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The Paleo Diet For Australopithecines: Approaching The Meat Of The Matter (Big Brains Require An Explanation, Part IV)
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March 1, 2012
3:17 pm
Dave Sill
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Interesting, thanks, J!

Regarding:

Eat sparingly:

Fruit (your tooth enamel won’t withstand the acids)
Foliage (your teeth aren’t shaped correctly for leaf-chewing)

It seems unlikely that they'd have avoided fruit because they knew it wasn't good for their teeth. If it was available and palatable, they'd surely have eaten it, no?

Likewise for foliage, if it was edible, they'd have eaten it--at least as much as their teeth would allow.

You don't seriously suggest that avoiding fruit was cultural knowledge passed from generation to generation, do you?

March 1, 2012
3:19 pm
Uncephalized
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@Dave Sill, more likely that it just wasn't as available, so they ate sparingly of it out of availability, therefore their teeth lost the adaptations necessary to support high fruit consumption.

March 1, 2012
5:39 pm
Juan
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Dear JS,
Are you really wondering if we, the restless followers of your great work, are enjoying this series? If it helps you sleep at night I´m here to say thank you for this mind-shocking, soul-warming piece of scientific-yet-incredibly-novelesque reading.
Please, PLEASE never stop writing.
Sincereley,
Juan
PS: PFMPIE (Please Forgive My Probably Imperfect English)
🙂

March 1, 2012
5:43 pm
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Samantha:

I appreciate the support.

Uncephalized:

As far as I know, the terrain was more "forest" than "swamp".

The problem with babies and the bipedal transition is that baby monkeys hang onto their mothers with their hands and feet.  Once you lose the opposable toes, you can't hang on nearly as well, so your mother has to carry you in her hands more often.

Of course, the idea is that you're spending more time on the ground and less up trees, or you wouldn't be losing the opposable toes!

JS

March 1, 2012
6:30 pm
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Dave:

Uncephalized answered that one for me.  As they moved out of a fruit-heavy environment, there was less selection pressure for tooth enamel that withstood fruit acids.  "Use it or lose it" applies in evolutionary time, too: any adaptation that doesn't get used tends to disappear or become non-functional.

Uncephalized:

Exactly!  If my other readers have the same grasp of the concept as you do, I consider my work in Part I to be a success.

Juan:

I'm honored, and I'm glad I could bring part of our ancestors' history to life for you.

Everyone:

Your comments are greatly encouraging.  What with all the arguments, mud-throwing, confusion, and zombie-like resurrection of debunked papers and failed hypotheses going on right now (see my article from last year in which I debunked the "boiled potatoes are the most satiating food in the universe!1!11!!" paper that's shambling its way through the blogosphere right now), I'm glad that my readers still enjoy calm, patient exploration of scientific fact.  While I still love everyone involved, eating a couple potatoes is NOT a political act on par with MLK's "I Have A Dream", and does not require the invocation of "food reward" to explain its metabolic effects.

Thanks again to all of you here at gnolls.org for keeping the discussion here on a higher level, both of intellect and of civility.

JS

March 1, 2012
9:40 pm
Fmgd
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Just chiming in to say it's normal that this kind of article has less of a discussion going, since they're mainly stating facts, and that that's by far not a bad thing. Scientific divulgation rarelly gets the treatment it deserves.

Btw, since you mentioned, do you plan on going back into "why are you hungry" after this?

March 2, 2012
12:22 am
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Fmgd:

You're right: I'm not issuing a lot of opinions for people to argue about -- and that's the point.  I'm trying to forestall those arguments.

I'll definitely come back to "Why Are We Hungry?", but I won't commit to a firm date.

JS

March 2, 2012
3:54 am
Neal Matheson
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As a "thinny", as someone more interested in the paleolithic than modern paleo diets, as someone interested in eating like a human and dare I say it? as a European. I can't believe that fatness/thiness is still being used as THE health marker in the "potatoes or not" discussions.

March 2, 2012
3:58 am
Neal Matheson
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in addition, oatmeal more satiating than eggs?? Porridge (to give the stuff it's proper name)has got to be the least satiating food of all time!

March 2, 2012
5:06 am
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"I’m glad that my readers still enjoy calm, patient exploration of scientific fact."

