Why Are People Mesmerized by Fire?

Is there anything more enticing than the warm glow of candlelight? Whether you need to settle your mind for a quiet meditation, create a romantic environment or pass the time during an evening out camping, firelight will always set the mood. But why? Why is fire so mesmerizing? Why can’t we help but stare?

It turns out there may be an evolutionary reason why a flickering flame captures our attention so deeply. Daniel Fessler, evolutionary anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, thinks he’s uncovered a key to the adult fascination with fire: it’s something modern adults never learned to control.

Sound a little far-fetched? Think about it. Fire has been a vital element of human survival for more than one million years. Managing it  learning to start, maintain and use it well  is one of the reasons we evolved so rapidly as a species. And yet, most modern adults have never learned how to do so.

Unlike a cat who instinctively knows how to hunt a mouse or bird, people do not instinctively know how to produce or control fire. (Drop just about any modern individual into the woods with the sole instruction to start a flame going and you’ll see what I mean.) In fact, Fessler discovered that in societies where fire is used daily and purposefully as a tool – say, Sumatra, for example – children are only interested in it until they attain mastery, typically around the age of 7.

Father and son warms near campfire in forest

“The motives that drive fire learning are only incompletely satisfied [in the West], with the result that, throughout life, fire retains greater allure or fascination than would normally be the case,” Fessler told LiveScience. In other words, if you don’t get enough experience controlling fire at an early age, that curiosity becomes a hunger that just never goes away.

Now far beyond the point of needing it to cook dinner or keep our families warm, fire remains an integral part of human culture. While no longer used as a major source of light in most households, candles are more popular than ever. We use their light to mark important celebrations, conduct rituals, accent our homes, ignite romance, soothe our senses and generally create a warm glow for all to enjoy. What would a camping trip be without a warm campfire to close out the day?

Fire calls us back to our former, centuries-past selves  back when it was a necessary element of human flourishing and the center of so much community life. Remember your ancestors, whenever you light a candle or get drawn into the pulsing light of the fireplace; their mastery of fire got you where you are now.

Related Stories:

56 comments

Maria P
Maria Pyesterday

TYFS

SEND
Gabriel C
Gabriel C2 days ago

Thank you for sharing,

SEND
Isabel A
Isabel A5 days ago

tyfs

SEND
Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson8 days ago

Thank you.

SEND
Peter B
Peter B9 days ago

Thanks

SEND
Lizzy O
Past Member 21 days ago

many thanks

SEND
Lizzy O
Past Member 21 days ago

many thanks.

SEND
Toni W
Toni W21 days ago

TYFS

SEND
Toni W
Toni W21 days ago

TYFS

SEND
Diane E
Diane E22 days ago

Interesting.

SEND