ALL BLOG POSTS AND COMMENTS COPYRIGHT (C) 2003-2018 VOX DAY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRODUCTION WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Book Review: SAPIENS by Yuval Harari IV

Review of Yuval Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by C.R.Hallpike
The complete PDF

Part IV of IV

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.' (p. 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. On why modern science developed specifically in Europe Harari has the following explanation:

The key factor was that the plant-seeking botanist and the colony-seeking naval officer shared a similar mindset. Both scientist and conqueror began by admitting ignorance - they both said 'I don't know what's out there.' They both felt compelled to go out and make new discoveries. And they both hoped that the new knowledge would make them masters of the world (pp. 316-17).

Botany was actually of quite minor importance in the early stages of modern science, which was dominated by studies of terrestrial and celestial motion (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton), and by chemistry which involved the revival of Greek atomism. And Columbus, to take a useful example of 'a colony-seeking naval officer' knew quite well what was out there. He knew that the earth is round, and concluded that if he sailed west for long enough he would find a new route to the East Indies. So when he reached the islands of the Caribbean he was convinced that their inhabitants were 'Indians' and never changed his mind. I think we can perhaps do a little better than Harari in explaining the European origin of modern science.

Greek science was dominated by the belief that reason, and particularly mathematics, was the true path to knowledge and its role was to be the tutor of the senses, not to be taught by them. The idea of performing an experiment did not really exist, and the great Alexandrian engineer Hero, for example believed that water pressure does not increase with depth. He defended this belief with an ingenious theory from Archimedes, but ignored the practical experiment of taking a glass down to the bottom of a pool where it could easily have been seen that the water rises higher inside the glass the deeper it is taken. Aristotle's theories of terrestrial and celestial motion, and Ptolemy's elaborate geometrical model of the heavens, for example, were seen as triumphs of reason, and were inherited by the medieval European universities who began a critical study of them. The importance of Greek science, however,  was not that it was right - it contained fundamental errors - but that it presented a coherent theoretical model of how the world worked that stimulated thought and could be tested.

The Islamic world had transmitted much of Greek science to medieval Europe, and Aristotle in particular was greatly admired by Muslim scholars as 'The Philosopher'. But under the influence of the clerics Islam eventually turned against reason and science as dangerous to religion, and this renaissance died out. In rather similar fashion, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed the philosophy schools of Athens in 529 AD because he considered them dangerous to Christianity. But while in the thirteenth century several Popes, for the same reason, tried to forbid the study of Aristotle in the universities, they were ignored and in fact by the end of the century Aquinas had been able to publish his synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology in the Summa Theologica.

This illustrates a vital difference between Europe and the other imperial civilisations. Whereas the Caliph and the Byzantine Emperor had the authority to impose intellectual orthodoxy, in Europe the Popes could not enforce their will on society, and neither could the secular authorities, because there were too many competing jurisdictions - of the Holy Roman Emperor, of kings, of free cities, of universities, and between church and state themselves. Another vital difference was that in the other imperial civilisations there was that basic gulf between scholars and artisans and between merchants and the rest of the upper classes to which I referred earlier. Medieval European towns and cities, however, were run by merchants, together with the artisans and their guilds, so that the social status of artisans in particular was very much higher than in other cultures, and it was possible for them to interact socially with learned scholars. This interaction with scholars occurred in the context of a wide range of interests that combined book-learning with practical skills: alchemy, astrology, medicine, painting, printing, clock-making, the magnetic compass, gunpowder and gunnery, lens-grinding for spectacles, and so on. These skills were also intimately involved in the making of money in a commercially dynamic society.

It is highly significant that this interaction between scholars and artisans also occurred in the intellectual atmosphere of 'natural magic', the belief that the entire universe is a vast system of interrelated correspondences, a hierarchy in which everything acts upon everything else. Alchemy and astrology were the most important components of this tradition, but by the thirteenth century Roger Bacon, for example, was arguing that by applying philosophy and mathematics to the study of nature it would be possible to produce all sorts of technological marvels such as horseless vehicles, flying machines, and glasses for seeing great distances. It was not therefore the admission of ignorance that was truly revolutionary, but  the idea that science could be useful in mastering nature for the benefit of Man.