That's why I keep coming back to Gnolls. It is an oasis of thoughtfulness and calm. (Heated) debate is good, and some of the fiery debates currently raging in the paleosphere are necessary to move us forward, but sometimes I struggle with the signal to noise ratio.

That is NEVER a problem here.

March 2, 2012
12:36 pm
christopher
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I think that potatoes are quite satiating... per calorie and eating nothing but potatoes
Its difficult to overeat even if you want. But if you want to reach your 20 potatoes, you have to "graze". You can't gorge, you need to keep eating all the potatoes you can and wait one or two hours to graze again.

But, c'mon! who would like to eat like that? only Chris Voigt
You will loose weight
You could throw some offal and a little animal fat because it's daunting to eat 20 potatoes per day. You also will loose weight. The potatoes also have good micronutrients. But offals are the kings.
You will heal your metabolism and loose fat. With the offal and fats, you will also like it
But there are other ways to loose fat. And those wich aren't overweight don't need to loose fat.
If I were overweight I probably try the potatoes thing. I mean, potatoes appears to be a good food to control appetite.
Potatoes is a good staple food. Excellent food. But also animal fats. And offal (in moderation, you don't want to end with hipervitaminosis A)
I like the animal foods more, but I also like potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.

March 2, 2012
6:39 pm
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Neal:

That's an artifact of individual bloggers' personal struggles.  People generally don't make huge dietary changes without massive health problems to force them into it -- and in America, obesity and its consequences are by far the most common.

I'm glad you can easily see why that "satiety" study is bunk.  Frankly, anyone who cites it as serious science either didn't read it, didn't understand it, doesn't understand the scientific definition of "satiety", or has an ulterior motive that is not scientific at all.  (Or some combination of these.)

(Note: I forgive the community for seizing on it, because the fulltext isn't free.)

Asclepius:

You're a big reason why gnolls.org remains "an oasis of thoughtfulness and calm".  (As are my other frequent commenters.)  It only takes a couple hotheads to light a place on fire.

christopher:

I'm not anti-potato by any means...I have a bag in my kitchen!  Unlike most starches, they contain some useful nutrients, and the common varieties are very low in antinutrients so long as you peel them...I don't buy the "sweet potatoes only" hype.

However, let's be clear: plain boiled potatoes aren't necessarily satiating...they're just bland and gross, which is to say they have low hedonic impact, which is to say that we don't "like" plain boiled potatoes very much.  Since they're so bland and gross, it takes very little satiation to make us stop eating them. 

The trouble, of course, is as you noted: you have to keep grazing on them throughout the day, because you haven't actually been eating much and your body needs the energy.  Stated in scientific terms, "Palatability affects satiation but not satiety" -- the title of a study I cite in Part VII of "Why Are We Hungry?"

And that's why eating foods low in hedonic impact (called "low-reward" foods by those unfamiliar with the science), like boiled potatoes, doesn't necessarily solve your dietary issues: if you eat less food because food is disgusting, you'll just get hungry again more quickly.  Satiety is only produced by nutrients. 

Clear?

JS

March 2, 2012
10:49 pm
sonny
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I love your blog JS. I was just wondering what your academic background is- are you a specialist or a generalist in academe?
I'm really looking forward to your upcoming articles in this series. One thing that confuses me is that of the Neanderthals. They were bigger, stronger, presumably consumed a diet very heavily meat based (esp large terrestrial ruminants) and most importantly had larger cranial capacities. Why did they become extinct? Are they not more in tune w the gnoll credo than homo sapiens?

March 2, 2012
10:59 pm
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sonny:

We're a long way in time from the Neandertals just yet!

No one is sure why they died out.  However, I'm quite sure they didn't just passively expire and cede their territory to Homo sapiens sapiens...I believe there would have been quite a bit of direct conflict, with our ancestors the eventual winner.  And since the Neandertals were substantially stronger, more physically capable, and had larger brains than humans, I believe the advantage had to be technological in nature.

I'm an academic generalist -- one of the few remaining polymaths in a world of increasing specialization.  (I've taken anthro and paleo courses, but neither was my degree field, and we certainly didn't cover this era in such detail.  Furthermore, many of these important fossil finds only went public in the last few years, and postdate my classes in the subject!)

