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Fire (creation of)

Technology, as discussed, extends our bodies—so that a spear starts as the arm that reaches out to grab an animal, then becomes a “long arm” (eventually, as a missile, it becomes a very long arm).

The heuristic to discover a new technology is not to emulate the process itself but to discover its principle. Hence to emulate a bird in order to fly is futile—you end up flapping your wings while covered in feathers; yet to fly you need to understand lift (an abstraction) and the flow of air under a wing.

Our first adventures in the air were in hot air balloons. This was because the principle “hot air causes things to rise” was understood for centuries. It was more apparent than how birds fly because there was less distraction—people are emotional about birds, yearn to be like them, and are distracted by things like feathers (per Icarus) that are not essential to flight.

However, everyone had seen ashes lifted by fire from the start—so it was easy to abstract the principle (hot air = flight). Fire itself is a form of technology, so we abstracted a principle from another abstraction.

Fire is among our earliest technologies. How was it discovered? I have a speculation to make, but, firstly, how is fire an extension of our bodies? Answer: our bodies produce heat, and fire is an external heat source—it is heat extended, heat you can hold in the hand. The main benefit from fire is not light but heat on a cold night, heat to cook with, and heat to ward off hostile animals.

As with all technology, fire concentrates and simplifies a process within us and externalises it from us—the fire is hotter than any human body, just as the car is faster than any human runner, or the computer faster than any human mathematician.

How was fire discovered? I suggest that when we are cold that we rub ourselves to get warm—we run our hands over our bodies in a vigorous motion. I suggest that people who rubbed their hands together sometimes rubbed wood and stone between their hands—stones, in particular, will retain heat if rubbed together (and could then be held as “hot water bottles”).

Sooner or later, a man who rubbed the stones together in a vigorous way would produce sparks—especially with flint. And this would be pleasurable to watch on a cold night—and that would cause him to rub with greater vigour. The eventual result would be a fire.

Heat is generated in the human body by the action of the heart, the circulation of the blood—at base, the heart is “rubbing” motion, backwards and forwards; and it was this principle that we abstracted, though not through conscious intent, in order to create fire. That is how we created artificial heat—among the first technologies.

This is, of course, speculative—we can’t know how people first created fire, or if there were multiple different ways in which it was created. However, I find my account plausible, based on what we know about how technologies are developed. It should also be added that, as with all technologies, no heat source is as versatile and reliable as the human body itself—in comparison, a fire is a fragile thing indeed.


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