By the time of Galileo, whom Harari does not even mention, the idea that science should be useful had become a dominant idea of Western science. Galileo was very much in the natural magic tradition and was a prime example of a man of learning who was equally at home in the workshop as in the library - as is well-known, when he heard of the Dutch invention of the telescope he constructed one himself and ground his own lenses to do so. But Galileo was also enormously important in showing the crucial part that experiment had in the advancement of science. He was keenly interested in Aristotle's theory of terrestrial motion and is said to have tested the theory that heavier bodies fall faster than light ones by dropping them from the leaning tower of Pisa. This is somewhat mythical, but he certainly carried out detailed experiments with metal balls by rolling them down sloping planks to discover the basic laws of acceleration. He did not simply observe, but designed specific experiments to test theories. This is the hall-mark of modern science, and it emerged in the circumstances that I have just described so that reason and the evidence of the senses were thus harmonized in the modern form of natural science. (On the origins of science see Hallpike 2008:288-353; 396-428).

Science, then, is not exactly Harari's strong point, so we need spend little time on the concluding part of his book, which is taken up with speculation about where science and technology are likely to take the human race in the next hundred years. He concludes, however, with some plaintive remarks about our inability to plan our future: 'we remain unsure of our goals', 'nobody knows where we are going', 'we are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power' (pp. 465-66). He has just written a book showing that mankind's social and cultural evolution has been a process over which no-one could have had any control. So why does he suddenly seize upon the extraordinary fiction that there ought to be some 'we' who could now decide where we all go next? Even if such a 'we' existed, let us say in the form of the United Nations, how could it know what to do anyway? 

Throughout the book there is also a strange vacillation between hard-nosed Darwinism and egalitarian sentiment. On one hand Harari quite justifiably mocks the humanists' naive belief in human rights, for not realising that these rights are based on Christianity, and that a huge gulf has actually opened up between the findings of science and modern liberal ideals. But on the other hand it is rather bewildering to find him also indulging in long poetic laments about the thousands of years of injustice, inequality and suffering imposed on the masses by the great states and empires of history, and our cruelty to our animal 'slaves' whom we have slaughtered and exterminated in such vast numbers, so that he concludes 'The Sapiens reign on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of'. But a consistent Darwinist should surely rejoice to see such a fine demonstration of the survival of the fittest, with other species either decimated or subjected to human rule, and the poor regularly ground under foot in the struggle for survival. Indeed, the future looks even better for Darwinism, with nation states themselves about to be submerged by a mono-cultural world order, in which we ourselves are destined to be replaced by a superhuman race of robots.

It has been rightly said that:

Harari's view of culture and of ethical norms as fundamentally fictional makes impossible any coherent moral framework for thinking about and shaping our future. And it asks us to pretend that we are not what we know ourselves to be - thinking and feeling subjects, moral agents with free will, and social beings whose culture builds upon the facts of the physical world but is not limited to them (Sexton 2015:120).

Summing up the book as a whole, one has often had to point out how surprisingly little he seems to have read on quite a number of essential topics. It would be fair to say that whenever his facts are broadly correct they are not new, and whenever he tries to strike out on his own he often gets things wrong, sometimes seriously. So we should not judge Sapiens as a serious contribution to knowledge but as 'infotainment', a publishing event to titillate its readers by a wild intellectual ride across the  landscape of history, dotted with sensational displays of speculation, and ending with blood-curdling predictions about human destiny. By these criteria it is a most successful book. 

Labels: ,

37 Comments:

Anonymous fop November 08, 2017 11:46 AM  

Did the veganism starve his brain of essential nutrients? Or did he get syphilis from a public bathroom?

Anonymous Stephen J. November 08, 2017 11:52 AM  

That last bit reminds me of the witticism apocryphally attributed to Samuel Johnson, who is supposed to have said of a novice author's work: "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Blogger Noah B The Savage Gardener November 08, 2017 12:01 PM  

This has been an amazingly thorough and well written review.

Anonymous TD November 08, 2017 12:01 PM  

Why not embrace the healing power of the word "and", as the Instapundit oft recommends?

Anonymous TD November 08, 2017 12:06 PM  

I need to read C. R. Hallpike.

Blogger LP9 November 08, 2017 12:08 PM  

Thank you, I really enjoy these sequences, Great reading.

Blogger MendoScot November 08, 2017 12:11 PM  

Fan-fucking-tastic! And brutal.

This has been a great four day read, with eye-openers every day.

TD: Castalia publishes Hallpike's "Do we need God to be good?".

Anonymous VFM #6306 November 08, 2017 12:12 PM  

This is less a review than it is a bloodletting.

A great reminder of why it important to review agenda-driven idiots instead of ignoring them.

