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The word 'pyrokinesis' was coined by horror novelist Stephen King in his 1980 novel Firestarter to describe the ability to create and control fire with the mind. The word is intended to be parallel to telekinesis, with S.T. Joshi describing it as a "singularly unfortunate coinage." King is the first person to give the idea a name as neither the term pyrokinesis nor any other term describing the idea have been found in prior works. Parapsychologists describe pyrokinesis as the ability to excite an object's atoms, causing the object to generate enough energy to burst into flame. Various works of science fiction describe pyrokinesis as the ability to supernaturally project fire from the body through the use of psychic power.
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.
A. W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American, achieved minor celebrity status with the purported ability to set items ablaze. Magicians and scientists have suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible. The phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing. Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell has written that Underwood may have used a "chemical-combustion technique, and still other means. Whatever the exact method—and the phosphorus trick might be the most likely—the possibilities of deception far outweigh any occult powers hinted at by Charles Fort or others."
The medium Daniel Dunglas Home was known for performing fire feats and handling a heated lump of coal taken from a fire. The magician Henry Evans wrote that the coal handling was a juggling trick, performed by Home using a hidden piece of platinum. Hereward Carrington described Evans hypothesis as "certainly ingenious" but pointed out William Crookes an experienced chemist was present at a séance whilst Home performed the feat and would have known how to distinguish the difference between coal and platinum. Frank Podmore wrote that most of the fire feats could have easily be performed by conjuring tricks and sleight of hand but hallucination and sense-deception may have explained Crookes' claim about observing flames from Home's fingers.
In March 2011, a 3-year-old girl in Antique Province, Philippines gained media attention for the supposed supernatural power to predict or create fires. The town mayor said he witnessed a pillow ignite after the girl said "fire... pillow." Others claimed to have witnessed the girl either predicting or causing fire without physical contact to the objects.
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- Gresh, Lois H.; Weinberg, Robert (2007). The Science of Stephen King: From Carrie to Cell, The Terrifying Truth Behind the Horror Masters Fiction. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-471-78247-6. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
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- Nickell, Joe (2004). Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-0813123189.
- Evens, Henry. (1897). Hours With the Ghosts Or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft. Laird & Lee, Publishers. pp. 106-107. "The "coal" is a piece of spongy platinum which bears a close resemblance to a lump of half burnt coal, and is palmed in the hand, as a prestidigitateur conceals a coin, a pack of cards, an egg, or a small lemon. The medium or magician advances to the grate and pretends to take a genuine lump of coal from the fire but brings up instead at the tops of his fingers, the piece of platinum."
- Carrington, Hereward. (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbert B. Turner & Co. p. 404
- Podmore, Frank. (1910). Chapter Levitation and the Fire Ordeal. In The Newer Spiritualism. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 55-86.
- "Fire 'seer' draws hundreds to Antique village". Newsinfo.inquirer.net. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
- "Sicilian fires recall nanny's 'witch' ordeal". The Scotsman. 2004-02-12. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
- Taylor, John. (1980). Science and the Supernatural: An Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena Including Psychic Healing, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, and Precognition by a Distinguished Physicist and Mathematician. Temple Smith. ISBN 0-85117-191-5