Fire as Technology and Influence on Society

Topics: Culture, Human, Fire Pages: 6 (2043 words) Published: April 23, 2002
Fire and Me: A Growing Experience
Throughout human history, people have made discoveries and innovations which made their lives easier and more efficient. Many of these creations have advanced our culture, while others have paved the way for future advancements and inspired new ways of thought. One example of this is the discovery of fire, which revolutionized the way humans act and think. Fire has a unique connection to humans, evolving alongside humanity, each growing in ways that wouldn't have been possible without the other. We can only speculate as to how humans began to control fire, yet it can safely be assumed that humans are not the only species able to work with fire. Chimpanzees have been taught to light cigarettes, and orangutans have been observed maneuvering sticks, which they caught on fire, for a short time before the fire burned out (Goudsblom 25). The interesting thing; however, is that fire is universally used by humans (Goudsblom 20). Human cultures which have never had interactions with other human societies have developed control over fire. By control of fire, it is meant that a culture is able to consistently manipulate fire, keeping a fire burning for extended periods of time. This shows humans who have been isolated from all other cultures have learned to control fire themselves, rather than this control of fire being taught to them from an outside source, such as a separate culture which has already harnessed fire. This would imply a natural connection between humans and fire as all humans can control fire, and no other species other than humans have been successful in consistently using fire. Why did primitive man harness fire? At first glance, fire appears to have few natural advantages, and yet has many potentially harmful effects. Fire is destructive, devastating anything which comes across its path. This devastation is irreversible as once something is burned it cannot be returned to its unburned state (Goudsblom Intro). These characteristics are far from attractive, and yet humans, rather than fearing fire, came to adopt it. The adoption of fire could be attributed to several factors which occur during a natural fire. First, game can easily be seen fleeing a fire since the underbrush has been burned away, and some animals can be found killed and cooked by the fire. After a fire has died, warmth can still be found in the embers of the blaze (Goudsblom 14). These rewards of fire could make hominids wish to harness the capabilities of fire so that they could receive these benefits whenever they so desired. Once fire has been domesticated, the hominid's life would receive advancements that they had never known before the discovery of fire. Fire allows its users to stay warm and cook their food, along with the ability to continue working further into the night (Goudsblom 37). The first two, warmth and cooking, are far different from using fire as light as they are more comfort oriented, which is one of the main themes of humanity. Humans enjoy the unnecessary, and it could even be said that our love of the superfluous is a defining characteristic of humans (Bachelard 16). Another animal would say that fire is unnecessary, and therefore too much trouble to use; however, humans see the ways in which fire will make their lives more enjoyable (Bachelard 16). This not only sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, but also binds humans to fire, for they are the only species that is willing to put forth the necessary effort into learning to control fire. However, using fire as a source of light allowed for humans to grow mentally. The lighting capability of fire allowed for the exploration of the night, as well as the exploration of the mind, given that the day no longer ended with sunset (Goudsblom 38). Before humans began to control fire, they had to set their days according to the sun, as when it was up, they had light and could hunt and fish and work, and...

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Goudsblom, J. Fire & Civilization. New York: Penguin Press, 1992.
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