Do Kirlian photographs show the soul of an organism?
Category: Biology Published: February 10, 2016
No, Kirlian photographs do not show the soul of an organism. Kirlian photographs show the light that is released by the electrified air surrounding an object when the object is intentionally filled with electricity. Non-scientists and pseudo-scientists claim that the patterns of light captured in Kirlian photography are images of the organism's soul, aura, qi, or metaphysical energy field. However, the truth is much more mundane. When electric charge moves quickly enough through air, it rips electrons off of air molecules and gives them energy. When these electrons recombine with the air molecules, they emit their energy in the form of light. For low to medium amounts of electricity, this process is called gas discharge. This is exactly the process at work in neon signs and fluorescent light bulbs. For high amounts of electricity, the physics involved is more violent and the process is called arcing. Examples of arcing include lightning, the sparks created by spark plugs, and the arc created by an arc welder. Lightning bolts, spark plugs, neon signs, and Kirlian photography all share the same root phenomenon: if you run electricity through air quickly enough, the air glows.
Typically, gas discharge is stimulated in tubes containing special gases that are held at low pressures. This increases the efficiency of the process. However, gas discharge happens just fine in regular air at normal pressure. In the open air, gas discharge is called corona discharge. When an object that is sitting in the open air is filled with enough electric charge, the electric charge leaks off of the object into the surrounding air. In doing so, the air surrounding the object becomes electrified and glows. Since the air that is closest to the object is the most electrified, the pattern of light that is present in corona discharge takes on the shape of the object that is being electrically charged.
While corona discharge sounds exotic and looks mystical, it is in reality just as mundane as fluorescent light bulbs and spark plugs. Since corona discharge is a straight-forward electrical effect, the pattern of light that is created depends on the electrical conductivity of the object, the shape of the object, and the composition and state of the air surrounding the object. It does not depend on the biological vitality of the object or the emotional state of the object. All objects, from nails to pennies, can be made to emit a corona discharge. This fact does not indicate that nails have souls. It just indicates that electricity has been pumped into a nail to the point that the surrounding air has become electrified and glows.
Due to the mutual repulsion of electrons, the electrons on an object tend to leak off of sharp, pointy features on the surface of the object, as well as features that are highly conductive. For this reason, the light pattern created by corona discharge tends to be the brightest near the pointy and conductive parts of an object. While this effect can lead to beautiful imagery, it does not indicate that the pointy or electrically conductive parts are in any way more pure, more saintly, or more alive.
Kirlian photography is simply the capture of the light from an object's corona discharge using a photographic plate that is placed very close to the object. Placing the photographic plate very close enables the capturing of fine details in the patterns of the electrified air. Also, by placing the photographic plate very close to the object, some of the electricity leaking off the object directly strikes the plate. These hit points leave marks on the photographic plate in addition to the photographic marks made by the light, increasing the complexity of the final image.
In one stunning experiment, a leaf is placed on a glass plate and then electrified so that its corona discharge is captured on a photographic plate. Then the tip of the leaf is torn off and removed. When the leaf is again electrified and photographed, the resulting corona discharge is found to have the shape of the entire leaf, including the tip that has been removed. This experiment seems to show that the soul of the tip of the leaf is still present, and therefore shows up in the Kirlian photograph, even after the physical tip has been removed. However, this interpretation is false and easily disproven. The corona discharge at the location of the missing leaf tip is caused by leaf moisture residue left on the glass plate. If the glass plate is wiped clean and the ripped leaf is again imaged, the corona discharge no longer appears at the location of the missing tip. Similarly, if the ripped leaf is placed on a new glass plate, there is no corona discharge at the location of the missing leaf tip. This result shows that the famous torn leaf experiment is an example of a poorly run and incorrectly interpreted experiment, rather than an indication that leaves have souls which can be photographed.