The Control of Fire and it’s Impact on Human Evolution

http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/firelight-talk-of-the-kalahari-bushmen/

Anthropologists are already aware of one of the major ways the discovery of fire and how to control it stimulated human evolution. When our ancestors first learned how to control fire and started cooking their food, new nutrients could be absorbed into the body. This increase in the nutritional value of our food stimulated growth of the brain that led to who we are now. But fire may have helped human evolution in another way.

Researchers from the University of Utah are currently looking into another way fire played a major part in human evolution: fireside storytelling. Using research previously gathered on the topics of conversation of the Kalahari Bushmen of Northern Botswana as a reference, anthropology professor Polly Weissner wants to know how the extended daylight hours could have effected early human evolution, as well as its meaning for modern humans.  After they learned how to control fire, early human groups were able to survive into the night sitting around a fire, which provided protection from predators as well as extra light in the night hours for conversations. A hunter-gatherer community without electricity, the Bushmen are a viable research substitute for our early human ancestors.

The main thing to notice about the study is the change in from daytime to nighttime conversations (chart can be seen here in the Business Insider article mentioned below). As you can see, daytime conversations usually revolve around chores of the community (hunting, cooking, etc.), while nighttime fireside conversations are for storytelling and mythology. By the fireside, the Bushmen tell stories of their hunts, as well as perform their spiritual rituals. The researchers believe that these evening conversations contributed to stimulating the oral and social components of the brain, one of the Evolutionary Milestones we saw displayed in the Hall of Human Origins.

The other takeaway from this research is what this means for modern humans. Some articles (like this one from Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/the-invention-of-fire-may-explain-the-preference-for-evening-entertainment-2014-9 ) saw this research as an explanation for why we love to relax at the end of the work day, but I do not think that is one of the more important implications of this study. What I find more interesting is how electricity and artificial light may have messed up our inherent circadian rhythms created by the campfire.

So I ask this question: Is it possible that the control of electricity can be as important to human evolution as the control of fire? Will our future decedents see the discovery of electricity in the way we today view the discovery of fire? Or will it play no roll in how we as a species evolve in the future?

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46 Responses to The Control of Fire and it’s Impact on Human Evolution

  1. pigfish1116 says:

    I love learning about cultural evolution so thank you!
    One thing I find hard to come to terms with is the fact that the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen were only studied because they are suspected to live just as hunter gatherers lived a million years ago: gathering food and sitting around a fire. As cfc0567owls mentioned, this tribe is a “substitute” for early humans but is that implying that their brains are undeveloped like early humans? Of course not. There was also no mention of research done trying to find an ancestral or genetic connection between early hunter gatherers and the Bushmen. These are just small little questions that I have but I truly do appreciate this article I’m just being a sort of devil’s advocate!
    I think humans will evolve biologically from using electricity, for example, maybe our eyes will change to healthily adjust to staring at screens, or our ear dreams will become less sensitive to loud sound like music. I think we have already began culturally evolving in the fact that we are used to communicating through technology, one of our main ways of developing culture.

    • I completely agree with pigfish1116, at least from what the article read, they did not do any genetic test in order to determine the Bushmen’s connection to early human hunter-gathers. In terms of adaptations, according to an article by Everyday Health (http://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/how-technology-is-hurting-your-eyes.aspx), technology has already begun to have effects on us. As to your question regarding electricity,cfc0567owls, I believe that indeed electricity has made an impact on human history. Because of this, we are now able to upgrade from having an oil lamp by our side in order to read to only having to press a button or move a switch to turn on a lamp. Electricity has had a positive advantage to our culture.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Good points, pigfish1116. I agree that the Bushmen are not a perfect substitute for early hunter-gatherer man. They are, however, a very approximation for the purposes of the research. I don’t think the researchers are saying the Bushmen are “underdeveloped” per se, but they do live similar lives to our early ancestors, regardless of the genetic link.
      Those are some interesting evolutionary advantages, however, I don’t think the computer screens will be around for long enough to lead to any biological evolution changes. With the emergence of Google Glass, I believe screens will be obsolete within a century.

