Friday, March 7, 2008

Intermittent fasting and the aquatic ape

I think about the Aquatic Ape hypothesis of human development a lot more than I write about it. In fact, it informs close to everything about the way I see human life. I've wanted to write about it for years, but it's so big for me, that the task is overwhelming.

So now, whenever I do write a little bit about it, or have a thought, I'll put it here. Incomplete, hasty, unreferenced, and all. For now. It's a start.

I posted the following today on a thread about Intermittent Fasting. Much discussion of this topic seems to center around, or at least harbor, the assumption that Paelolithic and pre-agricultural humans, and proto-humans, would not have been able to eat at regular intervals. This is my contribution to the discussion, which can be found here.

Just a little background: The Inuit at the time mentioned (early 20th century) lived a traditional lifestyle and ate their traditional diet, which was almost entirely fish and water. They also ate some land mammal meat. They were known for their remarkable good health. No vegetables -- yet no scurvy, or other chronic diseases.


In Adventures in Diet, Vil describes three squares plus a snack for the Inuit. Times he mentions for eating, or for beginning meal prep, are 7 am, 11 am, 4 pm, and for the snack, just before bed.

Now I'm going to bring up the Aquatic Ape again. That's the hypothesis that says many human features can be explained by a period in our evolution during which circumstances led us to begin to evolve into aquatic mammals, but the process was only partial. According to this, we can understand some things about ourselves by reference to other aquatic mammals or by reference to our affinity to aquatic and semi-aquatic conditions. (The big flaw I saw in the supposed refutation of this that someone posted a link to on another thread was that the guy pointed to all kinds of way that we are not totally like aquatic mammals. Well, no kidding. The hypothesis explains the ways in which we're [i]partially[/i] aquatic like. For instance... oh, I need to save that for another thread.)

Fish. Three times a day plus snacks. Pretty easy to come by. Even today, if a person dwells by open bodies of water, like a lake or a river. (Today, every person dwells by water -- we had to invent plumbing and wells to make that possible. But I'm talking about open water, including, human-made lakes.) Of course, there's pollution, unfortunately, that can make the catch toxic. But the point is, it's not hard to get enough fish to eat all day, even now.

When we think of pre-agricultural humans, for some reason we tend to think of them rummaging around on land, foraging (most people, not necessarily Bus riders) and hunting. And in that scenario, it sounds difficult to scrounge up three squares and a snack, day in day out. Exhausting. Time consuming. Bloody and messy, with fur and bones everywhere.

For some reason that I can't explain, people just don't put food from the water in a central place in the equation. But I assure you, if you were out in the middle of nowhere and needed to survive, you would find water, very quickly. You'd need it before, and more frequently than food. And in that water, you'd find things to eat far easier to catch and kill than anything on land. Except, of course, for bugs. And our primal ancestors were insectivores.

It makes sense to me that fish and other water critters are a missing food link between insects and big land animals. From the water is where we got enough protein and Omega 3 to grow brains big enough to figure out how to kill the animals we need considerable intelligence to kill. We don't have the teeth and claws and speed to hunt a gazells. We have the [i]brains[/i] to do it.

Back to the point. People think the Paleo folks must have had a lifestyle involving long periods between meals, including intervals of days. I acknowledge that there are more recent hunter societies where this has been known to occur. However, I disagree that it was a necessary, ordinary, universal feature of preagricultural human and protohuman life. Not when a meal is as near as the river, pond, lake or ocean.


  1. I'm sure you want to make your diet arguments based on facts and not falsehoods, so you would want to know that the aquatic ape idea doesn't hold up under scrutiny. It's a fun idea, but contrary to long known and well established facts, and has been since it was first thought up back in the early 1960s. Aquatic Ape Theory: Sink or Swim?

  2. Humans are the most aquatic ape/primate/hominid, though of course as you say, that merely means strong association with water, not whale-like ancestors (which is how anthrosciguy apparently defines it?).

  3. anthrosciguy, thanks for commenting. In fact, your site is the one that I was talking about in the opening grafs of my post, where I refer to a site that argued against the Aquatic Ape position, but that I didn't find convincing. I wanted to read more on your site before responding to your comment. I do appreciate your visiting my blog and commenting, and respectfully, I don't find your arguments dissuasive of the AAT.

    I believe it's overstating for you to characterize the theory as you do in your comment. It would be perhaps more accurate to say that you disagree with it, and that you've articulated your disagreements at great length on your Web site.

    "the dude," (I like the Coen Brothers, too!) thanks for visiting and commenting. I think your statement would be hard to dispute. What ape/primate/hominid could possibly be more aquatic than us? To me, it's just as plain as the nose on my face. (The nose that I can submerge without water flowing into it!)

  4. I been researching the aquatic ape theory for my Masters for the last year. I have to say that I've seen anthrosciguy leave posts all over the net and on every single blog that has mentioned the aquatic ape theory where he's promoting his pseudoscience website and trying to trash anyone who dares question his beliefs. Science is about asking bold questions and trying to prove it and not about upholding dogma at all costs

  5. Defender, I got the same impression when I looked into anthrosciguy's site and posts. I don't even know how he found my obscure little site -- he must scour the Web for new references so he can respond. On one thread somewhere, he said his site was used as reference for the Straight Dope column on AA a few years back. I was saddened by that column when it came out because of the missed opportunity to get the ideas out there -- the column was such an unfortunate distortion of them.

    I'm interested in your research. If you have a site or blog, please let me know. Thanks for your comment!

  6. I've been reading your posts and enjoying them... keep it up! As for the SD site, it was such a missed opportunity but I'm sure there will be many more. At least just for the discourse which is all about the joy of learning anway. And anthrosciguy totally trolls the net looking for any mention of the this hypothesis and just trashes it. It's amazing how much time he must waste on this.

  7. Thanks, defender! Come visit anytime. :)

  8. I commented on this article:

    and included a link to this one.