Kirlian photography is back once more to haunt us. In the1950s, a ‘scientific’ paper published by a Russian couple produced a fad. I was one who originally thought Kirlian photography would soon die out but it hasn’t.
Kirlian photography is not new, despite all claims to the contrary. It should be more correctly referred to as the ‘Kirlian effect’ which was demonstrated at the end of the 19th century and was then known as ‘electrography’.
However, it did not get the publicity it needed to catch on until Russian electrical technician Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian and his wife Valentina Kirliana published a paper in 1950 in the Russian Journal of Scientific and Applied Photography in which they described the process, now known as Kirlian Photography.
The looney ‘New Age’ followers quickly seized upon this as being able to photograph the ‘aura’ of a person, and, at long last, show to the unbelievers that all the ‘bio-energies’ had a basis in ‘science’. Kirlian photography has been linked to telepathy, orgone energy, N-rays, acupuncture, ancient eastern religions, and other paranormal phenomena.
I am not going to get embroiled in semantics as to whether the Kirlian effect and the aura can be used for medical diagnosis (as is claimed), or whether Reiki practitioners have sparks coming out of their fingers when they are ‘healing’. However, I can reveal what is being recorded on film, and how it happens.
First off, the Kirlian effect is ‘real’, but what is being recorded is not paranormal. It is a phenomenon called ‘Corona Discharge’. Corona discharge is seen in lightning and also the sparks that come off your fingers after you walk on nylon carpets. This used to be done as a party trick by Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who used to introduce new discoveries with his body glowing and sparks flying from his fingertips. Tesla, by the way, was a brilliant inventor, and it was he who introduced the concept of alternating current, used today, rather than Edison’s direct current.
The corona discharge that is recorded by the Kirlian photographers requires the object being subjected to an electric current and the size and color depends upon moisture that is present on the skin, and this is why initially it appeared that inanimate objects did not give off a discharge as do animate ones. But they do, it was found later.
Terence M. Hines, a psychology professor says, “Living things (like the commonly photographed fingers) are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum,” he said.
One team that spent some time examining the Kirlian effect has found a list of 25 factors that can effect a Kirlian photograph, including thickness of the skin, recent physical activity, and yes, mental stress. All of these affect the amount of moisture on the skin. Other factors include voltage level, voltage pulse rate, atmospheric gasses, the internal force and angle of the object held against the film, and barometric pressure. In effect, a single person can come up with different ‘auras’ simply by changing finger pressure and the amount of moisture found in the skin. That’s the ‘science’. A very well-known Kirlian photography ‘experiment’ documents a leaf as it slowly dies. The initial photograph is taken when the leaf is freshly cut and shows a prominent glow. As the leaf gets older more photos are taken, which show that the glow is starting to weaken. This was once explained away with the life-force theory. However, we now know that the weakening of the glow is simply a result of the leaf losing water and drying up over time.
As for the psychic energy claims, you can make up your own mind!