    • moneytrees3001 says:

      I totally agree with the impact of electricity on cultural evolution, which is racing along faster than ever with the exponential growth of innovation of the 21st Century. However, I don’t think humans will undergo any physical evolution due to electricity or any other pressure. Our current medical understanding is so vast in comparison with that of any organism from the last 4 billion years, we have basically removed all evolutionary pressures from our lives, and so we are done evolving. Afflictions that would have prevented reproduction and the handing down of bad genes, like cancer, appendicitis, blindness, are now all manageable. Although eyes better adapted for viewing screens would make us more fit, those without that adaption are just as likely to pass on their genes, giving the “screen eye” genes no chance to spread through the population.

      This concept is still up for debate, but if you want to hear a smarter man than I discussing the end of human evolution, see Michio Kaku: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkuCtIko798

  2. regan1984 says:

    I agree with pigfish1116. It is quite rude to assume that the bushmen of northern Botswana are somewhat underdeveloped due to their lack of modern commodities like electricity. I also agree that we as a species are and will evolve with the use of electricity, as we did with fire. However, I also feel as if electricity has taken away a “human” element from the equation. Fire provided us with increased nutrition, I guess electricity has somewhat done the same. But as the author mentioned, fire allowed us early humans to create other useful aspects of society such as story telling etc. In a way, with our cultures incredible advancements in technology and the uses of electricity, I feel as if we’re beginning to loose that social connection. Just look at social media, theoretically it does the same thing as the fire did with story telling. We share stories and interactions. But there is a clear separation from actual physical human interaction. It’s just and interesting point I think we be could to discuss.

    • pigfish1116 says:

      Question for regan1984, do you think our use of social media and technology to communicate is causing our evolution to “rewind”? We have evolved so much through conflict resolve and diplomacy and mental stability because of social interaction but could technology be causing humans to lose our ability to effectively communicate?

      • regan1984 says:

        I would agree, but in general I believe that our generation, specifically, is the most influenced by social media yet. Granted that social media is definitely not inhibiting our ability to communicate in the long run, in terms of electricity’s relation to the societal effects of the fireside, I feel as if social communication has become less of a physical interaction and more an electronic one due to social media.

      • If I may tag along, I believe that technology is in itself, not all that bad as it is portrayed to be. Many have seen that video on Facebook about the guy who asked, who would later be his wife, for directions simply because he put his phone down. It may be true that the use of technology has negatively affected out verbal communication skills to the point were some students begin to shake once they have to present in front of a class. However, if applied correctly, technology could open frontiers such as what occurred with Skype. Skype completely changed the business industry, to the point were a corporation no longer had to send a representative to china for example, because they could simply turn on a camera and through a computer or table, enhance in meetings with people from around the world.

      • cfc0567owls says:

        I believe that the more important effect of using technology for communication has been the increasingly more interconnected world over the last two decades. Instead of isolating ourselves to our own local communities, technology has allowed us to interact with other people across the world. As we communicate with other people in other countries, we are realizing that we are all quite similar. This is, I believe, going to lead to the emergence of a single human civilization, working together for the benefit of mankind.

      • graduallychanging says:

        Pigfish116, I don’t think we should regard social media as a regression in our development. Social media has greatly improved our ability to interact with people on a global scale. Meeting with people that are located in other countries in person would require more expenses and sometimes hours of travel time, which is not the case for electronic communications. Especially in terms of networking, social media sites such as LinkedIn have helped many people to “meet” the right contacts and acquire employment, internships, and similar positions. LinkedIn, for example, has a plugin for websites that allows them to accept job applications based on LinkedIn profiles (https://developer.linkedin.com/apply-with-linkedin). For certain organizations, submitting a LinkedIn profile is equivalent to submitting a resume. Regardless of whether or not you regard communicating with a larger amount of people as a positive or negative action, having the option to do so is quite impressive.

