Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Evolutionarily Backward Community (പരിണാമ പിന്നോക്ക സമുദായം)!

 ബസില്‍ നിന്നും ബ്ലോഗിലേക്ക്   ----------------------------------------------- Here is a link to an interesting comment by Dileep Kumar appeared in this Buzz


The comment is based on an NY times article by Prof. Jonathan Heidt as well as based on his Moral Foundation Theory


I thought it was an interesting article. The main point relevant to food habit which is my sole interest in this article is quoted below from the article. ___________________________________________
Prof. Jonathan Heidt on evolution of Disgust:

"The emotion of disgust probably evolved when people became meat eaters and had to learn which foods might be contaminated with bacteria, a problem not presented by plant foods. Disgust was then extended to many other categories, he argues, to people who were unclean, to unacceptable sexual practices and to a wide class of bodily functions and behaviors that were seen as separating humans from animals"

Prof. Heidt's argument about evolution of disgust is very interesting and warrants a closer examination. As you can see, it is primarily based on three assumptions of probabilities.

1. He is stating that at some point, early meat eaters (ancient human beings) knew about "bacterial contamination" of food which is a factually incorrect assumption.
2. He is stating that ancient meat eaters could distinguish between "Bacterially contaminated" and uncontaminated food. Again, factually incorrect assumption.
3. He further states that ancient meat eaters knew that plant food was not contaminated with bacteria. Again, not correct as you can find out by reading about the discovery of bacteria.

The knowledge about bacteria, it's presence in food as a contaminant as well as it's discovery as causative agents of human diseases comes from modern scientific studies starting from the 17th century. I am tempted to think that microbiology or it's history is not Prof. Heidt's forte. Otherwise, Prof. Heidt would have been familiar with the works of a dutch gentleman called Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, a fabric merchant turned scientist, the very first man on earth to see and introduce this incredibly tiny creature called bacteria, to the world. Even more ironic is the fact that Bacteria was discovered while studying the taste of Pepper. Yes you read that right, Pepper, the very plant food Prof. Heidt says the ancient humans considered bacteria free. As it turned out, Leeuwenhoek was interested in studying what made the pepper taste "potent". Armed with the then world's most powerful microscope (which he invented) he set out to take a closer "look" at this hot plant food. He placed a pepper in water and left it in his office. His rationale was that the soaking in water will make the pepper soft so that he can observe it under his microscope. About 3 weeks later, on October 24, 1676, he examined his pepper preparation under the microscope and with "great wonder" observed several kinds of microorganisms, including what is now called bacteria [D. Bardell, Microbiological Reviews p121-126, March1982]. I must also add that Leeuwenhoek had already seen and described Protozoa from his previous examinations. Well, there goes Prof. Heidt's assumption about plant food not presenting the problem of bacterial contamination!

Coming back to the ancient meat eater's disgust based on "bacterial food contamination", there is no way that ancient meat eaters would have known about "bacteria" let alone identifying it as a causative agent of food contamination. Prof. Heidt is cleverly putting this modern scientific knowledge right into the ancient human being's brain to lend modernity and authenticity to his argument. Ring any bell? This sophisticated and seemingly harmless methodology of "conveniently placing modern knowledge into ancient human brain" is not unheard of among those familiar with evolutionary psychology and religious fundamentalism. We could call it as the "thinking for the ancients by the moderns, for the moderns and off the moderns" phenomena. This is exactly the methodology followed by current crop of religious fundamentalists who claim that many of the modern scientific discoveries can be found in their religious texts. This is exactly what Maurice Bucaille applied when he told his Patient Royale, the King of Saudi about Koran being the most scientifically accurate religious text in the world.

Let's assume for a moment that we accept Prof.Heidt's argument of evolution of disgust based on bacterial contamination of food. For all practical purposes let us also assume that what Prof.Heidt actually meant was this: ancient meat eaters probably figured out that eating raw meat is not very good for them. A very fair assumption indeed considering the conditions prevailed at that time. In addition, if he is implying that meat eaters developed "disgust" from the 17th century onwards (may be a Post-Leeuwenhoek Disgust), I must say he has a fair point there as well. Regardless, let us assume that they developed a form of disgust to avoid the harmful food stuff and took a compete U-turn to become meat abhorring Vegetarians.

Well, what follows next, is that those modern human beings who still carries this ancient form of "disgust towards bacterially contaminated food" are the dumbest and probably the least adapted among the current population. Modern human beings learned that bacterial contamination of food can be easily dealt with by proper cooking of the food. Acquiring of this crucial knowledge about successfully tackling a food related issue critical to human survival should have lead to better cognitive adaptation responses. That is exactly what happened to majority of human beings who became fast learners and adapted to be better Non Vegetarians. However, this is not the case with a certain group of Vegetarians. In fact, we see the continuation of the exact same cognitive behavior of "avoidance due to ancient disgust" across generations among this particular group. It is as though, they are continuing their journey toward ancient times ever since they took the U-turn. The lame, "survival advantage to leave more off-springs" theory also falls flat at the face of the overwhelming majority of Non Vegetarian off-springs roaming in the world.

Despite constantly learning about its irrelevance in the current context (peer pressure) these people cling to this particular ancient baggage of food related disgust, not capable of developing adaptive responses to overcome it. In short, they can be considered an absolute failure when it comes to food adaptation and presents a sorry excuse to the remarkable plasticity and adaptability of human brain.

All being said, I kind of like Prof.Heidt's theory which clearly implies that these religiously adamant vegetarians are way behind other human beings in cognitive food adaptation responses. In fact, collectively they could be classified as an "Evolutionarily Backward Community (EBC)"!

My fellow Non Vegetarians, let us not turn our back on these fellow citizens as they have done to others when they took the U-turn. Let us all come together to lend our helping hands to these EBC's for their "cognitive upliftment" towards a healthy and balanced non vegetarian diet!

വീണ്ടും സന്ദര്‍ഭം:http://www.google.com/buzz/103095004833883353070/V7RtTYg8PHk#1299237179188000
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