Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cooking and Human Evolution

Last night, my wife, daughter and I watched the second installment of the superb PBS documentary "Becoming Human" about human evolution. It focused on Homo erectus, the first human ancestor that resembled modern man.

One key leap forward, according the program, was cooking food, especially meat. This allowed homo erectus to have a shorter digestive system so he could more easily take in the huge amount of calories he needed to function and survive. In discussing this development, the program suggests that sharing a meal around a campfire was key to development of one of humanity's defining characteristics, our intensely social nature. In essence, cooking helped make us human.

It's an interesting theory with the ring of truth. What is more social than a shared meal? The dinner table is where friendships, marriages, families are often born and certainly nurtured and strengthened. When a young man or woman is serious about a member of the opposite sex, they bring them home for dinner. Our most important holidays, Christmas Passover, Thanksgiving, center on shared meals.

An interesting aside: In searching for the "Becoming Human" website, I typed "Evolution" into Google. The first hit was the site for a multi-part PBS series done in 2001. The next five were articles or sites attacking the series and the science of evolution, including an interminably long article on World Net Daily, the lunatic website that claims the president was born in Kenya and commie Nazi aliens are threatening to eat Glenn Beck's brain (Wait, they already have).


No such hits appeared on the same page as PBS' "Becoming Human." I will venture cautious optimism and take this as a sign the anti-science lunacy of recent years is perhaps waning somewhat.

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