  3. collegeblogger19 says:

    This was a very enjoyable article to read! It is interesting to think about firelight talk and how it could have impacted human evolution. Even in the present day, many people gather around campfires to bond socially and interact together by telling stories, eating food, and enjoying time together. I think it is definitely possible for firelight talk to have sparked something in human brains to affect evolution. However, in agreement with pigfish1116, it is difficult to accept every aspect of the study because of the use of the present day Bushmen–and early humans were probably a lot more underdeveloped than them.

    The article says that Weissner stated that firelight stories “bolstered the human ability to ‘read’ what others are thinking.” I think this is a very interesting point to draw upon from the study. Stories act as a way to bond with other people through the emotions of a particular story. I think as whole this study was very intriguing and provided much more information about the effects of fire other than the often-discussed nutritional/anatomical effects.

    • sunny2018 says:

      I agree with your opinion on how interesting it is that the article focused on the cultural effects of fire rather than the nutritional/anatomical effects. It’s interesting to think of fire as sparking some of our more social interactions. It makes sense in some ways; gathering to cook and eat, for example. But the theory that fire led to stories is fascinating.

  4. sm4321 says:

    very interesting blog post cfc0567owls. I enjoyed the subject matter presented in the article you chose by Wiessner. After reading some of the previous comments to the blog (by pigfish1116 and regan1984) about electricity and its effects on humans and their evolution, I would like to articulate a possible counter argument. Although electricity allows us to advance in a lot of ways as a society, it also has a lot of downfalls.
    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-book5-2008jul05-story.html
    In the article “‘The Dumbest Generation’ by Mark Bauerlein” author Lee Drutman talks about how recent advances in technology are stumping the growth of many different aspects of the human life (in intelligence, relationships with peers, and exercise). It points out many of the same aspects that were included in daytime talks as mentioned in the article by Wiessner. Things such as complaining, gossiping, and other negative types of communication.
    So while the fire side conversations had a way of pulling people together as a community and fostered positive evolution, I think it could be argued that modern day technology does the exact opposite. So while it is advancing us as a species in technological terms, does this come at a cost to our ability to connect with others? to be positive? Is it even really evolution if the cons outweigh the pros?

    • greyelephant1 says:

      sm4321, I love this article that points out how technology is doing the opposite that fires does to us. I am not quite sure I would call it evolution though. I think it can easily be argued that culturally we are evolving. However, there are certain aspects to the social life of humans that will never change. While humans may become less informed, such as who the Speaker of the House is, I do think humans will always be social. The new technology is evolving us towards connecting to each other in a different way. Now, it is very easy to have relationships with someone in a different part of the world due to Skype, FaceTime, Facebook and texting. I guess the electricity is causing us to evolve, but whether it is negative or positive could depend on the interpretation of the individual.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Interesting article, sm432. We hear this argument about our generation having no attention span, and that may be true (I would be lying if I said that I didn’t almost close that article half way through reading it), but the argument that we are “the dumbest generation” is preposterous. First and foremost, there is an effect known as “the Flynn effect” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect), which is the documented increase in average intelligence from generation to generation. Most importantly, however, we are the first generation to have grown up with the entire world at our fingertips. All of human history can be learned with a quick google search. We may be using the internet mostly for social media, but it’s not like that is the only way we utilize the internet. Look at what we are doing at this moment! We are using the internet to take a class, connecting each of us virtually, while we debate human evolution. The people who say we are “The Dumbest Generation” are mostly just aggravated baby boomers. I personally believe the benefits will outweigh the costs of technology, but maybe that’s just because I spend a lot of my free time on the internet!

  5. To the end of cultural evolution, I do think that control of electricity has and will continue to have an impact. To take it a step further, I think that the use of electricity towards social media–something that has arguably gotten out of control–could also help human social skills and involvement evolve in a positive way. What do you guys think is a good way to attempt this without stifling people’s freedom of speech/expression?

