Man learned to use fire at least 400,000 years ago. Fire functioned as a tool and extended the time that people remained awake. Fire offered the opportunity to converse and express opinions. The ancient fireside chats formed the basis for human behavior, religion, art, and culture according to research conducted by Polly Wiessner, an anthropology professor at the University of Utah, and colleagues that was published in the edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study analyzed the relationship of culture with fire as demonstrated by the Kung Bushmen that live in the Kalahari Desert of northeast Namibia and northwest Botswana. These people were chosen because their lives most closely reflect the lives of people 400,000 years ago. The guiding concept is that man lived like these people for the majority of mankind’s existence and the behaviors associated with fire after dark serve as a guide to human development.
One major finding of the study was the difference between daytime and nighttime conversations. Daytime interactions included complaints, gossip, and criticism 34 percent of the time, economic concerns 31 percent of the time, jokes 16 percent of the time, and stories six percent of the time. The firelight conversations were 81 percent stories, seven percent criticism, and four percent economics. The analysis was gleaned from recorded and transcribed conversations between 2011 and 2013 from 4,000 Kung Bushmen.
Firelight had a mellowing effect on the Kung Bushmen according to the authors. Higher levels of intimacy, greater socialization, and more cooperation were seen in talks around a fire. Healing rituals and communication with gods were enhanced. The authors claim that people could actually understand what another person was thinking without verbal or physical cues during fireside gatherings.
The authors assert without proof that the use of electricity for light has produced a loss of the assets that fire brought to human culture. The speed of modern life does not allow for the relaxation or level of communication that was seen in “primitive” people. The time for contemplation of self, consideration of others, interaction with children, and consideration of the spiritual has been lost to modern man according to the researchers.