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Strange Herring Strikes Again

Over at Strange Herring, Anthony Sacramone gives us an hilarious send up of the latest evolutionary idiocy:

I knew it!

Researchers, looking into obesity, discovered that fatty foods not only send feelings of fullness to the brain but they also trigger a process that consolidates long term memories.

It believed that this is an evolutionary tool that enabled our distant ancestors to remember where rich sources of food were located.

Now they hope to develop drugs which mimic the effect of fat rich foods in order to boost memory in those suffering from brain disorders or who need to cement facts in their brain.

I believe every word of this. BECAUSE IT’S SCIENCE. And if science says a bacon doublecheeseburger will make you smarter, then who are you to question?

It all makes sense now: Why is it I can never remember where I left my keys but I ALWAYS remember where Phat Burger is? It’s evolution!

When Og and Mrs. Og wanted a quick, satisfying dinner, do you think they had all day to run around trying to find the closest Domino’s, what with all the brontosauri marching about?

Now, what is the evolutionary imperative for dark-chocolate M&Ms?

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43 Responses to Strange Herring Strikes Again

  1. Barry, thanks,

    The basic problem with all evolutionary psychology is – as I was recently trying to explain to a Scottish TV producer, with what success I do not know – is that it is a discipline without a subject.

    If we could somehow bring back to life a real Old Stone Age human community -and communicate with them and interview them – we might have a basis for all this evo psycho stuff.

    Apart from that, it is all just speculative nonsense, really.

    I could just as easily construct a just-so story for why humans are attracted to a lean diet as for why they are attracted to a fat one.

    If I messed around in the brain long enough, I would discover support for my view. The brain is more like an ocean than like a machine, so there is bound to be support for my view somewhere in there.

    The main thing is, from the moment we became humans and not animals – however it happened – everything changed for us.

    We will find such answers as we find, in real time today, not in the distant past.

    That is what makes “evolutionary psychology” a waste of time.

  2. Just to clarify, everything after “evolutionary idiocy” was written on Sacramone’s blog, not by Barry Arrington.

    Barry appears to be above using ALL CAPS and mischaracterizing research (“a bacon doublecheeseburger will make you smarter”? Really?) to make his points.

  3. By concentrating on the “evolution” aspect to the story, Barry and O’Leary throw the baby out with the bath water. Studies of traditional diets show that our ancestors probably did eat more fat than we do today. The high-quality fat they ate (much of it saturated!) came from the real thing: butter, eggs, yogurt, meat, etc. Our politically correct, low-fat diets could, indeed, be a factor in memory loss and other brain disorders.

  4. My own non-evolutionary hypothesis on many memory related brain disorders is anti stink paste.

    That’s right ladies and gents. All that aluminum based deodorant being pasted to your arm pits – right near main arteries and such, day after day, year after year… Sooner or later yer brain’s gonna grab some and mess up.

    Well gee that wasn’t hard.

    The real evolutionary part is why do humans want to rid themselves of smelly sweat? Is it love? Is it the nose too close for comfort? Is it to keep friends, find mates and spread your genes?

    And the question is if natural stink alienates potential gene spread partners why hasn’t selection removed it?

    Only you evolutionary psychologist can think up the ‘true’ Darwinally(?) correct fairy tale!
    ;-)

  5. @3

    Our politically correct, low-fat diets could, indeed, be a factor in memory loss and other brain disorders.

    No wonder Darwinian theory the consequent social implications are so prevalent in society!

    =P

    (That was a joke, *badum bum tschhhh*)

  6. The real evolutionary part is why do humans want to rid themselves of smelly sweat? Is it love? Is it the nose too close for comfort? Is it to keep friends, find mates and spread your genes?

    Maybe we didn’t know we stank until Madison Ave told us we did?

  7. Riddick writes,

    “Studies of traditional diets show that our ancestors probably did eat more fat than we do today. The high-quality fat they ate (much of it saturated!) came from the real thing: butter, eggs, yogurt, meat, etc. Our politically correct, low-fat diets could, indeed, be a factor in memory loss and other brain disorders.”

    Yes but … our ancestors had much lower longevity rates than today in Western democracies, where the public is hectored relentlessly in favour of a low fat diet.

    Memory loss and brain disorders are far more common in old people than young people = you need to be a long time survivor already, to have the problem!

    How many seniors do you think managed to make it to 100 years of age in the Stone Age?

    Today, the Canadian government is endlessly pestered to send congratulatory telegrams to people who make it to that age – as my grandmother did.

