How Yuval Noah Harari Removed the History of Western Philosophy From his Transhumanist Propaganda Tale
The Israelian historian Yuval Noah Harari has achieved international fame for having written a history of Homo Sapiens (humankind), a prophetic prediction of its end, and the beginning of new species called Homo Deus: an immortal cyborg with divine powers. The book that started it all is called: Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind.
In her article, Yuval Noah Harari: The age of the cyborg has begun – and the consequences cannot be known, Carole Cadwalladr asks Harari:
In some ways, I say, it struck me that Sapiens isn’t actually a history book – it’s a philosophy book that asks the big, philosophical questions and attempts to answer them through history.
“Yes, that’s a very accurate description. I think that I see history as a philosophy laboratory. Philosophers come up with all these very interesting questions about the human condition, but the way that most of them – though not all – go about answering them is through thought experiments.
When I discovered Harari, I came to think about Stephen Hawking´s book: A Brief History of Time. In the book Hawking seems to want to surpass Nietzsche´s declaration: God is Dead! In the introduction he presents a variety of philosophical questions, whereafter he says:
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy; but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern development in science, particular physics…[See my article: A Critique of Stephen Hawking].
Even more relevant, perhaps, is Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which explores the different ways human societies developed, and especially why some became powerful and ended up ruling the world while others didn't, based on differences in natural geography.
On CBC radio, Harari cites Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel as one of the greatest inspirations for Sapiens by showing that it was possible to "ask very big questions and answer them scientifically". But Diamond´s book immediately came in for heavy criticism from specialists working in the disparate fields on which he drew. But, in the same way as Harari, no one will care. Because the trick is to get the propaganda out in the public (via social medias), where no one ever will read the critics (note the subtitle of Diamond´s book: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years).
There seem to be a modern trend of scientists writing books with titles like this; scientists who apparently want to be philosophers instead of the philosophers, and who leave behind them a wake of philosophical shipwrecks. Also the New Age Guru, Ken Wilber, has done an attempt with his book: A Brief History of Everything (see my article: A Critique of Ken Wilber – Updated).
Let´s look at Harari´s book, Sapiens. It surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on Homo sapiens. The account is situated within a framework provided by the natural sciences, particularly evolutionary biology.
But, as I will show in this article, people ought to be aware that Harari´s book has nothing whatever to do with evolutionary biology, history or science as such. It is an attempt of doing philosophy in the disguise of science, without scientific validation or philosophical argumentation. It is therefore ideological propaganda. Such attempts are also called scientism.
Harari is just one example of worshippers of the ideology of evolutionism. Evolutionism was created in the 19th century, but the background is to be found in the Renaissance, not least in the scientific breakthrough from approximately 1550 onwards.
It is an ideology which we still celebrate in the Western world. We find it natural to talk about progress, development, growth, renewal, innovation, visions, whether it's economic, political, social conditions, spiritual - and also when it comes to art. It is a linear view of history where it is about being constantly progressive, revolutionary, dynamic, unconventional, without rest, without end. Evolutionism is so close-knitted in our minds that we find it very difficult to imagine that it could be different.
But evolutionism is a newer European phenomenon. In the rest of the world, it did not exist before the Europeans. All pre-modern societies had a cyclic view of history. In the society of today it is stated in all areas that we must move on, develop ourselves, renew ourselves and the institutions, companies, develop trade, exports, imports. In the cyclic societies concepts such as gods, providence and destiny were central. But such concepts have long been replaced with ideas of growth and progress. In business, innovation and expansion have become key words. Evolutionism has gone so much into the blood that it also characterizes our view of spirituality.
In my Ebook Evolutionism - The Red Thread in the Matrix Conspiracy, I described the different variations of evolutionism, as for example historicism, as well as its current popularity in America, with transhumanism and its dreams about the future merging of humans and machines. The latter is Harari´s favorite.
My intention was to show how evolutionism makes us blind for a number of relationships, as for example down-cycles, the shadow side of life, negative consequences, and most important: the wisdom of the past. I consider evolutionism to be the beginning of a long period of the decline of wisdom. So, in a paradoxically way Harari is right: we are facing the end of homo Sapiens (wise man).
Historicism is the belief that historical, and by extension present and future, events unfold according to predetermined sequences. You could mention Hegel´s dialectics. But it is found in many belief systems, for example in the 19th and some early 20th century anthropology and archaeology (generally referred to as "cultural evolutionism") - societies evolve through time on a single path from small bands of hunter-gatherers to nation-states resembling those of 19th century Europe — and no further.
