Showing posts with label Worldview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Worldview. Show all posts

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Sapiens A brief history of humankind - Review

 

Sapiens

A Brief History of  

Humankind

By

  Yuvai Noah Harari

Reviewed by

 Geoffrey W. Sutton



Sapiens has been reviewed many times since its international debut. So, I’ll just provide a summary and some thoughts from my perspective as a psychologist.

Despite its long reach—all of human history—it’s a relatively quick read because Harari is an engaging writer with a sense of humor and a knack for telling stories that create vivid images of our species wandering about on various continental stages for some 200,000 years. He reviews world history from a global perspective beginning with evolution. There’s not a lot new here for those of us who read similar works. Nevertheless, there were things I did not know and so I am grateful for those tidbits, which may only amount to “wow” trivia if I can remember them.

_______________

His subtitle, A Brief History,” provides the clue for what to expect. Harari takes us through history from the speculative beginning to current events. He organizes history into four units having approximately an equal number of chapters—20 altogether.

We grow into creatures with powerful brains—The Cognitive Revolution. We settle down and build in the Agricultural Revolution. Various factors like money and religion help bring people together into megagroups—The Unification of Humankind. Finally, The Scientific Revolution thrusts humans forward with considerable energy that leaves us wondering, what is progress, happiness, and the meaning of life.

I cannot speak to all the disciplines Harari draws on to describe one era or another. There are two aspects of humanity that I have studied more than others—human nature and religion.

I’m wary about making claims about our current behavior patterns linked to supposed evolutionary adaptations to hunting and gathering life on the savannah tens of thousands of years ago. It’s not that I deny evolution its just that so much of human behavior varies greatly within our cultures. Also, in the trek from one revolution to another I’m not always sure about the causes for change despite the evidence that significant changes occurred. I don’t mind reading about ideas but I would prefer they be tempered by a humble stance.

“There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

(p. 28)  Harari

One critical aspect of the drama of human nature that’s missing is a consideration of the role of human emotions in motivating human behavior related to major historical events. Harari emphasizes cognition in the beginning and refers to happiness near the end of this work. But there is no entry in the index for such life-changing expressions of anger or rage (e.g., Potegal & Novaco, 2010), jealousy (e.g., Hart & Legerstree, 2010) , or revenge (e.g., Price, 2009).

The second area that strikes me as shallow is his assumptions about religion. Others have noticed this too. How people formed religions and how religions function has been of considerable interest to psychologists for about a century ever since William James’ seminal work. Of course, there are considerable contributions from related disciplines like sociology, anthropology, history, and religious studies. I don’t deny the importance of religion to culture and the regulation of society but Harari’s definition doesn’t fit the view I share with psychologists that religion has a lot to do with a meaningful life and offers positive and negative coping strategies when confronting life’s conundrums (e.g., see Paloutzian & Parks, 2013. I realize Harari is an atheist but that does not mean he is exempt thinking more deeply about the role of religion in human experience. 

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Sapiens offers a quick and well-written introduction to world history for those who haven’t had a course in a long time or have more than a passing interest in the major activities that occupied our species for thousands of years. It likely won’t satisfy those wanting a more in-depth analysis of historic trends. 

Harari will also stimulate some thinking about the importance of such matters as scientific discoveries, economics, religion, and other major factors affecting our lives. I suggest approaching Sapiens as a scientist looking for interesting ideas that can be tested by gathering more evidence elsewhere.


 Harari, Y.N. (2018). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. New York: HarperCollins.

 Sapiens is available on     Google

Amazon

and elsewhere

Related books

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow  by Yuval Noah Harari

The Ultimate Visual History of the World - National Geographic



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Monday, March 23, 2020

The End of Faith-A Book Review by Sutton


THE END OF FAITH: 

RELIGION, TERROR, AND

THE FUTURE OF REASON     



By

     Sam Harris

Reviewed by


     Geoffrey W. Sutton

The 9/11 Islamic terrorists emblazoned the psychological truism of the path from belief to
behavior on the minds of millions. The world saw the lethiferous power of religious belief. We witnessed the purpose driven death. Sam Harris pummels readers with invidious images of destruction associated with religious belief. We may well dispute many of his conclusions but the ineluctable truth is that beliefs matter. At times acerbic, Harris has prepared a puissant polemic focused primarily upon the terror of Islam with ample scathing visited upon Christianity and Judaism. 