    About diet:

    Fat: Right? Wrong? I don’t know. I am not a dietician.

    But if you want a long life, here is what you should do – Follow the diet of modern democracies and live within easy reach of a hi-tech Emergency Room.

    That is precisely what I do.

    And do not bother about what your Stone Age ancestors were forced to eat.

    It’s too bad about what they were forced to eat.

    But if you can choose your diet, choose what works for you, in relation to religious and cultural principles.

  8. 8

    Really, longevity and health have much less to do with diet than with exercise. As long as you burn what you eat, you can eat as much as you want, fat included, with few ill affects. Probably the current preoccupation with low-fat diets, or low-carb diets depending on who you’re talking to, is because changing your diet is much easier than changing your exercise habits. The easy way out is bound to be the more popular one, especially when there’s the boob tube waiting for you in front of the lazy boy.

    But back to the OP:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

  9. And the question is if natural stink alienates potential gene spread partners why hasn’t selection removed it?

    One explanation I have heard that makes sense is that armpit and other body-produced smells actually are sexually attractive, but the practice of clothing them increases their stink level — just like with our smelly, smelly feet, which, after all, aren’t actually “stinky” all by themselves.

  10. 10

    Evolutionary Psychology is my favorite intellectual pastime. I love to give intelligent positions where I can never be wrong, because I am always right.

    For example:

    Q. Dr. Harris, why would a mother run into a burning building to save her baby? What explains this altruistic behavior?

    A. It’s quite simple you creationist moron. Genes control all our behavior and genes exist because of undirected, purposeless natural selection. She is simply acting out her genetic destiny. By saving her child she is preserving her genes – the very genes that control her actions. Genes create her actions and her actions create her genes. And don’t give me any of that “tautology” stuff.

    Q. Dr. Harris, why would a mother not run into a burning building to save her baby? What explains this selfish behavior?

    A. It’s quite simple you creationist moron. Genes control all our behavior and genes exist because of undirected, purposeless natural selection. She is simply acting out her genetic destiny. By avoiding the chance of death she remains alive to have other babies, or to take care of other children she may have, thus preserving her genes.

    Q. So Dr. Harris, are you saying that Evolutionary Psychology can equally explain one thing and its opposite at the very same time? That doesn’t sound like science.

    A. You don’t know anything about science. You’re a right wing fascist creationist moron.

  11. Hi Stuart,

    Can you name one evolutionary psychologist who says genes control all of our behavior? I honestly cannot think of even one.

  12. 12

    Dave, if everything in the Universe is reducible to material – chance and necessity – then what else is there?

    Are genes a product of chance and necessity, or no?

  13. 13

    I apologize Dave, I misread your comment.

  14. 14

    Dave,

    If I researched it I probably could, but I won’t. Just cross out the two “alls” in the dialogue and the satirical point I was making still stands.

    With Evo-psych one can conjure up an explaination for any behavior “A” or for the opposite behavior “not-A” and claim either speculation to be valid. Can you do that in a real science like physics? No (at least not yet), because evidence and mathematical/logical rigor are required.

  15. Hi Stuart,

    If I researched it I probably could, but I won’t.

    I don’t think you can. Take out the alls, and it’s still a misleading statement.

  16. Hi Upright,

    I apologize Dave, I misread your comment

    No problem.

  17. Mr Harris,

    In each story, the sample size is 1. You can’t draw any conclusion from that.

    Is H2O a solid, a liquid, or a gas? What, physics can explain all three? Not much rigor there…

  18. 18

    Dave Wisker re your [11]. Are you denying the thrust of Stuart’s comment — the evo pyscho purports to explain a behavior and its opposite with equal ease? Surely not; that proposition is so well established as to be almost a truism.

  19. Barry,

    I’m not an expert on evolutionary psychology, but I do know a few things:

    1. I don’t think Stuart will be able to find an evolutionary psychologist who believes that genes control all our behavior.

    2. What you think is a truism is, in reality, a ridiculous misrepresentation of the discipline.

  20. Since we’re talking diet…

    I am in agreement with #8 generally, but with some additions/caveats.

    -It doesn’t matter so much what you eat in a short term timeframe (days/weeks), as the body has alternative pathways to produce *most* essentials.

    -However, if you continue to stress your body by poor diet then there will be ill-health effects.

    -It is important to focus on “net-energy gain”, as in it doesn’t matter so much what you put in so long as you are not storing more energy than expending (for weight).

