution, Homo sapiens developed a new and remarkable kind of language.
How was this language different from the languages of earlier human species
and of other animals? What were the advantages that Homo sapiens gained
from this unique language?

Lecture 3: Daily Life in the Stone Age


What was life like for people who lived 30,000 years ago? What did they do
when they woke up in the morning? How did they organize their societies? Did
they have monogamous relationships and nuclear families? Did they have
religions, revolutions, and wars?

Lecture 4: The Human Flood


Following the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens spread all over the planet.
While doing this, it drove numerous other species to extinction. In Australia, up
to 95% of all large animal species vanished. In America, 84 of 107 large
mammal species disappeared. Altogether, about half of the large terrestrial
mammals that populated Earth became extinct. How could a few million
individuals who possessed no more than Stone Age technology have caused
such devastation?

Part II: The Agricultural Revolution


Lecture 5: Historys Biggest Fraud
About 12,000 years ago, people in the Middle East, China, and Central America
began domesticating plants and animals. In the process, Homo sapiens, too,
was domesticated, abandoning a life of hunting and gathering for the pleasures
and discomforts of agriculture. For most people, the discomforts outweighed the
pleasures. The Agricultural Revolution made the life of the average person
harder. Why, then, did it occur?

Lecture 6: Building Pyramids


For millions of years, humans lived in intimate bands of no more than a few
dozen individuals. Our biological instincts are adapted to this way of life.
Humans are consequently ill-equipped to cooperate with large numbers of
strangers. Yet shortly after the Agricultural Revolution erupted, humans
established cities, kingdoms, and huge empires. How did they do it? How can
millions of strangers agree on shared laws, norms and values?

Lecture 7: There is No Justice in History


A critical factor in the formation of complex societies was the division of the
population into a hierarchy of groups. Agricultural and industrial societies have
been built on hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, and gender. Why was it
impossible to create a just and equal society? What is the deep root of prejudice
and injustice? In particular, why did almost all known societies treat men as
superior to women?

Part III: The Unification of Humankind

Lecture 8: The Direction of History


After the Agricultural Revolution, humans created many different cultures and
societies. The relations between these different societies were very complex,
and involved wars and conflicts as well as trade, immigration and imitation. But
as time went by, the connections between the societies became stronger and
stronger, so that humankind was gradually united into a single global society.
Three main forces shaped this process of unification. The first was money and
trade. Money is the most universal system of mutual trust ever devised by
humans. How come even people who believe in different gods and obey rival
kings, are nevertheless willing to use the same money?
Lecture 9: Imperial Visions
The second force that shaped the process of human unification is imperialism.
The idea of empire is seen today in a very negative light, but empires have
played such a central role in human history that its hard to regard them as
totally evil. What exactly is an empire? How have empires succeeded in uniting
under their control different ecological regions, ethnic groups, and religious
communities? How can we balance the positive contribution of empires with their
record of violence and oppression? And what is the future of the imperial ideal?
Is the world destined to be ruled by a new global empire?

Lecture 10: The Law of Religion


The third force that shaped the process of human unification is religion. The role
of religion in history is extremely controversial. Some see religion as the root of
all evil, while for others it is the primary source of happiness, empathy, and
progress. Can we arrive at a balanced judgment? What were the main
landmarks in the religious history of the world? In what ways did different
cultures understand the universe, distinguish good from evil, and explain the
ubiquitous presence of suffering?

Part IV. The Scientific Revolution

Lecture 11: The Discovery of Ignorance


During the last 500 years the process of human unification was completed. At
the same time, there has been an explosive growth in the power of humankind,
due above all to the discoveries of modern science. Humankind has become
increasingly convinced that the only thing that limits its power is its own
ignorance, and that the discovery of new knowledge can enable it to do almost
anything. How is the modern scientific tradition different from all previous
traditions of knowledge? What accounts for its sudden rise and for its
unparalleled achievements?

Lecture 12: The Marriage of Science and Empire


Modern science developed in alliance with the modern European empires. The
conquest of new knowledge depended upon and made possible the conquest of
new territories. What exactly was the contribution of science to the rise of the
European empires, and what was the contribution of the European empires to
the development of science? And why did it all start in Europe, rather than in
China, India, or the Middle East?

Lecture 13: The Capitalist Creed


The close ties between science and imperialism were in fact just one part of a
more complex relationship. The third crucial member of this relationship was
capitalism, which financed both science and empire, and which led to an
unprecedented growth in the world economy. How does a capitalist economy
function? How is it different from traditional economies? Is capitalism natural, or
is it really a kind of religion?

Lecture 14: The Industrial Revolution


During the last 200 years, the combination of science, imperialism and
capitalism produced the Industrial Revolution. This revolution gave humankind
control of enormous new energy resources, and enabled humankind to start
manufacturing far more things than ever before, far more quickly, and far more
cheaply. How did this change the global ecology, daily life, and human
psychology?

Lecture 15: A Permanent Revolution


The Industrial Revolution opened an era of permanent revolution. The late
modern socio-political order is constantly changing, never settling into any stable
pattern. The pillars of human ordermost notably, the family and the intimate
communityare crumbling around us. How do humans deal with the resulting
vacuum and chaos? How do society and politics function without stability? Is the
world becoming more violent and dangerous, or is it actually more peaceful and
secure than ever before?

Lecture 16: And They Lived Happily Ever After


Have 500 years of amazing discoveries, developments, and revolutions made
people happier? Are people today happier than in the Middle Ages, or in the
Stone Age? If not, what was the point of all these changes? Most history books
ignore these issues, yet these are the most important questions we can ask
about history. New studies in biology, economics, and psychology are offering
fascinating insights into the history of human happiness.

Lecture 17: The End of Homo Sapiens


Over the last few decades humans have began to bend and break the laws of
natural selectionlaws that have governed life on Earth for the past four billion
years. New technologies such as genetic engineering and nanotechnology are
giving us unprecedented abilities to design not only the world around us, but
also our own bodies, our personalities, and our desires. How will this influence
society and culture? Does anybody know where we are heading? What is the
likely future of humankind?