There are nights, indeed entire
days, where I willingly become a candidate for spontaneous human
combustion. So, perhaps, it would be best not to taunt the spark and the
open flame too fervently.
Tiresome as it may be to toil the
depths of this spontaneous human combustion (henceforth contracted to
SPH for sake of my own convenience) ‘mystery’ and expose its mundane
origins, I feel I must do so if only for my own sanity’s sake.
have always been open to and prone to believe in the
unexplainable—while otherwise doubting and suspecting the thoroughly
explained. Our species loves mystery and confusion, so much so that some
make pursuit of these fruitless ambitions the primary goals of their
The trunk of reason, after all, is not as easily grasped as the more accommodating vine of ignorance.
am I to believe from professional documentaries that people really
still—in this day and age—believe that while the maid just briefly
retreated to the backyard to string up the laundry, the lord or lady of
the house simply spontaneously—as in no physical mechanism
employed—caught fire and burned to nothingness in a matter of minutes?
(‘Never trust anything a maid says’ should be a new protocol police officers should observe when taking witness testimony.)
should we in any way be driven to serious contemplation of the
supernatural, if the drama depicted in these shows indeed turn out to be
authentic, and if the people who make such otherworldly claims actually
believe unswervingly in what they say?
What I don’t like about
these ‘paranormal’ and ‘mysteries of the unexplained’ shows is that we,
the audience, are bombarded with the opinions of those who believe in
the phenomenon, not the testimony of those who actually succumbed to it.
And it is the latter’s perspective that may cost some paranormal
‘researchers’/‘experts’ significant revenue—which is why they never show
you the other side of the ‘expert’ consensus. The side I’m going to
show you in this article.
To grasp for the fantastical instead
of the factual is a human condition all men of reason are well familiar
with. But as much as the facts suck the captivating mystery and wonder
out of the paranormal, they must be our first source of reference, and
rarely do we need to look beyond them for clues to solving these
The telling trend in almost all documented
cases of SPH is that the victims were usually chronic alcoholics. I
doubt I am the only person who finds it a little humorous (not to
mention revealing) that it is mostly chain-smoking heavy drinkers who,
traditionally, combust ‘spontaneously’ in but single-digit numbers every
century or so. Numbers high enough to pass as ‘evidence’ for the
peddlers of the paranormal, mind you. Some people really are easily
In many historical and present reports of these
grizzly scenes where SHC is suspected (scenes where literally only the
two lower legs and feet remain and the rest of them is powdery ash),
the telltale signs of excess are woven into the depictions of the
scenes: bottles of booze, ashtrays, and packets of cigarettes were
often well within reach of the deceased.
Now, is it unreasonable
to rule out spillage of a flammable fluid (oh, say, whisky or
cognac—both of which burn enthusiastically when sparked) being ignited
as the victim tried to light a cigarette or warm up near the fireplace,
albeit while lacking the dexterous finesse one would expect of them had
they been sober?
From my own accidents at home—my study, of
course, plastered with bottles of flammable booze—I can tell you that I
would certainly have caught light and burned to a cinder a few times
already had I also been a smoker or, otherwise, sat near a fireplace in
the dead of winter.
So you see, it can be done: We can be
reasonable when evaluating the claims for the supernatural, but an old
woman accidentally immolating herself in her study is not nearly as
interesting as the idea that the devil set her on fire for looking like a
witch. Is it then any wonder that the SHC phenomenon has its origins in
the superstitious dark ages?
The documentaries also
conveniently gloss over modern research into SHC and why sometimes (not
always) the victims’ bodies burn so thoroughly as to leave nothing but a
pile of ash and a few creepy looking limbs that were spared by the
Human fat is an excellent propellant to keep a blaze
going long after the original starter fuel has burned away. As liquefied
human fat soaks onto clothing or the cloth of the chair where the
deceased sat, a giant ‘wick’ is formed. This is the same principle on
which a candle works, so a mysterious cause indeed eludes us for the
time being. But it gets worse for those who want the supernatural
explanation: The flame that results from this enormous ‘wick’ effect is
fuelled by liters of the person’s body fat, which causes a fire so hot
that it can burn bone to ash. (I’ve also never seen a case where the
victim of a bone-burning blaze was an emaciated peasant.)
above theory was proved to many experts’ satisfaction by using pig
carcasses. Pigs, of course, being an excellent proxy for testing how the
human body would cope with certain environmental conditions, because
pigs and humans don’t just share a resemblance in how they behave.
how (or why) did the paranormal investigators miss these sound and
testable theories in their quest to document this centuries-old mystery?
Well, when you demand to explain an event using supernatural means, why
would you consider PHYSICAL evidence, and reduce your expert opinion to
mere nonsensical blabber?
So let us recap as well as coordinate
the evidence. The vast majority of SPH victims were raging alcoholics,
had fireplaces, candles, or lamps in the rooms where they regularly got
soaked, and often smoked heavily too. It could even be that there had,
in some cases, been foul play by the maids—almost all of whom were
conveniently ‘otherwise engaged’ at the time of their master’s
immolation. We don’t know such to be the case for sure, but the
paranormalists don’t even consider these reasonable potentialities.
is also not impossible to pinpoint why believers in the strange and
those who claim to comprehend its reality dismiss these revealing
factors: The thrill and mystery would dissipate for the believers and
the ‘experts’ would have to forgo a significant portion of their income
made by declaring yet another perplexing scene and its cause as
‘unexplainable’ or ‘supernatural’ in cause.
“But why did only
the deceased and objects in direct contact with them burn?” is a
favourite ‘comeback’ of the pleaders for the paranormal. Well. This is
where we have to invoke a bit of knowledge from a subject that most
paranormal purists have no interest in: physics.
obeys the inverse square law. Meaning that if you double the distance
from the heat source, the intensity of the heat radiation is quartered.
It tapers off very quickly, which is why you can sit relatively close to
a raging bonfire and not cook to death. Therefore, even if a person’s
corpse burns at bone-dissolving temperatures, there is no reason to
expect the curtains nearby to catch fire unless they practically come in
direct contact with the flames emanating from the human torch.
truly, is one of those inanities of human reasoning (or lack thereof)
and is right up there with another laughable claim where people simply
‘fall out of dimension.’ Oh yes! There are several ‘documented’ cases of
people yelling in terror and then vanishing into thin air, never to be
On the topic of falling out of dimension, I can
imagine it must be shocking for someone who suffers paranoid delusions,
or someone who simply always has an imaginary friend embedded somewhere
in their surrounding environment, when they show momentary signs of
recovery that cause the imagined entity to retreat from view. But that
is exactly why we must suspect even our own senses (for they may be
malfunctioning) and resist jumping to hasty supernatural conclusions
when we encounter the seemingly unexplainable.
As much as I love
a great mystery and thoroughly enjoy the entertainment value of the
paranormal (as much as anyone who truly believes in these spellbinding
phenomena), I remain as skeptical as Dana Scully from that hit show The X-Files.
I can’t ignore the physical evidence or rational explanations which
seem to point unmistakably to a tragedy born from habit rather than one
resulting from the momentary suspension of the laws of nature—laws which
in all studies prove consistent, by the way, so suspecting these laws
cannot be our first deduction.
Plainly put, we should not reject
reality because we are fond of the fantastical. This is madness in the
severest of cases and simply intellectual lethargy/dishonesty in the
most benign of ones.
To conclude, it is a pity that the supposed
‘experts of the unexplained’ and the producers of these brain-dead
documentaries seem to subscribe to a modus operandi that I am highly
suspicious of and give very little credence to: Don’t let the truth get
in the way of a good story!
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