The brain is fascinating to me. Did you know that there is a section of the brain that just holds onto nouns? If you’ve ever had difficulty remembering a noun, chances are that all nouns are inaccessible at that same time. When this happens to me, I use the word “thing” a lot, like, “Could you put this thing onto that thing over there?” Maybe that phrase sounds familiar to you. In this instance, I was talking about the phone and the recharger base. There is another section of the brain that holds names. Chances are if you are telling a story and you forget one person’s name, you’ll have difficulty recalling other names, too.
A couple of weeks ago, the Marshall family went to the Museum of Man on a free Tuesday. It was a good experience. The boys enjoyed looking at the full skeletons and interacting with the exhibits. One of the exhibits is an exact replica of “Lucy” a 3.2 million year old hominin skeleton. Lucy’s actual skeleton is held in the basement of my seminary. It was nice seeing an old classmate again, even if it was just a replica. The Museum of Man seems to have a meta-narrative which is that humans evolved from primates. That is fine, I suppose, as long as I have the opportunity to ask questions. One display shows the size of brains. There was a representation of a gorilla brain next to a human representation. The human brain is roughly three times the size. I wonder if gorillas have the same problem with remembering nouns and names? Do they get “brain-bubbles” (or whatever name you call them)? Does the human brain size advantage enable us to do algebra, direct a symphony, create a cartoon, write poetry, make a nuclear bomb, or preach a sermon?
Some scientists believe the human brain is larger because of food, that the diet of raw food eaten by primates has held back the size of their brains. Humans have had a more complex diet, which includes cooking food, and thus have been able to grow larger brains. Maybe that’s why we prefer bacon cheeseburgers over raw carrots. Lucy’s skeletal remains offer scientists an impression of what she ate; they say she preferred seafood and would wade into a salty marsh to dig up clams and grab fish with her hands. Apparently she did not cook things. As one who appreciates sushi and the occasional oyster, maybe I have more in common with Lucy than originally thought.
In this week’s Gospel lesson, I hear Jesus saying, “You are what you eat.” If you eat of the food that is eternal (“I am the bread of life”), you will have life. For as much as I love a cheeseburger or a nice fatty tuna sashimi plate, Jesus reminds us that of all the dietary options we humans have, that we should remember to feast on God’s eternal goodness, love and grace. Now that’s using 100% of our brain.