Heribert Watzke: The Brain in Your Gut (Full Transcript)

This technology made a very important impact on us. It changed the way our history developed. But it’s a technology so pervasive, so invisible, that we, for a long time, forgot to take it into account when we talked about human evolution. But we see the results of this technology, still. So let’s make a little test. So everyone of you turns to their neighbor please. Turn and face your neighbors. Please, also on the balcony. Smile. Smile. Open the mouths. Smile, friendly.

Do you — Do you see any Canine teeth? Count Dracula teeth in the mouths of your neighbors? Of course not. Because our dental anatomy is actually made, not for tearing down raw meat from bones or chewing fibrous leaves for hours. It is made for a diet which is soft, mushy, which is reduced in fibers, which is very easily chewable and digestible. Sounds like fast food, doesn’t it. It’s for cooked food.

We carry in our face the proof that cooking, food transformation, made us what we are. So I would suggest that we change how we classify ourselves. We talk about ourselves as omnivores. I would say, we should call ourselves coctivors — from coquere, to cook. We are the animals who eat cooked food.

No, no, no, no. Better — to live off cooked food. So cooking is a very important technology. It’s technology I don’t know how you feel, but I like to cook for entertainment.

And you need some design to be successful. So, cooking is a very important technology, because it allowed us to acquire what brought you all here: the big brain, this wonderful cerebral cortex we have. Because brains are expensive. Those have to pay tuition fees know. But it’s also, metabolically speaking, expensive.

You now, our brain is two to three percent of the body mass, but actually it uses 25 percent of the total energy we use. It’s very expensive. Where does the energy come from? Of course, from food. If we eat raw food, we cannot release really the energy.

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So this ingenuity of our ancestors, to invent this most marvelous technology. Invisible — everyone of us does it every day, so to speak. Cooking made it possible that mutations, natural selections, our environment, could develop us. So if we think about this unleashing human potential, which was possible by cooking and food, why do we talk so badly about food? Why is it always do and don’ts and it’s good for you, it’s not good for you? I think the good news for me would be if we could go back and talk about the unleashing, the continuation of the unleashing of human potential. Now, cooking allowed also that we became a migrant species.

We walked out of Africa two times. We populated all the ecologies. If you can cook, nothing can happen to you, because whatever you find, you will try to transform it. It keeps also your brain working. Now the very easy and simple technology which was developed actually runs after this formula.

Take something which looks like food, transform it, and it gives you a good, very easy, accessible energy. This technology affected two organs, the brain and the gut, which it actually affected. The brain could grow, but the gut actually shrunk. Okay, it’s not obvious to be honest. But it shrunk to 60 percent of primate gut of my body mass.

So because of having cooked food, it’s easier to digest. Now having a large brain, as you know, is a big advantage, because you can actually influence your environment. You can influence your own technologies you have invented. You can continue to innovate and invent. Now the big brain did this also with cooking.

But how did it actually run this show? How did it actually interfere? What kind of criteria did it use? And this is actually taste reward and energy. You know we have up to five tastes, three of them sustain us. Sweet — energy Umami — this is a meaty taste. You need proteins for muscles, recovery.

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Salty, because you need salt, otherwise your electric body will not work. And two tastes which protect you — bitter and sour, which are against poisonous and rotten material. But of course, they are hard-wired but we use them still in a sophisticated way. Think about bittersweet chocolate; or think about the acidity of yogurt — wonderful — mixed with strawberry fruits. So we can make mixtures of all this kind of thing because we know that, in cooking, we can transform it to the form.

Reward: this is a more complex and especially integrative form of our brain with various different elements — the external states, our internal states, how do we feel, and so on are put together. And something which maybe you don’t like but you are so hungry that you really will be satisfied to eat. So satisfaction was a very important part. And as I say, energy was necessary. Now how did the gut actually participate in this development? And the gut is a silent voice — it’s going more for feelings.

I use the euphemism digestive comfort — actually — it’s a digestive discomfort, which the gut is concerned with. If you get a stomach ache, if you get a little bit bloated, was not the right food, was not the right cooking manipulation or maybe other things went wrong. So my story is a tale of two brains, because it might surprise you, our gut has a full-fledged brain. All the managers in the room say, “You don’t tell me something new, because we know, gut feeling. This is what we are using.”

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