JS

March 3, 2012
1:07 am
Neal Matheson
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Hey sonny, I don't want to steal JS's thunder, H.neanderthal was quite a bit shorter than H.sapiens but yes probably much stronger and more robust. They seem ot have eaten a broadly similar diet to H.sapiens too.
They dissapear at a time of greatly increasing cold and deforestation. Depends who you ask but it would appear that "we" were better able to deal with changing circumstances.

March 3, 2012
8:03 am
sonny
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I think I may have found the answer to my own question, I did a bit of googling and found this article from BBC Feb.27-"DNA reveals Neanderthal extinction clues"
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17179608

Very interesting, they're saying that most of the Neanderthals died out BEFORE Homo Sapiens arrived in their environment. When sapiens did arrive, the Neandertals' population size and diversity were v much diminished (less diversity than present day Iceland!) I guess this means they could've easily been either absorbed or killed off by sapiens. Heck, even a new pathogen imported by sapiens could've killed them off.
Its like a territory w 10 grizzlies and 5000 black bears. Yeah, the grizzlies are superior predators, but in a v short time they're going to be wiped out/absorbed.

So, I guess the most parsimonious explanation would preclude a technological advantage by sapiens. ie: they were probably superior to us, and it was just dumb luck that allowed us to survive and not them.
-----
Whatever neanderthal genes were admixed into 'european' DNA was most likely a fortunate event and may have even (partially) laid the foundations for future civilization.

March 3, 2012
12:11 pm
Uncephalized
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"Uncephalized:

Exactly! If my other readers have the same grasp of the concept as you do, I consider my work in Part I to be a success

Well, I can't give you credit for my grasp of evolution and natural selection, though you do write about them well. I had to read a lot of Dawkins to achieve the level of intuitive fluency with the ideas that I enjoy now--although "had to" is not really the best way to phrase it as I thoroughly enjoyed every book!

If anyone has trouble with understanding how evolution and natural selection work at the fundamental level, I can't recommend anything more highly than reading The Selfish Gene, and then probably reading it again. That book is a life-changer (not unlike The Gnoll Credo!).

March 3, 2012
12:14 pm
Uncephalized
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Oops, missed closing a tag and a quote above I guess. The first two paragraphs were meant to be quoted and italicized.

March 3, 2012
3:18 pm
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Neal:

The narrative keeps changing as we find more data, which is why I clearly mark my opinions as speculation.  Their diet seems to be more strongly carnivorous, which coupled with greater weight would imply a lower population density.  And since the Neandertals had been in Europe for several hundred thousand years, i.e. more than one ice age, I'm not sure that climate change explains everything.

sonny:

That's a great study (and it just came out!), but it only covers Western European populations.  Remember that Neandertals ranged all the way down into the Middle East.  It's entirely possible that when humans finally broke through the Middle Eastern population, that the Western European population had already been depleted and was eliminated relatively quickly.  And I find it interesting that the last traces of their occupation are all the way out on Gibraltar...that's not a pattern of climactic extinction, it's a pattern of being eliminated by H. sapiens spreading from Africa through the Middle East.

Again, I'm a bit skeptical about attributing the population bottleneck purely to climate change, as the Neandertals had already survived one Ice Age in Europe.  But it's certainly possible, and these are fascinating questions to think about even if we can't definitively answer them.

Uncephalized:

Yes!  I agree that The Selfish Gene is Dawkins' most important work, with The Extended Phenotype a close second (note: it's tough going, and should be read after The Selfish Gene).  However, many people will be best served by starting with The Blind Watchmaker so they're well-grounded in evolutionary theory before going into its deeper consequences.

I also agree with you that they're important and life-changing works.  Furthermore, I strongly believe that a gut-level understanding of natural selection is necessary to understanding anything about human behavior, animal behavior, or the world in general.

Thank you for the implied compliment!  If my impact on you ranks anywhere near Richard Dawkins, that's a great honor.

JS

March 4, 2012
8:59 am
Paleophil
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JS, Nice summary. Thanks for providing one of the few, and one of the better, counterpoints to Wrangham's cooked-tuber hypothesis of brain growth in the nonraw Paleosphere. Too many folks in the Paleosphere seem to read a few snippets of Wrangham's views and quickly embrace them, perhaps because they perceive his model as supporting what they want to do ("Hooray! I can eat all the cooked food I want, including french fries and crispy fried bacon, because cooking is what gave us big brains!"), ignoring the counter-evidence.

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