Just finished reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. This is probably the most important book in recent times. Though published in 2014, anyone from any field or background will find this book relevant from an existentialist point of view at any point in time.
Yuval questions the very point of human existence and why we are doing what we do. The first part of the book charts the history of mankind and all the development yet in agriculture, perception of money, credit finance and how Europeans influenced the world (important) or science.
Biology enables, culture forbids: you may have all the capability bestowed upon you to create and achieve but the prevailing culture you are in may not allow it. Networking and social skills give humans the edge over others and not brute strength.
The last few chapters dwell into the whole point of what we are doing today. Is happiness the purpose of all innovation and development? Is it money or conquest? What makes us happy apart from just secretion of serotonin in our brain? Is the human race improving or worsening? What is the point of advanced intelligence and cutting edge scientific capability? What do we really want? A person who does not crave does not suffer. People who are genetically disposed to happiness will be happy anyway, with what the already have instead of craving for new things.
Some important takeaways for me: Nationalism is fast losing ground. Soon it will not matter which country you hail from but what you can bring to the table for larger communities, how you can improve the current state of things. Your social skills and ability to collaborate and take things to the next level will matter more than your background. Two main examples are India and America. Both countries have been built by immigrants and conquerors who have left behind legacies which make both countries proud of what they have today. Indians love drinking tea, have a huge cricket fan following (both Brit behaviours), are the largest English-literate population and protect British buildings as heritage sites. Taj Mahal was created by Mughals with material from all over the world. Punjabi food is heavily influenced by Persian and Mughal inputs. ‘American culture’ -be it architecture, music or technology is made from inputs by Europeans, Africans and recently- by Chinese and Indians. So what is the fuss about ‘outsiders’?
All big scientific experiments and projects were given funding because the folks who agreed to fund them saw a larger political, social, economic or religious goal. So think bigger; infact things colossal at a much larger level before you propose your project plan to your boss. The goal must be sustainable with a much larger impact.
No concept, idea or theory is beyond challenge. As long as we accept that ‘we do not know’, there is always the path for more knowledge and debunking whatever hindered our ability to go beyond and achieve more. The status quo can always be changed. There is nothing natural about our current situation and that is evident from history.
This book is already influencing my work and my perception of the world- more so after our US trip. Incidentally I read this book half-way while we were touring in Greyhound buses across the states so it was a surreal experience anyway. I feel that’s why its important to read while travelling. One tends to soak in much more in changing environments and the words get hard-baked into the cells somewhere :).