Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens [LINK] – Yuval Noah Harari

Going back 100,000 years, there were six species that roamed the Earth. Now? There is one, Homo sapiens (Latin for wise man). How and why did this come to be? In Sapiens, Yuval Harari explains how the ability to cooperate in large groups was the tipping point for our rapid advancement to earth’s alpha-animal.

The ability to cooperate and colaborate is driven by storytelling. The difference between a monkey andHomo sapiens is our belief in myths. The most common myth is money. Printer paper and dollar bills share much of the same traits, yet one of them is what controls our world. Almost everything humans have achieved relative to their animal ancestors has been based on collective myths. Humans, just as any other animal, have one biological purpose: survival. Yuval is not advocating we seperate from the herd and reject these myths — and whether we know we are part of the game or not is besides the point — collaboration through the belief in myths is what progressed humans to their most advanced stage.

I most enjoyed the first hundred or so pages on human history and the final chapter: The End of Homo Sapiens. What does our future hold? Will birth defects and degenerative diseases cease to exist? How would the world be if no autopsy report read ‘died of natural causes’?  Humans are at the cusp of manipulating what we assign to God’s plan or biology. “For close to 4 billion years, every single organism on the planet evolved subject to natural selection. Not even one was designed by an intelligent creator.”We may theorize that iRobot is inevitable, or speculate to why we shouldn’t alter natures path and natural selection, but the reality is we will not stop progressing; it is impossible to stop Frankenstein.

“The only thing we can try to do is to influence the direction scientists are taking. But since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?'”

It took me over a month to tackle this because of the vast amout of information on each page. I have highlights and notes in every other paragraph. This has been the deepest information-to-page book I’ve read.

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Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Ishmael [LINK] – Daniel Quinn

I picked this up out of recommendation (thanks, Mo!) and, coincidentally, it read as a fictional counterpart to Sapiens.

At times I wasn’t sure if I was reading a real-life account of our demise or participating in one of those end-of-the-universe films. The book follows along a nameless protagonist who answers a newspaper ad: “Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Our protaganist soon finds himself in a room with a Gorilla, Ishmael, who begins to question his desire to “save the world.”

Ishmael explains the rise of humans and how they became the dominant force in the world: by caring only for themselves. These Takers, as Ishmael explains, believe they are the pinnacle of evolution, the world was created solely for them, for their taking, for their consumption.

This was very fun to read right alongside Sapiens. In Ishmael, we are warned that our consumption-driven society will cause the ultimate demise of the planet. In Sapiens, we learn how Homo sapiensreliance on myths has influenced everything from societal norms to the consumer-centric society marketers’ control. Even though one of these is fictional, they both share a similar warning: over consumption and myths can lead to human’s demise – if we are told the wrong story and follow along like sheep, the herd will consume more than they can replace.

While our protagonist still wants to save the world, Ishmael counters his intentions with an explanation that doing so world would mean changing our culture, which is to change the story in which humans are participating. As learned in Sapiens, we have progressed because of our storytelling. To be an individual of change, you still must engage within the confines of society. Man has no free-will, as “those who refuse to take a place do not get fed.” It doesn’t make a difference if we are being lied to or not, we must continue to get up, go to work, and pay the bills like everyone else. Ishmael explains that this does not mean being passive. If you want to change the world, you must change the culture. And to change the culture, means telling a different story. Every generation has a way that works best for people, change comes as each generation’s story develops.

”It isn’t the tale you tell that counts, it’s the way you actually live.”

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air [LINK] – Paul Kalanithi

This is one of my all-time favorite books and consider it a must read for anyone. This is not one you will forget about after finishing. Each page reads as if you are sitting with Paul – he grabs your attention from the first page onward and it’s excepyionally difficult to put down.

“I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer, widely disseminated. I was a neurosurgical resident entering my final year of training. Over the last six years, I’d examined scores of such scans, on the off chance that some procedure might benefit the patient. But this scan was different: it was my own.”

Paul emphasizes the goal is not to make us feel sorry for him, he wants to share his attempt at philosophizing on what makes a virtuous and meaningful life. “At those critical junctures, the question is not simply whether to live or die but what kind of life is worth living.”

We do not need to fear death, for all organisms do eventually die. We should strive to understand it, how our morals change as we grow closer to it, becoming more aware and mindful. Being in the present moment, and “knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.” We humans too, are subject to the law that entropy always increases. Death comes for all of us.

“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose… You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving”

As the memoir concludes, the question comes of, how to live a meaningful life? While Paul is sadly no longer with us, he believed the key, through any circumstance, is to live with integrity.

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. It explores the cross section of life and philosophy. It is tragic yet inspiring, thought provoking while direct. I can assure you if you read this, you will be more appreciative of life, and hopefully strive to make yours more meaningful.