20 oxygen

The Human ability to change and learn and grow, to sense and initiate, the fail and begin over, is nothing short of phenomenal.

We are unlike any other species.  As I ponder these things, Smudge lies on my lap, and whilst we’ll train him to do a number of things which will suit him, he won’t develop and grow over time in the same way a Human is able to.  He’s surrounded by books, images, a computer, pens and paper but he’s never once been interested in them apart from bopping them about as a play thing.  He can be surrounded by these for the rest of his life and the same will be true every day.


I’m being fascinated by Stephen Pyne’s exploration of fire and am wondering at how important the ability to start, contain, and utilise fire has been to our development as a species.

If we could not make fire, would we have migrated across so much of the planet, or be largely fruiterian in diet, or developed so many of our skills, or would the most valued members of society be those who maintained communal fires, made possible by natural fires and carried back to the dwelling areas.

Or was it inevitable we would capture and understand fire to the extent we use it now: think about our phones, cars, TVs, food, space travel, books, computers, home-building – at different points in their existence fire is necessary.  Fire is hugely important to us:

‘Yet ultimately the relationship is deeply unequal.  Remove fire, and humanity will soon wither away.  Remove people, and fire will adapt and establish its own stable regime.’*

Yet, with ingenuity, we are makers of fire.

This is true individually, but we are especially clever in our cooperation, making it possible for even more elaborate forms of fire and products from fire to be produced.

Here’s a metaphor for the potency of our lives.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, fire is dependent on three elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat.  Fuel and oxygen, whilst highly combustible, will not normally spontaneously catch fire; they require the introduction of heat to ignite – stones falling against each other and sparking, lightening, or lava.

You and your community brings the heat to the fuel of the artefacts you find around you and the oxygen of ways of thinking and world views.*

The kind of heat we are depends on what we are passionate about, our skills, and our life experiences, but that we are makers of fire is not in doubt.

The first sentence is really about you: your ability to change and learn and grow, to sense and initiate, the fail and begin over, is nothing short of phenomenal.

(*From Stephen Pyne’s Fire.)
(**My friend Alex McManus has written about this in his own saga of fire: Makers of Fire.)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.