Via UncommonDescent, a new hypothesis about human intelligence is generally wiser and more ‘non-partisan’ than the usual Darwin crap. The article acknowledges that brain size is not the major variable, but still clings to the energy-consumption model. The discovery of fire made us smarter because cooked food is easier to digest.
First, easier digestion DOES NOT MEAN better nutrition. Our digestive system requires COMPLEX food, and cooking does part of the work that the gut is meant to do.
Second, fire does seem to be the uniquely human tool. Birds and a few mammals can make and invent physical tools for prying and digging, but nobody else uses fire in an intentional way.
I don’t think fire is the ‘base vector’. I think fermentation is the base skill, and we figured out heat and then fire BECAUSE we knew how to ferment.
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We generally assume that humans picked up the idea of fire from BIG lightning-caused wildfires. Good old Guk and Ik wandered BAREFOOT through the BURNED savannah, smelled the cooked sabertooth tiger, sampled it, and then figured out how to “store” fire. The “storing” is the hard part. Guk picks up a branch that’s still burning and takes it home. Guk says to Ik: “Hmp. Me like hot sabertooth. Me makeum TEDX clip. Show other tribe how makeum hot sabertooth.”
Wouldn’t it make more sense if we learned cooking as part of fermentation? We were definitely fermenting stuff from the start. Fermenting grain can EASILY get hot enough to spontaneously combust. It’s a serious problem in grain elevators.
What do you have then? It’s ALREADY food, already in the context of preservation, and it’s a controlled smolder in the food itself. To remake the fire, you don’t need to wait for a thunderstorm. In any season, just reproduce the way you fermented the barley. Same size of pile on same stone: presto!
Now add another step:
Here Guk has placed a strip of Sabertooth meat on the fermenting barley. What happens? The fat melts down into the barley, and the top layer of barley fries and solidifies.
What do you have then? SANDWICH. And if Guk uses the stick to turn the Sabersteak over for more complete heating, the barley will grease up and fry up on all sides of the Sabersteak.
What do you have then? Pita or pierogi or pasty. The universal meat-inside-frybread envelope with universal lip-smacking bilabial name.
So I’d argue that barley gave us everything that makes us human. Fire, beer, bread, pita, money, measurements. All from barley.
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