Every once in a while my mind wanders to wondering about how humans decided trying stuff—specific stuff—for the first time was a good idea. We (humans in general; not specifically you and I) wouldn’t try a lot stuff if we were rational1. But you don’t have to look very far to find proof that humans are far from universally rational. So, irrational things get done. They get done a lot.
I’m not talking about the really horrid crap like war, murder, rape, child abuse, refusing to take a serious pandemic seriously, wearing plaid and paisley together, or uttering the word “hell” in mixed company on a Sunday. What form of insanity led humans to start and continue committing those sorts of atrocities is beyond my ability to comprehend. And I can’t write about what I can’t comprehend2.
Then there are the activities that, although we couldn’t have known it before the first human tried it, turned out to be only slightly risky. But doing them was still absurd because there is no logical reason to do so. Tattooing and body piercing come to mind.
I’m not going to talk about those sorts of activities here either.
No, what has me curious at the moment are those things that turned out to be good ideas but, until someone tried them, nobody knew if they would kill us. Consider the consumption of novel foods before there were advanced scientific techniques for testing their safety, for instance.
There are a lot of naturally occurring poisons. So, how did humans first differentiate the good eats from the plants and animals that would kill them if consumed?
Cavemen Trying Stuff for the First Time
I see the following scene in my head:
Caveman Ooog: “Hey Zog, have you every tried eating the green stuff growing on that plant over there?”
Caveman Zog: “Nah. Why don’t you try it?”
CO: “I’m not going to try it. You try it.”
CZ: “Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get Moog to try it. He’ll eat anything.”
CO: “Haven’t you heard? Last week, Moog tried the red berries that grow in the valley. Well, let’s just say that his days of clubbing women over the head, dragging them to his cave, and having his way with them are over.”
CZ: “Oh, man! Moog’s dead? I loved that guy! Oh … um … When I say ‘love’, I mean it in a healthy, male-bonding sort of way, you understand. We went clubbing together all the time. Good times. Good times3. He taught me everything I know about women. I’m going to miss that big lug. Just don’t tell my sister, Soog, how I felt about Moog. She hated him. Soog called him a misogynist, whatever the heck that is.
“Um. So. Are you going to try that green stuff, Ooog?”
Of course, that’s a translation. Ooog and Zog wouldn’t have spoken English. The spoke Gruntish. Look it up.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s not how it happened. Early humans arguably4 already had more advanced brains than the rest of the animal kingdom. Maybe they were smart enough to feed untried foods to animals. Then, if the animal lived, the humans ate the food. But if the animal died, they didn’t eat whatever it was they fed it.
If that was the case, it’s a good thing PETA wasn’t around in those days. Otherwise, our species probably would have gone extinct long ago.
Some foods really baffle me. You know the ones. I’m talking about plants and animals that look so disgusting that, despite there being no shortage of deranged humans, you wouldn’t expect anyone could possibly be disturbed enough to want to try them. Although, in some cases, I’m thrilled they did.
Trying Ugly Stuff For the First Time. Lobsters, For Example
Consider lobsters, for example. They are incredibly ugly beasts.
I know what you’re going to say, “Lobsters are one of God’s creatures. So, they too are beautiful.”
Hogwash! One of the great benefits that comes from being an atheist is that I’m allowed to think that some animals are ugly. What’s more, it’s a great comfort to me to know that there is no deity out there intentionally creating nature’s monstrosities.
Lobsters are ugly, but they taste wonderful. I’m thankful that there was a human who was sufficiently unbalanced to try cooking and eating them. And I’m overjoyed that he or she didn’t die in that valiant effort.
- Yeah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking, “Humans? Rational? Ha! Don’t make me laugh.” But I like to make people laugh. I usually fail to do so in a “laughing with me rather than at me” sort of way. But, please, play along here. And, jeez. Read the next couple of sentences before bolting to mock me.
- In truth, I can write about things I don’t understand. But the results would be even more nonsensical than this. Let’s not go overboard.
Come to think of it, I probably do often write about things I don’t understand, without knowing I don’t really understand them. That’s likely why so much of what I write is gibberish.
- This is a parody. Clubbing women over the head, dragging them to your cave, and having your way with them is indisputably evil to the extreme. Don’t do it. Ever. Don’t do anything even vaguely close to that. Ever. You probably knew that, but considering the times, it had to be said.
- “Arguably,” because, let’s face it, humans do a lot of crazy stuff that other animals would never consider doing. At least, modern humans do. Maybe we’ve declined in intelligence over the millennia.