November 19, 2010

Interesting book...

Charlene and I both enjoyed the book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham. His thesis is that the ability to make fires and cook food was a far larger factor in human evolution than has been supposed. Specifically, it was cookery that caused the jump from Homo habilis to the much larger-brained and more modern Homo erectus.

Today chimps and apes spend a large part of their time and energy just in chewing raw food. And a lot of their internal energy in digesting it. In fact chimps will often discard energy-rich meat because the chewing is just too frustrating. Cooked food is much more chewable and digestible, and can be eaten quickly. Brains make enormous energy demands on the body—your brain is about 3% of your weight and uses about 20% of your energy. Cooked food made possible a smaller gut, and that made energy available for larger brain of erectus.

The author also argues that fire allowed early humans to safely sleep on the ground, rather than in trees as chimps do. This allowed us to evolve away from tree-climbing towards being better walkers and runners. And warmth at night let us do away with fur, and so we became able to be long-distance runners, without over-heating.

And the entirety of our social life was changed, to revolve around the hearth and food cooked by wives for husbands and families. For all other primates food gathering and eating is mostly an individual activity.

Posted by John Weidner at November 19, 2010 8:29 PM
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