Yuval Noah Harari: A Visionary Man Who Metamorphosed my Ideas about the World

Picture credits: Google Images

I was in the final year of my college when I first got to know there is a book called “SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind” that exists. It was one of my classmates who recommended me and my friend this book. For almost 3 years I couldn’t manage to complete this book. Eventually I did. Only a few days ago. 

Describing how the book was seems quite a naïve question. Usual answers coming from the readers are:

“Oh, it was great.”

“You should really read this book. This book changed my life.”

“Yeah, it’s a good book.”       

                                                

But I personally believe that describing this book is a very difficult task. Words do fall short when it comes to describing SAPIENS. I do not mean to sound rude but many people applaud this book and go back to living their lives with the same held beliefs and ideas including “Evolution is tricky. I am sceptical about it.” Such people don’t do justice with the book. I cannot speak for everyone but my ideas have been made better after reading this book. I can speak for myself that my intellect is not the same as before. I am glad that it isn’t. 

Dr Yuval Noah Harari earned his PHD from the University of Oxford in History. He is now a full time professor at Hebrew University and his specialisation is in World History. His book Sapiens is an international bestseller and has been published in more than 30 languages worldwide. In the year 2012, Professor Harari received the annual Polonsky Prize for his work full of creativity and imagination. Dr Harari published another book in the year 2015 and it’s titled “HOMO DEUS: A Brief History of Tomorrow”. This book is about humankind’s future- where we are heading and what our future looks like. Homo Deus is followed by another incredible read “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”. The book is about our present. Dr Harari believes there are 3 problems revolving around heads and we must address them immediately: ecological collapse, technological disruption and nuclear war. Technological disruption is the most tricky one because our pace of technological developments is very fast and even we don’t know where is it we are heading or what is it that we are striving for. 

Cognitive revolution did give us some advantages over other human species including Homo Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, etc. What set us apart was our ability to believe in fictional stories. These fictional stories made us co-operate with our fellows in large numbers. We did manage to create imagined realities and they proved to be very helpful and necessary. Only a limited number of chimpanzees can stay in a room with one another. However, millions of humans co-operate with each other  (majorly strangers) just because they share the same imagined realities. Agricultural revolution changed the course of life of the hunter gatherers forever. When they settled, towns and cities began emerging. This was the period in human history which caused population explosion. More mouths meant a need to grow more and the vicious cycle continued. Scientific revolution has changed things to another level. An excerpt from the book SAPIENS beautifully captures the whole idea:

In 1500, humans were confined to the earth’s surface. They could build towers and climb mountains, but the sky was reserved for birds, angels and deities. On 20 July 1969, humans landed on the moon. This was not merely a historical achievement but an evolutionary and cosmic feat. During the previous 4 billions years of evolution, no organism managed even to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and certainly none left a foot or tentacle print on the moon.”

The world is changing at a much faster pace than anyone could have ever imagined. Technology, nevertheless, has made our lives better. Modern Science has managed to increase our life expectancy. Communication has become so much easier. In no time I can send a professor in the US an e-mail. Did pre-historic humans ever expect such a thing happening in the future? I don’t think so. However, our big problem is that even we are blank when it comes to asking ourselves: 

“WHAT IS IT THAT WE WANT?”

“WHAT WILL BE THE END OF OUR DESIRES?”

“WHERE DO WE SEE OURSELVES IN THE COMING YEARS?”

Dr Harari believes it is high time we grab on an ancient philosophy proposed by Aristotle- KNOW THYSELF. Seriously, we should become self- introspective and question our needs, wants, desires, etc. We should spend time knowing ourselves better than the corporations and government. Companies and governments are playing with our psychology to fulfil their self-interests. Politicians need power and authority. Corporations need profits. What about us? They don’t care about us. We are merely puppets in their hands. This is exactly why we need to start devoting some time into knowing ourselves better and more. Do we really need that new phone if our old one is working just fine? Do we really need that new furniture when our current furniture is only 6 months old? 

Question. Question and question.

I am going to end this blog with a quote by my favourite thinker, Dr Harari:

“I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.”

