The Story of Sapiens, Forging the Skill of Awareness, and The Power of Disguised Books | Yuval Noah Harari on The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • Most history books are about the history of power:
    • Conflicts about power between two kings, two kingdoms two religions, two classes, etc.
  • “As a species, we are very good in acquiring more power, but we are not good at all in translating power into happiness.” Yuval Noah Harari
  • Humans are 1000x more powerful than we were in the stone age, but are we 1000x happier?
    • “The big paradox of history is that it’s obvious we are thousands of times more powerful than people in the Stone Age, but it’s not clear whether we are at all happier than they were.” Yuval Noah Harari
  • Money is the best fictional story ever created because everyone believes in it even 50,000 years after it was created:
    • “It’s the most successful and universal system of mutual trust that humans ever came up with” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Today, the majority of money isn’t real. It’s not in banknotes or coins, it’s about 95% digital.
    • The government no longer needs to print money, they just add zeroes into a computer
      • “You just have some official in some bank goes into the computer, adds a zero somewhere, and poof, you have a trillion new dollars emerging out of nothing.” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Everyone believes in the story of money: Even when ISIS took over the city of Mosul, they hated everything America stood for but still kept and used all the US dollars that were in the banks.
  • Yuval believes there are 3 main global problems:
    • 1) Nuclear war
      • As global tensions rise, so does the chance of a nuclear war
    • 2) Ecological collapse
      • Not just climate change but also the destruction of habitats
    • 3) Technological disruption
      • Mainly from artificial intelligence and bioengineering

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • Yuval recently released Sapiens: A Graphic History, a new graphic novel series in collaboration with comics artists David Vandermeulen (co-writer) and Daniel Casanave (illustrator)
  • Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor
    • “It’s a very big book, very dense, but if you make it, it’s really worth it.” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    • “It explores a lot of deep philosophical issues, but in a much more fun way than your typical philosophy book.”– Yuval Noah Harari

Understand Your Mind Before Trying To Understand The World

  • While getting his Ph.D. at Oxford, Yuval spent a lot of time reading philosophy books and reflecting on his purpose to try to find the meaning of life
    • One of his friends suggested that he might find meaning by trying vipassana meditation. Yuval tried it and had trouble focusing on just breathing for even a few seconds.
      • It was an important experience in his life because it made him realize he had no control over his mind
        • “You realize how overwhelming the stories that the mind produces are” – Yuval Noah Harari
          • Yuval came to the conclusion that before he could understand the stories around the financial system or the geopolitical system, he first had to understand the stories generated by his own mind 

The Benefits of Meditation

  • Meditation helped Yuval focus on deep work, like writing his books:
    • “I don’t think I could have written Sapiens, or Homo Deus, or any of these other books without the practice of meditation because you need a tremendous amount of focus to do something like that.” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Yuval meditates for 2 hours every day and goes for a 30-60 day meditation retreat every year 

How Yuval’s Book Went Mainstream

  • Sapiens was originally self-published and titled From Animals Into Gods. It only sold about 2,000 copies.
    • After a new translation and some fine-tune editing, the book was rebranded as Sapiens and went on to become a bestseller
  • Sapiens was based on Yuval’s lecture called introduction to the history of the world
    • His lecture notes were so popular, students from all over the university began reading them and that’s when Yuval realized there was an opportunity to write a book and reach a bigger audience 
      • Being a professor was a great way to get instant feedback for his book because if any of the material were boring while teaching it, Yuval would see students lose interest  

History, Power, & Stories

  • Most history books are about the history of power:
    • Conflicts about power between two kings, two kingdoms two religions, two classes, etc.
  • “As a species, we are very good in acquiring more power, but we are not good at all in translating power into happiness.” Yuval Noah Harari
  • Humans are 1000x more powerful than we were in the stone age, but are we 1000x happier?
    • “The big paradox of history is that it’s obvious we are thousands of times more powerful than people in the Stone Age, but it’s not clear whether we are at all happier than they were.” Yuval Noah Harari
  • The main way that humans gain power is through collective cooperation. Individually, humans aren’t powerful, but together, we become unstoppable.
    • Nations, money, and corporations are all fictional stories of cooperation. None of these things exist.
  • We have to be careful about believing in fictional stories:
    • “Once you forget it’s just a story and you begin entire wars just in order to protect, to defend the honor of the nation, or to increase the profits of the corporation, something went wrong.” – Yuval Noah Harari

Money: The Most Powerful Story Ever 

  • Money is the best fictional story ever created because everyone believes in it even 50,000 years after it was created:
    • “It’s the most successful and universal system of mutual trust that humans ever came up with” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Today, the majority of money isn’t real. It’s not in banknotes or coins, it’s about 95% digital.
    • The government no longer needs to print money, they just add zeroes into a computer
      • “You just have some official in some bank goes into the computer, adds a zero somewhere, and poof, you have a trillion new dollars emerging out of nothing.” – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Everyone believes in the story of money: Even when ISIS took over the city of Mosul, they hated everything America stood for but still kept and used all the US dollars that were in the banks.

Yuval’s Influences

  • Who has influenced or inspired Yuval?
    • Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor who wrote Sources of the Self 
      • “It’s a very big book, very dense, but if you make it, it’s really worth it.” – Yuval Noah Harari
    • His meditation teacher, S.N. Goenka
    • The book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 
    • The book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
      • “It explores a lot of deep philosophical issues, but in a much more fun way than your typical philosophy book.”

Yuval’s New Book

  • Yuval recently released Sapiens: A Graphic History, a new graphic novel series in collaboration with comics artists David Vandermeulen (co-writer) and Daniel Casanave (illustrator)
    • He decided to make a graphic novel because he wanted to reach a new audience and bring science and history to more people
      • A lot of people wouldn’t have opened the original Sapiens book because it was 500 pages long, but they may be more likely to pick up and read the graphic novel version of the book

Mysteries Of The Stone Age

  • There’s a lot we don’t know about the Stone Age
    • For instance the family structure. If you look at cave paintings during that time period, there are no paintings of families. It’s usually drawings of animals like mammoths and hunters.
      • “There isn’t a single image from the Stone Age that you can say, Look, that’s how they depicted a family.” – Yuval Noah Harari

Thoughts on Global Problems

  • Yuval’s personal mission statement: Keep your eyes on the ball, focus on the main global problems facing humanity, learn to distinguish reality from illusion, care about the suffering
  • Yuval believes there are 3 main global problems:
    • 1) Nuclear war
      • As global tensions rise, so does the chance of a nuclear war
    • 2) Ecological collapse
      • Not just climate change but also the destruction of habitats
    • 3) Technological disruption
      • Mainly from artificial intelligence and bioengineering
        • “I think it is possible that we will create the first inorganic life forms after four billion years of organic evolution” – Yuval Noah Harari

Nothing Lasts Forever

  • 99% of the species that evolved on planet Earth are gone for one reason or another
    • Humans may soon also disappear:
      • “I don’t think Homo sapiens will be around in two or 300 years. The best scenario is that Homo sapiens will disappear, but in a peaceful and gradual way, and be replaced by something better.” – Yuval Noah Harari

Additional Notes

  • Pain is like a magnet, it keeps drawing your attention to it
  • Most of the time, if you are dissatisfied, it’s because you are missing or craving a pleasant experience  
  • Yuval likes to listen to audiobooks while swimming. He uses a Finis Duo MP3 player.
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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