18/02/15

Seventy thousand years ago, our human ancestors were insignificant animals, just minding their own business in a corner of Africa with all the other animals. But now, few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we’ve spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself). How did we get from there to here? Historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests a surprising reason for the rise of humanity.

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Glossary

  • insignificant – too small or unimportant to be worth consideration
  • superior – higher in rank, status, or quality
  • struggle – a forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or resist attack
  • embarrassment – a feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness
  • inquisitive – having or showing an interest in learning things; curious
  • underlie – be the cause or basis of (something)
  • redundant – not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous

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Think about it

Answer the questions below.

  1. How has the significance of humans changed over time? What kind of impact did we use to have on our planet? What have you learnt about the differences and similarities between humans and chimps?
  2. How do bees, chimpanzees and humans cooperate within their groups? (4:27)
  3. In what way does fiction help humans cooperate? (8:19)
  4. What do religion, human rights, politics, nations and economy have in common?
  5. What is money? (12:48)
  6. What is the link between objective reality and “fictional entities?” (14:46)

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Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

________ same is true of the economic field. The most important actors today in the global economy are companies and corporations. Many ________ you today, perhaps, work for a corporation, like Google or Toyota or McDonald’s. ________ exactly are these things? They are what lawyers call legal fictions. They are stories invented and maintained ________ the powerful wizards we call lawyers. (Laughter) And what ________ corporations do all day? Mostly, they try to make money. Yet, what is money? Again, money is not an objective reality; it has ________ objective value. Take this green piece of paper, the dollar bill. Look at it — it has no value. You cannot eat it, you cannot drink it, you cannot wear it. But then came along these master storytellers — the big bankers, the finance ministers, the prime ministers — and they ________ us a very convincing story: “Look, you see this green piece of paper? It is actually worth 10 bananas.” And if I believe it, and you believe it, and everybody believes it, it actually works. I can take this worthless piece of paper, go to the supermarket, give it to a complete stranger ________ I’ve never met before, and get, in exchange, real bananas which I can actually eat. This is something amazing. You could never do it with chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trade, of course: “Yes, you give me a coconut, I’ll give you a banana.” That can work. But, you give me a worthless piece of paper and you except me to give you ________ banana? No way! What do you think I ________, a human?

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Explore it more

 

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