Friday, December 28, 2018

Catching Fire

How did our brains become so powerful relative to our primate cousins? In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Richard Wrangham explores this topic through reason and by applying archaeological evidence.

I tend to love books on human evolution, and this one was no exception. Wrangham tells a powerful, plausible story of how it was cooking that accelerated our lineage's growth, enabling us to consume more calories and at a fast pace. This freed up our ancestors' time and resources, allowing them, relative to other primates, to cover more ground (hence flatter feet for better distance, less hair so we don't overheat), defend themselves (e.g. don't need to sleep in trees to keep predators away thanks to fire), eat a more varied diet (cooking makes a lot of things edible that otherwise aren't), and even create more space in our heads for our brains (huge jaws to crush wild vegetation are no longer necessary, and take up space that bigger brains could).

Of course, the record is imperfect so I'm sure the narrative isn't perfect; some is likely downright conjecture. But it is through-provoking stuff, and that's really all I can ask for. I highly recommend the book.

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