Why humans run the world | Yuval Noah Harari

Why humans run the world | Yuval Noah Harari

Seventy-thousand years ago, our ancestors
were insignificant animals. The most important thing to know
about prehistoric humans is that they were unimportant. Their impact on the world was not
much greater than that of jellyfish or fireflies or woodpeckers. Today, in contrast,
we control this planet. And the question is: How did we come from there to here? How did we turn ourselves
from insignificant apes, minding their own business
in a corner of Africa, into the rulers of planet Earth? Usually, we look for the difference
between us and all the other animals on the individual level. We want to believe — I want to believe — that there is something special about me, about my body, about my brain, that makes me so superior
to a dog or a pig, or a chimpanzee. But the truth is that,
on the individual level, I’m embarrassingly similar
to a chimpanzee. And if you take me and a chimpanzee
and put us together on some lonely island, and we had to struggle for survival
to see who survives better, I would definitely place my bet
on the chimpanzee, not on myself. And this is not something
wrong with me personally. I guess if they took almost any one
of you, and placed you alone with a chimpanzee on some island, the chimpanzee would do much better. The real difference between humans
and all other animals is not on the individual level; it’s on the collective level. Humans control the planet
because they are the only animals that can cooperate both flexibly
and in very large numbers. Now, there are other animals — like the social insects,
the bees, the ants — that can cooperate in large numbers,
but they don’t do so flexibly. Their cooperation is very rigid. There is basically just one way
in which a beehive can function. And if there’s a new opportunity
or a new danger, the bees cannot reinvent
the social system overnight. They cannot, for example,
execute the queen and establish a republic of bees, or a communist dictatorship
of worker bees. Other animals, like the social mammals — the wolves, the elephants,
the dolphins, the chimpanzees — they can cooperate much more flexibly, but they do so only in small numbers, because cooperation among chimpanzees is based on intimate knowledge,
one of the other. I’m a chimpanzee and you’re a chimpanzee, and I want to cooperate with you. I need to know you personally. What kind of chimpanzee are you? Are you a nice chimpanzee? Are you an evil chimpanzee? Are you trustworthy? If I don’t know you, how can I
cooperate with you? The only animal that can combine
the two abilities together and cooperate both flexibly
and still do so in very large numbers is us, Homo sapiens. One versus one, or even 10 versus 10, chimpanzees might be better than us. But, if you pit 1,000 humans
against 1,000 chimpanzees, the humans will win easily,
for the simple reason that a thousand chimpanzees
cannot cooperate at all. And if you now try to cram
100,000 chimpanzees into Oxford Street,
or into Wembley Stadium, or Tienanmen Square or the Vatican, you will get chaos, complete chaos. Just imagine Wembley Stadium
with 100,000 chimpanzees. Complete madness. In contrast, humans normally
gather there in tens of thousands, and what we get is not chaos, usually. What we get is extremely sophisticated
and effective networks of cooperation. All the huge achievements
of humankind throughout history, whether it’s building the pyramids
or flying to the moon, have been based not
on individual abilities, but on this ability to cooperate
flexibly in large numbers. Think even about this very talk
that I’m giving now: I’m standing here in front of an audience
of about 300 or 400 people, most of you are complete strangers to me. Similarly, I don’t really know
all the people who have organized and worked on this event. I don’t know the pilot
and the crew members of the plane that brought me over here,
yesterday, to London. I don’t know the people
who invented and manufactured this microphone and these cameras,
which are recording what I’m saying. I don’t know the people
who wrote all the books and articles that I read in preparation for this talk. And I certainly don’t know all the people who might be watching this talk
over the Internet, somewhere in Buenos Aires or in New Delhi. Nevertheless, even though
we don’t know each other, we can work together to create
this global exchange of ideas. This is something chimpanzees cannot do. They communicate, of course, but you will never catch a chimpanzee
