Reality Blind - Vol. 1

TaaL: Humans may justly consider fire a “discovery”; I’d tend to consider it a rare emergent symbiosis between two types of dissipative systems. Biology works by co-opting various kinds of self-organizing thermodynamic processes which pre-date life, and in this case, fire was added to your human “ extended phenotype, ” creating a qualitatively different sort of superorganism. This symbiosis was as much a game-changer as the symbiosis which created chimeric cells with two different DNA systems; the mitochondria which make animal life possible. The ability to do this was dependent, more than anything else, upon scale: there’s no way for tiny organisms to directly manipulate fire. Fire manipulation is an emergent possibility only for the very largest animals in very specific environments and niches. It is clearly not simply about intelligence, but about the chance occurrence of a number of simultaneous abilities; for instance, if humans had hooves instead of fingers, they wouldn’t have been able to easily carry smoldering branches around, and if they’d been in a rainf orest rather than on an African savannah, there wouldn’t have been enough dry wood around for it to work. At the far extreme, consider Earth’s cetaceans – the whales and dolphins – who arrived at large brains and presumably self-awareness millions of years before your species did. Fire, for a migratory sea creature, would be a non- starter in every sense of the word, no matter how intelligent it had become. (I do wonder if other animals have periodically discovered fire over hundreds of millions of years on your planet, and had it just not worked out for them? Charcoal beetles seek flaming wood. Bombardier beetles create high temperatures with hypergolic liquids. Was there ever a beetle which started its own fires? If so, it’s gone now.) The Bottom Line: The direct manipulation of fire is the only basically unique thing about man as an organism. All else is emergent from qualitative differences and context, and a matter of degree.


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