Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is cooking the key to human evolution?


There is a new book out that provides a scientific argument that the evolution of the human brain into the wondrous thing it is today hinged on the idea that one of our ancient ancestors had to actually cook food before eating it. According to this argument, cooking food began the process of breaking down the food, allowing for early humans to have smaller digestive tracts, expend less energy on digestion, and get more nutrition from the food they ate. The argument can also be applied to descredit the modern raw food movement. What do you think?

6 comments:

period1carlos said...

I find Garner's theory interesting but am concerned with one part of it. Garner seems to suggest that people who learn to cook would pass that knowledge down to the children;to me that feels Lamarkian in that the children would "inherit" the knowledge of cooking from their parents because the parents practiced cooking enough. I realize that today people can be taught to cook, but wonder if young "apes" would be able to teach their children in the same way (both with lower intelligence and their developing cooking techniques themselves.) Other than this though, the theory seems very plausibly one driving factor in human evolution.

Period6 Tatsuro said...

I think that this argument could be legitimate, but I find trouble believing that simply having an easier time digesting would completely change the way our brains developed. There are many other species, which are able to efficiently digest food, and aren't "intelligent". Also, why is cooking a uniquely necessary way to break down food. Chewing food, and breaking it down with other mechanical digestive methods are present in many other species, and this hasn't shown any particular advantage in development of the brain. Though I think that this theory might be a stretch, it's a very interesting view of how humans came to be so intelligent.

Period 7 Justin said...

Garner's theory is skeptical at best. I do not think that a direct correlation can be made between increased nutrients and less energy used for digestion, and a higher intelligence quotient. Like Tatsuro said, a wide range of animal species are more efficient at digestion than humans, but are nowhere near as intelligent as we are.

The weakest part of Garner's argument is the causal link he makes between cooking humans, or the "small-mouthed apes", as he calls us, and the rise of a patriarchal society. As per the article, there is zero evidence as to why women/female apes would automatically accept a subservient role under the carnivorous hunter-men immediately following the rise of cooking and fire. Garner's idea that humans became increasingly civilized because of the social aspect of fire is plausible, but I think he takes the idea too far when he attempts to use it as the basis for the foundation of a patriarchal society where women were relegated to cooking the food that the men brought in.

Overall, Garner's thesis is thought-provoking, but ultimately lacks causal evidence and appears to be implausible at best.

Eva 6 said...

Garner's theory is very interesting, and something very unique in the sense that I have never heard this argument arise, and as I believe that he may have a legitimate argument, I am not ready to accept it whole-heartedly. First of all, Garner is trying to argue that cooking is the key to evolution. Cooking may be a part of evolution, but I believe that there are other factors of evolution in humans that would probably be more powerful and significant. I recently became a vegetarian like my cousin, and she gave me this article to read about humans and meet. This article that I read was arguing that humans did not instinctively eat meat, but rather we adapted and evolved to become herbivores. Meat involves a lot of preparation: slaughtering the animal, opening it up, taking out the parts you want to eat, cooking it, and cutting it up again to eat it. This is very different from eating a piece of fruit off of a tree. I can believe that humans had to evolve in order to do this, but I still do not think that "cooking is the key to human evolution". Like Justin mentioned, there is a loophole in the argument when Garner brings up the rise of the patriarchal society. garner's theory is compelling, but could benefit from some revising

Period7 Forrest Seiwald said...
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Period7 Forrest Seiwald said...

This is definitely an interesting theory that Garner has put forward, and having heard it before and mulled it over, it does seem to make at least a modicum of sense. The logic itself is sound, but I still feel that these ideas have a few flaws. It seems far too simple that just being able to cook would so drastically change our brains. I feel that this could be a part of our brain's evolution, but only a part and no more. The only part that I hadn't heard proposed before was the societal aspect and on the whole I think it is an interesting idea, but it could definitely be thought out quite a bit more.