I recently finished the book, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. In my humble opinion, this should be required reading for all humanity. Harari provides an easy to read summary on the 200,000 year old history of our species. Throughout this time, these ancestors were nearly identical to our present selves in terms of cognitive and physical characteristics. For all intent and purposes, they were us. Reading the book, I gained a newfound appreciation for the changes we have implemented as a people, to include; the cognitive, agricultural, industrial and scientific revolutions. During this time we have created art, religions, empires and economies. The advancement and achievements are staggering. What I found missing, was the “why.” As in, “why did we do any of this?”
As a species, we didn’t worry about the why, we just did.
There was no Sapien Wisdom Council sitting around a room saying things like, “gaining consciousness is needed to make our species happier” or “let’s go have an industrial revolution, this agrarian system is too difficult to manage” or “we need to have longer and healthier lives, let’s do more science.” While there were individuals who helped propel each of these major changes to our species, there was no collective decision making to evaluate whether or not the idea was a wise one. As a result, Harari poses an interesting question that many historians shy away from, “did our advancement as a species make us more or less happy?” It’s a nearly impossible question to answer, but shouldn’t that be the point of any change our species makes?
While “2019 Dan” looks back on “200K-ago Dan” and thinks that life must have been terrible for him, what if it wasn’t? What if our ancient Sapien brothers and sisters did in fact live happier lives than us? “200K-ago Dan” camped out every day, was a better athlete than Lebron James (according to Harari), never had to worry about making money and only had three tasks on his daily planner – eat food, stay alive and have sex. Call me prehistoric, but that seems like a pretty worthwhile life.
Many people equate comfort to happiness. If that is true, then humans in 2019 should be the happiest version of our species EVER. Based on a very unscientific look at drug overdoses, suicide rates, addiction and other health related issues, I have a hard time thinking we’ve reached peak happiness levels.
Assuming you agree that our species isn’t the happiest version of ourselves, pretend for a minute you sit on the Sapien Wisdom Council with me. According to Harari, here are some questions you may soon need to answer:
- Do you allow our DNA to be modified?
- Do you allow Artificial Intelligence to run our world?
- Do you allow the uploading of our consciousness to a computer?
- Do you allow for immortality?
These questions all sound like they were pulled out of a Sci-Fi book, but according to Harari and “lots of smart people”, it isn’t a matter of “if” this will all be possible, but “when.”
While your job on the Sapien Wisdom Council certainly would be a difficult one (and give you a ton of heartburn), it would give me some comfort (not happiness) knowing there is an entity who is thinking about our species as a collective. If you think our religious leaders, politicians or business titans currently occupy this role, I offer you 200,000 years of history that say they are not the leaders you are looking for.
When evaluating an investment, financial advisors like to say, past performance is not an indicator of future results. With the four questions above, I certainly hope there is worldwide debate, free of capitalistic motives and political influence to determine what is best for our species – but my optimism isn’t high. Assuming, we as a species continue to “just do”, what then?
Short of using this blog to start a revolution across the planet and organize a real-life Sapien Wisdom Council, I plan on raising my children to deal with these issues. How do you prepare your children to live in a world more similar to Tatooine (planet in Star Wars) than Earth? Just like the Sapiens before me, I have no freaking clue. But here’s what I’m going with…
- Raise my kids to deal with change, lots and lots of change. How? In my experience, traveling has consistently knocked me out of my comfort zone and frequently provided paradigm shifts to see things in a new way. You don’t experience change by sitting at home doing the same old stuff, you gotta mix it up.
- Teach or expose my kids to a mindfulness practice. Recently, I started showing my 5-year old some basic meditation apps to “give her the reps”. I have found meditation instrumental in providing awareness in the face of change/adversity. Furthermore, no matter what form Sapiens take in the future, as long as we have consciousness, there will be a racing mind that needs relief.
- Raise my kids to have empathy for others. Our species doesn’t need any more assholes. How do you raise kids that will program Skynet to have sympathy for all Sapiens? I don’t know, but in my household, we talk about feelings a lot. Hopefully, a child who is aware of their feelings and emotions grows up to empathize with the feelings and emotions of others.
- Raise my kids to have an appreciation for the outdoors. The thinking here is, those Sapiens who appreciate the environment will be less likely to f*ck it up for everyone else. Until we figure out how to get off the Earth, it’s the only home we have.
Over the 200,000 years we have been Sapiens, we have; lived on Earth, had to deal with others, had a brain and experienced A LOT of change. These are a few of the only constants we have known. Raising my children to give them tools to help deal with these constants seems like a good place to start. While Harari’s book has shown that our species is capable of coming together (with and without force) to achieve incredible feats, we haven’t been great at planning. As you continue to occupy your seat on the Sapien Wisdom Council, how do you propose we go about tackling these questions? Give it a go in the comments section below and let’s see if we can give our species a shot at another 200,000 years.
I now cede the floor to the next wise Sapien who feels so inclined…