Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pyrokinesis--all smoke, no fire?

Do I need someone here to scold me?
Or do I need someone who’ll grab and pull me out of four poster, dull torpor, pulling downward?
For it’s such a long time, since my better days.
I say my prayers nightly this will pass away.
--Like the Weather, 10000 Maniacs

Steven King is one of my favorite authors, so when the man coins a term to describe one of his characters, I have to take notice.  Pyrokinesis is the phenomenon of creating fire--not with flint or a Bic--but with the mind.  But is Charlie McGee in Firestarter derived solely from the macabre world in King’s mind?  

Or is pyrokinesis really possible?
Pyrokinesis is lumped in the realm of psychokinesis--i.e. using the mind to affect the surrounding environment.  
Psychokinesis, often used interchangeably with telekinesis, is a term created by American author Henry Holt in his book, On the Cosmic Relations in 1914 His book investigated the bonds of the three-dimensional universe to higher levels of consciousness, focusing on the link between spirituality and physical being.  
Psychokinesis can be used to describe various complex mental forces while telekinesis refers only to movement of objects.  So a telekinetic might be able to move a match across the table, but a psychokinetic can actually light the match and control the flame’s speed and intensity, as well as what surrounding tinder it consumes.

Throughout history, there have been reports of people with pyrokinetic powers.  In the 19th century, A.W. Underwood achieved celebrity status by setting fire to things with his mind.  Later it was discovered he used concealed pieces of phosphorus to create the phenomenon.  In 2011, a 3 year-old girl in the Philippines became a sensation when fires started mysteriously around her.
I had my own pyrokinetic experience thanks to an unfortunate incident while I was canning jalapenos and suddenly nature called.  Hot pants is just one of my many well-earned nicknames.

Fire magic has long been part of pagan religions, representing one of the elemental cornerstones.  For those with a fire fetish, there is a simple exercise quoted in several psychokinetic “how-to” texts that may help you heat up.  “The Dancing Flame” is a focusing exercise in which the practitioner can learn to extinguish and relight fire with just a wave of the hand.  Let me paraphrase the process from PsiWiki et al:

Light a match.  Make a tunnel between your mind and the flame. . .concentrate hard.  Eventually, with enough will power and concentration, the fire will burn out.  With practice, after the flame is extinguished, concentration on the idea of oneness with the flame and energies united will make it flare a red ember again.

It’s just that easy. (insert your favorite skeptical hrumph, yeah right, or WTF here) 
I guess the question that needs to be addressed is can meditative efforts produce a change in the surrounding atmosphere?  There is no doubt in my mind of the powers of meditation.  Scientifically speaking, meditation can slow heart rate, increase blood flow to vital organs, reduce blood pressure, increase serotonin levels (i.e. happy hormones), and increase the activity of natural killer cells, part of the body’s immune system.  Meditation has been shown to have positive effects for those with chronic diseases, in some cases reducing inflammatory processes and pain.  However, how can focused thoughts be projected outside of the body onto another thing--or person for that matter?  Ancient Chinese healing arts, like Qigong, are based on the idea that intrinsic life energies can be directed and focused--but how?  The answer may be found in Quantum Physics.

Quantum Physics in the most simple explanation (i.e. mine) is the relationship between the particle and wavelike behavior of energy to solid matter.  Part of quantum theory states that a particle is everywhere, unless the particle is being directly observed.  Using this theory, if a psychokinetic can focus on one particle, he/she could affect its behavior.  Since all matter in physics is just energy, influencing the particles of an object could redirect energy--and create things like heat, light, and even fire.  Some proponents of psychokinesis claim that our own innate electromagnetic energy can be channeled to affect other energies from other objects.  Thus, intense focus could direct our inner energy into the flow of an external object’s energy, changing its behavior.
Truly mind over matter.
The concept is fascinating and has been the focus of many a SciFi writer’s imagination.  The U.S. Army Research Institute even convened a scientific panel to assess psychokinetic phenomena in the hope to develop military applications for it, such as remote disruption of enemy telecommunications.  Unfortunately, after looking at 130 years of evidence and experiments, the panel concluded in 1987 that psychokinesis remained in the realm of fiction.
Although parapsychologists remain undeterred by the skeptics, there have been no convincing, replicable experiments published on pyrokinesis or psychokinesis.  In fact, as incentive to discover psychokinetic phenomena, the James Randi Education Foundation has offered one million dollars to anyone who can produce a psychokinetic event.  The prize has remained unclaimed since its inception in 1996.