You can also see it in certain formulations of biological determinism applied to historical processes, e.g. racialist theories that posited the achievements of European civilization were due to biological superiority. These ideas were often tied into the anthropological theories above.
Then there is the above-mentioned Hegelian dialectics - every development in history (thesis) would lead to a reaction (antithesis). The contrast between both will lead to a reconciliation or otherwise be settled (synthesis), which would eventually become a new thesis, etc. This view had a great influence on Marxism - civilization goes through several stages, from primitive communism, through the rise of the state and private property, to feudalism, capitalism, socialism and finally to communism.
You can find it in dispensationalism - a fundamentalist Protestant Christian belief in seven periods of time or "dispensations" the earth will go through; according to this belief we are currently in the "dispensation of grace" and will be until the rapture happens.
Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, arguably an intellectual influence on Nazism, claimed a civilization model in which each civilization necessarily passes through several epochs and eventually declines.
Auguste Comte's positivism - in his famous Law of the Three Stages Comte postulated that all human societies would pass through three stages: the religious stage, the metaphysical stage and the positive stage. He believed his own philosophy kicked off the third stage.
A common trait of historicists are egos that seem to follow their grand fantasies.
It should be easy to see how all this has influenced the New Age movement, where the concept of historical stages has been applied to consciousness, and the coming New World Order – the New Age.
Finally there is Futurism - Many works of technological determinism may be found under this heading. Its current incarnations are known as "transhumanism" and "Singularitarianism." Many New Age systems merge with futurism, as for example the WingMakers Project and The Human Design system (see my blog post The WingMakers Project and my article A Critique of the Human Design System).
It should be mentioned that it is comparatively easy to invent such historical systems. You just have to more or less copy and paste from others, who have done a harder thought work, as for example Hegel and Marx, and then insert your own terminology. Evolutionary art (postmodern art) is just the repetition of an idea, and therefore not something new, despite that the new is what the ideology are fascinated by.
Historicism was especially popular during the 19th century but has got it renaissance in futurism and New Age, which is spreading worldwide via internet and social media. Basically, historicism is a historian's scientism. Historicists attempted to get the study of human history to become a natural, 'hard' science. They typically identified a 'motor' behind all human history (class struggle, national mission, racial destiny, reason, violence, or repressed sexuality). By careful study of the workings of the motor during human history, most historicists believed it could be used to predict the future, which if successful would in effect turn history into a natural science.
Eventually, these attempts failed, as it turned out human behavior is not as predictable as most historicists believed it is. It has sometimes been argued that much of the nasty cataclysm of war and violence of the 20th century was caused by failed attempts to forcefully have reality fit the perpetrator's pet historicist theory.
Notably, most historicists were not historians (Comte, Marx, and Hegel were philosophers) and historians have generally been aware that their field of study is distant from the natural sciences. This is in stark contrast with practitioners of many other social sciences. What sets history apart from both the natural and social sciences is that it looks for the unique rather than the general. Many historians (though there are exceptions) have been plainly not interested in formulating general laws about human history.
Historical determinism and historicism were decisively rebutted by Karl Popper, who argued that it is impossible to predict the future course of history. His argument goes like this:
1) The biggest historical changes in recent history have for the most part been caused by technological changes. If you could get somebody who lived a hundred years ago to time travel to the present the most striking differences would probably be technological ones, and even if that is not the case many of the social, cultural and political changes can at least in part be ascribed to changes in technology.
2) Technological progress depends heavily on scientific progress.
3) Therefore, in order to predict the future, one should be able to predict future scientific knowledge.
4) It is, however, not possible to predict future scientific knowledge. You can't predict a scientific fact that has not been discovered yet. If you could, it would not be a future discovery but a current one. In other words, if you know a fact that is not yet known, you know it now, so it's not a prediction any more. Knowing things you don't know yet is an impossible logical contradiction.
5) Therefore, it is not possible to predict the future course of history.
Many theories espousing historicism could be considered as scientific hypotheses that were initially valid but eventually failed. Continued adherence to such theories, however, should be classified as pseudoscience. Many historicists will tell you that the revolution or the rapture is still going to happen, but at some undetermined point in the future. Although they do make a prediction, it is not a testable one, making it impossible to falsify, making it essentially worthless for scientific purposes.