    -FASTING is the ultimate and natural way to slim down. This is controlled non-eating. I cannot understand why it is rarely mentioned for diet routines (perhaps it takes too much self-control?) because our bodies are *designed* (ooohhh) to fast. We have the proper metabolic (catabolic) pathways to do so, and it allows our bodies to purge unnecessary stores of fat/etc. Just don’t go longer than a week or you might start consuming muscle :/


    OT:

    If we are to take evo-psych based on ‘what is’ in our bodies, then the conclusion is obviously that our ‘ancestors’ dealt with starvation/fasting ALOT -> otherwise why would the mechanisms to counter this be common to every single human (and animal! {well, mammals for what I know})?

    Of course, one could just as easily make these following ‘conclusions’:

    Catabolic pathways exist because:

    -food sources were sparse, thus ‘ancestors’ would gorge themselves when food was found and survive on this until their next meal days later.

    -alternatively, food consumption worked in a hierachial order (wolves/dogs) where the lower down of the pack (and more numerous) would need wait days between feeds as alpha-animals dominated all but scavenge food.

    -there were many toxins and poorly balanced foods in the primitive world, thus a mechanism to purge less desirable substances evolved.

    -leaner, less fat females/males were considered more attractive, thus those that developed a metabolic way to ‘slim down’ came to outbreed (extinct) those who didn’t.

    For evo-psych methadology (ha!) all of these are possible. It’s just so, it ain’t science :/

  21. Ask a Darwinist to explain the evolutionary mechanism that caused human beings to be so enfatuated with music, a characteristic that has no survival value whatsoever (animals do fine without it). Step back and watch them contort themselves into pretzels.

  22. 22

    Mapou [20],

    Interesting observation. What is your explanation when you get asked the same question?

  23. {I had originally wrote a somewhat rambled question about evolving neg/pos feedback mechanisms, but I will summarise instead:}

    I ask, how is it possible for evolution to evolve a negative and positive feedback loop? Both are necessary.

    If you like, press your fists together against each other, and apply force. These are positive/neg pathways. Now remove one or the other. See your fist smack into the wall? That’s what happens to life too…

    The only way I see is fluke-mutation that creates both pathways at once, AND all the associated receptors/effector organs/chemicals/chemical producing organs – but this is a nightmare.

    [Not to mention getting slammed by probability :/]

  24. Interesting observation. What is your explanation when you get asked the same question?

    Design.

  25. 25
    AmerikanInKananaskis

    I’m a vegetarian. So I guess I must be an idiot then.

    Seriously. Anybody can tell a just-so story like this fat->memory is an adaptation BS. Get some frickin’ data first.

  26. 26

    russ [23] – Assuming you’re not being facetious, I’m hoping for a slightly more expansive answer. Not a dissertation, mind you, but something more than one word.

    However, I do appreciate being able to know a whole lot about everything in one word.

  27. AmerikanInKananaskis @24, here’s an article that discusses the importance of cholesterol in the functioning of the nervous system.

    http://www.cholesterol-and-hea.....terol.html

  28. Larry Tanner [21]:

    Interesting observation. What is your explanation when you get asked the same question?

    In my opinion, it has very little to do with genetic design and, least of all, evolution. It is a spiritual phenomenon among some or all sentient species. And it’s not restricted to just music but all forms of art.

    I wrote ‘very little’ above, only because there is a need for some audio processing capability. This is determined by the genes.

  29. 29
    AmerikanInKananaskis

    Jeez, thanks. I knew I didn’t study all that biochemistry for nothing.

    My complaint, if you read it, was about them claiming something was an *evolutionary adaptation*.

    The fact that some forms of fat are beneficial to memory should serve as a surprise to no one. Some forms of fat are required for LIFE.

    The article singles out oleic acid as being particularly useful to memory. Now if you want to think that evolution crippled our memory in order to lead us to olives (which miraculously restore the power of our memory), you’re free to do so.

    I guess I have to switch over from flaxseed oil dressing to olive oil dressing (rolls eyes).

  30. I believe evolutionary biology points to the evolved nature of our tongues as ahelpful pointer to the psychologists observations.
    That is, we are attracted to sweet, salty, fatty food as an evolved response to an environment poor in these essential items of nutrition. Since the modern age in the west we have produced these dietry components in vast quantities, but our evolved tongues still lead us to them unerringly, with the resultant health problems; obesity,diabetes, increased blood pressure. Yes we live longer because of a better diet, but our tongues still lead us to the foods our distant ancesters desperately needed, but we don’t.
    Rob.