Since the first human discovered the process of creating fire, we have stared into the flames, hypnotized.  Fire may be a phenomenon of oxygen, spark, and fuel, but ultimately it seems like a creature created by magic.  Fire energy describes the heated, intense emotions of humans--anger, lust, love.  Just like the element, the energy of fire is difficult to control, and if not contained, destroys everything in its path.

So beware what you focus on--you may get burned.

Oh, and BTW, Lydia Kang, this is for you:


  1. That's a subject I've always been fascinated with. When I was a child, I had a book of strange phenonmenon which I loved to read. The other stories I loved to read were the ones about human combustion - people who just self-combust for no apparent reason leaving just a pile of ask and no other signs of fire.

  2. As for that video--unless they show the fire starting, I'm calling it a hoax. Even then, I doubt I'd believe it if I saw it. As you mentioned earlier, it could be someone hiding phosphorous materials.

  3. I wonder if people who self-combust are just introverted pyrokineseists?

  4. "If you post it, he shall come..."

    Erm, actually, that's kind of a gross statement.

    I loved this post! If only it was a real scientific phenomenon. Then I could get so much more work done!

  5. 'Part of quantum theory states that a particle is everywhere, unless the particle is being directly observed.'

    Jules. This concept is so difficult to articulate in a straightforward manner and you have done just that.

    I am *bowing* in admiration, here. That is some seriously elegant distillation!

    For the record, belief is matter -- so far as I can fathom the deeper realities. This was a fantastic post. It reminds me of this story of a rabbi and his acolyte (did I just mix denominational terms, there) where the acolyte approaches the (let's just call him an) elder and tells him he has fulfilled all o the commandments and the law, what else is there for him to do.

    The elder turns and lifts his hands to the sky as his fingertips well into flames and responds,

    'If you will, you can be fire.'

  6. OMG, SO interesting!!!!

    Love the shoes, BTW.

  7. That was such an interesting article! Thank you...Hot Pants!! :)

  8. I think that trick will forever remain fiction...

  9. I loved that movie, Firestarter, and have seen it several times. I never thought about whether pyrokinesis or not it was real.

    Loving those heels and wishing I had a pair! lol

  10. Fascinating topic. This is another subject where I'd love to believe but am completely skeptical about :) That's why we have fiction, right? Great post Julie!

  11. Firestarter was a great movie, well it was when I was a kid at least. I haven't seen it since.

    I'm so firmly in the camp that this is a mixture of well-meaning self-delusion and outright fraud that even a proper demonstration would fail to convince me otherwise. It was a great post though, it's fun to imagine what it could be like.

  12. If I tried to walk in those shoes, I would soon not be walking but lying horizontally. haha

    Love this post...there is a certain something about flame. Though with all the bushfires we have, I think the magic has worn off a bit for many Aussies ;)

  13. Wow, what a fascinating post, Hotpants! (Canning jalepenos, really?) It's so resonant and powerful to think about all beings, animate and inanimate, as energy forms, and what that might mean, that I gotta go with the parapsychologists (and those cute quantum physicists).

  14. Oh, and I gave you an award :)

  15. Great post. Maybe one day someone will figure out how we can control our minds to create fire, but I think that's probably a long way off. Love the shoes :)

  16. Now I'll always think of you as "Hot Pants!" I would probably plummet to my death in those shoes! Julie

  17. Just thought I'd let you know I've nominated you and your for a Sunshine Award=)

  18. That cat Meditation picture is adorable.

    I especially like your last line. I won't be thinking about setting fires, though thinking about not thinking about it may spark my thoughts about it. Fire is such a magical and frightening force of nature.

    Be well.


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