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Why do humans like explosions so much?

  1. Mar 25, 2016 #1


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    Why do humans like explosions so much, while all the other animal species I know are afraid of them? Why do we enjoy watching a firework show or a chemical demonstrarion of a violent reaction?
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  3. Mar 25, 2016 #2


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    It's probably simply a fact that humans are more intelligent than animals--we know what is going on when we see an explosion and, usually, humans are the ones controlling or causing it in the first place. So we can pretty much disregard the noise, fire, or whatever else comes along with an explosion or violent reaction and just enjoy the thrill. Animals don't know any of this, so they just have to be fearful and cautious.

    Since you mentioned it, does anybody have any thermite in hand? :wink:
  4. Mar 25, 2016 #3
    That's a pretty good answer. Actually, when I first read the post, I wasn't too sure how to answer it, so I thought maybe I'd sit on my heels a while and come back to it later. But your post realigned my thinking on actually a paper I'm writing right now, which is on relating the evolution of the hominin brain to several important milestones in human cognitive and cultural evolution as evidenced in the archaeological record. One of the pivotal moments in human evolution that many biological anthropologists feel was a signature moment in the development of the human mind was the point where we hominins were able to control or "tame" fire. This was a pivotal moment, because as the OP noted, it is one of the principal features of behavior that distinguishes us from all other mammals, or animals in general (except maybe moths?)

    When did this capacity to tame fire appear in the human archaeological record? That's a good question and it is certainly a current topic of heated debate. I could list several dozen articles on the subject because I have been researching it. In fact, I'll cut and paste a few references from my notes below. It ranges wildly from as recent as 300kya to the appearance of Homo erectus around 1.8 mya. In my article, I'm addressing several different issues so I was initially looking to just find a certain date when we tamed fire, but the answer to this question is turning out to be much more complicated. TO be more specific, it looks as though this happened in stages, the first stage being the capacity of homo erectus to not run from fire when he/she first encountered it as happening naturally in it;s environment, i.e., say when lightning striked a tree, etc. Another stage was the "domestication" of fire to be used to cook, for warmth, and other uses.

    SO, to answer the OP's question, the fascination with explosions and fire or fireworks in general probably stems from a reward association built into the human brain that relates to the benefits that fire has given humans over the past million or so years.


    --Control of Fire

    --“ The simplest explanation is that there was no habitual use of fire before ca. 300–400 ka and therefore that fire was not an essential component of the behavior of the first occupants of the northern latitudes of the Old World.”


    --“ regular or habitual fire use developed in the region between 350,000-320,000 years ago. While hominins may have used fire occasionally, perhaps opportunistically, for some million years, we argue here that it only became a consistent element in behavioral adaptations during the second part of the Middle Pleistocene.”


  5. Mar 25, 2016 #4


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    To be sure, fireworks wouldn't exist without gunpowder, and gunpowder is a relatively recent invention/discovery, in terms of human history. It's only been known from the historical record beginning approximately 1200 years ago, although there is evidence that this substance was known even earlier:


    That the Chinese discovered gunpowder could be used quite effectively against their numerous enemies (particularly the Mongols) bears no small part in why gunpowder technology spread over the Asian and European continents quite rapidly after its military uses were demonstrated. Gunpowder had more kick than earlier incendiary substances, like Greek fire, and the people of the ancient world did not shy away from witnessing any spectacle they could, and nothing is more spectacular than a loud explosion in color.


    In addition to making the Mongols disappear, the Chinese used their fireworks to drive out evil spirits. The celebratory aspects of gunpowder use eventually followed the military ones to Europe, but it took a little longer for that to occur.
  6. Mar 25, 2016 #5
  7. Mar 25, 2016 #6
    Not so sure if people like explosions. Explosions cause a lot of death, pain and suffering.

    There is something about the possibility that humans are genetically coded to like fireplaces, because it played a role in our evolution.
    And there is something about human consciousness making certain experiences different, because we know what they are. Like humans liking the pain capsicum causes because they know it is phantom pain.
  8. Mar 25, 2016 #7


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    I do! I also like burning stuff when I'm bored :oldbiggrin:
  9. Mar 25, 2016 #8
    You know, again, it's interesting in the timing of your comments because my mom is an English and humanities teacher at a local community college and just last week she wanted me to grade about 40 essays for her because she was overloaded with 6 classes. The papers were really interesting, if not poorly written, everything from gay marriage to gun rights to slut shaming to racism in sports, etc. One of the papers, though, was about Juvenille fire-starters, which isn't a joke, it's a real problem which likely stems from some sort of chemical imbalance so it's not a joke or something to make light of. It's a real problem.