traveling to some distant chimpanzee band to give them a talk about bananas
or about elephants, or anything else that might
interest chimpanzees. Now cooperation is, of course,
not always nice; all the horrible things humans
have been doing throughout history — and we have been doing
some very horrible things — all those things are also based
on large-scale cooperation. Prisons are a system of cooperation; slaughterhouses are a system
of cooperation; concentration camps
are a system of cooperation. Chimpanzees don’t have slaughterhouses
and prisons and concentration camps. Now suppose I’ve managed
to convince you perhaps that yes, we control the world because we can
cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The next question that immediately arises in the mind of an inquisitive listener is: How, exactly, do we do it? What enables us alone, of all the animals,
to cooperate in such a way? The answer is our imagination. We can cooperate flexibly
with countless numbers of strangers, because we alone, of all
the animals on the planet, can create and believe fictions,
fictional stories. And as long as everybody believes
in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows
the same rules, the same norms, the same values. All other animals use
their communication system only to describe reality. A chimpanzee may say, “Look!
There’s a lion, let’s run away!” Or, “Look! There’s a banana tree
over there! Let’s go and get bananas!” Humans, in contrast, use their language
not merely to describe reality, but also to create new realities,
fictional realities. A human can say, “Look,
there is a god above the clouds! And if you don’t do what I tell you to do, when you die, God will punish you
and send you to hell.” And if you all believe this story
that I’ve invented, then you will follow the same
norms and laws and values, and you can cooperate. This is something only humans can do. You can never convince a chimpanzee
to give you a banana by promising him, “… after you die,
you’ll go to chimpanzee heaven …” (Laughter) “… and you’ll receive lots and lots
of bananas for your good deeds. So now give me this banana.” No chimpanzee will ever
believe such a story. Only humans believe such stories, which is why we control the world, whereas the chimpanzees are locked up
in zoos and research laboratories. Now you may find it acceptable that yes, in the religious field, humans cooperate
by believing in the same fictions. Millions of people come together
to build a cathedral or a mosque or fight in a crusade or a jihad, because
they all believe in the same stories about God and heaven and hell. But what I want to emphasize
is that exactly the same mechanism underlies all other forms
of mass-scale human cooperation, not only in the religious field. Take, for example, the legal field. Most legal systems today in the world
are based on a belief in human rights. But what are human rights? Human rights, just like God and heaven,
are just a story that we’ve invented. They are not an objective reality; they are not some biological effect
about homo sapiens. Take a human being,
cut him open, look inside, you will find the heart, the kidneys,
neurons, hormones, DNA, but you won’t find any rights. The only place you find rights
are in the stories that we have invented and spread around
over the last few centuries. They may be very positive stories,
very good stories, but they’re still just fictional stories
that we’ve invented. The same is true of the political field. The most important factors
in modern politics are states and nations. But what are states and nations? They are not an objective reality. A mountain is an objective reality. You can see it, you can touch it,
you can even smell it. But a nation or a state, like Israel or Iran or France or Germany, this is just a story that we’ve invented and became extremely attached to. The same is true of the economic field. The most important actors today
in the global economy are companies and corporations. Many of you today, perhaps, work
for a corporation, like Google or Toyota or McDonald’s. What exactly are these things? They are what lawyers call legal fictions. They are stories invented and maintained by the powerful wizards we call lawyers. (Laughter) And what do corporations do all day? Mostly, they try to make money. Yet, what is money? Again, money is not an objective reality;
it has no objective value. Take this green piece
