Hello. Some of you probably read that Clay Shirky piece that went round the internet a few weeks ago, where he talked about gin being the ‘enabling technology’ of the 18th century. He argued, in part, that gin enabled the industrial revolution by allowing us all to go and get hammered at the end of the working day, and thereby bear the hideous working conditions of the time – cramped in city slums and unpleasant factories. It’s a good theory, but I believe there’s a much larger story about how our whole civilisation is based to some extent on our desire for booze – one that goes back even further than human civilisation itself.
In the wild, there’s pretty intense competition to spread your seed around, so when a fruit is ripe it wants to get eaten as quickly as possible and be deposited as far away as possible by a nice neighbourhood frugivore like a bird or a primate, so it shows off its ripeness with various cues such as changing skin colour, and fleshiness, and some pretty obvious smells. But it turns out that while primates have a pretty rubbish sense of smell compared to most animals, we’re pretty good at sensing ethanol, and when we get a nose for it, bits of our brain start hammering away. One of my favourite expressions – “one sniff of the barmaid’s apron” – turns out to have some basis in fact.
So when a fruit is ripe for dispersal, it starts to ferment – very slightly in some cases, more so in others, but to some degree in pretty much all fruit species. And all the primates downwind smell that booze and come running, which is good for the fruit and the seed, because if it falls, uneaten, close to the tree, it hasn’t done much for its evolutionary future.
Agora vem a parte foda:
What some scientists believe is that, because of this association of booze and fresh fruit – and our primate ancestors had diets that consisted primarily of ripe fruit – primates developed an evolutionary preference for booze. It became associated with a nutritional reward: find booze, and you’re finding something good to eat.
Um adendo bizarro:
The really big deal came around the 8th century AD, when Muslim chemists discovered distilling, a highly technical process which allowed us to pass over the natural limit of 14% or so alcohol, when the yeasts die off, and produce ever stronger drink. And this discovery was one of the major revelations of the alchemical experiments of the time. It’s where we get the word ‘alcohol’ and it’s the basis of pretty much all scientific discovery up to the present day.
Robert Boyle, one of the founders of the Royal Society, had his first scientific success in the refinement of the hydrometer, which measures the alcohol content of beer and wine. Johannes Kepler published ‘The New Stereography of Wine Barrels’ in 1613, developing a new calculus which he later used to describe the elliptical orbit of the planets.
Um brinde a evolução, porra!