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definition - Pyrokinesis

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Pyrokinesis, derived from the Greek words πυρ (pûr, meaning "fire, lightning") and κίνησις (kínesis, meaning "motion"), was the name coined by horror novelist Stephen King for the ability to create or to control fire with the mind that he gave to the protagonist Charlie McGee in Firestarter.[1] The word is parallel to telekinesis, though arguably the "tele-" (meaning "from afar") rather than "-kinesis" is the part that ought to have been preserved. Critic S.T. Joshi describes it as a "singularly unfortunate coinage".[2]

Pyrokinesis is popular in fiction, with numerous examples in films, books, and television series. These include the episode "Fire" from The X-Files, the Beyond Reality episode "Enemy in Our Midst", the One Step Beyond episode "The Burning Girl", the Fringe episode "The Road Not Taken" and the Charmed episode "Lost and Bound". Several such works, such as "The Burning Girl" pre-date Firestarter, and have direct parallels with King's work. (King himself wrote that "Firestarter has numerous science fiction antecedents".) It is King, however, that first named the idea "pyrokinesis", this name not occurring in prior works[3][4]. Pyromancy is often incorrectly considered to be a synonym to pyrokinesis.


Several works of fiction explain pyrokinetic powers as being the ability to excite or speed up an object's atoms, increasing their thermal energy until they ignite, not necessarily objects, but also air particles. In The Science of Stephen King, authors Gresh and Weinberg argue that this is "vaguely possible", but characterize it as "generally the stuff of comic books", such as Marvel Comics' Human Torch and Pyro. Without some form of electromechanical device, such as a device to release several of the compounds that do spontaneously ignite upon contact with the oxygen in air (such as silane, a pyrophoric gas, or rubidium), or some form of triggering device located at the source of the fire, there is no scientifically known method for the brain to trigger explosions and fires at a distance.[5]

  Examples of claimed pyrokinesis

In the case of A.W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American who achieved minor celebrity with the purported ability to set items ablaze, scientists suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible. White phosphorus ignites in air at about 30°C; as this is slightly below body temperature, the phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing.[6]

In March 2011, a 3 year-old girl in Antique Province, Philippines gained media attention for mysteriously producing and predicting fire. The town mayor himself witnessed firsthand how a pillow burned after the girl said "pillow... fire." Many other people including the local chief of police and fire officers saw how the girl caused fire without physical contact to the objects.[7]


  1. ^ SciFiNow (Dorset, England, UK: Imagine Publishing Ltd.). #47, 2010.  Magazine, page 113: "Firestarter ... released 11 May 1984. Based on Stephen King's novel (which coined the term pyrokinesis)."
  2. ^ S. T. Joshi (2001). The Modern Weird Tale. McFarland. pp. 75. ISBN 978-0-7864-0986-0. 
  3. ^ John Kenneth Muir (2001). An Analytical Guide to Television's One Step Beyond, 1959–1961. McFarland. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-7864-0969-3. 
  4. ^ John Anthony McCrossan (2000). "Stephen King". Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 144. ISBN 978-0-313-30376-0. 
  5. ^ Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg (2007). The Science of Stephen King. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-471-78247-6. 
  6. ^ Thomas, R. (January 1883). "Spontaneous Combustion". The Medical Age 1: 86. http://books.google.com/?id=1Q0TAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA86. 
  7. ^ Burgos, Nestor (March 9, 2011). "Fire 'seer' draws hundreds to Antique village". Philippine Daily Inquirer. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20110309-324430/Fire-seer-draws-hundreds-to-Antique-village. 

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