Archive | March, 2013

Hey, look at this post!

27 Mar

Did the title draw your attention to the words I’m writing now? Maybe, maybe not. It would be much easier if we were talking in person because then I could use all sorts of facial expressions, gestures, and subtle changes in tone to convey my meaning 🙂 (See how the smiley emoticon changes the “tone” of the words that precede it?)

Hand gestures and other types of nonverbal cues are a huge part of human communication. If I had to choose humanity’s most significant digit, I would choose our magnificent opposable thumbs. These, combined with our even more magnificent brains, have allowed us to manipulate our environment and transform the world around us. So I like to exclaim that “thumbs make us human!” or “brains make us human!” or “culture/language makes us human!” Undoubtedly, these things set us apart from other species, but recent research by scholars at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology argue that pointing with the index finger also makes us human. Our opposable thumbs are only “opposable” when working in conjunction with the underrated index finger – so show this finger some respect!

Slate.com has a nice summary article about the significance of pointing among developing infants. One highlight:

“A group of psychologists there [Max Planck] have documented that infants, beginning at around 1 year of age, point and react to other people pointing in remarkably sophisticated ways. Babies point to refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that are no longer there [JF: referred to as displacement in linguistic studies]. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else. These may just be the talents out of which humans managed to assemble minor things like culture and language.”

Check out Nicholas Day’s “How Pointing Makes Babies Human” to learn more. Enjoy!

Is The Paleo Diet “Paleofantasy”?

11 Mar

You might have noticed that I really like to ask rhetorical questions…and then answer them! But the title of this post is a genuine question. I honestly don’t know enough about the so-called “Paleo Diet” to comment on it, though I do tend to be wary of all things “trendy” – especially when anthropological knowledge is used to support/justify them.

The facts are: for the vast majority of our history and prehistory (prior to about 10,ooo years ago), humans didn’t rely on domesticated plants and animals as staple foods because we hadn’t created them yet.

Some have argued that a Paleo Diet (presumably one that tries to approximate a pre-Agricultural Revolution diet?) would be healthier for us. Sorry to be so vague, but I have not yet read The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat, written by Dr. Loren Cordain (Ph.D. Exercise Physiology).

A counterpoint book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live, by Dr. Marlene Zuk (Ph.D. Evolutionary Ecology) will be published next week. In the meantime, check out a summary of the debate here.

As someone with a background in evolutionary ecology, I’m initially biased toward Paleofantasy, but admittedly have much to learn, and plan to read both books as a starting point in my education on this subject. Regardless, I’m just happy to see prehistoric human subsistence getting media coverage.  Any readers familiar with the Paleo Diet and arguments for and against it? If so, please comment below!