In the historicism of New Age (inspired by postmodernism), there has gone inflation in the concept of paradigm shifts. The bridge between science and spirituality is an expression you hear all the time within New Age. And they try to create “alternative sciences” all the time. Each new number of a New Age magazine or New Age promoting website with respect for itself, must contain at least one new “revolutionary” new “scientific” theory, which is the beginning to a “paradigm shift” in science. The number of new forms of “alternative sciences” within New Age is therefore today almost comically large.
Since the late 20th century there has been a renewed interest in bringing history and natural science closer to each other. We saw that in the above-mentioned examples. Although some have tried to formulate laws about human history, these attempts have stayed short of complete determinism.
One example is Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, presenting a gene-centered view of evolution, leading some historians to adopt a gene-centered view of history. Harari has made this into a fundament for his “historical” research” – (see Sapiens 269-271).
More relevant is as mentioned, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Notably, neither Dawkins (a biologist, who wants to explain everything from biology) nor Diamond (a geographer who want to explain everything from geography) is a historian. Harari is a historian, but he apparently like Dawkins and Diamond more than historians.
Let´s look at Harari´s evolutionary model. In his article, A Reductionist History of Humankind, John Sexton lines up Harari´s model. He writes about Sapiens:
Books like this meet an appetite for sweeping history written in an accessible style and stressing the role of science and technology in shaping human destiny. Probably the best-known work in this genre is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). Diamond endorses Sapiens on the cover and receives special thanks in the acknowledgments: Diamond “taught me to see the big picture,” Harari writes. But whereas Diamond stressed the role of climate and disease as well as technology in shaping human history, Harari makes the curious claim that it is only when humans have started making things up — imagining entities that do not objectively exist, like gods, ethical principles, and limited liability corporations — that we have made progress toward becoming a super species. Harari’s vision of history is therefore actually quite different from Diamond’s: while Diamond was really concerned with the influence of the external environment on human culture, or the power of matter over mind, for Harari, history is the story of the gradual triumph of mind over matter.
The basic outline of this story will be familiar to most readers. The genus Homo evolved from primates several million years ago, and modern humans emerged, certainly in Africa but also, perhaps, in other parts of the world, several hundred thousand years ago. Around 70,000 years ago, we underwent the first in a series of revolutions, which Harari terms the Cognitive Revolution. The causes of this event, which in his telling is decisive for all of human history, are largely unknown — he makes no bones about the fact that all that remains from this period is, well, bones. But whatever happened, humans began doing things no species had ever done before and spread rapidly across the planet. Around 11,000 years ago, the Agricultural Revolution turned some of us from hunter-gatherers into farmers, which led to a deterioration in diet, longer hours of work, increased susceptibility to disease, and, ultimately, immense power over nature. Around 500 years ago, the Scientific Revolution began. The world we live in today is in large part a product of this latest, and possibly last, revolution.
Along the way, Harari breezes through some other great and mysterious matters, including the development of language, the rise of religion and the gradual triumph of monotheism, the invention of money, and the growth of empires. Sexton notes that Harari makes a number of striking claims (Harari´s straightforward statements which he doesn´t support with scientific validation or philosophical argumentation):
• Prior to the start of the Cognitive Revolution around 70,000 years ago, when humans started making things up, they were an unremarkable species in the middle of the food chain; it was only after the Revolution that large-scale social cooperation became possible through fictions.
• Modern science distinguishes itself from all preceding traditions in its “willingness to admit ignorance.” In fact, the “discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions” is what “launched the Scientific Revolution.”
• Humans’ mastery over nature, especially in the form of industry and the market, has freed us from many forms of drudgery but has also helped to alienate us from each other and to bind us to industry and technology. The state and market now act as — often inadequate — replacements for lost communal bonds.
• All behavior and “whatever is possible” is by definition natural, because nothing can go against the laws of nature. Any behavior we might call “unnatural” is so only by virtue of cultural norms, not biology. The distinction between natural and unnatural is an invention of Christian theology.
• Liberal humanism is a religion founded on “monotheist beliefs.”
• The nation-state is declining in power and we are on our way to a “global empire” with one culture.
• Current developments in biotechnology may lead to the end for us sapiens: we will replace ourselves with bioengineered post-humans, immortal cyborgs who will be as different from us as we are from other species.
Like Diamond, Harari is occupied by letting science answer the “big questions” and in this quest he must, for example, wipe out the complete history of philosophy, so that only science is left to answer the big questions. In Sapiens he writes about the scientific revolution:
…We call it the Scientific Revolution. It began in western Europe, a large peninsula on the western tip of Afro-Asia, which up till then played no important role in history. Why did the Scientific Revolution begin there of all places, and not in China or India? Why did it begin at the midpoint of the second millennium AD rather than two centuries before or three centuries later? We don´t know. Scholars have proposed dozens of theories, but none of them is particular convincing (page 272).
