Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to fire. In many ways, fire is the basis of humanity. We mastered fire and it led to many evolutionary changes in us. Cooked food, for example, changed out hunting and gathering patterns. Fire allowed us to survive in climates we normally couldn’t. It provided light to allow us to work within the dark. And to discover that the dark wasn’t nearly so empty as we might have believed.
Now, of course, we have electricity for all that. Flashlights (torches for our British cousins), lamps, florescent bulbs, neon, whole cities shining bright as the sun in the middle of the night. That’s modern life. But fire…it still holds a primal fascination and a primal fear. We know fire can hurt us, but we also are captivated by it, whether it’s a candle light or a roaring bonfire.
Well, turns out there’s an answer. Not as romantic as we might like, but it all comes down to not mastering fire as a child. In fact, it’s not a universal fascination. Children who grow up in parts of the world where fire is still commonly used in day to day life aren’t at all fascinated by fire. Meanwhile, those of us in the West (and, to be fair, the East too – Japanese children certainly don’t play around with fire any more than an American child does) are just utterly captivated by the dancing flames.
It is an evolutionary instinct – we instinctively know fire is dangerous and we need to pay attention to it. This is also the reason children like predatory animals. Tigers, lions, wolves…all predators we are genetically conditioned to pay attention to. But when those same animals are “safe” (or stuffed or on TV, etc), it goes from fear-based watchfulness to full blown fascination. The same holds true for fire. Granted fire can and does still get out of control – cooking related fire is the leading cause of house fires – but generally we have invested a great deal as a society to keep ourselves safe from fire.
I want to leave you with a single thought…if the fascination with fire comes mostly from a childhood where we do not learn to master that basic human tool…
…how does that explain Michael Bay?