    • punky1218 says:

      I think it’s important to remember that for a species to evolve take a very long time. To see what social media might do a long way down the road is very well represented in the movie WALL-E. Everyone in the human race sits in a chair that glides them around and is on their computer the whole time, oblivious to the people around them.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      I’m not quite sure I understand your question, apluckypremed. What do you mean by “a good way to attempt this…”?

  6. greyelephant1 says:

    cfc0567owls, for the most part, I agree with Pigfish1116 and collegeblogger19 in that this idea of a study was very unique and refreshing. I think the data gathered from the study is very concrete, however I don’t really see any clear conclusions that could be taken away from it. I had never really thought all about the cultural evolution aspect of fire in our lives, but with the statistics that the article suggests, I can easily believe it. I believe what makes fires involve much more talk about stories partly because there could be something stimulating about the warmth the fire offers, but part of it is just the intimacy of the group. If that same group of people were put into a room with couches, electric lighting in an intimate space in the evening, I wonder how much of the talk will still be stories. I think fire could play a role, however the evidence for that is not strong enough.

    As for the human species themselves evolving over electricity, I agree with pigfish1116 in that there may be physical features that evolve due to our exposure to light and music. But I am not sure how strong the connection between the physical and cultural evolution caused by fire is.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      greyelephant1, I think you bring up a good point that the intimacy of the group might have a larger effect on story telling than the fire itself. I think the night atmosphere probably also has something to do with it. However, like you said, in a room with couches and electrical lighting, I can definitely see the same type of atmosphere playing out as one around the fire would.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Greyelephant1, one way I interpret the impact of the campfire was that it extended the hours of the day. After completing the daily chores and tasks, once all the work is done for the day and the sun goes down, the entire tribe gets together to relax at the end of the day. The campfire would provide protection and lighting – and as you pointed out, warmth – and allowed for interactions to occur and for connections to be made. As collegeblogger19 pointed out, the fire allowed early man to be able to read each others emotions better. The development of communities was one of the most important milestones in human evolution, perhaps the campfires really were what lead to that.

  7. glowcloud says:

    I think that something we often forget about when talking about how modern technology may shape evolutionary trends is the fact that evolution is a very, very long process. I don’t think we can look at things like biotechnology or in this case electricity that are quite new (on the scale of evolutionary time) and be able to deduce the effects that they will have on our development. They might have temporary effects such as giving us poorer eyesight, but will they affect our species as a whole? Technology itself evolves so quickly that any one form really isn’t around long enough to significantly affect human evolution.

    • collegeblogger19 says:

      glowcloud, I think you bring up a very valid point. The evolutionary time period requires such a long time span that it is difficult to see the effects of something like technology on human evolution. However, even though technology itself evolves so quickly, as you stated, I think it will indeed have an impact on human evolution. Though technology will often change its form, I think the accumulation of all technology will have profound impacts on evolution because of it’s overwhelming uses in society. And, because technology evolves from one form to another so quickly, it may affect human evolution in a fast-paced way as well.

    • It think it should also be pointed out that we may adjust to technology but the evolution of technology is based far more on us and our response to it than vice versa. Technology is developed for us and it might sometimes have a negative impact but as glowcloud said, it changes very quickly. And with the advancement of personal technology also comes the advancement of medical technology which could potentially compensate for things like hearing loss.

      • anonymousgwustudent- you bring up a good point regarding evolution. To my understand, the conversation here is not simply referring to the human adaptations to the use of technology but rather the genotype and phenotype consequences of this, which as was mentioned, takes millions of years, in mammals, to take effect.

