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Prometheus In The Kitchen
October 13, 2009 7:48 AM   Subscribe

"Good, big ideas about evolution are rare." Simon Ings of the Independent reviews "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" by Richard Wrangham. (via)
posted by The Whelk (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
But merely big ideas about evolution are all too common, especially in the popular press.
posted by DU at 7:58 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's an interview with Wrangham at EDGE.
posted by dhruva at 8:02 AM on October 13, 2009


Hmmm. . . maybe we're so hairless because all our hairy relatives burned to death in tragicomical cooking accidents?

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posted by General Tonic at 8:08 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rare is fine, as long as they are well done.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:18 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sounds like an interesting work, but it seems to follow the popular press misconception that evolution is all about us.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:19 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


> Sounds like an interesting work, but it seems to follow the popular press misconception that evolution is all about us.

What do you mean, 'us?' As far as I'm concerned, it's all about me.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:41 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not to complain about the post at all, but I thought this was a widely vaunted driver of human evolution. Process food with fire to make it more digestible - shorter gut - more energy for brain develoment - still better processing of food. Cooking and chat, the two girly drivers of human evolution.
posted by communicator at 8:45 AM on October 13, 2009


I've heard the idea before, and I don't think Wrangham's the only one arguing for it. I'll have to see if the library has a copy.
posted by echo target at 8:54 AM on October 13, 2009


I thought we invented cooking because raw Neanderthal meat was icky-tasting, but cooked...just like chicken!
posted by jamstigator at 9:33 AM on October 13, 2009


Well, I attribute the evolutionary leap from H. habilus to H. erectus to the development of sheltered sleeping enclosures. You see, with the development of private sleeping quarters, it also became possible to bargain for and engage in clandestine sex. So females were free to trade sexual intercourse with dominant males in exchange for food and protection, while at the same time indulging less physically dominant though more intelligent subordinate males on the side. Over time, H. habilus populations began to select for large craniums and big dicks at the expense of physical size and strength, leading to the gradual emergence of the now aptly dubbed h. Erectus.

My forthcoming book, Chasing Tale: How Fucking Made Us Human has the benefit of drawing upon precisely as much empirical data as that Wrangham's specious little tract.
posted by felix betachat at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I too had thought that this was old news. More recent, yes, than the time of the Sage of Down ---closer to the era of Robert Ardrey, and others, in the 1960s and 70s ---but worth considering again, perhaps, in terms of the historical development of the sexual division of labour ...cooking and food preparation during reproductive home-stays..
posted by JL Sadstone at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Well, I attribute the evolutionary leap from H. habilus to H. erectus to the development of sheltered sleeping enclosures. You see, with the development of private sleeping quarters, it also became possible to bargain for and engage in clandestine sex.

I think you're dramatically underestimating people's creativity when it comes to sex (I mean, assuming you're not entirely joking :P). Also, for people without language, sleeping around would be easy, the only person who would have to be prevented from sleeping would be the other mate. If anyone else saw, they couldn't say anything about it.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2009


Huh, I thought it was a well-established theory that cooking was one of the primary reasons for the (relatively) recent increase in brain size (and ongoing evolutionary change in the shrinking number of teeth and disappearance of wisdom teeth.) But maybe I spend too much time with anthropologists.

As the reviewer points out, a lot of this evidence is circumstantial, but there is quite a large body of evidence that supports the theory.

Book sounds interesting, though. I've never heard of the author.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:25 AM on October 13, 2009


I'll admit I haven't got all the arguments at my fingertips...but I just don't think it's credible.

His review of the anthropological literature, for instance, shows that no one, ancient or modern, settled or nomadic, has ever survived for more than a couple of seasons on an exclusively raw diet.

I can only answer with a repost

www.rawpaleoforum.com
posted by Not Supplied at 10:56 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


By coincidence I was looking at posting another item about the work of Richard Wrangham just now - so I'll put the information here in case people are interested. He is an advocate of the idea of "Human Self-domestication". There is a body of work which looks at the way in which domesticated animals are different from wild ones: there are some physical and behavioural differences which are common between species.

Domesticated animals are behaviourally less aggressive, more playful and more sexual than their wild cousins for example; physically they show more neoteny. Wrangham has argued that humans too show a lot of these domestic features when viewed alongside other higher primates - it looks like something was responsible for domesticating human kind. His argument is that we did it to ourselves - just as we did with horses, dogs, cattle, etc. We have been selectively breeding ourselves for tameness. See this recent New Scientist article.
posted by rongorongo at 1:13 PM on October 13, 2009


Self-Domestication? We were domesticated by zombie like aliens who valued our big brains as a delicacy.
posted by Tashtego at 4:13 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


DU (posted 13 Oct) is correct on the flood of "big Ideas"---But try getting attention for a "little idea" from "credentialed" folks or from the popular press. I call it "mission impossible."
posted by CDevoclast at 7:43 PM on October 18, 2009


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