Prevailing Narratives die under vivisection. Even the hardcore Harari fans will abandon this breached redoubt in the face of such withering analysis. They may not abandon the ideas, but they'll leave their fallen standard-bearer to bleed out, forgotten.

Blogger The Overgrown Hobbit November 08, 2017 12:13 PM  

Fascinating review. Thank you.

Blogger tuberman November 08, 2017 12:14 PM  

This last phase (part IV), was excellent, Part III was good, and the first two were decent in IMO. In the first two parts, Harari's "Sapiens" could have been shown to be absurd even better by C.R.Hallpike. If Hallpike had read "Ancient Law," by Sir Henry Maine and "The Gift," by Durkheim's nephew Mauss, by reading between the lines, he could have understood the patterns of developing trade, law, and power structures in early societies. It is even more complex than the reviewer thinks. Yet the reviewer to his credit is on the correct tracks.The Marxist book he reviews is silly, beyond fiction.

Yet part IV is excellent, and the wrap up is quite good also.

Blogger Howard Stone November 08, 2017 12:39 PM  

No one has yet to write anything that really does justice to the natural outworkings of Darwinian evolution when the human psychie accepts it as reality and all its implications and consequences. Those few who have made an honest effort are barely scratching the surface. I came to know Christ in my early twenties, but I had by then been so inundated with evolution propaganda that I often catch myself falling into those old ways of thinking about and viewing the world, but it is these moments that give me cause for reflection and insight into the mind of the humanist. It’s not a path I like to go down because it is a dark one full of all kinds of horror and despair, and when I do I must renew my mind through prayer, fellowship and reading God’s word.

Anonymous Tipsy November 08, 2017 12:42 PM  

fop wrote:Did the veganism starve his brain of essential nutrients? Or did he get syphilis from a public bathroom?
Embrace the liberating power of AND.

Blogger dc.sunsets November 08, 2017 12:46 PM  

An Establishment-approved historian who feigns objectivity while revealing himself to be a fully-baptized tool of today's latest cultural fad.

In other news, water is wet.

All kidding aside, an excellent review indeed, and a worrisome confirmation that the increasingly monopolar globalist corporatism of the West is incompatible with the process that formed the foundation for the West's very success.

Our civilization becomes more Eastern-despotic by the day.

Anonymous vfm November 08, 2017 1:00 PM  

Is Sapiens what passes for PH.D level scholarship at Hebrew University!? Oh those tricky Jews despair O' white ones. /s

"International bestseller". LOL. Though I have a soft spot for Harari he seems like the typical duped/indoctrinated by his boomer professors in higher education Xer and unfortunately is carrying on with the Babel 2.0 programming. Somebody needs to thrown in a line break in his code.

Blogger Ingot9455 November 08, 2017 1:25 PM  

Wonderfully done.
While we might have been able to skip to the conclusion - that this is 'infotainment' - some things are so horribly done that the require a rigorous fisking to show where the gross errors are so that fools don't repeat error.

Blogger ((( bob kek mando ))) - ( Fine Purveyor of Quality Artisanal Gorm ) November 08, 2017 1:32 PM  

okay, you've convinced me.

Harari is the apotheosis of what SJW !Science! is capable of.


OT, but something else to consider about HollyWeinsteinWood:

Inside the Actor's Studio was hosted by ((( James Lipton ))).

who was a Pimp in 1950s France.

does anyone actually believe that ((( James Lipton ))) ever really stopped "procuring prostitutes"?

Anonymous Brick Hardslab November 08, 2017 1:35 PM  

Harari is determined to fit his preconceptions into the world even if he needs to use a sledgehammer.

Blogger tuberman November 08, 2017 2:06 PM  

Ingot9455 wrote:Wonderfully done.

While we might have been able to skip to the conclusion - that this is 'infotainment' - some things are so horribly done that the require a rigorous fisking to show where the gross errors are so that fools don't repeat error.



"...so that fools don't repeat error." Ha!

Yeah, right, what was that phrase, "Rinse, Repeat," infinitely.

Blogger Johnny November 08, 2017 3:05 PM  

"The Sapiens reign on earth has so far produced little that we can be proud of."

The usual guilt trip stuff in our current guilt trip society. The flaw in the logic is that unless he develops what we should be "proud of" it is really a baseless assumption.

A cultural sack is a region where transportation is good enough that the developments in one part are shared with the other part. In early times the two most important and advanced cultural sacks were Europe and Asia. China and got the jump on Europe, and was quite advanced at a very early era. Europe came along later starting with the Roman Empire which embraced everything from England to the Near East. In terms of development Africa was unimportant except for Egypt. The rest of North Africa was a backwater, and South Sahara African was of no consequence.