of paper, the dollar bill. Look at it — it has no value. You cannot eat it, you cannot drink it, you cannot wear it. But then came along
these master storytellers — the big bankers, the finance ministers, the prime ministers — and they tell us a very convincing story: “Look, you see this green piece of paper? It is actually worth 10 bananas.” And if I believe it, and you believe it, and everybody believes it, it actually works. I can take this worthless piece of paper, go to the supermarket, give it to a complete stranger
whom I’ve never met before, and get, in exchange, real bananas
which I can actually eat. This is something amazing. You could never do it with chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trade, of course: “Yes, you give me a coconut,
I’ll give you a banana.” That can work. But, you give me
a worthless piece of paper and you except me to give you a banana? No way! What do you think I am, a human? (Laughter) Money, in fact, is
the most successful story ever invented and told by humans, because it is the only story
everybody believes. Not everybody believes in God, not everybody believes in human rights, not everybody believes in nationalism, but everybody believes in money,
and in the dollar bill. Take, even, Osama Bin Laden. He hated American politics
and American religion and American culture, but he had no objection
to American dollars. He was quite fond of them, actually. (Laughter) To conclude, then: We humans control the world
because we live in a dual reality. All other animals live
in an objective reality. Their reality consists
of objective entities, like rivers and trees
and lions and elephants. We humans, we also live
in an objective reality. In our world, too, there are rivers
and trees and lions and elephants. But over the centuries, we have constructed on top
of this objective reality a second layer of fictional reality, a reality made of fictional entities, like nations, like gods,
like money, like corporations. And what is amazing is that
as history unfolded, this fictional reality became
more and more powerful so that today, the most powerful
forces in the world are these fictional entities. Today, the very survival of rivers
and trees and lions and elephants depends on the decisions and wishes
of fictional entities, like the United States, like Google,
like the World Bank — entities that exist only
in our own imagination. Thank you. (Applause) Bruno Giussani: Yuval, you have
a new book out. After Sapiens, you wrote another one, and it’s out in Hebrew, but not
yet translated into … Yuval Noah Harari: I’m working on
the translation as we speak. BG: In the book, if I
understand it correctly, you argue that the amazing breakthroughs
that we are experiencing right now not only will potentially
make our lives better, but they will create — and I quote you — “… new classes and new class struggles,
just as the industrial revolution did.” Can you elaborate for us? YNH: Yes. In the industrial revolution, we saw the creation of a new class
of the urban proletariat. And much of the political and social
history of the last 200 years involved what to do with this class,
and the new problems and opportunities. Now, we see the creation of a new
massive class of useless people. (Laughter) As computers become better and better
in more and more fields, there is a distinct possibility that
computers will out-perform us in most tasks and will make
humans redundant. And then the big political
and economic question of the 21st century will be, “What do we need humans for?”, or at least, “What do we need
so many humans for?” BG: Do you have an answer in the book? YNH: At present, the best guess
we have is to keep them happy with drugs and computer games … (Laughter) but this doesn’t sound
like a very appealing future. BG: Ok, so you’re basically saying
in the book and now, that for all the discussion
about the growing evidence of significant economic inequality,
we are just kind of at the beginning of the process? YNH: Again, it’s not a prophecy; it’s seeing all kinds
of possibilities before us. One possibility is this creation
of a new massive class of useless people. Another possibility is
the division of humankind into different biological castes, with the rich being upgraded
into virtual gods, and the poor being degraded
to this level of useless people. BG: I feel there is another TED talk
coming up in a year or two. Thank you, Yuval, for making the trip. YNH: Thanks! (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Why humans run the world | Yuval Noah Harari

