🇬🇧 Harari’s Sapiens: But Now It’s a Comic

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Because your dumb ass didn’t get it the first time around, they now made Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” into an over-simplified comic book. I really enjoyed “Sapiens” and I actually like that Harari tries to bring some biological/genetic determinism to challenge the Standard Social Science Model, along the lines of Steven Pinker or Jordan Peterson. However, I personally believe that the book (and the author as a whole, for that matter) received far too much praise considering the entire work has only one (slightly) original idea: the focus on fiction as the most important aspect in homo sapiens’s development.

While I wholeheartedly support this idea, I believe that Yuval Harari himself has no idea what gem he stumbled upon and is greatly underestimating the powers of fiction, or otherwise reducing it to by-product functions that don’t even begin to do it justice. I want to take a little time to criticize his nearly-idiotic understanding, given that this new format re-brings “Sapiens” into public attention.

Harari’s basic idea is that fiction brings people together. This is done by sharing stories and beliefs at a societal level, in an intersubjectivity of what he calls “common fiction” (with the sense of ‘shared’). The work assumes that, since they are common fiction, things such as nations and corporations are not real and they would disappear were we to stop believing in them (like Santa Claus). It’s not quite that simple: they have footprints in the real world. We can think of them as emergent super-systems formed by groups of people, which are very much real.

Religion is also tackled in the same fashion. Likewise, religion is not a simple fiction for the benefit of human cooperation. This answer is too simplistic (and, because Occam was an idiot, any too-simple answer is wrong). Without going into theological debates, religion responds to an inner need that can be very personal. It is a common trait of all people that they worship: money, fame, power, gods or political ideas. The discussion for why that is we will leave for another time, but it’s obviously clear that it it infinitely more than just coordinating large groups of apes.

The book also states that the most likely explanation for our ability to produce fiction is accidental genetic mutation, which enabled us to communicate and think in completely new ways. Fiction is an inherent property of language: language operates with concepts and from concepts based on things that are to abstracting into things that aren’t is a very small step. Although language itself could be the result of genetic mutation (we don’t know this for sure, but it most probably is), fiction can’t be a new way to communicate since it’s not a tool for communication at all. Again, the philosophy of fiction is incredibly complicated and Harari’s ridiculous over-simplifications do great disservice to serious intellectual thought. It is enough to say that fiction has an undeniable social aspect, however it is much more than that. 

Further Reading

More on Steven Pinker and the “Standard Social Science Model”

Criticizing other books by Yuval Harari:

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