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A Neanderthal Reviews "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari

As told to and translated by Hank Felsman

In an undisclosed controlled environment in Alexandria, VA, just a 25-minute bicycle ride from The Pentagon, a legal child we will call Alexander has been growing up harboring one of modern society’s deepest secrets: in 2003, he was born as the world’s first living Neanderthal in more than 30,000 years. Of his DNA, approximately 51% is Neanderthal, including 1% passed down from his Sapien surrogate mother.

On Friday, BlockRadius contributor Hank Felsman sat down with Alexander, in the shade of an elm tree on Dangerfield Island, to talk about one of the Neanderthal’s favorite books: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.

Hank Felsman: Tell me about how you got introduced to this book, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

Alexander: Barack Obama, just like everybody else! (Laughs). No, in all seriousness, it was a couple of years ago. I must have been 12 or 13. I had always binge-watched American presidents on YouTube – speeches, interviews – to learn about Sapiens and this world that I have been very sheltered from all my life. And I saw this clip of the President of my malleable youth recommending this book, and making it sound interesting. Do you know the clip?

HF: (Laughs). I know it.

A: Of course you do! You are American. (Laughs). Barry-O! Anyway, I had my doctor order it, and I read it immediately. It probably took me eight months.

HF: You must be a careful reader. What do you remember most about it?

A: The first part about Neanderthals. The two theories, the Interbreeding Theory and the Replacement Theory, and how they are both probably wrong, according to the author, how the true answer lies somewhere in between. But I don’t really believe that either… And the last part about the Neanderthals, how we could resurrect one today if we wanted to, and the reasons for doing that. That was very awkward to read! (Laughs).

HF: When you say you don’t really believe that, about what happened to the Neanderthals, what do you mean by that? What do you think happened?

A: To the Neanderthals? Well, obviously some interbreeding is possible – just look at me, with my Sapien mother – so that eliminates the Replacement Theory. But as for the Interbreeding Theory standing alone, obviously – just look at you, look at me, and look how much more handsome I am than you – there was not too much interbreeding. (Laughs). But honestly, I think what happened to the Native Americans, who my doctor told me about, is similar to what happened to the Neanderthals. Aside from only violence, Sapiens brought disease to the Neanderthals, interbred on occasion, but not without a greater risk of disease. Another possible factor is that our heads were much bigger than yours, so for a Sapien mother, it might have been extra dangerous to give birth to a Neanderthal baby, so interbreeding may have been avoided that way.

HF: That’s an interesting theory. That wasn't in the book?

A: Right, no, that’s my theory. I actually have a lot of theories on the Neanderthals. But Sapiens are so much more interesting!

HF: Okay, what’s your favorite theory from the book about Sapiens?

A: Well, of course the first that comes to mind is the part about how agriculture is “history’s greatest fraud” [p. 77], how agriculture did not make human life easier, but rather, created more human lives that were all, on average, worse off, due to new diseases, more work, and less choice. I like when he said that you did not domesticate wheat. Wheat domesticated you. And also he does a really good job of explaining money, how money unified the world. How before money, if I wanted to travel without working, I would have to bring all my possessions with me, to trade for food, et cetera. So unless I was a hunter-forager or soldier or traveling tradesman, I could not travel at all, because there was no such thing as saving up to travel, even for a day!

HF: So true. That was a great passage. And how the cowry shell currency of ancient China differed from the European coin currency with the King’s seal, and how these two forms of currency may have affected the cultural development of China and Europe in different ways, subconsciously…

A: Sure. (Laughs). Your theory.

HF: Okay, my last question. What do you think about the overall thesis of the book, the idea that what makes Sapiens unique is the ability to tell stories and believe in stories? To believe in what we are told, as opposed to only what we see, and also the ability to create stories? Forgive the way I’m struggling to phrase my question – it’s a complex thesis. Oh, and lastly! In your answer, can you give a review of the book? Maybe rank it 1 to 10? This interview will be published on BlockRadius as a "review." Clickbait journalism. You understand.

A: Stories! (Laughs). I understand. But first, in all honesty thank you for wanting to hear what I have to say. I don’t usually get people asking me about books, what I think. Typically, I am just observed and once a week asked how I feel, or what I think about very obvious things, like do I think about Sapien girls, do I have violent urges, do I like this or that toy or tool… Okay, but the thesis of Sapiens! Yes, I knew you were going to ask about that, so I made a note of it directly from the book here. (Takes out crumpled piece of paper from front t-shirt pocket). On page 363, I made a note of it, it says what I think sums up his thesis about stories as good as any other passage in the book: (Reads) “Consumerism and nationalism work extra hours to make us imagine that millions of strangers belong to the same community as ourselves, that we all have a common past, common interests and a common future. This isn’t a lie. It’s imagination.” I think this passage is great, because he is saying that there is no great conspiracy controlled by human puppet masters, but rather that you are all human Sapiens, struggling to adapt to and prosper in the same imagined shared construct you all call “culture.” I like to think of it like this: that imagination is an ocean, that truth and falsehood exist on opposite shores, and that cultures move like great fantastic sea creatures, alive and dynamic and yet still only in your minds. Nine out of ten.




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