His thesis is that the beliefs of religious people have become unhinged from reason to the point that meaningful conversations cannot take place. 

He asserts that reason is in exile (chapter 1) and that survival requires a return from unproven beliefs to evidenced-based reason when making decisions that affect human life.

In chapters two and three, Harris examines the notion of belief and the manner in which
numerous contradictory beliefs are accumulated from early authority figures. He notes important findings that people are conservative—they do not easily give up beliefs. As beliefs develop into a worldview, a subset deals with matters of religious faith. By way of example, Harris shows the importance of re-examining beliefs that can have powerful consequences on health and well-being. Harris provides two historical examples of the inquisition and the holocaust to demonstrate the incredible power of malevolent belief systems to wreak havoc in the lives of hapless victims.

Harris wages war on Islam in chapter four. His major point is that there is a reason we are facing Islamic terrorists rather than people of another faith—the principle of jihad. He acknowledges that apologists for Islam interpret the jihad as a personal struggle but warns of those warriors who believe in a holy war against all non-Muslims, who are by definition infidels or apostate. To further his point, he quotes several several hadithic lines that encourage war on earth and promise eternal rewards for martyrs. He follows this litany with a list of massacres and pogroms against Jews and quotations from Pew Research that support an alarmingly high percentage of people in various countries that affirm the justification of suicide bombing in the name of Islam (e.g., Lebanon 73%, Ivory Coast 56%).

In West of Eden (chapter 5), the author challenges the extant American Theocracy, which is
primarily an attack on the two-term presidency of George W. Bush and the values of Christian fundamentalists that he believes were foisted on the general public. This analysis appears a bit dated given the 2008 Presidential election, but might apply to the 2016 election. However, there are clearly laws and political positions related to such issues as abortion, stem cell research, certain substances (e.g., alcohol, marijuana), and same-sex marriage that are likely to persist into the future and which are trigger points for particular clusters of American Christians (e.g., see A House Divided).

Harris wishes to take us beyond religion toward a science of good and evil (chapter 6).
His position appears to turn on defining that which is moral as that which affects happiness
or suffering in others in the present era (rather than an era in which leading religious texts were written). He rejects moral relativism and pragmatism and appeals to moral facts that can inform regarding happiness and pain. He buttresses his moral position with numerous exemplars of immoral behavior wrought by religious leaders. He also exposes the ethical limitations of pacifists who would not use lethal force to protect the innocent when faced with an unscrupulous enemy. Though Harris makes powerful sparring points, which would undoubtedly ring cheers from many audiences, he has not established a groundwork for his metaphysics of morality. In the language of psychology, he has failed to operationally define happiness and suffering in such a way that the concepts have clear criterial attributes. Instead, he has left us with a few strident examples of evil, which do not begin to
limn the contours of the perennial debate.

Experiments in Consciousness (chapter 7) appears to be a foray into a rational basis for
spirituality. Harris explores the notion of the self and the experience of self and otherness found in various mystic traditions. On the whole, Harris does not accomplish much here. His argument lacks a substantive basis that would support his endeavor to bring mystical experience within the realm of neuroscience. Readers familiar with neurotheology and neurophilosophy will note a more nuanced approach to apprehending the emergent phenomenon of mind. He appears aware of this weakness in the Epilogue, which is worth reading to glimpse his manner of responding to challenges.

Availability of The End of Faith- AMAZON LINK     AMAZON UK


Related Posts


Sutton, G. W. (2009). [Review of the book The End of faith: Religion, terror, and the future of reason by S. Harris]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28, 280-281.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link 


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