An biological mechanism for fire-breathing dragons


I’d be curious to know how intense you could get using biologically possible/vaguely-plausible reactants and containment structures…

At least in common depiction, dragon fire isn’t just some ignited methane spurted in your general direction, it’s a baleful all-consuming inferno that inflicts horrific damage and burns the flesh down to the bone(depictions seem to vary on effect on metal, from ‘actively showing heroic knights deflecting with their shield’ to ‘doesn’t melt it; but metal conducts heat just fine’ to ‘knight, melty’).

Huh. Pretty much the same list of options I came up with as a kid. :slight_smile:

It is indeed close enough to the creationists nonsense that I’m sure they will somehow warp the article into “proof” for their nutty ideas. Which will be somewhat entertaining to see.

It saddens me that modern people will take a realist approach to interpreting mythological archetypes when it suits them. After all, David Talbott has gone to great lengths to point out that the concept of uniformitarianism (we can reconstruct the past by observing the present) precludes other interpretations which are no less realist (namely, transient catastrophes). These “pseudoscientists” are labeled as such for not subscribing to the inference (and to some extent, assumption) in science that it necessarily takes enormous lengths of time for things of importance to happen in the universe. It’s such an important question to ask, since our bias as humans will be to gravitate towards the uniformitarian assumption, as the subconscious prefers to believe we live in a safe universe. And anybody who looks at the discipline of social psychology will observe that much of this bias occurs at this subconscious level, far from reach of our rational minds.

In layperson’s speak, if you see people of the past talking about fire-breathing dragons which fly in the sky, perhaps one good question to ask is: Is it possible that people saw a large event which their language struggled to describe? It’s not an extraordinary question, for if you ask people today what a plasma is, you will observe that few actually understand what it is even to this day. To suppose that ancient people might struggle to explain it as well is hardly a stretch.

There’s nothing wrong with using conventional science to try to explain mythological archetypes, but isn’t it completely inaccurate to present the endeavor as though people have never even investigated the subject? The fact is that there are specialists called comparative mythologists who have spent their entire lives trying to understand the archetypes. We are talking about many, many decades of work analyzing the enigmatic similarities in the mythological archetypes and petroglyphs (coincidences which, btw, span the entire globe), and even linking these archetypes to features which can be observed in high-intensity plasma discharge experiments. David Talbott, Dwardu Cardon, Rens van der Sluijs, Anthony Peratt (a former advisor to the Department of Energy, btw, and a peer reviewer for IEEE’s Transactions on Plasma Science, no less), and of course, the infamous Immanuel Velikovsky have produced an incredible volume of literature on this subject. What sense is there to just ignoring all of that in our science journalism?

Modern scientists perhaps just want the public to forget that when Worlds in Collision was the nation’s national bestseller (yes, that happened, guys), academia forced its publisher to yank its publication. And when Albert Einstein died, the book sat there open on his desk.

It’s one thing to think, “Hey, this mythology stuff is nonsense,” after you’ve put some effort into learning what they are saying (which few ever actually do), but notice that science journalists talk about mythology as though nobody has ever studied it before. Just to be clear, this is so far from the truth as to be a misrepresentation which does the public a great disservice. What would be far more valuable would be to talk about the strange coincidences which permeate these global stories and pictographs. One would think that these things are important, after all, as they represent the first stories and pictures we have record of humans telling and drawing.

And none of this has absolutely ANYTHING to do with creationism, btw. In fact, I believe it’s apparent to most who study the creation stories in any depth that the mythological archetypes precede the writing of the Bible. Mythology came before religion, folks.

That was a bit of a silly article - he posits the dragon producing a pair of hypergolic (spontaneously combusting upon mixing) chemicals. Then he goes into how it might produce a spark to ignite them - the whole point of hypergolic fuel systems being that they don’t need an ignition system…

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This article is just The Flight of Dragons all over again.

What is with articles like this, lately? I’ve seen a number of them where the authors just borrow the old arguments of others without any attribution of the idea whatsoever.

That’s a reasonable enough explanation for dragons but what I really want to know is how Gamera can shoot flames out his four leg holes with enough continuous force to allow him to fly.

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Or Robert A. Heinlein’s Glory Road (1964) covers this idea as well.

“…A proper dragon, with castles and captive princesses , has as much fire as it needs, like six-shooters in TV oaters. But these creatures fermented their own methane and couldn’t have too big a reserve tank nor under too high pressure—I hoped.”

No fancy ignition mechanism is needed. There are bacteria that produce phosphine (e.g. by reduction of phosphates), which spontaneously ignites in air. Combine them with those producing methane, and we have a self-igniting composition. (Actually, the diphosphine, P2H4, is the spontaneously igniting form. Some germs reportedly produce it together with the phosphine.)

Also, why methane? Why not a higher alkane? There are bacteria producing propane being discovered on the seafloor. Propane can be stored under reasonable pressure at dragon’s body temperature in liquid form, so no significant additional bulking up of the dragon is needed. The pressure release further disposes of the need of powerful lungs (though these can be assisted with the wing-beating chest muscles, as these have to have significant power anyway). The gas will escape under its own pressure, like a carrier gas from a spray can. The cooling from the evaporation may be however fairly unpleasant for the dragon (but may be also used to e.g. precool blood for heat removal from mouth or flame-facing surfaces; blood is a fairly good heat exchange medium and is easily routed through the body).

For protection of the dragon’s own mouth against the fire, saliva (possibly gelled into a slime to stay in a sufficiently thick layer) and Leydenfrost effect should do a good job for non-sustained, burst flame production, together with most of the fuel-air mixing occuring outside of the dragon. A laminar coaxial flow of air from the lungs can also assist, forming a protective layer between the dragon and the flame, not unlike it is being done in rocket or jet engines to protect the nozzle or turbine blades.

Anybody else remember that cartoon of the Bombardier Beetles at home? Larsen I think?

Great. Now you’ve got me thinking about whether one can create Bombardier Beetle chain reactions.

The argument of how accepted science can all be explained away as bias, and we should be ready to accept just about any claim so long as it involves electric fields, is something you post about all the time. Without you being forthcoming about how you determine what you trust, I’m sure you don’t want to repeat the same again with me.

But I thought I should comment on this, because it is the sort of legend that propagates easily. Einstein read Worlds on Collision and offered his critical feedback, but it is easy enough to find this is a cheap story to make it seem important; the book was <a href=">not on his desk when he died.

Interesting that you bring it up, though; I wonder if it doesn’t finally say something about what you would prefer to peer-reviewed science.


You beat me to the point, but yes. That wonderful illustrated book should be the definitive tome on the subject of Dragonis Fauxflamibis (Looney tunes latin is O.K. for the description of mythological creatures.) The perfect blend of illustration, flights of fantasy and a bit of science to make it interesting. I loved that when I was a child.

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