Question

Sasha: It must be healthy to follow a diet high in animal proteins and fats. Human beings undoubtedly evolved to thrive on such a diet, since our prehistoric ancestors ate large amounts of meat.

Jamal: But our ancestors also exerted themselves intensely in order to obtain this food, whereas most human beings today are much less physically active.

Jamal responds to Sasha by doing which of the following?

Option A
Option B
Option C
Option D
Option E

(This question is from Official Guide. Therefore, because of copyrights, the complete question cannot be copied here. The question can be accessed at GMAT Club)

Solution

The Story

Sasha: It must be healthy to follow a diet high in animal proteins and fats.

Sasha makes a claim (“must be healthy” clearly indicates a claim) that following a diet high in animal proteins and fats must be healthy.

Human beings undoubtedly evolved to thrive on such a diet,

This portion supports the claim made in the first statement (The way to read any passage is to connect every idea back to the previous ones. At every statement, you should ask yourself, “How is this connected with the context so far?”)

since our prehistoric ancestors ate large amounts of meat.

This portion supports the idea mentioned in the initial part of the sentence. Since our prehistoric ancestors ate a lot of meat, Sasha claims, human beings evolved to thrive on such a diet. (Since human beings evolved to thrive on a diet of meat, a diet high in animal proteins and fats must be healthy.)

Jamal: But our ancestors also exerted themselves intensely in order to obtain this food, whereas most human beings today are much less physically active.

Jamal starts his statement with a ‘but’ that indicates he is going to oppose some aspect of Sasha’s statement. Jamal points out a difference between human beings today and our ancestors – the level of physical exertion. (How does that impact Sasha’s point? Sasha’s argument was that what worked for our ancestors should work for us. By pointing out a difference between our ancestors and us, Jamal indicates that what worked for them may not work for us).

Gist: Sasha claims that following a diet high in animal proteins and fats must be healthy since human beings evolved to thrive on such a diet. How can we say so? Since our prehistoric ancestors ate that diet. Jamal counters this line of reasoning by pointing out a difference between human beings today and our ancestors.

The Gap

The one glaring gap in Sasha’s argument that can be exploited in multiple ways is that she assumed that what worked for our ancestors would work for us. What if there are differences between us and our ancestors such that what worked for them may not work for us? (Jamal indicates just this.)

Another gap in Sasha’s argument is that she assumes that just because our ancestors ate that diet, it was healthy for them. It is entirely possible that our ancestors ate a lot of meat probably because they didn’t have an option, not because it was healthy for them. If meat was not even healthy for our ancestors, Sasha’s argument would be junk.

The Goal

We have to find an option that tells us the way in which Jamal responds to Sasha. We have already discussed that Jamal points out a difference between us and our ancestors and thereby suggests that Sasha’s line of reasoning is not entirely correct.

The Evaluation

(A) Incorrect. Jamal never says or suggests that our prehistoric ancestors did not eat a lot of meat.

(B) CorrectWe think the understanding of this option hinges primarily on the understanding of the word ‘qualify’. According to Oxford, the meaning of ‘qualify’ is ‘make (a statement or assertion) less absolute; add reservations to’. So, if you say that “XYZ is the best country”, qualifying your statement would mean adding exceptions or restrictions to this statement. A few examples of qualifying this statement would be:  “XYZ is the best in terms of educational standards”, “XYZ is the best if we do not include Switzerland and Poland in our consideration”, or “XYZ is the best except in October and November”.

Now coming back to the option, is Jamal bringing some information that suggests that Sasha should add reservations to or exceptions to her main conclusion that it must be healthy to follow a diet high in animal proteins and fats? The answer is yes. Sasha should add a reservation by stating something like: following a diet high in animal proteins and fats must be healthy, except probably for people who work much less than our ancestors.

(C) Incorrect. Jamal doesn’t support Sasha’s claim at all.

(D) Incorrect. The assumption Sasha makes about our prehistoric ancestors is that the diet they ate was healthy for them, and the conclusion that Sasha makes about human evolution is that humans evolved to thrive on a diet high on animal proteins and fats. However, Jamal never questions the link between this assumption and this or any other conclusion. Jamal presents information on how humans ‘today’ differ from our prehistoric ancestors. He doesn’t at all talk about human evolution.

Questioning the link between this assumption and this conclusion would be suggesting that even though the ancestors ate such a diet, humans may not have evolved to thrive on such a diet.

In addition, this option mentions  “permits any conclusions”, suggesting that Jamal ruled out drawing ‘any’ conclusion from Sasha’s assumption about prehistoric ancestors. Jamal does not do this.

(E) Incorrect. If I say that X is much less physically active than Y, then indeed I’m expressing a doubt whether X and Y are equally healthy. So, if we read Jamal’s statement in isolation, he does seem to doubt whether human beings today are as healthy as our prehistoric ancestors were. However, the question asks us to find the way in which Jamal responds to Sasha. If Jamal suggests that human beings today are not as healthy as our prehistoric ancestors were by talking about differences in physical activity, how will that impact Sasha’s argument? It will not. Thus, Jamal’s statement is not meant to point towards differences in the health between human beings today and our prehistoric ancestors. It is meant to suggest a potential link between physical activity and diet, and how a change in one might impact the other.

Additional Notes

We regularly come across people who have trouble with questions, like this one, that are based on conversation. The primary difference between these conversation based questions and regular argument questions is that a regular argument generally has a unidirectional flow (a conclusion supported by some premises). On the other hand, these conversation based questions typically involve one person making the argument and then another person challenging that argument. Thus, reasoning exists both in favor and against a certain point. The challenge therefore becomes two-fold: to understand how the conclusion is supported and to understand how the conclusion (and its reasoning) is challenged.

If you face issues in these questions, we recommend two things:

  1. Slow yourself down. First understand the reasoning given to support a point before reading the other person’s point of view. If you don’t have a good hold on the original reasoning, you’ll be more confused after reading a counterpoint to that.
  2. If the second person is countering the first person, read the second person’s point as if you are reading a correct weakener option. Try to understand ‘what’ aspect it weakens and ‘how’.

The way Sasha builds her argument is another common construction. She builds her argument one statement on top of another.

Since our ancestors ate large amounts of meat, therefore humans evolved to thrive on such a diet.
Since humans evolved to thrive on such a diet, it must be healthy to follow such a diet.

The same argument can be presented in multiple directions. 2 common structures:

A therefore B (sub-conclusion)
B therefore C (main conclusion)

C (main conclusion) since B
B (sub-conclusion) since A

This solution was created by Anish Passi and Chiranjeev Singh.

If you have any doubts regarding any part of this solution, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

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