A brief history of Sapiens

After I made my decision to plow through the classics , I willingly underwent a self imposed moratorium on books that did not bear the auspices of dead white males . However circumstances forced me into reading Sapiens . I plowed through it in no time , it has the unputdownable quality of Agatha Christie or P.G. Wodehouse or any of the wonderful writers whose works I devoured in my teens . It reminded me of another book that I had read about 1o years ago called “Guns , Germs and Steel”  where the author, Jared Diamond talked about how the fate of humanity has been dictated by Guns , Germs and Steel . Sapiens is more expansive and  bleak in its outlook for Homo Sapiens

Lately as I troll through dating sites , a term that I keep runnng into is Sapiosexual . My first instinct was this was some weird Marquis de Sade shit but it kept popping up and some of these girls seemed to have very similar tastes to mine and my laziness was finally overcome by my curiosity and I found out that Sapiosexual means that Intelligence is a turn on for these people . I idly reflected , when was the last time that somebody would have said , nope I want a moron for a partner!!! But Sapient means having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment , we are all Homo Sapiens , are we special . Sure as hell seems like it , we have conquered the earth to the point of decimating all other lifeforms . Sent man to the moon and Elon Musk wants to build a colony on Mars , probably will happen in our lifetime as well .

Apparently there are at least 6 species of humans who have existed prior to us and in some cases along with us but they have vanished . Except for Neanderthals ,supposedly Europeans and East Asians have a 1.5 to 4 % of the Neanderthal genes . The Polynesians have some relation to the Homo Denovians , the only specimen being found in Siberia . There are multiple hypothesis including mixing through marriage or having seen at length the great genocides in history based on culture , religion , skin color and other traits , I can safely assume that it was genocide .

The author talks at length about the massive animals that roamed the earth  especially on the American and Australian continents that seemed to exist for millenia but seemed to disappear within a few decades of Homo Sapiens setting foot on the continent .  Reminded me of the Dodo bird in Mauritius. The Portuguese sailors landed there late 18th century . Dodo in Portuguese means stupid or alternatively in Dutch means fat arse . Either way , the sailors killed the bird for sport and drove it to extinction . Why did they think that the bird was stupid ? The bird did not flee when the humans approached . Today we know that it is a sign that the animals has not been exposed to humans (or more accurately human cruelty) . Charles Darwin had that wonderful insight when he encountered similar behavior in the Galapagos . Unfortunately for the dodo and for all of us in posterity, it encountered illiterate and dim-witted Portuguese sailors . I have been a cat owner/slave for most of my life in India as well as the US . I see a distinct difference in the behavior of cats in the US or Singapore versus India . Cats in the US/Singapore are not as skittish as cats in India tend to be, cats in my experience are treated far more kindly in the US than in India. In Singapore , there is some superstition regarding cats so cats are not killed but neutered (half the tail is chopped off to brand the kitty) and left back on the streets so cats tend to lead a fairly healthy life with food hawkers feeding them scraps . Dogs , crows, pigeons and all other stray/wild  creatures are not so lucky in Singapore.

The human history has been broadly divided into 4 distinct time periods which he has marked as the Cognitive revolution , the Agricultural revolution ,Empire Building and finally the Scientific revolution which has managed to come to the brink of wiping us out. He goes into an amazing discussion about how the modern credit system is inextricably tied to the scientific revolution (it suddenly comes clear with his explanation that the wealth of nations written by Adam Smith could not have existed in 1176 ) , the bleak part is that he treats our optimism about the markets as a bubble , a bubble that has lasted for the last 500 years , our firm belief in the markets as perpetually growing is a bubble based on faith in the sciences .  That theme reminded me of Thomas Malthus’s essay about the population growth and how we would soon run out food . But the scientific advances in agriculture proved him wrong and the author acknowledges that but he makes nagging comments about the paucity of natural resources that still nags me . The information revolution was created from sand . Before they realized that diodes could be built using silicon and germanium , silicon was a worthless mineral . Today it has created more wealth than existed 30 years ago. But this wealth is a result of the various countries printing money in a frenzy , what is the money backed by ? Simply put ,it is backed by optimism and hope, hope that the scientific revolution churns out more miracles.

In our current times empire building is generally referred to as a bad thing but he gives us a very interesting discourse which left me convinced that empires were great unifiers . Growing up in India around 3 different cultures leaves me in no doubt that had it not been for the British , India would have existed as a series of disparate entities , similar to the countries in Europe. But the British only existed for 200 years . The Ottoman empire lasted 500 years and unified the various Bedouin tribes , the Romans around 500 years and unified most of Europe and of course the Chinese emperors , For the Chinese emperors, unification of China was paramount and some would say , they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams .There is another interesting titbit that astounded me , when we hear Irish or Polish cuisine , we think potatoes . When somebody mentions Indian cuisine , we associate it with spicy chili peppers and yet both chili peppers and potatoes are indigenous to the American continent . More than likely we have to thank Christopher Columbus for bringing potatoes and chili peppers to Eurasia .

By the same token, most would agree that the Agricultural revolution was a great thing. He talks about the state of human beings in the forager days where everybody was as fit as an Olympic athlete and not completely at the mercy of nature (depending on rains at the perfect time etc) and a diet that was far more varied and healthier.

I used to work for a manager who while competent in the IT arena was naive in areas outside of IT . He almost always complained about money being the root of all evil and how the barter system needs to come back .In this book , the author makes eloquent and convincing arguments as to the death of the barter system and why the invention of money was a milestone in the history of humankind and actually accelerated our progress.


All in all , it is a wonderful read and definitely one to go on my shelf for future re reads . I strongly recommend the book to anybody who is curious about the history of our kind .



One thought on “A brief history of Sapiens

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s