What is Bringing Fire?

To bring fire is to bring skills and forethought to bear on a problem.

According to Greek legend, in a time ruled by cruel and capricious gods, Prometheus, whose name in ancient Greek literally means “fore-thinker,” was a lone champion of the human race. Against the wishes of Zeus, the jealous and petty king of Olympus, he brought mortals fire, as well as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, and science.

The moral of this legend is clear. The universe may be a challenging place, ruled by forces that care not for our concerns and sometimes even seek to do us harm, but against those forces, we have gifts that were hard-won: the forethought to envision a better life and to link actions with consequences; the ability to develop tools, and the skills to use those tools ever more effectively.

According to archeologists, control of fire by humans definitively dates back 125,000 years. Imagine our ancestors, these early humans. Genetically our equal in every way, possessing the same capacity for thought and emotion, but lacking every asset that civilization has ever granted us. Lacking a history of knowledge, they were bewildered by phenomena they did not understand; lacking the power to shape their environment, they were beset by the dangers of the untamed world. How they must have suffered! And how their spirits must have soared, when they learned how to banish darkness, forge tools, and turn their predators into their prey. Prometheus — the manifestation of skills and forethought — gave them that ability.

The use of skills and forethought to produce technology that enhances our lives is not only an effective way to achieve a goal; it is to take part in a history that stretches back to the first stirrings of civilization. It is a primal expression of one of our most innately human qualities.