And then, following around 1500, Europe pulled away from everybody with the development of science. As for why it happened there are several possible reasons, and perhaps all of them were necessary. Greek philosophy was surely helpful in that it assumed that fundamental truths could be discovered by a combination of observation and thought, no divine revelation necessary. Functionally it stressed thought, and observation was given much less attention. Science as it developed stressed observation, in the form of observation and experiment.

What may also have been helpful to the development of science was the power divide between the nobility and the clergy. There was a power struggle between the two groups and early scientific theory tended to undermine divine revelation by limiting its scope. If you know what gravity is then God is no longer necessary to know why water runs down hill. In the same way and more dramatically, Neutron reduced divine revelation of celestial objects to a set of mathematical equations that almost always worked. God was reduced to the force that produced certain fundamental laws, with the details revealed by human observation and deduction, thus limiting the scope of religion. In the general scheme of things, this reducing the role of the clergy relative to the secular elements of society.

And then there is the fact that China was taken over by the Mongolians. While as an ethnic group they eventually lost out, the administrative structure that they put together remained. In general China over the eons has been more unified than the West. Perhaps the dead hand of the state limited innovation and thus limited cultural development.

There is also a fictional element in the area of scientific development. The early scientists thought that they were developing absolute rules that would hold forever. That is why they called them laws. While it may have required study to develop these laws the idea that they were given to doubt with regard to their discoveries is a later day fiction.

Blogger Resident Moron™ November 08, 2017 3:11 PM  

Ingot9455 wrote:Wonderfully done.

While we might have been able to skip to the conclusion - that this is 'infotainment' - some things are so horribly done that the require a rigorous fisking to show where the gross errors are so that fools don't repeat error.


It certainly was rigorous.

I'd call it brutal.

I also agree totally - it was thoroughly necessary and absolutely deserved.

Anonymous kfg November 08, 2017 3:21 PM  

"Is Sapiens what passes for PH.D level scholarship at Hebrew University!?"

No, it's a popular book. Which is my chief criticism of the criticism - it ends where I begin. Like Cosmos and The Tribes of Britain I never took them for anything but obsolescent infotainment before I even began reading them.

Nonetheless, although I have some nits to pick with Hallpike* I read his review with great interest because I have something rather larger than a nit to pick with Harari, and that is that he is chiefly a futurist, not an anthropologist. His anthropology is colored throughout by his futurist views.

*I note that I am not an anthropologist. I just married one.

Blogger Solaire Of Astora November 08, 2017 3:23 PM  

After reading this review I guess I have to get some of Hallpike's books. He's good.

Anonymous vfm November 08, 2017 3:23 PM  

"What may also have been helpful to the development of science was the power divide between the nobility and the clergy. There was a power struggle between the two groups and early scientific theory tended to undermine divine revelation by limiting its scope. If you know what gravity is then God is no longer necessary to know why water runs down hill. In the same way and more dramatically, Neutron reduced divine revelation of celestial objects to a set of mathematical equations that almost always worked. God was reduced to the force that produced certain fundamental laws, with the details revealed by human observation and deduction, thus limiting the scope of religion. In the general scheme of things, this reducing the role of the clergy relative to the secular elements of society."

Though I agree there were conflicts between science and church doctrine the disagreements were usually between layperson and clergy, Galileo and Newton being prominent examples. Modern science has its foundation in Christian scientists and attempting to create a demarcation is a typical atheist/satanic tactic and is of course disingenuous.

Blogger Ron Winkleheimer November 08, 2017 3:29 PM  

An Establishment-approved historian

Seriously?

Blogger Johnny November 08, 2017 3:50 PM  

Modern science has its foundation in Christian scientists and attempting to create a demarcation is a typical atheist/satanic tactic and is of course disingenuous.

Don't know about Galileo, but Newton believed that since nature was God's creation, being able to understand nature would allow for a better understanding of God. And so his developments in science were seen by him as arriving at a better understanding of God. But none the less the development of science did tend to reduce the authoritarian power of the clergy.

Though I agree there were conflicts between science and church doctrine the disagreements were usually between layperson and clergy,...

There are exceptions, but the general population often lacked the ability to enforce their opinion on science. The clergy backed by the church were the people who had the ability to act on their opinions.

