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Harari’s Views on Homo Sapiens vs. Other Species

According to Harari, the Cognitive revolution was what actually separated Homo Sapiens from other species. He defines it as the emergence of new ways of thinking and communicating (Harai, 25). In this sense, it became “the point when history declared its independence from biology,” meaning that humanity developed according to its social laws rather than to principles common to all primates (Harari, 37). As such, it gave rise to symbolic thinking as the ability to conceive physically nonexistent entities and language as the way to communicate this thinking.

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The author acknowledges that most animals have systems of informative signals that may qualify as languages, but the communication of Homo Sapiens stands apart from those. First of all, it uses a fairly limited range of vocations to transfer detailed information in a way no other animals can (Harari, 24-25). Secondly and, arguably, most importantly, human language empowered symbolic thinking- the ability to invent and transmit “information about things that do not exist at all” (Harari, 27). This feature effectively enables abstract thinking and, by doing so, impacts the ways in which language contributes to the functioning of human communities.

As mentioned above, human language is distinct in its ability to transmit all kinds of information, but it is important which precise kinds Homo Sapiens found worth transmitting. According to Harari, the first function of language was gossip, and the ability “to gossip for hours on end,” sharing socially relevant information that could facilitate cohesion in social units (Harari, 26). The second function is the telling of myths, which allows the creation of shared identities and, thus, enables the “unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers” (Harari, 27). These functions gave Homo Sapiens an edge in competing with other human species.

These functions give rise to two distinct types of communities. The first one is a relatively small unit of up to 150 people, which can operate effectively “on the basis of intimate relations, with a minimum of formal discipline” (Harari, 30). It does so thanks to the ability to share valuable social information through gossip. The second type is a community counting hundreds and more individuals. Being way too large to function based on personal relations, it relies on shared identities “rooted in common myths” (Harari, 30). These myths allow human cooperation beyond tightly-knit groups united by personal connections.

The second type of society is ultimately based on what Harari calls imagined orders. An imagined order is a combination of social norms “based neither on ingrained instincts nor on personal acquaintances, but rather on belief in shared myths” (Harari 117). It is, thus, directly related to the myth-telling function of language. An example given in the text is the American Declaration of Independence, which is objectively untrue because people as biological organisms are neither created nor equal (Harari, 122-123). However, the imagined order codified in the Declaration of Independence allows people to cooperate better even if the statements made in it are not factually true, which makes it the form of imagined order.


Harari, Y. N. (2011). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. Vintage Books.

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