The Art of Being Enough

Picture credits: Pinterest

This post might just change your life. But more importantly, I want it to change mine. In other words, you can say out loud that I am writing this short essay for me.

Every moment of our lives we are striving for more. We want more achievements, more money, more friends, more social approvals, more gadgets, etc. It seems like ‘more’ is guiding our lives. We do not take a pause, look around and think if everything we have is enough. We are always competing: competing with our former selves is a good thing (but it should be done in moderation too) while keeping an unhealthy competition with others is an invitation to self destruction and no self satisfaction. Nothing is ever enough for us. You might assume contentment equals no progress. I disagree. Being content in life provides a stronger platform to get closer to our goals and dreams. People who are content in life find better ways to pursue new goals.

Wrong: Contentment= No progress

Right: Contentment= Better progress

My elder sister is a successful woman. She has a stable job which she enjoys a lot. Recently, she has purchased a car. These are considered to be the measures of success; just to name a few. I have attributed her success with her salary and possessions. They are the external measures of success and they matter. But she has a quality that I believe can be referred to as her “internalmeasure of success. I will call it “the art of being enough”. My sister is ambitious. She knows what she wants in her life and then she goes after it. That’s how we all approach our lives too, right?

I don’t think so.

What sets her apart from the many people I have met is her ability to stay content. Her ambitions are loud but they are not loud enough to keep her dissatisfied with her accomplishments and life overall. She is not trying to do ‘everything’. She does ‘something’ and she gives her best in that. She knows when things get ‘enough’ for her. I admire such people.

I often talk about gratitude in my blog posts not because it looks cooler but because I personally believe how important it is to be grateful in life. Few years ago I would say I wasn’t a grateful person. But that changed with time. Now I say it out loud that I am a grateful person and whenever life throws mud at me I try to remind myself of all the things I have. Still, I have this constant feeling like something is missing. I could say it is because I am an over ambitious person. Also, I am very competitive (please bear in mind that I try my best to keep a healthy competition). For the past few days I have been wondering about it and it crossed my mind how I can learn a simple skill of being satisfied and content from my sister.

Why so serious? It’s just life

I have always been serious in life and my sister has always been jolly and carefree. That way she enjoys her life.

Does it mean she is not an accomplished person? Does it mean she has no bigger goals and aspirations? NO. She is a very successful person not only because she is well educated, she has a car, a place to live and other essentials but also because she practices an art of being enough. She strives for more and better things in life but at the same time she knows when and how to put a full stop to her desires. She prioritizes experiences and having diverse experiences in life makes life more worthy.

Seriously, it’s only life. Why be so serious???

Ambitions can be a double edged sword

I know well enough the cost of being over ambitious. There have been profits, not going to deny that. But I have bear losses too. And those losses are realized only when it gets too late. I believe we must all have higher goals in life. Having bigger goals motivate us to realize our potential. Taking risks alongside is crucial too because without risks nothing changes; not even our circumstances. If there is no contentment everything seems futile. There shall be zero satisfaction.

 Is it a good life? A life where we have almost everything yet we tell ourselves we have nothing? I know that’s a difficult question because at the end of each day we want more. That’s a harsh reality. Even though it is a harsh reality should we just let ourselves suffer? Probably not.

Practice the art of being enough

It is not easy to go against our pre-wired biological mechanisms. It is not easy to go against our own human psychology. But that doesn’t or shouldn’t mean we don’t make changes.

Like my sister, I am trying to stay content in life. I plan things out. I imagine my future and try work accordingly. I keep higher goals for myself. In the midst of all this, I tell myself whatever I have right now is enough. With that little dialogue with me I start believing not only what I have is enough but I am enough too. When we start believing that we are enough we are much happier. That further motivates us to go one step further and further and so on and so forth. If only I am ungrateful for everything that I have do you really think I will be motivated enough to take a leap of faith and go for another goal? I will only be stuck with self-loathing and self-loathing is always our foe.

There are no limits to human desires and that’s the fundamental cause of our suffering according to Buddhist philosophy. I don’t think our goal is to eliminate our desires and become void beings. Contrary to that ,our goal should be to keep our desires in check and whenever we get a signal that our desires are getting out of control we should take a pause and reflect.