How Neolithic, alcohol-fueled raves gave rise to civilization

We have traditionally been told that the discovery of alcohol was an accidental by-product of agriculture. Once early farmers were systematically producing crops, they’d often end up with surpluses. These could be stored for the off-season, or as insurance against a future bad harvest. At some point, though, people noticed that if they left grain mashed up in water (say, as a result of an abandoned bread-making effort), the mixture would transform into something entirely different. It was not unpleasant smelling. It tasted a bit funny, but you got used to the flavor and even came to like it. Best…

The surprising history and science of intoxication

Bacchanal (1625–1626) by Nicholas Poussin, Prado Museum (from Lluís Ribes Mateu, Flickr)

Why do humans like to get drunk? Scientists have written off our affinity for intoxication as an evolutionary mistake, a trick that humans have developed for gaming our biological reward system into releasing little shots of pleasure for no good reason. This, however, is not a satisfying explanation. It should puzzle us more than it does that we have devoted so much ingenuity and concentrated effort to getting drunk.

At sites in eastern Turkey, dating to perhaps 12,000 years ago, the remains of what appear to be brewing vats, combined with images of festivals and dancing, suggest that people were…

What a drunken twitter rant tells us about alcohol, spontaneity and authenticity


This single-word tweet was the beginning of an extended, drunken rant by the author Susan Orlean that delighted and captivated the twitter-verse last summer.

Some choice excerpts:

Humans evolved to strike deals over drinks

Photo: Marcela Palma/Flickr

In 1889, Jules Verne predicted that the “phonotelephote” — essentially a dedicated videoconferencing device that he imagined would become commonplace by the year 2889 (!) — would make business travel obsolete. We didn’t have to wait a thousand years. Videoconferencing became a real technology in 1968 with AT&T’s “Picturephone.” The advent of Skype and other videoconferencing technologies in the mid-2000s brought phonotelephotes into every home that had access to a decent internet connection.

Each new advance in remote teleconferencing capacity is accompanied by renewed predictions of the demise of business travel. Yet the fact is that, at least until the…

The evolutionary argument for happy hour

Photo by Caro Sheridan

Did you find yourself drinking too much during Covid shutdown? You’re not alone. Well, metaphorically at least. From mid-March to mid-May 2020, during the initial phase of the pandemic, alcohol sales around the world skyrocketed, increasing anywhere from 40% to 60% over pre-pandemic levels, with distilled liquor sales increasing more rapidly than sales of wine and beer. Some analysts argued that this retail surge merely reflected a shift from drinking at bars and restaurants to imbibing at home, but this in itself is a serious concern.

That is because, even if we were not alone in drinking more or drinking…

Edward Slingerland

Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Philosophy at UBC, author of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization (June 2021)

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