  1. He wants something special about him but he cannot accept that he is created by God. And the Bible sais in the first capitels of Genesis why we have received the hegemony. He is a jew. What a pitty! Jesus may open your eyes because we are not chimpanzees. Be blessed

  2. So everything according to this guy is an invented fiction and I would add that even his own theory is invented fiction! it is shallow and false. History is real, not fictional. God is real not fiction. Miracles of healing are real, provable and documented and not fiction. Visions of Jesus Christ around the world to many people from different religions are real not fiction. Humans are not better than chimpanzees because they can cooperate in large groups only but because of their higher reasoning and ability to write and self-consciousness

  3. So we alone have unleashed the power of myth to create a dual reality. But, as Harari implies in his conclusion, this unique characteristic is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. Why? Because the fictional reality has gradually taken precedence over the concrete reality (mountains, rivers, elephants, lions) to the point where it threatens to destroy it. I am reminded of these words, attributed to Chief Seattle: "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money." BTW, Chief Seattle never actually uttered these words, but this is a classic case of a human myth that expresses a deep truth.

  4. Im really open for discussion!

    In my opinion money isn’t a ‘fiction’

    Money is just time combined with expertise/skill.

    You could say: “a house costs 10working man 5 hours a day”


    Let’s trade that for 10 farmers working 10 hours a day (cus the society has twice as much farmers)

    This time and effort of people isn’t a ‘fiction’ in my opinion!!!
    Money just rescales this time and effort in a new tradegood.
    BUT in essense it’s just REAL and not fictionary time and effort?

    Feel free to challenge my thoughts in a nice discussion!

  5. דמגוג תעמולן – בהחלט לא מדען!!
    מלא הטעיות והשערות המוצגות כעובדות שכל מטרתן שטיפת מוח פוסטמודרניסטית!!

  6. I don't really get overall fascination about his book. I would suggest to everyone who is so obsessed with Sapiens just to read more in general. All things he discusses seem pretty much self-obvious for an educated person.

  7. Truth.
    This man is laying it as it is. For those with eyes to see.
    It's time for humans to understand the power of their "fiction". To own it, instead of being controlled by it.
    Not to renunce "fiction"/creative power of imagination, and dismiss it as "illusion", like in the Buddhist tradition either.
    It's time for humans to start owning this power and use it consciously.
    It's a challenge to live by this awareness, awakeness, with commitment to the knowledge, however, that could be the only way out, to avoid the future this man is for seeing. That could be the only way out.

  8. Like pro Hariri, dislike pro tal do Érico rocha que decidiu pentelhar a vida de todo brasileiro com a receitinha fácil pra ser rentista

  9. That is not true. a human is also individually superior to a chimpansee on an island. urbanized people dont define what a human is. Human has superior brain and once he finds out how life on an island works the individual human will control the island. And most importantly he can make fire and tools.

  10. Such a smart person missing the elephant in the room so to say, reason or rationality is the one thing that makes us superior nothing else.

  11. 6:37 No. The answer isn't imagination. The answer is language and ability of abstract and symbolic thinking..

  12. When he said there’s a guy in the sky n explain it so briefly half of the people in there must have felt stupid for been religious

  13. Actually bacteria run every living being on earth including humans. So no, humans just think they run the world.

  14. That's one way of looking at it.
    Also, humans have prevailed because most of us are smart enough to know we would find a way to kill that shimpanzee before it got hungry.

  15. Sounds like a misanthrope propagating the message "money means moral" and those without money are "useless". What happens if somebody does not believe in money?

  16. Need to have Dr. Harari speak Dr. Jordan Peterson discussing the development of meta narratives. Wow!

  17. The old military cliche about how the loser learns. Like tanks we won with in the first world war, so then the Germans were forced to analyse why they lost, and they created Blitzkrieg. I often wonder if the first humans lost to a tiger so they needed to invent the gun.

  18. Its nice to listen such a cheat explanation about what religion really is
    We now know that money serves as what religions does to mankind that is to unite us

    More people should listen to this, so people will not hate just because the diffrent in religion

  19. Great talk over fictional life of human. I guess there is only thing that is objective reality. That is death. Everything lie but death.

  20. Working together to create a global exchange of ideas requires structured language and the ability to pass on data to others in a codified way. There is no other species other than us that has that ability.

  21. Okay, I love his books and agree on many things he is saying, BUT I just can't listen to his presentations, I couldn't listen to this for more than 5 minutes…

  22. Man, i'm currently reading your book and i can't even stop "wow"-ing about how our society has grown this fast and the way you present those facts is mind blowing. Thankyou!

  23. Alright, there are ideas here that are very interesting but he opposes nature and culture… which is a problem for me. Any forest is an amazing system of cooperation…. We just believe ours is so much better

  24. 08.07.2019…………siete tutti voi esseri umanoidi delle scimmie ragionate in gruppo decidete in gruppo operate a tutti i livelli in 1 o piu' gruppi…………..care scimmie non avete la formula per scappare via dalla prigione dell' assoluto dell'universo del vuoto del cosmo…………………concludendo non godrete mai e poi mai della liberta' e della felicita'…………………..nota bene prima o poi sparira' l'assoluto l'universo il vuoto ed il cosmo…………..ma chi gode della formula della liberta' e felicita……………………..si godra' l'esistenza SALTANDO FORA DALLA PIGNATA…………….pivello di ebreo IUVAL NOAH HARARI…………..IN KULO ALLA IPOCRISIA DELLA RAZZA UMANA……………….!

  25. Brilliant presentation and wonderful that Yuval Noah Harari rise so many essential questions, but unfortunately, humans don’t run the world. Anyone can check the statistic with the earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons etc. and immediately will understand that we still didn’t grow to the level to run the world. What we run is this second layer of a fictional reality that we've created. Yuval Noah Harari just proved that we are at the infantile stage of our mental development because we still believe in one of the oldest storytelling in our world – about the money. When we move forward and overcome this storytelling, we can become mature humans and perhaps then we will have the chance to collaborate with the Earth and not just trying to squeeze her resources.

  26. Dear poor humans,
    Can you just wake up from this fictional reality and try to listen your own body and desires?

    A poor and miserable human who suffers from an extremely high consciousness.

  27. 名著【サピエンス全史】の中から、ほんの(上巻の)一部を抜粋して話をしているよね 滞りなく流れるように話す 賢い人だ いったい何が善なのか? それも、時代が共有する観念に
    より、属する集団が共有する観念により、違ってくるのだろうな つまり、善なんてものは、リアルな世界には存在せず、人間の頭の中の想像の産物に過ぎない しかしながら、その想像の産物が、今や地球に住む人以外の生物の運命をも左右するくらいに大きな力を持つに至るまでになった

  28. i mean it's fair what he said but it's also obvious. I was execting something a bit more surprising. Oh and by the way i don't think that's the only reason why humans rule the world. Most of us would do better than a chimpansee (on the island) considering that we already know how to make a stick, fire or other things. Yo may argue that you have to compare the chimpansee to a prehistoric human but have you seen one?

  29. When you are watching this video from new delhi.
    Noah- i dont know the guy watching this video from new delhi.
    Me- wtf😲

  30. Place a human and a chimp in an island and see who survives. Bets on chimps?

    Right. Place the chimp in an arid or very cold island. Let's see who will survive better. Put the chimp in a place with no trees… like a grassland… and some fast small animals. Who will be able to run on and on and on until the fast small animals get tired and overheat and collapse?

  31. Harari: „We will turn ourselves into new kinds of Gods“.
    I am shocked by the techno-phil naivity of thisOxford- scholar. He should read my book about the true history of science: „Die Gesellschaftlichkeit der Innovation.“

  32. If you want someone to believe or to buy something you must first convince him that he, as a person, needs that thing. Same with religions. This is how a larger group of people can work together because they have the same belifes

  33. One of the greatest talk ever … You showed us the reality…. Great job Sir.. Thank you so much..👍👌👏🤘😍

  34. Interesting subject…
    However I don't like the background idea which is kinda supporting the unrealistic and threatening idea that we humans consider ourselves superior, and most of all that we have any sort of control on our future thanks to our brains and technology progresses. We are nothing without nature and this subject was a great opportunity to question our fictional entities, that are too often just focused on money, another fictional entity, rather than on our world common good.

  35. Complete bs, when you have enough money, the story crumbles and what you eventually buy with money is power/influence and not something most of us has no need for. Sure, you can say everybody wants power and influence, but if that was the case… we would leave in a very different world. So the money is not a story , its a tool.

    Get your s$$t together Noah… you are seeding ignorance for personal gain, shame on you.

  36. الرجل ده مضحك جدا؛ يعني حضرتك عايزني ابطل افكر و اخلق عالم يخليني اقدر اكمل وافهم معنى الحياة؟ هو انت أصلا وصلت للفكرة ازاي؟

  37. This man just discovered civilization, and he is so enthusiastic…

    I guess the main point he makes it's something else, for if not, bluffy gurú, and even so his dataism reminds me of utopian socialists…

  38. It gives me hope that influential and brilliant minds like Yuval agree that animal liberation is a moral imperative of the human race.

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