How Cooking Made Us Human with Professor Richard Wrangham

Humans are the only animals that cook their food. One of the implications of cooking food, as noted by Oliver Goldsmith is, “of all other animals we spend the least time in eating”. In a ground-breaking theory of our origins, primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that the shift from raw to cooked food was a key factor in human development. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity as we know it, began. Wrangham notes that as a result of eating cooked food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Eating cooked plants or meat makes digestion easier and the energy we formerly spent on digestion was freed up, enabling our brains to grow. Cooking increases the proportion of nutrients that can be digested, makes food easier to digest and kills pathogens (harmful bacteria and viruses). Time once spent chewing tough food could be used instead to hunt and undertake other tasks and activities. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created household and shaped family structures, and even led to a gender based division of labour.

Richard Wrangham is a professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and founded the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in 1987. He has conducted extensive research on primate ecology, nutrition, and social behaviour. In his book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” Wrangham argues that cooking food is obligatory for humans as a result of biological adaptations and the cooking, in particular, the consumption of cooked food might explain the increase in human brain size, smaller teeth and jaws, and smaller more effective digestive system. Wrangham’s “Catching Fire” presents an interesting narrative that how we came to be the social and intelligent beings that we are today.

“Cooking was a great discovery not merely because it gave us better food, or even because it made us physically human. It did something even more important: it helped make our brains uniquely large, providing a dull human body with a brilliant human mind” – Richard Wrangham

Complement this with slightly different but equally interesting discussion “Robots, Artificial Life and Technology Imagined by the Ancients” with Adrienne Mayer.

By |July 20th, 2019|History, Knowledge, Podcasts|

Spitzer Space Telescope: Discovering “More Things in the Heavens” with NASA’s Spitzer Project Scientist Michael Werner

Since 2003, in a unique Earth-trailing orbit around the Sun, the Spitzer Space Telescope has been observing in infrared an optically invisible universe dominated by dust and stars. Astronomers have been studying visible universe for thousands of years; however due to interstellar dust clouds and other obstructions to visible light, it was not possible to observe various regions of the universe. The Spitzer Space Telescope, the most sensitive infrared space observatory ever launched, has enabled us to study such optically obscure regions and processes in infrared. “The Spitzer Space Telescope has opened up a new window on the cosmos, yielding new perspectives and crucial insights into the genesis of planets, stars and galaxies”.

Michael Werner and Peter Eisenhardt are among the scientists who worked for decades to bring this historic mission to life. Their book “More Things in the Heavens: How infrared astronomy is expanding our view of the universe” outlines an inside story of how Spitzer continues to carry out cutting-edge infrared astronomy to help answer fundamental questions that have intrigued humankind since ancient time: Where did we come from? How did the universe evolve? Are we alone? In this episode of Bridging the Gaps podcast, I speak with Michael Werner, one of the authors of this insightful book. Discussing various features of Spitzer’s mission and numerous topics covered in the book, this podcast presents a fascinating view of how infrared astronomy is aiding the search for exoplanets, enabling us to study exoplanet atmospheres, and is transforming our understanding of formation of stars and galaxies, and of the history and evolution of our universe.

Michael Werner is a senior research scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He has been the lead scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope since 1984.

By |July 2nd, 2019|Uncategorized|