A correspondent wrote:
> A long time ago, I saw a documentary on tv about a phenomena
>called the "phantom leaf". Researchers were doing an experiment where
>they would place their hands or other objects (sometimes a leaf) on a
>clear (appeared to be glass) plate and somehow passed an electric current
>over it. They photographed it and you see the outlining of the object
>from the sparks it produced around the object. Well, they took a leaf,
>cut it in half and placed it on the plate and passed a current through
>it. Amazingly, the leaf did not show just the outlining of its one half,
>but as if it were a whole one. They did the experiment several more
>times with different cuts and sometimes they were able to get the whole
>leaf to show up.
> They extended the experiment to people who were amputees (sp?).
>Some of the people did not have the image show up at all, others on the
What you're talking about here is Kirlian photography. My article on it used
be in the FAQ, don't know if it still is or not. I did a fairly extensive
research project on Kirlian photography many years ago. Kirlian photography
was a pseudoscience fad in the 70's, and has recently been making a comeback
amongst New Age loonies.
The technique is this: a high-voltage, high-frequency, but very low-current
source (such as from a Tesla coil) is applied to a grounded subject sitting
on a piece of photographic film or paper (this happens in a darkroom,
needless to say). A pretty corona of electrical discharges is produced,
outlining the subject. The resulting photos are interesting to look at.
And that's it.
This is not a "life energy" image, or anything else but a simple electrical
corona discharge. ANY subject that conducts electricity, organic or not,
produces the Kirlian effect.
The so-called "phantom limb" effect is, well, a phantom. It simply doesn't
happen. Not with organic nor inorganic subjects. I have semi-reliable
information that the whole "phantom limb" story actually comes from
just one, count 'em, ONE experiment with a leaf, which was never replicated.
I've never seen it in the hundreds of my own photos...and I've tried. To
my knowledge, this effect has NEVER been reproduced on a human or animal
amputee...except perhaps as a staged stunt for a gullible TV crew.
There are at least two possible explanations for the "phantom limb" effect,
assuming it ever existed at all:
-First, the corona discharge is very dynamic, which means it jumps around a
lot. It is very sensitive to anything which effects electrical conductivity
(humidity, conductance of subject, etc.). Thus, it is possible that a random
jumping around of the field might have produced an image that, in an
uncritical mind, might have resembled the missing piece of the leaf.
-Or, far more likely in my judgment, is experimental error. The common
Kirlian setup is to put a piece of glass on top of the subject to hold it
flat during the exposure. If this were done with a moist leaf, the leaf
might leave a moisture imprint on the glass, which, even after a piece of
the leaf was torn off, would still be a conductive path that would show
the full outline of the leaf.