The Meat Paradox: Empathy with Our Food

“Can’t you feel it?”
“Feel what?” I asked

“How we are turning into greedy predators, just like wolves. We have this need to kill more and more. Even if we had two hundred sables we wouldn’t feel satisfied, would we? Just like the devil, you see.”

He paused for a while. Then he added, “I suggest we calm down and stop hunting for a week or so.”

Rane Willerslev, Soul Hunters

In an article published in Skeptic Magazine last month, Mark Moffett described a phenomenon which was recently dubbed by psychologists and animal ethicists as the “meat paradox.1” The question at hand is why do people love animals but also want to eat them? For a large number of scholars and laymen, the meat paradox appears to be a bit of a conundrum. Why would we ever evolve a system that would make us guilty about something we need in order to survive? Why are we able to feel empathy for our prey when so many other predators seem to be getting by without these emotions at all?

One of the most common reactions to this paradox is the assumption that it is a recent phenomenon brought on by our modern lifestyles. Compared to hunter-gatherers who spend time physically hunting and killing their food, our separation from and inexperience towards the act of killing have made us soft. In other words, hunter-gatherers don’t feel this way and our feelings about killing animals are unnatural.

But as I accidentally came to find out, this view of our unique paradox can’t be true.

Continue reading “The Meat Paradox: Empathy with Our Food”

The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould


When I first entered graduate school four years ago with the intent of studying the evolution of tarsiers, I had a lot of ideas about evolution. During my first week, and even during first month of the program, I was certain about what I wanted to study. I let everyone know I was going to be the tarsier communication guy. I had all sorts of ideas about why these animals communicate in the way they do, and I was certain that out of my stack of four or five ideas, at least one must be correct.

During the next few months, I met a lot of people, including a rodent paleontologist (the fact that he is a paleontologist is important) named Tim, who was going to be my best friend for the next three years. The first day I met Tim, I told him about my dissertation topic. After a few seconds of thinking over a beer, he told me, “I have a paper you need to read.” Tim then introduced me to Gould’s 1979 paper, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm.” It remains one of the most important things I have read in my entire life. Over the next few months, I came to respect Gould’s thoughts about paleontology, natural history, and structural evolution, and I continue to read him until this day.

This piece was originally published in Skeptic Magazine, Issue 24.3. Steven Pinker, who also contributed a piece, is on the front cover!

During the summer of 2019, I saw a lot of commentary about the career of Stephen Jay Gould. These were comments from people who, upset with his (perhaps misguided) book, The Mismeasure of Man, claimed his contribution to evolutionary biology was rather insignificant. Along with the claim that he had nothing to say were some more inflammatory claims which included the charge that he was a charlatan, liar, and scientifically worthless. Based on my own experience in reading Gould and how much he contributed to my own evolutionary reasoning, I knew this wasn’t true. Continue reading “The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould”

Packers and Mappers

I’ve been thinking a lot about the human tendency to categorize lately and the ways in which our methods of categorizing the world affect our ability to draw accurate maps of it, especially as it impacts science. I think it has come to the attention of a lot of people that the majority of the most contentious debates in the human sciences (such as psychology, anthropology, and biology) are specifically over the ways we classify things. Continue reading “Packers and Mappers”

Evolutionary Psychology

It has been 27 years since the inception of the field of evolutionary psychology marked by the publication of Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby’s The Adapted Mind. Although some might argue that the foundations of evolutionary psychology go much deeper with the publication of EO Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975 (and yet others like Steven Pinker will go much, much deeper to George Williams’ Adaptation and Natural Selection in 1966), really the theoretical foundations of evolutionary psychology in its modern incarnation were laid out in The Adapted Mind. Since then, evolutionary psychology (or EP, for short) has been through its own series of trials and tribulations as it has fought to advance itself as a legitimate field of inquiry.

Continue reading “Evolutionary Psychology”