The Allure of Flickering Campfires and Fireplaces

Whether you sit back in your favorite chair with your feet near the fireplace during a cold winter night or gather around the campfire for a quiet moment near your tent – there has always been something so comforting, even mesmerizing about the flickering flames of the fire. 

What’s the secret behind this mystery? 

Here’s something to think about.

An open flame from a natural source like wood and not disturbed much by things like wind tends to flicker at a rather predictable rate.  T

he tendency regardless of flow rates and size is remarkably constant at about 10 – 12 Hz.  If that number sounds familiar it might be because that is the frequency of the famous Alpha Brain Wave. 


Kind of makes you wonder.

The Alpha 10 Hz Brain Wave has the common range for Alpha in the human brain at 8 Hz – 12 Hz with 10 Hz being the dominant central rate. 

It was in 1929, that Hans Berger, a German scientist searching for the possible source of ESP, accidently measured an electrical signal of 10 Hz from the back of someone’s head. 

He called it “alpha” because that is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and 10 Hz was the first signal he discovered.

Alpha Brain Waves gained early attention in the swinging 1960’s when early Brain devices claimed quick super-learning and yogic enlightenment from being zapped by alpha brain waves.  Sorry, not quite so simple.

Turns out that alpha brain waves have a lot to do with attention control functions in the brain.  They act like “valves” to open and close in various states of consciousness.  It is actually quite easy for most people to generate higher amounts of brain alpha – just close your eyes and be quiet.  Voila, more alpha.

When alpha brain waves increase, they block the internal ability to mentally “see” or imagine activities. 

I guess the meaning is clear – when you shut your eyes, the visual cortex is supposed to stop processing. 

It can get a bit tricky if you are closing your eyes so that you can visualize something (like in Guided Imagery).  Some of us have the hardest time visualizing things – the probability is that the alpha brain waves in our visual cortex are just too strong.

Back to the flickering flames in your fireplace/campfire – they are truly fascinating. 

They seem to calm and almost wipe the mind free of thoughts.  Calm and clear – and relaxing.  The fire flicker rates are inducing what is technically called The Frequency Following Response or what is commonly called Brain Entrainment.  After gazing at the flames for 5 to 10 minutes without distraction, your brain will start to shift to alpha dominance in the visual cortex. 

And for most of use with our busy, busy minds – it feels great.

Now here is the deep thought to explore – is it by chance that fire flickers at the 10 – 12 Hz alpha rate – or are we somehow all connected at such a basic level in Life?