Follow-on thoughts about ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – Part 1: Common Myths

By Ande Jacobson

In the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari discusses several thought-provoking aspects of human history. One of the most fascinating and far reaching developments is what he describes as “common myths.” He gives the following introductory description of this concept in his discussion of key developments from the Cognitive Revolution:

“Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. … States are rooted in common national myths. … Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. ….

“Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Based on his description, all of the vagaries and debates that philosophers have waged since the Cognitive Revolution occurred can be chalked up to fiction. In the modern world beyond the list above, organizational constructs such as corporations would also qualify as common myths that are accepted by our collective imaginations. Continue reading