This borders to falsification of history, since the development of science has a quite well recorded history. It namely began with Greco-Roman philosophy, and was developed under the influence of Christianity. But Harari´s project of letting science answer philosophical questions leads him to selective thinking. In his brilliant article, A Response to Yuval Harari's 'Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind', C. R. Hallpike writes:
Harari's next major turning point in world history he refers to, reasonably enough, as 'The Scientific Revolution'. Around AD 1500 'It began in western Europe, a large peninsula on the western tip of Afro-Asia, which up till then played no important role in history.' (272) This is a unconvincing assessment of a region that had been the seat of the Roman Empire, the Christian Church, and Greek science which was one of the essential foundations of the Scientific Revolution. Harari's opinions about how this got started are even less persuasive:
“The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has above all been a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important question.” (p 279).
This is a statement whose truth is not immediately obvious, and he justifies it as follows:
”Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions” (pp 279-80).
These traditions may have claimed to know all that was essential to salvation and peace of mind, but that kind of knowledge had nothing whatsoever to do with pre-modern traditions of science. In Europe this meant Aristotle and Greek natural philosophy but about which, astonishingly, Harari has nothing at all to say anywhere in his book. Apart from a willingness to admit ignorance and embrace new knowledge, science
”. . . has a common core of research methods, which are all based on collecting empirical observations - those we can observe with at least one of our senses - and putting them together with the help of mathematical tools” (p 283).
This is a nineteenth-century view of what science does, whereas the really distinctive feature of modern science is that it tests theory by experiment, and does not simply collect empirical observations […]
So, you can´t trust Harari. In fact, you are in for a huge manipulation project. That he in fact is willing to tell fake stories, can be seen in the controversy with the Russian edition of his book 21 Lessons For the 21st Century. Harari was allowing several omissions and amendments in the book, using a softer tone when speaking about Russian authorities. Leonid Bershidsky in Moscow Times called it "caution — or, to call it by its proper name, cowardice", and Nettanel Slyomovics in Haaretz claimed that "he is sacrificing those same liberal ideas that he presumes to represent".
In his article, Putin Gets Stronger When Creators Censor Themselves, Bershidsky writes:
To reach China’s enormous audiences, writers and filmmakers must submit to official censorship. But in Russia, where censorship is constitutionally banned, Western creators and companies will sometimes allow their content to be excised in order to avoid displeasing the authorities.
The latest incident involves Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, whose book “Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind” sold 1.8 million copies in 45 languages. His third bestseller, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” came out in Russian in June. Eagle-eyed readers soon spotted a difference between the Russian translation and the text published in other languages.
The non-Russian versions of a chapter about humans being a “post-truth species” addresses the difference between the Russian and Ukrainian narrative of the Crimea invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russian troops weren’t involved. He, Harari wrote, described the fighters as “spontaneous ‘self-defense groups’ that may have acquired Russian-looking equipment from local shops. As they voiced this rather preposterous claim, Putin and his aides knew perfectly well that they were lying.”
In the Russian version, however, the lengthy passage on Russia and Ukraine was replaced with what appears to be a partial translation of a Harari column on the Israeli website Ynet (skirting the bits where the writer calls Russia “tyrannical” and undemocratic). Mentions of Putin are gone, and instead there’s a passage on Donald Trump making thousands of false statements.
It was soon revealed that Harari authorized the change, which was suggested by the Russian publishing house, Sindbad. “My goal is for the main ideas of the book, concerning the dangers of dictatorship, extremism and fanaticism, to reach the broadest possible audience, including in countries with non-democratic regimes,” he said in a statement. “Some examples in this book can repel this audience or lead to censorship on the part of a certain regime. For that reason I sometimes allow adaptation and authorize changing certain examples, but never the main ideas of the work.”
It’s rather post-truth to teach the residents of dictatorships about post-truth only using examples from other countries.
But, as I have shown in my Ebook, Yuval Noah Harari: The Historian Who Wanted to be Philosopher Instead of the Philosophers, in Harari´s world, truth is precisely post-truth, and a question of power. He is fully in line with the modern neo-liberal management theorists and their mantra: “It is not facts, but the best story, that wins.” Yes, I repeat this neoliberal mantra. Remember it, and recognize it, so you don´t get fooled by it!