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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meat and Brainpower

I like to watch a lot of documentaries, and I like to talk a fair amount of philosophy. Conjecture, theory, logic, all make for great and interesting conversations. More interesting than most any other form of conversation, in my opinion.

I have seen documentaries that allege that mankind's brain got larger after he started eating meat; apparently the concentrated protein is necessary for the development of larger brains. Without eating meat, we'd all have remained forever living in trees or caves, unable to make fire or use tools. No boomerangs, even.

Now, then again, I had a very interesting talk with a friend of mine who refutes this logic. Of course, the argument went (and I agree with this part), there's no way that we might be able to tell that mankind's brain grew before eating meat, or after. Like I say: we can agree to this part. It could be, on the one hand, that some hominid somewhere started eating meat, and his or her offspring came along a bit smarter, as did the next generation and thereafter again.

OR, so my friend is thinking, eating meat required skills that we hadn't had before (ie: hunting, breaking open bones, spooning chili on the bun, and such). Our brains began to get larger because we had started to figure out how to obtain meat. Exercising one's brain leads to larger, more well developed brains.

I have a slightly different thought. I'm not all together convinced that eating meat has anything to do with whether our brains grew large or not. I think this because if we accept the premise that eating meat or catching meat has anything to do with the size of our brains, and we couldn't have gotten these large brains without either eating or catching meat, well, I would think that sharks and alligators would be ruling the world right now.

These critters have been roaming this world since long before the dinosaurs...well over 200 Million years (according to birth certificates)...eating nothing but meat and license plates. In fact sharks? Sharks have been eating nothing but fish, which (they tell me) is brain food.

I'm thinking that some other evolutionary pressure generated the big brains. Of course, I *could* be wrong, as I don't think that I've burned through my quota of wrong today.


  1. Our brains did grow as a result of eating meat. I know this because, as a result of becoming a vegatarian, my brain shrunk down to the size of a pebble. The men I have dated recently are all vegans. Their brains were even smaller still.

  2. Not sure. Not sure at all and as a vegetarian I would like to refute it out of hand. Even on land there have been tigers. lions and other big cats around at least as long and probably longer than we have. For me, the jury is still out.

  3. Well, if we had huge snouts with sharp teeth at our disposal, we wouldn't have needed to get smarter about things. Hence, it has not been necessary for alligators and sharks to evolve significantly. I reckon the fact that we were (are) physically useless and unequipped to survive and compete among fierce predators, forced us to evolve intellectually. (Some of us, at least.) Hmmm!

  4. If I was REALLY smart I'd live in a zoo and have all my needs taken care of for the low low cost of letting others watch me cook my dinner and eat it. I think CarrieBoo has it....if we didn't develop our brains early on there would be no us right now.

  5. I don't think I agree with the idea that we couldn't have obtained meat without the bigger brains. There are lots of critters that make a living off of eating carrion. I'd imagine if it was simply protein that was the benefit of meat, bugs would have been just as good a source. (Though, I'm not expert, so I could be wrong).

    As far as the sharks thing, I believe we evolve according to what we need to survive. Sharks get to eat lots of fish cause no one messes with them. They're not worried about being eaten themselves, once they're at a certain size, so they have no real need to create tools. They just swim around and eat. They don't need to hide, they don't need cunning, etc. They're pretty much at the pinnacle of their evolution, thus they haven't changed much over the last umpteen million years.

    The human, I bet, grew the bigger brain because that was his (or her) best bet for survival. Among the living things at the time, humans were not necessarily big, strong, fast, etc. It would have been a much longer evolutionary road to become stronger than the mammoths, or faster than the big cats, so we became smarter, likely because those who tried to become faster or smarter became examples of what NOT to do.

  6. I think we developed enormous brains due to standing on two legs. We weren't bumping our brains into as many things as we used to when we were running headlong into trees while running away from Giant Prehistoric Porcupines. Either that or because we had to think up better ways to get sex from the women whose brains got bigger earlier and who had been fooling us with lies about having to wash their hair Saturday night. Then again, it could have been in order to read baseball box scores. Or, now that I think of it, it might have had more to do with all the carnivorous animals deciding that those of us with little teeny brains were more toothsome delicacies, but that doesn't explain why Paris Hilton hasn't been eaten by a lion.

  7. Awesome commentary! Nellie, you need to go to a steakhouse, apparently, but be careful: the men *might* think, but they might well be meatheads. :)

    Looks like time to a new post on men and their meat...uh...men eating meat. No, wait...*humans* and the consumption of animal flesh :)

  8. You just inspired a new blog post Mr. SarcasticTestGuy: http://livelikedirt.blogspot.ca/2012/04/how-to-grow-human-brain-evolutionarily.html