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?