We Already Live In An Imaginary World

Abhinav Thakur
4 min readJun 10, 2018

Everything we believe is a lie

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

You may think that this is a clickbait title to get more views. Well that too, except it is the truth.

Over the last few hundred thousand years human beings (Homo Sapiens) have evolved through the following stages —

  • Hunter Gatherers — our ancestors were the nomadic hunter gatherer folks who roamed from one place to another looking for food
  • Farmers — the discovery of agriculture is regarded as one of the biggest boons to mankind as the availability of food was now more reliable and constant than in the hunter gatherer days
  • Inventors — even though humans have been inventing things since time immemorial, the industrial revolution really put a new spin on things. This is where humans learned to leverage knowledge to work smarter instead of harder
  • Connected beings — this is what I’d refer to humans of today as. Due to the advancements of technology, today each one of us is connected. The testament to this fact is that some people across the globe would read this article that I am writing in my living room.

It goes without saying that we have come a long way and probably have a long way to go as well. However, all these phases were made possible only because of the one ability Homo Sapiens possess which no other species can boast of. This is the ability to believe in imaginary entities. You may think that I have lost my mind at this point, but bear with me.

In his book Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari explains how we live in an imaginary world today. Things like laws, human rights, constitutions, etc. are all imaginary and make believe. Still confused? Let me explain.

If human beings had not decided upon certain human rights, they wouldn’t exist. So in essence, human rights exist only due to fabrication of our imagination. Same is true for laws of state, constitutions, borders of countries, money and even institutions.

Mr. Harari explains this with a great example. The example is that of a company Peugeot. This company is an existing entity which is recognized by state and international law. It makes vehicles and sells them all over the world. However, if there is a flaw in the vehicle which results in an accident or accidents, who is liable? Surely someone. Peugeot is liable and will be sued. But what exactly is Peugeot? It is this make believe institution created by human imagination which has made its way to being a real entity. But Peugeot for all technical purposes, doesn’t exist.

The same is true for money too. Back in the days of the barter system, humans faced this challenge where getting what one wanted was difficult. However, they could all agree that something held value. They could then value goods and services against this store of value. But did this store of value truly have any intrinsic value? Over the years anything from cowry shells to copper coins have been used as a store of exchange and value.

Today’s money is no different. You get paid from your employer, money gets deposited in your account. But have you ever seen your account with your own eyes? The bank said they opened it for you, but what’s the proof apart from their word and a few words and digits which flash on your computer screen manufactured by an imaginary entity; which doesn’t really exist halfway across the globe? And if the collective decision to make it a store of exchange and value, of various (imaginary) entities (countries) had not taken place, the same US dollar would be just a figment of someone’s imagination. Bitcoin is the newest player in this game, and it is no different from the US dollar. Tomorrow if those same entities decide that they believe Bitcoin is a better store of value and exchange, US dollar would be extinct.

So, think about all the other things that are imaginary in our lives. When you really give this a thought, you’d realize that more than 80% of the things we talk or think about, even interact with are completely imaginary and don’t really exist. This blog doesn’t really exist. Can you wrap your head around that?

How did we evolve this way? Mr. Harari says in his book, that this ability is the only way Homo Sapiens were able to defeat and decimate the other human species (Neanderthals etc.). They could come together in the name of something imaginary (think religion etc.) and fight for a common cause. This is why we have no other human species among us today. We wiped them out. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time. Enjoy the rest of your imaginary day!