Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) describes reported cases of the burning of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without an apparent external source of ignition. There have been about 200 cited cases worldwide over a period of around 300 years.
There are many hypotheses that attempt to explain human spontaneous combustion:
- Paranormal explanations (e.g., a ghost or divine intervention)
- Natural explanations based on unknown or otherwise unobserved phenomena (e.g. that the production of abnormally concentrated gas or raised levels of blood alcohol might cause spontaneous ignition)
- Natural explanations relating to health and lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking, not consuming adequate levels of water etc.)
- Natural explanations that involve an external source of ignition (e.g. the victim was drunk and dropped a cigarette)
Objections to natural explanations typically refer to the degree of burning of the body with respect to its surroundings. Indeed, one of the common markers of a case of SHC is that the body – or part of it – suffered an extraordinarily large degree of burning while the surroundings or the lower limbs remained comparatively undamaged. Although there is no scientific evidence to support them, supernatural explanations of spontaneous human combustion remain popular.
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Famous quotes containing the words combustion, spontaneous and/or human:
“Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th Omnipotent to Arms.
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe”
—John Milton (16081674)
“If learning to read was as easy as learning to talk, as some writers claim, many more children would learn to read on their own. The fact that they do not, despite their being surrounded by print, suggests that learning to read is not a spontaneous or simple skill.”
—David Elkind (20th century)
“Doubtless, we are as slow to conceive of Paradise as of Heaven, of a perfect natural as of a perfect spiritual world. We see how past ages have loitered and erred. Is perhaps our generation free from irrationality and error? Have we perhaps reached now the summit of human wisdom, and need no more to look out for mental or physical improvement? Undoubtedly, we are never so visionary as to be prepared for what the next hour may bring forth.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)