      • greyelephant1 says:

        anonymousgwustudent, that is a good point, that with this advancement of technology used for social purposes comes technology that could be used for medical purposes. I also agree that technology changes so fast, almost too fast for us to evolve to it within the span it is used. For example, for a while humans only stared at a small TV screen in black and white. Now, there are giant TV’s and computers with amazing graphics that could potentially lead to our eyes evolving to cater to the new lifestyle. However, by the time we would ever evolve really, the new technology would be out. It is an interesting idea, thinking about the way we evolve to technology and the affect technology has on us as humans.

    • Glowcloud,
      For me it seems that you are right when talking about how technology evolves so fast that any one piece won’t be able to have a significant effect on human evolution. But I would also like to suggest that as technology gets better and better that eventually it will simply replace evolution. We will be able to fix our own problems. We have already made glasses for people who have bad eyesight and have medicines that can cure things that years ago would have killed people. We are using technology to keep ourselves alive and therefore are essentially creating our own evolution. Almost making it obsolete. It is an interesting thought.

      • glowcloud says:

        That’s a really fascinating idea! In theory I can see how that might be possible, because we may have the means to fix any problems with ourselves that might arise. However, I don’t think that evolution can ever truly be replaced. After all, as we were discussing with regards to the milk article, much of evolution arises from random genetic mutation. But that’s still a really unique idea. Our ability to care for ourselves in general (without regard to specific technology) probably will have some sort of affect on human evolution.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Good point glowbutt, but hypothetically, if the singularity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity) does happen in 2045, as promised, do you think that would have a larger impact on the future of human evolution? Maybe electricity won’t be have as major an impact as fire, but certainly the merging of our brains and computers will be monumental enough to do so.

  8. punky1218 says:

    I agree with pigfish and regan. I thought it was unfair to use the Kalahari Bushmen of Northern Botswana as a way to compare them with the conversations that took place a million years ago. The early humans that we being discussed had less developed brains. To be able to accurately predict the conversations of early humans is something we will never be able to do. What I did find interesting in the article was the relationship between fire side conversation with bonding. There is something special about sitting around a camp fire and talking that daytime conversation doesn’t compare to.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      I agree that the conversations of Bushmen may be a questionable way to understand the conversations of early man. In a couple earlier comments I did defend using them, but I do have some doubts after reading some of the comments. For one thing, the data and recordings of conversations were compiled for a separate project where they had old stories recorded and translated. It was only after looking at the conversations that Weissner thought about its implications on human evolution. Though it may be an intriguing hypothesis, I am not quite sure how I feel about how they came to their conclusion any more.

  9. I actually studied the Ju/’hoansi in my highschoo anthropology course and think it is very important to realize just how social this society was/is in other means than just fire. The entire structure of this society is based around the sharing of items and ideas. Because of the harsh environment that they lived in it was imperative that groups looked after each other and helped each other when they were in need. So the society needed to stick together and be very connected. They had gift exchange programs and other methods that kept the groups in contact and made it so that they were always helping one another and looking out for the group as a whole and rather than the individual. So it is not all surprising that this was the society that was chosen to be studied. And it quite possibly has more to do with their social constructs than their “undeveloped” society. The Ju/’hoansi developed in a way that promoted communication and molded the system that was required for their survival in that brutal environment.

    • sm4321 says:

      Thank you for some advanced knowledge on the topic, vikingsfootball33. I like the way that you spoke about the culture and society of the people and I think that all of the things that you mentioned are what contributed to the successful evolution of these people. In this light, I would like to ask if that culture was simply “meant to be” and was going to survive and advance without the fire. I know that the fire was helpful at night when it was dark, or when it was cold, but I think it could be argued that these people had enough of the right ideas that they would have advanced and evolved no matter what. Just an idea, I am not meaning to discredit the idea of fire helping.

      • cfc0567owls says:

        Perhaps the tribe feel so connected because of the group fire. The article mentions that each family has their own fire, but in the evenings, they gather around one large community fire. I do not think that the tribe would be as close if there was no fire.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Thank you very much for your comment, vikingsfootball33. I didn’t really do a lot of research on the Ju/’hoansi tribe before my post so I am very glad you were able to give us some cultural context. The things you listed above are very fascinating, and I would be interested in learning a little bit more about the tribe. Can you post some links that I might follow to learn a little bit more?

