There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, more awesome than a flame war on paranormal topics. Do you see what I did there? “Flame war.” This post is about spontaneous human combustion. Haw haw haw haw haw!!!
Those of us who lived through the seventies and early eighties will surely remember the global plague of SHC. To hear Leonard Nimoy tell it, people were catching fire all over the damn place, and not just Richard Pryor. The hallmarks of SHC are a (supposedly) non-existent or at least unknown ignition source, and the fact that the victim’s legs stick out unburned in a rather ghoulish fashion.
The most commonly accepted explanation for SHC based on known science is the “wick effect,” which involves the burning of subcutaneous fat following ignition by an apparently modest source (eg, a burning cigarette). The phenomenon has been tested on a pig, and worked just fine — it was by all reports the smoothest experimental burning of a pig by modest external ignition source ever reported in the literature.
That’s proved good enough for most debunkers. Generally, orthodox scientists find the assertions of SHC proponents so utterly ludicrous that the phenomenon escapes the high volume of debunking put into phenomena like alien abduction, which is much more widely documented.
But SHC still has its proponents — including none other than Vice Magazine, where today there’s a bizarre new article by “Larry Arnold as told to Jonathan Smith,” whatever that means. Arnold is the author of Ablaze! The Mysterious Fires of Spontaneous Human Combustion, from which this inciner-licious photo is taken. The pair geeks out on a few fascinating theories of SHC, like this:
One of my favorite explanations is the Subatomic Pyrotron Theory, which is based on quantum physics. The theory states that there is an extremely small but high-powered particle—like a neutrino—that zips through the spaces between the quarks that make up the atoms, which compose the molecules of the human body. On rare occasions a rogue particle scores a direct hit with a quark and sets off an internal chain reaction. I’ve dubbed this occurrence the Internal Hiroshima Effect, which may result in SHC.
Oh, wow. Internal Hiroshima Effect. Catchy! More fun with internal explosions:
Another theory concerns kundalini—an energy that flows up and down the spinal column of every living human being. Although kundalini is well known to Eastern physicians and metaphysicians, it’s less so in the Western world. Kundalini is a very powerful bio-energy that, among other psychokinetic phenomena, can produce intense internal-temperature spikes when out of balance.
Gaaaah!!! The author(s) assert(s) that the kundalini theory explains the sticky-outy-ness of the legs, because the kundalini energy forms sort of a plasma ball in the torso. Meditate, let your kundalini get out of balance, and voila! Kundalini Express.
The third theory in the article asserts that cases of SHC occur along straight geographic lines — similar to ley lines, which are a fave topic among paranormal advocates, particularly in the UK. Ley lines are (it is hypothesized) geomagnetic or geoelectrical lines along the earth that explain why (it is asserted) ancient monuments have tended to be erected along (supposedly) predictable geographic lines.
But the real fun gets started in the comments, where the following fabulous exchange occurs:
MOAR PLS. Indeed.
For what it’s worth, other semi-scientific theories about SHC are no less awesome. One asserts that SHC victims are heavy drinkers whose blood alcohol rises to a flammable level (which would be 23%, or about 23 times the guaranteed lethal dose).