  31. @AmerikanInKananaskis:
    Exactly my thought. If the proper working of the human body depends on certain substances it is either because it is a basic building material or because we lost the ability to survive without it. Both have nothing to do with evolution, because nothing new is created(or maybe a new decease; scurvy?).

    What I dislike about evolutionary psychology the most is not the evolutionary reasoning, but the unproven speculation and the fact that it is unfalsifiable like StuartHarris (10) showed.

    There will always be complex psychological charactaristics that are benefitial to our survival, but design is a better explanation IMO. For instance: how rm create a complex mating algoritm?.

  32. The study was in neuroscience, not evolutionary psychology.

    One of the functions of a scientific paradigm, as explained by Kuhn, is to focus research. In the study reported upon in the Telegraph, the hypothesis does not come out of the blue, but is a guess of what would make sense in light of evolutionary theory. Note in the abstract below that the source of the hypothesis has absolutely no bearing on the experimental methodology.

    The study tests a claim about feeding and memory consolidation. It tests no claim about evolution. But I think of Bill Dembski’s No Free Lunch:

    I follow here Ludwig Wittgenstein, who wrote, “What a Copernicus or a Darwin really achieved was not the discovery of a true theory but of a fertile new point of view.” If design cannot be made into a fertile new point of view that inspires exciting new areas of scientific investigation, then it deserves to wither and die.

    The memory-enhancement study is a point in case that evolutionary theory helps scientists in various disciplines home in on good hypotheses.
    —————————-
    Fat-induced satiety factor oleoylethanolamide enhances memory consolidation

    P. Campolongo et al., Proc. of the Nat’l Acad. of Sci., April 2009

    Abstract

    The ability to remember contexts associated with aversive and rewarding experiences provides a clear adaptive advantage to animals foraging in the wild. The present experiments investigated whether hormonal signals released during feeding might enhance memory of recently experienced contextual information. Oleoylethanolamide (OEA) is an endogenous lipid mediator that is released when dietary fat enters the small intestine. OEA mediates fat-induced satiety by engaging type-? peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPAR-?) in the gut and recruiting local afferents of the vagus nerve. Here we show that post-training administration of OEA in rats improves retention in the inhibitory avoidance and Morris water maze tasks. These effects are blocked by infusions of lidocaine into the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) and by propranolol infused into the basolateral complex of the amygdala (BLA). These findings suggest that the memory-enhancing signal generated by OEA activates the brain via afferent autonomic fibers and stimulates noradrenergic transmission in the BLA. The actions of OEA are mimicked by PPAR-? agonists and abolished in mutant mice lacking PPAR-?. The results indicate that OEA, acting as a PPAR-? agonist, facilitates memory consolidation through noradrenergic activation of the BLA, a mechanism that is also critically involved in memory enhancement induced by emotional arousal.

  33. Mr Arrington,
    Now, what is the evolutionary imperative for dark-chocolate M&Ms?

    I thought it was well known that there was a positive selection for green M&Ms, dark chocolate is a neutral mutation! :)

  34. For a group of people so adept at pointing out the flaws in evolution, I’m surprised that so few have seen throught the equally flawed dietary science that abounds.

    Science writer (not nutritionist) Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories is a landmark work that analyzes all dietary research of the past century. By actually looking at the research he concludes that science has never proven that dietary fat is bad for us, that most diseases of civilization (obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, alzheimer’s, etc.) occur when societies replace natural fats with carbohydrates, and that exercise actually causes people to gain weight.

    The exercise thing is very hard for people to swallow, but all controlled scientific studies show that exercise does not lead to weight loss. Exercise in actuality makes us hungry. By the way, you must walk up twenty flights of stairs to burn the calories in one slice of bread.

    Taubes theorizes that the dietary dogma of a calorie in, a calorie out is very much wrong. The human body is not a car; it is more complex that that.

    He exposes that the only known way to gain body fat (and this is actually non-controversial) is to raise insulin. Insulin’s job is to take excess glucose from the blood and store it in the fat tissue. Eating dietary fat does not cause an insulin rise; therefore, you do not gain body fat from eating fat. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the primary cause of insulin secretion. So carbohydrates cause fat storage. It’s really that simple.

    Everyone should check out Good Calories Bad Calories. It gives a great history of dietary science showing how the dogma of a few men have changed the way we think about diet, exercise, and disease, in spite of the facts.

  35. rob74, I, indeed, I’m genuinely surprised to see that “exercise actually causes people to gain weight.”

