Meat Eating Combined with Running Makes You Smarter?

Well, not exactly. But according to Harvard scientist Dan Lieberman, it was a big factor in making  you smart in the first place. Here’s his syllogism:

  • Starting about two million years ago, our ancestors’s ever increasing ability to run long distances gave them broader access to high quality sources of protein (that is, game meat); and
  • meat eating accelerates a species’s brain growth; therefore
  • all this high quality meat-eating helped to “big brain” us (assisted the evolution of our large brains)

Got it? Good! 

Oh, and does this mean that vegetarianism (like, say, frequenting art museums) is a luxury—a boutique lifestyle born of advancing civilization—and that vegetarian practice in our earliest ancestors would have, in fact, consigned our species to the status of fruit-eating chimpanzees (in terms of brain power)?

It appears so.

This fact strikes me as a rather curious (and even stunning) illustration of contingency. You can’t possibly know, in the long run (pun intended), and often not even in the short run, what the consequences of your actions, however moral you imagine them, are likely to be. Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, plays on this truth. The lead character acts like Jesus and at every turn messes up people’s lives in his “do-goodery.” And Kant said that since we cannot know the consequences of our actions, we may as well just do the “right thing” as opposed to the “wrong thing.”

But in terms of today, and with regard to vegetarianism, what’s the right thing? Welcome to the dilemmas and fogs of our human existence. What should we eat now, Mr. Long Distance Running Smarty Man?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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