    http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/stopping.aspx [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  10. Mar 25, 2016 #9


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    If arsonism wasn't a crime . . .
  11. Mar 25, 2016 #10


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    Just because I like to burn things down doesn't mean I set things fire that threaten lives of people or any living being. I wouldn't damage any property that isn't mine. I'm always very careful even when there is a candle in my room.
    This is an extreme case. Those people are psychopats. I know some people that lit the dumpster in our neighborhood just to take attention of their friends. They clearly have phsychological issues. I wouldn't do something like that.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
  12. Mar 26, 2016 #11

    jim mcnamara

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    @Garlic - please stop 'personal' comments. That is the path to thread lock. And this is an interesting and offbeat topic, so let's stay with Science.
  13. Mar 26, 2016 #12
    If the explosions are being witnessed as part of some kind of performance which the audience is prepared for, it's dramatic and stimulating.
    Other animals don't have such concepts of dramatic and stimulating.
    On the other hand a human who is subject to unexpected explosions, bombing or so on, certainly will be afraid and not liking it one bit.
  14. Mar 26, 2016 #13


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    So maybe there's an argument for a threshold somewhere?

    I believe it's well-established military doctrine that artillery bombardment is a devastating form of psychological warfare. The devastation doesn't just come from the explosions themselves, but the survivors who endure volley after volley of assaults will yield the will to fight. So there's little doubt for me that humans have a threshold for "liking" explosions.

    I suspect that this threshold is also learned. For anyone who's ever gone to a chemistry demonstration that features something that goes "bang" you'll have observed that the small children in the audience will often be the ones who don't like the explosions and express their discontent quite vocally. They have no experience on which to reassure themselves that such sudden shocks are safe. The older ones usually want more though.
  15. Mar 27, 2016 #14


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    So, I suppose that, from everyone's answers, (generally; it may vary with person as @Choppy mentioned) humans find explosions thrilling and entertaining when they are in control. As @DiracPool said about his paper, people "tame fire" and no other species can do this.

    However, when the control is gone, when humans no longer have the power to stop or prevent the fire/explosion (such as a bomb or grenade in warfare, or even a child who's viewing a demonstration and can't tell the person causing the reaction to stop), humans fear fire and explosions just as any other animal. Makes a lot of sense!
  16. May 9, 2016 #15
    Some domesticated animals lose their extreme fear reaction to explosions. Some, such as dogs and cats, even appear to watch fireworks.

    On the other hand, many humans cannot tolerate fireworks, whether due to trauma or some strong instinctual reaction. "Like" and "dislike" perhaps are relative to one's sense of the potential for danger.
  17. May 10, 2016 #16


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    Unless your dog is really just a chicken :smile:

    (which describes, like, most the pets I know)
  18. May 10, 2016 #17
    I can add to this a little, I think. I remember well the first time I heard something go BOOM, I had heard banging and the like, old style engine-weight pile drivers and small arms fire from a distance. But dad took me out at about age 2, maybe 3, and showed me what a rifle was, that it was going to make a very loud bang, but that he was in control of it. I was impressed, as dad had control of something THAT LOUD, That much excitement, it kicked the adrenaline right to the top, that first scare, and yet I knew that 'dad had control', so while I was startled, I was not emotionally scared, but the body reacted with the adrenaline rush, and so it was not a scare, but and excitement.

    That carried over into me watching fireworks displays and later shooting and hunting and dad taught my brother and I how to Properly Use explosives, the difference between a controlled blast just enough to roll a large rock or stump, or enough to blast it and move it a goodly distance, and then there was the specific type and way the charge is set one can smash a good sized boulder with less than explosives needed to launch it (shaped charges do well).

    However, now, having been through the military in my 20's, working as a welder, fabricator and self-employed as sword and knife maker I got a might more leery of big bangs and booms that were all too close and not at all intended, so now I tend to jump and NOT enjoy the BOOM's so much, in fact I tend to react rather badly to em now since they are one of my PTSD triggers, but for anyone doing a study on such, there is a basic, if condensed, life-track story of how explosions have affected me over a period of time, I remember being 2 and 3 years old, and am now 53.

    Used to absolutely love 4th of July and other celebrations with the bangs and BOOMS, but now I have to do the earplugs, headphones, quiet room and sedation to deal with such, and I cringe and have even gone flat to the ground hearing explosions or backfire from a car near me. Used to be exhilaration, now it is something I nearly dread, sadly enough.
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