21 lessons for the 21st century's notes, summary and lessons

By Yuval Harari

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  • Humans think in stories rather than facts, numbers or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.

    Page: 3
  • Humans were always far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.

    Page: 7
  • Humans have two type of abilities - physical and cognitive. In the past, machines competed with humans mainly in raw physical abilities, while humans retained an immense edge over machines in cognition.

    Page: 19
  • Referendum and elections are always about human feelings, not about human rationality. If democracy were a matter of rational decision-making, there would be absolutely no reason to give all people equal voting rights - or perhaps any voting rights. There is ample evidence that some people are far more knowledgeable and rational than others, certainly when it comes to specific economic and political questions.

    Page: 45
  • In the late twentieth century democracies usually outperformed dictatorships because democracies were better at data-processing. Democracy diffuses the power to process information and make decisions among many people and institutions, whereas dictatorship concentrates information and power in one place. Given twentieth-century technology, it was inefficient to concentrate too much information and power in one place. Nobody had the ability to process all the information fast enough and make the right decisions.

    Page: 65
  • There is no reason to assume that artificial intelligence will gain consciousness, because intelligence and consciousness are very different things. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Consciousness is the ability to feel things such as pain, joy, love, and anger. We tend to confuse the two because in humans and other mammals intelligence goes hand in hand with consciousness. Mammals solve most problems by feeling things. Computers, however, solve problems in a very different way.

    Page: 69
  • Ancient hunter-gatherer bands were still more egalitarian than any subsequent human society, because they had very little property. Property is a prerequisite for long-term inequality.

    Page: 73
  • If we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data.

    Page: 77
  • Historically, corporations were not the ideal vehicle for undertaking social and political revolutions. A real revolution sooner or later demands sacrifices that corporations, their employees and their shareholders are not willing to make.

    Page: 91
  • Human groups are defined more by the changes they undergo than by any continuity, but they nevertheless manage to create for themselves ancient identities thanks to their storytelling skills.

    Page: 96
  • People still have different religions and national identities. But when it comes to the practical stuff – how to build a state, an economy, a hospital, or a bomb – almost all of us belong to the same civilisation.

    Page: 108
  • In 2016, despite wars in Syria, Ukraine and other hot spots, fewer people died from human violence than from obesity, car accidents or suicide. This may well have been the greatest political and moral achievement of our times.

    Page: 114
  • In previous centuries national identities were forged because human beings faced problems and discovered opportunities that went far beyond the scope of ­local tribes, and that only countrywide co-operation could hope to handle. In the 21st century, nations find themselves in the same situation as the old tribes: they are no longer the right framework to manage the most important challenges of the age. We need a new global identity because national institutions are incapable of managing a set of unprecedented global predicaments.

    Page: 125
  • Human power depends on mass cooperation, mass cooperation depends on manufacturing mass identities – and all mass identities are based on fictional stories, not on scientific facts or even on economic necessities.

    Page: 134
  • People continue to conduct a heroic struggle against traditional racism without noticing that the battlefront has shifted. Traditional racism is waning, but the world is now full of 'culturists'.

    Page: 150
  • Terrorists resemble a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot move even a single teacup. So how does a fly destroy a china shop? It finds a bull, gets inside its ear, and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with fear and anger, and destroys the china shop.

    Page: 161
  • Terrorists don't think like army generals. Instead, they think like theatre producers.

    Page: 162
  • From an ethical perspective, monotheism was arguably on of the worst ideas in human history.

    Page: 191
  • Religious faith is not a necessary condition for moral behaviour. The idea that we need a supernatural being to make us act morally assumes that there is something unnatural about morality.

    Page: 200
  • There is something deeply troubling and dangerous about people who avoid killing just because “God says so”. Such people are motivated by obedience rather than compassion, and what will they do if they come to believe that their god commands them to kill heretics, witches or gays?

    Page: 205
  • If you believe in an absolute truth revealed in a transcendent power, you cannot allow yourself to admit any error - for that would nullify your whole story. But if you believe in a quest for truth by fallible humans, admitting blunders is an inherent part of the game.

    Page: 213
  • False stories have an intrinsic advantage over the truth when it comes to uniting people. If you want to gauge group loyalty, requiring people to believe an absurdity is a far better test than asking them to believe the truth.

    Page: 219
  • Providing people with more and better information is unlikely to improve matters. Scientists hope to dispel wrong views by better science education, and pundits hope to sway public opinion on issues such as Obamacare or global warming by presenting the public with accurate facts and expert reports. Such hopes are grounded in a misunderstanding of how humans actually think. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink rather than individual rationality, and we hold on to these views out of group loyalty.

    Page: 219
  • If you want to go deeply into any subject you need a lot of time and in particular you need the privilege of wasting time to experiment with unproductive paths, to explore dead ends to make space for doubts and boredom, to allow little seeds of insight to slowly grow and blossom.

    Page: 220
  • Homo sapiens conquered this planet thanks to the unique human ability to create and spread fictions. We are the only mammals that can cooperate with numerous strangers because only we can invent fictional stories, spread them around, and convince millions of others to believe in them. As long as everybody believes in the same fictions, we all obey the same laws and can thereby cooperate effectively.

    Page: 233
  • As a species, humans prefer power to truth. We spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it – and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control it.

    Page: 242
  • In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and, above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.

    Page: 261
  • If you ask for the true meaning of life and get a story in reply, know that this is the wrong answer. The exact details don't really matter. Any story is wrong, simply for being a story. The universe just does not work like a story.

    Page: 281
  • Most people don't like to admit that they are fools. Consequently, the more they sacrifice for a particular belief, the stronger their faith becomes. This is the mysterious alchemy of sacrifice. In order to bring us under his power, the sacrificing priest need not to give us anything - neither rain, nor money, nor victory in war. Rather, he needs to take away something. Once he convinces us to make some painful sacrifice, we are trapped.

    Page: 287
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