  10. moneytrees3001 says:

    As we’ve been spending a lot of time recently discussing the importance of a large number and variety of sources when presenting research information, the lack of sources in this article stood out to me. The entire article is based off the study of one professor at the University of Utah, and simply works through each one of her points. The lack of sources makes Wiessner’s ideas, already fringe and speculative, seem unsupported and one dimensional. Good articles are characterized by their diverse selection of arguments from different side of issues, and this article seemed lacking without that. Also, by Bizup’s BEAM schematic, every source of info in this article is background or exhibit, as no new arguments are proposed by the author. While there is a place for articles that merely recount studies, I feel that this article provided a shallow view into this interesting field of study.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      I’m sorry if you feel that the article isn’t good enough. Quality of the article aside, do you have any thoughts about the research study or its implications? Perhaps I didn’t post the best article about the research, but the study in question does have some interesting implications.

  11. regan1984 says:

    What I am beginning to see and notice is that the idea of reverse evolution seems to be an underlying possibility in this equation. Is it fair to say that as our civilization advances, and we become more connected across the world, that eventually instead of learning and changing with the advance of technology, the human race will begin to correlate directly with technological changes in terms of “evolving”? I mean, if we’re bringing the concept of WALL-E into this.

  12. serrobert says:

    I think what vikingsfootball33 said earlier did not go far enough. I think that we have or will soon reach a point when technology makes up for all/ most genetic disadvantages. If that happens, isn’t it possible that humans will simply cease to evolve as our technology has completely removed us from nature. Or even deeper, will our own technology become the new environment in which humans evolve to be best adapted to our own virtual reality?

    • cfc0567owls says:

      I like the question you raise about technology becoming our new environment, serrobert. That is a very interesting possibility. When speaking about natural selection, we usually talk about the predators of a species and other ways it can be killed. That is how the negative traits get taken out of the gene pool. But in our modern civilizations, our biggest predator is disease. Whatever will cause the next hypothetical evolutionary milestone will be pretty monumental. It is possible that technology can potentially be that milestone.

  13. arcanium82 says:

    Cfc, this is a good find. A very interesting article. I have long thought that fire is one of the most basic connections we have to our ancestors, in a behavioral sense. There is something very primal about sitting around an open fire with a group of friends. A campfire presents a warm and welcoming aura that many people find very hard to resist. We always learn about the physical benefits of fire in allowing to cook our food to kill bacteria and absorb more nutrients into our bodies, but less often we think about how fire affected our behaviors.

    After reading this article I am convinced that fire probably did play a major role in our evolution and also our social development as a species. Malcolm Gladwell talks about something similar in his book “Outliers”. There is an entire section where he explores the effects of the environment on formations and traits of societies. More specifically, he focuses on the types of crops that fledgling societies grow. Based on the type of crop and its planting procedures and harvesting schedule, it directly influences the society. For instance, Americans have summer vacations because most of the crops grown here are seasonal and children had to help with the harvest.

    Conversely, in China, there is no summer vacation because their staple crop was rice. When planting rice by hand it takes an immense amount of patience and calculation to plant each seed in its proper place to ensure maximum output. Gladwell argues that this meticulous planting ritual shows itself in modern Chinese society as they continue to be very structured, detail oriented and mathematically inclined.

    Seeing the impact that fire has on human behavior, it is not hard to believe that it has profoundly influenced human development. Electricity was a major discovery, but I do not believe that it is as important as the domestication of fire.

    • cfc0567owls says:

      Thank you for mentioning “Outliers” arcanium82, I’m currently downloading the book onto my iPad as I write this. I have heard of Malcom Gladwell before but I am yet to read one of his books. I look forward to reading it!

