Back for a bit.

Ok, so The beginning of this semester really broadsided me. Who knew that Calc II would be so tough, and why didn’t they tell me? Well, actually, that’s what everyone told me, so nevermind. Anyways, I haven’t had any time to really work on my Popular Mechanics projects, and so I haven’t been updating this blog. Which should be obvious. I had thought that it would be better to keep the blog on topic, and not post anything; however, after some consideration, I realized that’s a dumb idea. So my new plan for the blog is to update once every week or two with posts that will most likely be related to DIY topics, but that might be about anything that I’m interested in at the moment. Which could be a lot of different things.

To kick off this relaunching of PopularMechanicalMan I decided to post a speech that I delivered in Public Speaking last week. It’s not a great speech, but I think it’s fairly interesting. Maybe. Besides, it shouldn’t take more than a minute to read, so it’s not like it will take a huge investment of time. So, here it is: “Beer is proof that evolution loves us, and wants us to be happy”

The theory of evolution, as discovered by Darwin, and refined by many preeminent biologists, is a stunning example of the descriptive power of modern science. It has given us an exceptional tool for understanding the formation of biological life on this planet, but I’ve always wondered: what can it tell us about beer? As it turns out, the theory of evolution, particularly the ideas proposed by Richard Dawkins, can help us to determine that, as a matter of scientific fact, beer is the best beverage known to man. As an avid homebrewer, an enthusiastic beer drinker, and a shade-tree engineer, I have spent many hours studying beer. I’ve read about the biological properties of saccaromyces cerevisiae, studied blueprints for the construction of fermentation chambers, and spent many hours contemplating the wonderful sight of a pint of beer. You may be asking what the theory of evolution has to do with beer, and I hope to answer that question. In this speech I plan to show how beer can be seen as a “replicator”, what Dawkins describes as the basic unit of evolution, and how, as a replicator it has guided the development of that machine which reproduces it: the human. After I’ve explained the groundwork for understanding beer vis-a-vis evolution, I’ll show several examples of how it has adapted to various niche environments, cementing it’s place as the best beverage known to man.

Let’s start off by looking at how beer can be understood through the lens of Evolutionary theory. In a paper titled “Replicators and Vehicles,” published in 1982, Richard Dawkins explains that he believes genes to be the “unit of selection” in the evolutionary proccess. This is in contrast to Darwin’s ideas, which were that the organism was the thing tested by natural selection. According to Dawkins, the organism is a vehicle for the continuation of the replicator, a “survival machine.” One of the most powerful effects of Dawkins view of replicators and vehicles is that it helps to explain behaviors, such as altruism in humans, which may not help the individual organism, but do help perpetuate the genes of the species as a whole. So, what in the world does this have to do with beer? Dawkins is careful to leave the definition of replicator open; it could be individual proteins in a gene, it could be a chromosone, it could be an entire genome. So why not take this one step further? A genome is a recipe for an organism; similarly human inventions such as tools, music, and food are created based on abstract recipes contained in the minds of humans. By treating these ideas as replicators, and the humans who produce them as survival vehicles, we can say that the fitness of the product for it’s environmental niche determines whether it will continue to be replicated.

Now that we have determined how to judge beer from an evolutionary viewpoint, let’s see how well it is suited for it’s environment.  There are several niche environments that beer has adapted to survive, and thrive in. In fact, beer is one of the most adaptable beverages enjoyed by humans. A 2008 article in the Denver Examiner details a few of these environments. Beer is a social beverage that can be shared by groups of friends to help them bond. It can be a symbol of identity for certain individuals who want to stand out from the crowd. But, one of the most obvious roles filled by the drink is that of a celebratory aid. Nothing says “party” like a keg. In addition to these contemporary niches filled by the drink, beer has had some more profound effects on the history of it’s survival vehicle, AKA: humans. According to the documentary “How beer saved the world, ” beer has been used as a currency in several civilizations; and the discoveries of germ theory, modern medicine, and refrigeration were all byproducts of research into beer production. However, the most important effect of beer’s replication goes even deeper then these discoveries. About 10,000 years ago humans began to transistion from a life of nomadic hunting to a life of agriculture and civilization. There is growing evidence that the purpose of this farming was to produce the supplies needed to make beer. Which means that, just as our genes produce altruism in individual humans to further their own reproduction; beer has produced civilization and culture through humanity, just so it could propogate it’s own yeasty genome. Beer created human civilization as a byproduct of it’s own evolutionary replication. How could any other beverage compare with that acheivement?

In this discussion we have seen how evolution is pushed along by replicators, and carried out by vehicles, according to Richard Dawkin’s theories. We saw that, with a slight extrapolation, beer could be looked at as one of these replicators. From there we were able to see that many of the inventions and discovories of humanity are actually just side effects of beer’s reproduction and evolution. In conclusion I think that it might be fair to say that beer is not just the best beverage known to man; beer may actually be the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement on this planet.



2 thoughts on “Back for a bit.

  1. Just want to note that the title of the speech is a twist on an (in)famous (mis)quote from Benjamin Franklin, who is reported to have said “beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Actually he was simply paraphrasing the Psalms by mentioning in a letter that God gave us “wine to gladden the heart of man.”

  2. Pingback: Heating things up… adding heat to the fermentation chamber. | The Mostly Harmless Brewing Co.

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