Evolutionary psychology (or, as it used to be called, human sociobiology) is one of those fields within biology that approaches the fantastic. While you always have to be on guard against untested (or even untestable) speculation, it is an endless source of fascination.

On this July 4th, therefore, I submit the following for your consideration as I get ready to burn various kinds of sausages. Meredith Small (a Cornell anthropologist featured in PBS's 'Evolution' series) has a timely piece here on the possible antiquity of barbecue as a human social activity. Drawing upon the work of anthropologists Katharine Milton (UC Berkeley) and Richard Wrangham, (Harvard), she argues that the move to cooked meat may have facilitated the growth of the brain in ancestral human populations.

Well, I don't know about that. There are lots of reasons why cultures have come to prefer cooked meat over steak tartare, not the least of which is that it prevents disease. I kind of doubt that what I do today is going to promote any personal brain growth. * The best I can hope it doesn't grow the rest of me, either. But, ya know, it is a holiday and it's kind of charming to think that our rituals might go back farther than we think....

* Remember: Individuals don't evolve, populations do!

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