Pyrokinesis is the purported psychic ability allowing a person to create and control fire with the mind. There is no conclusive evidence that pyrokinesis is a real phenomenon. Some cases are hoaxes, the result of trickery, while some remain unexplained.
The word 'pyrokinesis' was coined by horror novelist Stephen King in his 1980 novel Firestarter to describe the ability to create and control fire with the mind. The word is intended to be parallel to telekinesis, with S.T. Joshi describing it as a "singularly unfortunate coinage" and noting that the correct analogy to telekinesis would "not be “pyrokinesis” but “telepyrosis” (fire from a distance)". King is the first person to give the idea a name as neither the term pyrokinesis nor any other term describing the idea have been found in prior works. Parapsychologists describe pyrokinesis as the ability to excite the atoms within an object until they generate enough energy to burst into flame. Science fiction works define pyrokinesis as speeding up the movement of molecules in order to increase temperature.
A. W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American, achieved minor celebrity status with the purported ability to set items ablaze. Magicians and scientists have suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible. The phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing. Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell has written that Underwood may have used a "chemical-combustion technique, and still other means. Whatever the exact method — and the phosphorus trick might be the most likely — the possibilities of deception far outweigh any occult powers hinted at by Charles Fort or others."
The medium Daniel Dunglas Home was known for performing fire feats and handling a heated lump of coal taken from a fire. The magician Henry R. Evans wrote that the coal handling was a juggling trick, performed by Home using a hidden piece of platinum. Hereward Carrington described Evans hypothesis as "certainly ingenious" but pointed out William Crookes, an experienced chemist, was present at a séance whilst Home performed the feat and would have known how to distinguish the difference between coal and platinum. Frank Podmore wrote that most of the fire feats could have easily be performed by conjuring tricks and sleight of hand but hallucination and sense-deception may have explained Crookes' claim about observing flames from Home's fingers.
Joseph McCabe has written that Home's alleged feats of pyrokinesis were weak and unsatisfactory, he noted that they were performed in dark conditions amongst unreliable witnesses. McCabe suggested the coal handling was probably a "piece of asbestos from Home's pocket".
In March 2011, a three-year-old girl in Antique Province, Philippines gained media attention for the supposed supernatural power to predict or create fires. The town mayor said he witnessed a pillow ignite after the girl said "fire... pillow." Others claimed to have witnessed the girl either predicting or causing fire without any physical contact with the objects.
There is no scientifically plausible method for the brain to trigger explosions or fires.
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The "coal" is a piece of spongy platinum which bears a close resemblance to a lump of half burnt coal, and is palmed in the hand, as a prestidigitateur conceals a coin, a pack of cards, an egg, or a small lemon. The medium or magician advances to the grate and pretends to take a genuine lump of coal from the fire but brings up instead at the tops of his fingers, the piece of platinum.
- Carrington, Hereward (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbet B. Turner & Co. p. 404.
- Podmore, Frank (1910). "Levitation and the Fire Ordeal". The Newer Spiritualism. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 55–86.
- McCabe, Joseph (1920). Is Spiritualism Based on Fraud? the Evidence Given by Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London Watts & Co. pp. 78–80.
- "Fire 'seer' draws hundreds to Antique village". Newsinfo.inquirer.net. 2011-03-09. Archived from the original on 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
- "Sicilian fires recall nanny's 'witch' ordeal". The Scotsman. 2004-02-12. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
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