How Humans Got So Smart

Posted on August 13, 2008  Comments (1)

Cooking and Cognition: How Humans Got So Smart

For a long time, we were pretty dumb. Humans did little but make “the same very boring stone tools for almost 2 million years,” he said. Then, only about 150,000 years ago, a different type of spurt happened — our big brains suddenly got smart. We started innovating. We tried different materials, such as bone, and invented many new tools, including needles for beadwork. Responding to, presumably, our first abstract thoughts, we started creating art and maybe even religion.

To understand what caused the cognitive spurt, Khaitovich and colleagues examined chemical brain processes known to have changed in the past 200,000 years. Comparing apes and humans, they found the most robust differences were for processes involved in energy metabolism.

The finding suggests that increased access to calories spurred our cognitive advances, said Khaitovich, carefully adding that definitive claims of causation are premature.

Nice example of scientific discovery in action. The direct link from cooking to brain development is far from proven but it is interesting. I also like “the same very boring stone tools for almost 2 million years” – maybe that is because I am too cynical (but while evolution is amazing – sometimes it is amazing how slow progress is).

Related: Brain Development Gene is Evolving the FastestMapping Where Brains Store Similar Informationposts on science and out brains

One Response to “How Humans Got So Smart”

  1. Anonymous
    August 14th, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    Wasn’t eating more meat and generally having better nutrtion the catalyst for rapid human brain growth? The August 2008 issue of Genome Biology talked about this – how improving diets 2MM around 2MM years ago, and then cooking and eating meat in hearths starting 200,000 years ago started a jump in brain size and cognitive development.

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