I just heard a fas­ci­nat­ing TED talk, due to the rec­om­men­da­tion of a friend. The young Israeli his­to­ri­an Yuval Harari gives a short and fas­ci­nat­ing account of how human beings, of all crea­tures, rose to rule the world. The talk is report­ed­ly a short­ened ver­sion of his book Sapi­ens , which I have not yet read. The book is wide­ly praised as not only his­tor­i­cal but also deeply philo­soph­i­cal. I’m no his­to­ri­an, so I can’t judge that. I think his talk showed some inter­est­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal and anthro­po­log­i­cal insight, but that it also dis­played some over­ly sim­plis­tic and slop­py phi­los­o­phy. We need to be able to dis­en­tan­gle the two. Harari claims that we’re able to do two things that oth­er species can’t man­age. We can orga­nize our­selves to work togeth­er (1) flex­i­bly, and (2) on a large scale. Ant and bees can orga­nize on a large scale, but their behav­ior seems deter­mined, and not flex­i­ble in any robust sense. They don’t ever decide to dis­place the Queen and sub­sti­tute a demo­c­ra­t­ic form of gov­er­nance, for exam­ple. They do what they’ve always done. Oth­er species, like chim­panzees, can do things togeth­er flex­i­bly, but not on a large scale. Harari gives the […]