Blogger Resident Moron™ November 08, 2017 3:55 PM  

@23 vfm

Also, nobody knows what gravity is. We have a word for it, and some numbers that describe its operation, but there's no theory as to what it is that is so compelling it cannot be robustly challenged.

Is it bent space? Is it a force? Is it an exchange of particles?

To the degree anyone has good ideas about what it is now, we sure as shit didn't have them in the period he's discussing.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine November 08, 2017 5:01 PM  

"Harari is the apotheosis of what SJW !Science! is capable of."

It occurs to me that what is capable is not SJW, and what is SJW is not capable. It therefore proceeds that these qualities naturally exist in inverse proportions.

"But none the less the development of science did tend to reduce the authoritarian power of the clergy."

Scientists (as per scientistry proper) could reasonably be seen as a subset of the clergy. With all the upsides and downsides that entails, nevertheless an honest priest will tend to unveil and depose a dishonest one.

"To the degree anyone has good ideas about what it is now, we sure as shit didn't have them in the period he's discussing."

Even from the review, it's rather appalling how far off he is. He commonly writes with authority on subjects that a random person off the street likely has a significantly better grasp of than him.

Blogger Dexter November 08, 2017 5:54 PM  

"Islam eventually turned against reason and science as dangerous to religion"

They were right.

" Byzantine Emperor Justinian closed the philosophy schools of Athens in 529 AD because he considered them dangerous to Christianity"

He was right too.

Blogger bethyada November 08, 2017 6:11 PM  

Thanks for these, interesting.

Blogger Apex_Predator November 08, 2017 8:55 PM  

I think there is a "forest / trees" aspect to the comments and reactions here though I don't find it surprising.

There is an out of hand dismissal of the material itself because of how egregiously wrong and in some cases absurd it is.

But what is not looked at is how works like this easily wriggle their way into the public consciousness, and then become 'fact' quite easily.

If you would have told me 20 years ago that "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn which was (is?) a known work of revisionist history and far left propaganda would become the de facto historical textbook for most schools in the United States I would have laughed at you.

Yet, here we are... I still marvel at how easily that particular piece of tripe made its way into the mainstream. And people wonder why most children attending the indoctrination centers that are public school end up as rabid leftists who hate their own nation.

You simply need to LOOK at what they read and teach from and you will have your answer. I wouldn't be surprised if Sapiens becames the standard text for anthropology and social history courses in the US.

THAT should be your concern, not the content which is ridiculous, the easy way these books that label Europe as the "non-important peninsula" of Afro-Asia. These should be front and center, yet seem to be background noise.

If this becomes a standardized textbook in the next few years, remember you heard it here first. I still fucking marvel that Zinn's book has such widespread distribution through high schools now it would have been unthinkable in the not so distant past.

Blogger ((( bob kek mando ))) - ( Fine Purveyor of Quality Artisanal Gorm ) November 08, 2017 9:43 PM  

21. kfg November 08, 2017 3:21 PM
Like Cosmos and The Tribes of Britain I never took them for anything but obsolescent infotainment before I even began reading them.


and that makes flagrant lying from a man who makes his living as an 'Expert' in the field okay?

because it's just infotainment?

Anonymous Just another commenter November 08, 2017 10:29 PM  

If Hallpike can get these reviews condensed and/or linked to as an actual review of the book on Amazon, I'd be happy to give it a thumb up. Les us know when it's live.

Blogger Thad tuiol November 08, 2017 11:18 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Thad tuiol November 08, 2017 11:19 PM  

Wow, brutal take down! Hallpike vs. Harari is what happens when a genuine intellectual goes up against a pseudo-intellectual.

Blogger Meng Greenleaf November 09, 2017 1:08 AM  

"a huge gulf has actually opened up between the findings of science and modern liberal ideals"
I couldn't agree more.

Blogger Meng Greenleaf November 09, 2017 1:23 AM  

"Europe is a non-important peninsula of Afro-Asia".
This is absolutely insane. I regularly speak with Chinese and Japanese whom lament what they also perceive as the fall of the West. Mostly due to our naiveity and over generosity.

Blogger Thad tuiol November 09, 2017 2:53 AM  

@36: Indeed. The company I work for sends east Asian youngsters on study abroad programs to western countries (basically the Anglosphere+western Europe). Without fail, the number one complaint on the feedback surveys we get is that said countries are no longer "white enough", and they were confused and depressed by being surrounded by so many non-whites!

Post a Comment

Rules of the blog
Please do not comment as "Anonymous". Comments by "Anonymous" will be spammed.

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts