Podcast Episode 241: Edward Slingerland Argues that Beer Is an Evolutionary Adaptation, not an Accident

The human brain is an amazing piece of machinery. It’s uniquely adapted to success in the world we live in, and the result of that success is evidenced by the population spread of humans across the planet. Yet one element of the brain that provides a particular evolutionary benefit—the prefrontal cortex—also has a habit of getting in the way of “softer” tasks, such as building social relationships and creative problem-solving. As tool-using primates, early humans discovered a rather effective way to overcome the occasional limitations of the prefrontal cortex—low-strength alcohol produced via fermentation.

In this episode, author and professor Edward “Ted” Slingerland walks through that evolutionary history, explaining how prior theses about alcohol—that it was an evolutionary mistake or shortcut for the brain’s pleasure circuits, like junk food—got it all wrong. Instead, alcohol has played a crucial role in the development of the human species, allowing evolutionary advantages not enjoyed by other primates by creating space for social trust and creative problem-solving. By down-regulating the prefrontal cortex in managed, time-limited ways, it has allowed us to develop the deep, trusting social relationships necessary for widespread community.

In this episode, Slingerland discusses:

  • the evolutionary tension in the brain between linearity and lateral thinking
  • the communal need for social trust
  • how the standard story about alcohol as an accident that hijacks the brain’s reward network is entirely wrong
  • the origins of alcoholic drinks that predate organized agriculture
  • optimal blood-alcohol concentration and the beverages that get one there
  • the importance of social regulation on alcohol consumption, throughout human history
  • how beer is an ideal beverage (better than wine or distilled spirits) for promoting the positive benefits of alcohol with fewer negatives
  • sociological differences between Northern and Southern European drinking cultures

And more.

This episode is brought to you by:

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Support for this episode comes from BSG. Did you know that BSG sources hops directly from growers and processes them in their FSSC-certified facility in the Yakima Valley? From Azacca to Zappa, BSG’s hops are pelletized for optimal dispersion in the boiler or FV, and packaged in nitrogen-flushed bags to preserve all those tasty and enticing aromatics. To learn more about how your hops go from farmer to fermenter, get in touch with BSG at [email protected]

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