November 26, 2007 — David Biello

November 7, 2001 — Sarah Graham

Neuroscience. Evolution. Health. Chemistry. Physics. Technology.

What is fire? That may seem too-elementary a question, but understanding what it is and where it came from is vitally important for understanding the human journey. The first fires were the quick release of stored sunlight energy that life forms, plants in that instance, had used to build themselves as they made their “decisions,” and it was from vegetation that recently died and was dry enough to burn. The energy was released from burning so fast that it became far hotter (because the molecules were violently "pushed" by the reaction that also released photons) than the biological process of making animals warm-blooded. Hot enough in fact that the released photons' (energetic enough) so that human eyes could see them, in a phenomenon called flames. Flames are visible side-effects of that intense energy release. The rapid movement of the molecules as they rocketed due to that great release of energy is the motion that powers the industrial age. Those rocketing molecules move pistons in automobile engines and , and are behind the damaging explosions of bombs and the propulsive explosions of rockets. For more than one million years, all human fires were made by burning vegetation, and wood in particular. What was fire doing? Energy stored by plants, trees in particular, was violently released by controlled fires for human-serving purposes of warmth, light, food preparation (to obtain more energy from food) and protection from predation, and it also became the heart of social gatherings. Humans have stared into fires for a million years or more.

Version 1.2, published May 2015. Version 1.0 published September 2014.

Significant Energy Events in Earth's and Life's History as of 2014

Humans are the large-brained, allegedly sentient species that dominates Earth, and humans have greatly altered evolutionary processes, down to “engineering” the DNA of organisms. We have a “nature” and multi-billion year heritage, as any organism does. How much have we changed ours, and how much do our natures really matter? Can we consciously change our natures or overcome them? The nature/nurture debate is quite old, and as the domestication of plants and animals has demonstrated, or the , nurture can nature by selective breeding at the least. The , as an experiment, and the changes were dramatic. There is plenty about humanity that is nature at work, such as a child's acquisition of language or the urge to procreate (and the related ). Also, a great deal is socially learned. At least half of the variance in human traits such as intelligence and personality has been attributed to genetics, and nearly all the rest is socialization by the peer group (I believe that the , and the guiding role, but that is not scientifically demonstrable, at least today). But few of those scientific findings regarding human nature, if any of them, are relevant to why imperial "entertainment" is no longer . The improvement in standard of living due to increased energy consumption has precipitated many changes in what was once considered human "nature," such as . In a , would the dominant ideologies exalt and ?

A number of acronyms in this essay are not commonly used and at least one is unique to my work.

The PETM, according to , “only” lasted . The early (c. 56 to 34 mya), which followed the PETM, is also known as one of Earth’s Golden Ages of Life. It has also been called a Golden Age of Mammals, but all life on Earth thrived then. In 1912, the doomed spent a day collecting Antarctic fossils and still had them a month later when the entire team died in a blizzard. The fossils were recovered and examined in London. They surprisingly yielded evidence that tropical forests once existed near the South Pole. They were Permian plants. That was not long after , and was generations before orthodoxy accepted Wegener’s idea. Antarctica has rarely strayed far from the South Pole during the past 500 million years, so the fossils really represented polar forests. A generation before the Scott Expedition’s Antarctic fossils were discovered, scientists had been finding similar evidence of polar forests in the Arctic, within several hundred kilometers of the North Pole, on and . Scientists were finding in the Arctic, which were much younger than Permian plants.

Below is a diagram of two hydrogen atoms before and after reaction, as they bond to form H2.


Allows for more energetic respiration than anaerobic respiration.

Warfare, in which polities fought over water and land, began in earnest in southern Mesopotamia about 4000 BCE, and the third millennium BCE (2999 to 2000 BCE) was a time of constant Mesopotamian warfare. The sieges that city-states inflicted on each other were brutal. When one city conquered another, the men were all killed or blinded and enslaved, and the women and children were enslaved. Slavery began . Slavery only made economic sense in sedentary populations, and by the time of early civilizations and writing, slavery was a universal institution. Enslaving somebody when people lived nomadically would have been impractical.

Allows for direct energy capture of complex life, and led to plants.

About 3800 BCE, the Sumerian city of was established at the new mouth of the Euphrates; Eridu was already becoming an inland city, although more from a sea level decline than silt at that time. The ruins of seaside Ur reside more than 200 kilometers inland today. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

, to eventually achieve modern levels, begins

Early elites claimed divine status, and the priesthood abetted the fiction, and a universal practice among early civilizations was erecting monumental architecture. The was the first such structure. Anthropologists think that monumental architecture may be a form of societal/elite , so that a society can flaunt the resources used to make such overawing showings, both to encourage submission to the society's obvious wealth and power, and to also discourage attempts to compete with it. In Sumer, ziggurats were not only the center of the , but also held precious metals such as gold. The priesthood directed mass economic activity, such as organizing irrigation projects. In some ways, the priesthood was only adapting to urbanization. Their professional ancestors developed calendars and other methods of synchronizing vital activities such as plantings and harvests, with their attendant festivals; mistimings by mere days could lead to famine. Sumerian temples had statues in their central place of worship, in human form, bedecked with jewels and other precious adornments. Offerings of food were presented to the statues, which temple personnel ate that night. In the third millennium BCE, temples owned land and had their own workforce, which was again a “voluntary” one that discharged religious obligations. Although those temples performed valuable societal functions such as taking in orphans, the earliest urban religions were obviously businesses and could become rackets, in a pattern that continues to this day.