    Do you mean that exercise actually is a direct cause of weight gain? Or is it more that exercise makes us hungry, and then we usually eat more than we burn, resulting in weight gain?

  36. Berceuse, though nothing has proven this yet, it probably depends on what we eat. When we exercise, we become hungry. If we then eat excess carbohydrates (which is what we must eat if we don’t eat fat), then our body will secrete insulin causing us to store some of these calories as fat. Also, high insulin prevents fat from our tissue from being burned, as research has pointed out. So exercise could actually lead to weight gain. Even if it doesn’t cause a gain, it still is not a great way to lose weight.

    Gary Taubes believes that one problem with the current dietary consensus is that the experts have the cause/effect relationship backwards. Most believe that obese people are obese because they eat too much and because they don’t exercise enough. Taubes believes that obesity is the cause, and the lack of exercise is the result (obesity causes overeating, as well). Obesity causes less exercise, not the other way around.

    You really should check out the book I mentioned. Taubes spent several years researching and writing and the book contains 150 pages of sources.

    Good Calories, Bad Calories was supposed to cause a sensation in the dietary world (Taubes received a nice book deal after writing a controversial article for the New York Times,”What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie” in 2002), but it has been mostly ignored by those of the current dietary dogma. Also, it is very difficult reading for most people. It is utterly fascinating, though, for anyone who distrusts consensus science.

  37. I don’t know about a link between fat and memory but as a health care provider I deal with the topic of fat all the time.

    1. tragic mishap @ 8
    Sure you can eat whatever you want, however a diet high in fat content regardless of if you burn it all off through exercise still has an effect on the system. The typ eof gas you put in the tank matters. High fats have negatove effects on arteries and such regardless if you burn it off or not.

    2. Avonwatches @ 20:
    Fasting would have to be prolonged and is NOT a healthy way to reduce body fat. When a person fasts the body goes into a state where it will hold on to fat and use other energy sources such as proteins. In fact some individuals who were found dead from starvation still had 2-3% body fat.

    3. To reduce body fat yes you musty burn more than you store. The way you burn it matters also. In a 24 hour period 30 minutes of walking will NOT burn as many calories as 20 minutes of circuit strength training. Why? because of the continued caloric burn that lasts up to 13 hours after the strength circuit whereas the walking recovery period is much much less thus not burning as many calories.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    Certifed Athletic Trainer
    Strength and Conditioning Specialist
    And all around nice guy. :)

  38. rob74, I wouldn’t say that’s a fair assessment to say exercise causes weight gain if it depends on the food we eat. My question is, if I eat the same amount of the same type of food, but I exercise more, does that cause more harm than good?

  39. Maybe that’s a stupid question, but that’s the impression I get when you say “exercise actually causes people to gain weight.

  40. Here’s an article that challenges O’Leary’s thoughts @ 7 regarding naive “Stone Age” people who were “forced to eat” certain foods. Poppycock!

    http://www.westonaprice.org/tr.....short.html

  41. Berceuse, I’m no expert here, but I do know that our bodies are very complex.

    Our bodies can adjust to the amount of calories we receive, for instance. If I reduce my daily calorie intake from 2000 to 1500, my body will eventually adjust, and I will be able to perform the exact same activities with the fewer calories as I did when I had more. So to say that our exercise depends on the food we eat is not necessarily true. Most of the calories that we consume are not burned through exercise, in contrast to popular belief. Calories are burned by normal biological activities that our cells must perform. And much of our calories are released as heat.

    I probably should have said that exercise may cause weight gain. Most often it probably causes neither gain nor loss.

  42. rob74, I hope there are some typos in there, because I am thoroughly confused now.

  43. The body doesn’t know exercise from any other activity we do. As a means of maintaining homeostasis, the body responds to whatever demands are placed on the body. When an increase in movement occurs, it doesn’t matter if it’s gardening or basketball the body responds to the O2 debt and attempts to replenish it. Where muscle fibers may be broken down the body repairs it so on and so forth.

    Although it is true that our bodies will adapt from a 2000 to 1500 calorie diet, and yes you may be able to perform the same activities, it may not be at the same intensity level nor for the same amount of duration. What will happen is that after a few weeks if activity doesn’t change, the body begins to break down and may result in injury. We call this overtraining.

    The food content will matter eventually. I don’t know if it’s possible but if someone ate an all protein diet and was training for a marathn, they would go into ketoacidosis and would either have to change their diet or their activity level.

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