Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meat: An Intelligence Enhancer

Historically, our ancestors have been eating raw food, but because there aren't a lot of calories in these food, any one individual could spend a significant amount of their day eating in order to survive according to this study http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128849908 This also meant that our stomachs had to be bigger in order to digest all of this raw food, but because all of the energy went into eating it, there wasn't much left for brain power. This continued until somewhere along the line meat was discovered.

The study, suggests that after we started consuming meat, we no longer needed the large digestive gut and could then put that energy consumed toward making our brains larger. This also changed the way our teeth began to look, instead of having sharper teeth, we began to have large, round teeth instead. This not only helped make chewing up meat easier but vegetables as well. How exactly our species discovered meat is unclear, however it seemed to begin a civilizing process that has continued though to today.

Obviously there is more involved in the evolutionary story than just discovering meat and getting smarter, we also had to learn to cook it. This isn't to say that eating raw food is less healthy than not, only that cooking food makes it easier to digest. So we cook meat, we have more energy, and according to this study we're smarter for it (or rather because of it) but whether it is right or wrong still remains in question. According to history, it was right to eat meat because it led to making better tools, smaller guts and eventually a civilized world. Eating meat now is not quite the same as it was during our evolution, as most of our guts have come back, but if it does help us grow "bigger" brains as this study suggests, why not choose to eat meat?

3 comments:

  1. I find the evidence, though not this particular argument, that hunting was key to human evolution very important. But now we do not need to do it anymore. Sure, we should keep the tool use that came with hunting, but why anything beyond that.
    Before agriculture, any high-calorie food with nutrients that we could digest was probably a good thing. However, we no longer have to worry about getting enough calories so the reasons to eat meat, for "bigger brains" is not longer valid.

    Personally, I also find arguments that attempt to justify current, unnecessary behaviors on the grounds that our ancestors did it rather weak. Given that we call those "appeals to tradition" and dismiss them if they fetishize a more modern time (like, say, the 50s), why would we take them more seriously merely because they go back 2.8 million years?

    Besides, this study isn't the end all and be all. This one suggests that potatoes fueled our evolution: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6983330.stm.

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  2. Evolution is all about finding new ways to survive as the world changes around you. The various ways that humans have provided food for themselves, whether it be farming, hunting, or even brewing are all part of us learning to adapt.

    On the hunting note, agree that we no longer need to for our own survival, but the herd control and experience that hunting offers is reason enough for me to believe that we should continue to do it. Also, I like knowing that if our food system falls apart, I can still go out get my dinner from the woods.

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  3. The study does not suggest that eating meat gives you (an individual) a bigger brain. The researcher is talking about millions of years of evolution, not something that happens in the lifecourse of one individual.

    I think Anna's comment is right on point. And I think James makes a good observation that we don't need (faulty) evolutionary arguments to justify (or critique) the ways we currently gather food.

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