  14. macnplease says:

    I’m enjoying imagining being in a fireside storytelling circle after reading this article. I can only imagine how intimate and bonding such an experience was, without phones and cars and modern living standards.

    What I really like about this article is that it is comprehensive; it covers all of the bases of the study and explains the methods and experiences of the researchers effectively. One thing i think could be improved, though, is the delivery of the implication of the study. It didn’t feel like one that was too important. Yes, perhaps our circadian rhythms and work patterns changed by a few hours as a result of controlling fire, but I can’t imagine this had a major genetic change in our evolutionary framework. Moreover, the study speaks little of this.

    To answer the question posed at the end of the article, I doubt the control of electricity (on its own, in the same way as control of fire) will effect our evolutionary development. The primary difference between electricity and fire is the effect it has on us; fire allowed for cooked meals and more light, allowing for changes in diet and overall changes in circadian rhythms. While yes, electricity supplies more light, people still tend to go to sleep around the same hours of the night as they would have with fire. Also, electricity brings many other benefits like the internet, probably the most important invention in the history of mankind. The internet, specifically, will probably have a huge impact on our mental development: in the future, we will develop in ways that do no require us to have as much committed to memory.

  15. pianokid123 says:

    I always found it fastinating Homo sapiens did not invent fire — Homo erectus did! Also, the article only touches on some of the changes fire had on humans. A more well known fact is that fire lead to a more diverse diet, leading to profound anatomical changes in our digestive system and brain size (http://www.npr.org/2010/08/02/128849908/food-for-thought-meat-based-diet-made-us-smarter).

  16. butterjones says:

    I absolutely loved this article! I can really relate, because the subject matter is very near and dear to my heart. I have been going to sleep away camp since 3rd grade, and have been working as a camp counselor for the last couple summers. So I’ve basically spent every summer of my life living out in the woods, talking by the campfire at night. The author of this article wrote, “There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It’s intimate…Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions.” This reminds me of a line in a camp song we have– “…you can find more meaning in a campfire’s glow than you’ll ever find in a year-or-so”. It’s a bit cheesy, but I really think it’s true. Even when I’m home, me and my friends spend a lot of our nights out in the woods or at the beach, around a campfire (regardless of the season). It’s definitely true that our deepest, most fruitful conversations always happen in that setting (that might sound like we’re being pseudo-philosophic, but I’ve really found it to be true). I’ve always wondered why this is– maybe just because sitting around the fire, under the stars, leave us free to think existentially? Since we have nothing else requiring our attention, we can put our full focus into the conversations and the stories and each other? Is this residual behavior from our ancestors?

    I also really related to the author’s comment, “Such extended communities allowed humans to colonize our planet because they had networks of mutual support”– again, it might sound cheesy, but i really believe that all the time counselors spend bonding around the fire is a vital part of what makes us a great team to take care of our children. Being a counselor is majorly stressful– the liability associated with being a caretaker for 30+ kids (around horses, water, bows & arrows, fire, and wild animals no less…), the influence of “helicopter parents”, the fact that kids can just be downright difficult sometimes– and camps wouldn’t function without “networks of mutual support” between staff members. Our bond is essential to making camp run.

    Are my anecdotal connections to the bushmen and this article proof of the evolutionary significance of fireside chats? I don’t really think so. The data is unconvincing and far-fetched. However, I do believe that the domestication (for lack of a better word) of fire definitely helped develop our social skills as a species. I don’t need any data to prove that– I feel like it’s self evident.

  17. sunny2018 says:

    I like the articles’ focus on cultural evolution, and how fire contributed not only to nutrition, but to story-telling practices. I would agree that electricity is as important to our evolution as fire. More than storytelling, it is a means of communication. The Internet is an enormous part of our cultural evolution: we have all of the information in the world at our fingertips, and can contact people all over the world in seconds. I feel that fire contributed more to our physiological evolution, while electricity contributes more to our cultural development.

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