Drunken Monkeys?

Drunken Monkey

A few hundred thousand years ago, one of our primate ancestors swung down from the trees to eat some rotting fruit on the forest floor. With that small act, the human love for alcohol began.

According to Cal Berkeley physiologist Robert Dudley, this is the "drunken monkey" effect. The new food source was fragrant, thus easy to locate. Fermentation made the fruit easier to digest, thus offering more accessible calories. And alcohol has antiseptic qualities, probably killing off microbes that could otherwise sicken the primates. Those who smelled the fermenting fruit and got to it faster had an advantage: they got more calories, were more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce. They were also more likely to experience a pleasurably fuzzy brain buzz while stuffing themselves with the rotting fruit. Ergo, we are evolutionarily hard-wired to enjoy alcohol and its effects.

Eventually, we progressed to intentionally fermenting foodstuffs. Egyptians made palm wine as early as 16,000 BCE. The Chinese were fermenting rice with honey over 9000 years ago. And in the Caucasus mountains of modern-day Georgia, there is clear evidence to date human grape-growing and winemaking back over 7000 years.

UPenn molecular biologist Patrick McGovern believes it is no accident that domestic agriculture and alcohol production frequently coincided. "From the rituals of the Stone Age on, the mind-altering properties of booze have fired our creativity and fostered the development of farming, of language, of the arts and religion."

As anyone who has ever attended a college frat party knows, it IS possible to go too far. Perhaps collegiate Greeks are just imitating the ancients, who used wine, mixed in a bowl with water, to spark their intellectual symposia. Occasionally, things went awry. According to the poet Eubulus, Greek hosts served "a first bowl for health, another for pleasure, and a third for sleep." But when that third bowl was consumed, "wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes. The eighth is the policeman's; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the tenth to madness and the hurling of furniture."

If you are still working on your taxes, you might be tempted toward madness and furniture hurling. If so, imitate our forest ancestors with a well-timed break with a glass of beer or wine. And remember this: our country's original tax structure was based heavily on an alcoholic beverages tax. Perhaps if we had consumed more, we wouldn't have an income tax.

For more on the history of humans and alcohol, check out this article: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-add...