Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Cooking Apes

I was fortunate to finally get a hold of a copy of Richard Wrangham's marvelous study in human origins, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. It's a slim volume, and a recommended read for anyone interested in accounts of how we got here that do not include talking snakes. Whereas control of fire and the "civilized" custom of eating cooked food have long been held as the innovations of a clever primate that occured after we developed our big brains, Wrangham demonstrates why, in fact, the reverse is true---our big brains and civilized nature were made possible in the first place principally by just these two uniquely human activities.

"So what is this? More 'Just So' stories from the adaptionist peanut gallery?"

Hardly. The author assembles such an array of mutually reinforcing evidence from multiple fields of study that the reader is left with an impression that the core of his thesis should have been obvious all along. By the standard that the measure of a scientific proposition is the difference between what it explains and what is required to explain it, Wrangham's cooking hypothesis ranks among the best theories we have on what kindled the rapid rise of our species from a chimp-like ancestor, and makes us so different from living apes today.

Read this book.

1 comment:

  1. I still need to get my hands on a copy of this. Good to see you back at blogging.