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Highlights Column

Featured Book Releases:

Radical Atheism and New Spirituality (2011)

Burning Banks
Roasting Marshmallows:
The Education of Daniel Marleau

Featured Essays:

Choosing a Rhetoric 
of the Enemy: 
Kenneth Burke's Comic Frame, Warrantable Outrage, and the Problem of Scapegoating

Rhetoric Society Quarterly publication (2011)

Demonizing Derrida and Deconstruction 

(Skeptic Magazine publication 2006)

Additional featured reading:

W. B. Macomber's
Love and Culture

A Philosophical commentary inspired by Plato's Symposium

For Table of Contents, further information,
and chapter links click

Recommended art:

The Salvador Dali Gallery
Browse a complete collection of Dali's work along with a wealth of information about each work and his life

The Zeugma Mosaics
Beautiful GrecoRoman art saved from a flooded section of the Euphrates River. See the video fly-through at this link for the 14 room Roman villa that housed these amazing mosaics.



Male subject blue corona


A Look at the Kirlian Controversy

Although I have an interest in Kirlian photography, having pursued it as an occasional hobby and source of amusement with friends over the past years, I should state at the outset that this is not a defense of or panegyric for a particular understanding of Kirlian photography. It attempts to be a balanced account revealing some of the pros and cons on both sides of the controversy regarding the status of what is being represented in Kirlian photographs. Aside from all that, the pictures are beautiful, entertaining, and provocative. If you want to start with the pictures, scroll to the end of this document. All the photos were taken by me using portable equipment.

What is Kirlian photography?

Kirlian photography is a method of “electrophotography” in which high frequency electric current is used instead of light to generate an image on standard forms of black and white or color film. In the most basic setup a grounded device that generates approximately a 40,000 volt pulse in the range of 50,000 hertz frequency is connected to a copper plate upon which is placed a sheet of film, emulsion side up. Objects can be placed on the film, or, in the case of human subjects, a hand or fingertip can be placed on the film and an electrophotograph can be made by applying the electric pulse (the length of time of the pulse can be varied) and then developing the film (using standard developing procedures).

This technique of photography was pioneered by two Russian scientists, Semyon and Valentina Kirlian, working in the 1950s. The electrophotographic images they produced showed what was described as “the Kirlian aura effect”—a corona of light (white, shading into layers of dark blue, violet, and indigo). In the case of human subjects and other life forms this image is believed to be a record of the bioelectric field. The primary difference between organic subjects and inorganic objects consists of the fact that the corona or “aura effect” of inorganic objects does not change (when exposure times remain the same) whereas the coronas of organic subjects like a leaf or a human fingertip change under different conditions (with exposure settings kept the same). These differences have been observed especially between pictures of “healthy” (recently picked) and “unhealthy” (torn or otherwise damaged) conditions of the same leaf and also between the same human subject under different states of emotional arousal (such as anger or elation).

Having explored Kirlian photography as a hobby for many years, especially in the early 1980s—the period during which most of the photographs below were taken—I have encountered some corona evidence that could be construed as confirming effects relating to changing emotional/physical states in human subjects. The exact nature of the corona or “aura” being photographed is still a debated topic. Some who study the phenomenon of Kirlian photography believe that it shows something that may be significant and that may have important uses in the health sciences. Here is a brief excerpt from the discussion of Kirlian photography by researchers Thelma Moss and Kendall L. Johnson:

In examining the Soviet literature concerning Kirlian photography it becomes quickly clear that the basic question, still unanswered, is: what phenomenon is revealed by this radiation field photography? The four principal [early] investigators of this topic in the Soviet Union appear to be the inventors of the device, Semyon and Valentina Kirlian, the Kazakh biologist V. M. Inyushin, and the Moscow biophysicist Viktor Adamenko. In their two basic articles (Kirlian and Kirlian, 1958, 1961) the Kirlians carefully describe their photography as a method for “the conversion of nonelectrical properties of the object being photographed into electrical ones… with a direct transfer of charges from the object to the photographic plate.”

V. M. Inyushin (1968), in a long theoretical paper, has opted for the term “bioplasma body” as descriptive of the emanations and internal structure of the objects photographed, quoting such authorities on bioenergetics and bioectronics as Svent-Gyorgi and Presman. In conversation with Inyushin, Moss learned that he conceives of the “bioplasma body” as similar, if not identical, to the “aura” or “astral body” as defined in Yogic literature.

Adamenko (1970)—who as a boy lived next door to the Kirlians, and spent many years in intimate collaboration with them—sees the photographs as demonstrating the “cold emission of electrons” which can furnish pertinent and as yet unknown information about the nature of organic and inorganic materials, in particular, the nature of living organisms.

