Saturday, May 25, 2013

Meditation on Fire

Ancient Greeks considered fire, along with earth, air, and water, to be one of the four classic elements.

photo by Tyler MacNeal
We know now that fire is made up of several different substances primarily a mixture of hot gases.
O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.
William Shakespeare
What is fire?

Chemical Reaction

The flames of fire are a chemical reaction that occurs between oxygen and a fuel source like wood or a combustible gas. The chemical reaction produces smoke, steam, light, and heat.

The ecology and anthropology of fire are well studied.

photo by Tyler MacNeal

Fire Ecology is the study of Fire and Life. That is,
  • the fire dependence of living organisms,
  • the adaptation of plants and animals to wildfires, and
  • the effects of fire on ecosystems.


The anthropology of fire is focused on how early humans used fire and on how the controlled use of fire changed over time.

Evidence in the massive Wonderwerk Cave, an ancient solution cavity in dolomite rocks, indicates that human ancestors used controlled fire a million years ago.

Scientists speculate the use of fire by homo erectus might have been a turning point in human evolution. For human ancestors and early humans, we know the control of fire:
  • provided warmth;
  • allowed for the cooking of prey;
  • provided protection from predators and insects;
  • provided light for expanded activity into the night; and
  • allowed for waste disposal;

Art & Literature

Fire has captivated of generations of artists and writers perhaps because fire has constructive and destructive potential, and perhaps because it has an abundance of metaphors.

Fire is found throughout cultural mythology ― most notably Prometheus who was credited for the theft of fire for human use that enabled progress and civilization.

It is stern work, it is perilous work, to thrust your hand in the sun
And pull out a spark of immortal flame to warm the hearts of men:
But Prometheus, torn by the claws and beaks whose task is never done,
Would be tortured another eternity to go stealing fire again.

Joyce Kilmer in "The Proud Poet" in Main Street and Other Poems