More notes at http://tanguay.info/learntracker
C O U R S E 
A Brief History of Humankind
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
How Fictive Language Enabled Larger Social Groups
Notes taken on August 28, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
what is it that makes human language so powerful?
talk about exterior events, e.g. where lions and food is
gossip about others in your group in order to know who you can best trust and cooperate with
human language is a fictive language, and is unique, no other animal does this
you can't convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him that he will go to monkey heaven
you can't convince a dog that something exists which doesn't actually exist, with humans, however, this is possible, and a powerful way which humans use to form large, social groups
why would the ability to believe fictions be an advantage for sapiens?
if you go out in the forest and look for fairies and unicorns that don't exist, it seems you would have less chance of survival than if you look for mushrooms and rabbits
it would seem that if you spent hours a day praying and dancing to a guardian spirit, that this would take away precious time from tasks that would help you and your clan physically survive
the fact is that fictive language has been not a disadvantage of sapiens over other human species and other languages, but an advantage
it enables us to imagine things collectively and cooperate flexibly (fictive stories can easily vary) and in large numbers, something that no other animal can do
ants and bees cooperate in large numbers of rigidly (e.g. through pheromones which are genetically rigid)
elephants, chimpanzees and wolves can cooperating flexibly but only in small numbers (maximum 30-40)
usually live in groups of 12, 30, 60 individuals
form close friendships
they hunt together
they fight shoulder to shoulder against enemies
social structure is usually hierarchical
there is usually a dominant member is the band (alpha male)
others bow before him and make grunting sounds
alpha males strives to maintain social harmony
keeps harmony in the band
monopolizes best food for himself
prevents lower-ranking males from mating with fertile males
how a chimpanzee becomes an alpha male
attempting it through violence, this will often backfire
alpha males reach this position by forming a coalition of both males and females
known cases of week males which became alpha male just by having supporters
support comes through daily contact: e.g.grooming, hugging, kissing, give food to supporters
will more often share food with members of same coalition with the group
when chimpanzees encounter each other for the first time, they don't know who ranks higher
when chimpanzee groups get above 16-20, they suffer from instability since the chimpanzees don't know each other very well and so don't know where each other is in the group hierarchy so they don't know how to interact with each other
separate groups of chimpanzees tend to not cooperate but compete for food
early humans were probably much like the habits of chimpanzees: social habits limited to small groups
the ability to gossip enabled Homo sapiens to form larger and more stable bands without spending all day watching and interacting with all of the other members
but even gossip has its limits, a limit of about 150 individuals, before individuals start losing track of who is who
below this number social clubs, business, and military units are generally stable since individuals still know how everyone ranks
businesses under 150 people, you generally don't need formal arrangements, boards of directors, or written laws
when small family business grow above the 150 member mark, if they can't reinvent themselves, they often go bust
how did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold of 150-individual for stable social groups and start setting up cities and kingdoms where thousands of individuals lived together and cooperated as part of the same social order when we don't have instincts which are appropriate for this?
fictive language
large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths, stories, and gods
any large-scale human corporation in the world, a modern state, large corporations, a medieval church, archaic tribes, are rooted in common fictions, in stories that exist only in the collective imagination of its members
With a common, collective fiction, Catholics who have never seen each other before can go on a Crusade together, or build a hospital or cathedral in numbers unthinkable without the bond and trust that comes through sharing a this common fiction.
states are also rooted in common national myth, two Japanese who have never met before may risk their lives to protect each other through the common belief in the Japanese national and Japanese homeland
business corporations are rooted in common economic stories, e.g. two employees of Google who have never met before can join forces, combine their efforts to develop a new game because of their belief in the existence of Google and the dollars that they will be paid
judicial systems are rooted in common legal myth: two lawyers can defend two complete strangers because they both belief in the existence of laws, justice and human rights
in the natural world, there are no gods, no nations, no corporations, no money, there is no such thing as human rights, no laws, and no justice anywhere outside the common stories that Homo sapiens tell each other
modern lawyers are not unlike ancient sorcerers but instead of saying that you must act a certain way or your ghost ancestors will punish you, a lawyer says that if you don't act a certain way, an institution such as the United Nations or Google or a government has the power to act, through our belief and participation in these organizations, we solidify the fictions upon which they are based, the irony is that we need these social fictions in order to organize ourselves in large groups in which order can be maintained, it's the modern predicament to live in a world knowing that social, political, religious, even monetary reality is both fictive and necessary, yet is gives each person the responsibility to (1) decide which fictions he supports and (2) make them real through his belief and actions, and reminds him that (3) if they are not believed in and acted upon, they don't exist and have no effect