Many American scientists have translated the phrase “cold emission of electrons” into the more familiar “corona discharge,” and, as such, believe this photography reveals nothing but a commonplace electrical phenomenon. A few critics have taken the trouble to go to libraries in order to find earlier investigators of this radiation field photography. They claim that certain Germans, Czechoslovakians, or Americans were predecessors in the discovery of “electrography,” pointing out that these investigators apparently thought so little of the discovery that the work was not pursued…

[But] the question remains unanswered: what does this photography reveal—bioplasma or corona discharge? Clearly no scientist should be willing to take sides in such a controversy without serious study of the issues involved, preferably with extensive research of his own.

[After conducting their own research over several years, Moss and Johnson conclude]:

… it is clear to us that radiation field photography reveals a highly complex, perhaps still unknown phenomenon which may be linked to Inyushin’s concept of the bioplasma body. It may even be related to the invisible energy system described in the voluminous literature on acupuncture, and described in ancient Indian texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita. Even if the phenomenon is “nothing but” a corona discharge, it would seem that the changes which occur in the corona discharge under varying conditions would make this commonplace phenomenon worthy of intensive study.

At the present time it is impossible to draw any conclusions about this research, except one. Whatever these pictures reveal—corona discharge or bioplasma—the changes which have been observed to occur in organic materials demonstrate that a most interesting, still undeciphered story is being told. And there lies the challenge.

Excerpt from The Kirlian Aura: Photographing the Galaxies of Life. Ed. Stanley Krippner and Daniel Rubin. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc. (Anchor Books Edition), 1974.

Thelma Moss (who died in 1997) went on to publish books on Kirlian photography (1979, 1983) in which she appears to be convinced Kirlian photographs reveal much about the “bioplasma body” or the “bioenergy of the astral body.” Others have criticized her for being duped by what is essentially the phenomenon of ionized gas produced around an object containing some degree of moisture when that object is in contact with a high voltage electrical output (see, for example, www.skepdic.com/kirlian.html). In a simple vacuum no ionization occurs and no image is formed.

Granting this analysis, however, it is still difficult to account for all the types of images produced by Kirlian photography. For example, some subjects when photographed show bright corona fingertip images and moments later, under varieties of emotional arousal or pain stimulation (such as a shock or needle prick to the fingertip), show a break in the corona or an absence of corona and the “red blotch” effect in its place (see images below). However, for an interesting explanation for the red hue in Kirlian photographs see Andy’s (Le Magicien) Kirlian Photography Page at http://webspace.webring.com/people/gl/lemagicien/kfpage/falseimage/falseimage.html.

It is also difficult to explain the different qualities of corona image evident between “normal” states and states produced after drinking alcohol—differences characterized by sharp, clear coronas versus hazy, milky coronas. These effects are fairly predictable between subjects and between different instances and not simply unique occurrences. Slight differences in moisture conditions would not seem to be sufficient to account for these differences as well as other consistent differences associated with meditative states and acupuncture stimulation. In addition to the “moisture climate” of its various surface parts, the state of the body may, for example, produce subtle variations of electrical conductivity at particular points which may then affect the quality or intensity of the “streamers” emanating from it. This information may perhaps be correlated with various conditions relating to health and emotional state.

All things considered, I am not persuaded by the skeptics who believe the photographs show nothing deeply relevant to the biological states of subjects nor am I persuaded by those who believe the images reveal some manifestation of the “astral body” supposedly associated with living beings. The truth may lie somewhere in between. It seems clear the photos reveal something that requires a material medium (ionized gas) for the image to be transmitted to a photographic plate. This does not preclude the possibility that what is observed in the images may be relevant to the “bioenergy system” of living beings when submitted to informed and methodic analysis. Such “informed” analysis, however, has yet to be reliably achieved and widely accepted.

Other Kirlian Photography Claims and Interpretations

Photographs of human subjects, particularly fingertips

1) Best procedure for confirming an effect: take at least three photos of the same condition (state of mind or body) within a period of seconds
2) No correlation has been found between GSR and corona image
3) A thin, sketchy aura is regarded as a sign of nervousness or anxiety
4) Alcohol tends to brighten and widen the corona
5)No correlation has been found between vasoconstriction or vasodilation and corona
6) No correlation has been found between skin temperature and corona
7) Hypnosis generally produces brighter, wider corona
8) Meditation generally produces brighter, wider corona
9) Some subjects can voluntarily increase brightness of corona
10) States of relaxation produce brighter, wider corona
11) Some persons can produce the red blotch by making themselves angry
12) Emotional arousal of various types may produce the red blotch
13) Acupuncture treatment dramatically increases corona width and brightness, depending on the specific point being treated


Corona of tip of index finger subject normal

Corona of tip of index finger
Subject normal


Corona of tip of index finger of same subject several minutes later after two shots of alcoholic beverage

Corona of tip of index finger
Same subject several minutes later after two shots
of alcoholic beverage


Example of red blotch effect

Example of red blotch effect


Fingertip coronas of different female subjects


Fingertip coronas of different female subjects

Fingertip coronas of different female subjects


Fingertip coronas of different male subjects


Fingertip coronas of different male subjects

Fingertip coronas of different male subjects

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