How to See Your Aura

Is aura photography actually possible, and does it tell us anything useful about the person?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Alternative Medicine, Paranormal

Skeptoid #75
November 20, 2007
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Also available in Spanish | Russian
 

Aura Photography
Artwork: Nathan Bebb

Today we're going set up a special camera and view a mystical energy field surrounding your body that's normally visible only to certain sensitive people. Our subject today is aura photography. A listener from Chile wrote in with the following account of a late-night infomercial aired on Chilean television:

"There was a guy, by the name of Harold Moskovitz, giving a show entitled “Desarrollo Luz Dorada”, or “Golden Light Development”. He was claiming to provide all sorts of healing through esoteric ways such as reading ones aura and then providing techniques for resolving problems found within it. Basically the show was claiming to provide relief for pretty much any aliment, and all one has to do is attend a seminar or two, paid of course, in order to learn the mystic ways. He had numerous people swearing to have been cured of various serious ailments, and one woman even held up an x-ray of tumors she had that were now magically cured! Chile is a fine country but it does have a significant number of people that do not have access to a decent education or health care and this con man is basically telling them he can cure cancer."

Well, there's nothing new about psychics claiming to see your aura. What's missing is any kind of a half-decent explanation for what this aura supposedly consists of. It's really easy to throw around scientific sounding terms like "bioelectromagnetic fields" or "life energy", but such terms do not have any legitimate meaning. We have to ask some basic questions. Does this thing called an aura really exist? Does it convey any useful information about the person? How might it be possible that some people can see it or sense it, while others cannot?

To answer the first question, do auras actually exist, we have to abandon untestable verbal claims from psychics who say they can see them but offer no evidence, and look instead to testable evidence. Namely, aura photography.

There are three types of aura photographs. The first, which is sometimes seen in video and is usually in color, is simple infrared photography. To take an infrared photograph with a conventional film camera, simply use infrared sensitive film. An infrared photograph shows heat. A shot of a dead object at room temperature appears black or at the same color as the general background, but a living person or other warm object appears white, or in a color video, at a warmer temperature. Charged particles near the skin surface, or near the surface of any warmed object, are excited by the radiated heat and will appear as a glowing band around the person or object. Simple heat does not have any of the mystic qualities attributed to auras, and can be produced equally dramatically with any dead object if you just warm it up.

The second type of aura photograph is called Kirlian imaging. It's named for Semyon Davidovich Kirlian, the Armenian electrician who discovered it in 1937, though it didn't really become popular in the world of aura enthusiasts until the 1970's. Kirlian images of auras are all black except for the aura itself, which is manifested as a thin band of jagged white surrounding an object. To take a Kirlian image, the subject to be photographed is placed on a photographic plate which is electrically isolated above an aluminum electrode. Another electrode is connected to the subject, and the resulting image is thus burned onto the photographic plate. Kirlian described this as "bio-plasma", an image of what he called the "life energy" of the object. Scientists call this effect a corona discharge, and you get the same result using any conductive object. It does not have to be alive; a coin will work just as well. Corona discharges have been well understood since the 1700's, and they have nothing to do with "life energy" or the psychic state of an object.

Finally, we have the latest, greatest, and stupidest of aura photography techniques, which was developed in 1992 by an electrical engineer named Guy Coggins, and is called the AuraCam 6000. This produces brightly colored pictures showing the person with superimposed brightly colored clouds of light around them. To take an AuraCam picture, the subject sits and rests his hands on the leads of a galvanometer, the same device that Scientologists call an E-meter. The AuraCam takes a conventional photograph of the person which is loaded into a computer. The computer software then synthesizes an image of colorful clouds said to be based on the galvanometer measurement. This colorful halo is then superimposed onto the image of the person, then it's printed out, and presto, you have your mysterious aura photograph. According to Coggins' web site:

"Our technologies produce an electronic interpretation of what we believe the Aura would looks like. It does not photograph the actual Aura. There's nothing that exists which can do this."

And how about those colors? How are they determined? Coggins actually gives several different answers on his web site: that the colors are determined by corresponding electrical frequencies; that the colors were chosen in consultation with psychics to produce the same colors seen by psychics; and that they are based on the writings of Dr. Max Luscher, correlating personality with color preferences. I guess you can take your pick of how you prefer to believe the colors in your picture were determined.

To Coggins' credit, his web site is very clear that these images are not suitable in any way for making medical diagnoses, and that they only represent the software's interpretations of the galvanometer reading. He is also very clear that these devices are primarily for making money taking pictures at fairs, and he provides pricing guidelines and lists of events where you might choose to take your AuraCam. I wish that all peddlers of pseudoscience were that honest. Joe Nickell wrote an entertaining account of having his own picture taken at a psychic fair with an AuraCam in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

So an examination of aura photography reveals no useful, testable evidence that auras even exist at all. If we can't establish any reasonable foundation of evidence that they might exist, it's premature to address our second question, whether any useful information can be derived from studying auras. So let's look at our third question: How might it be possible that some people can see auras?

Nobody has ever suggested a plausible mechanism for how such a thing might be possible, but if it is, there's a big fat chunk of dough sitting there waiting for anyone who can do it. James Randi has a million dollars in his vault that's yours if you can see auras. Nobody has tried since 1989, when the prize was only $10,000. On the TV show Exploring Psychic Powers Live, a psychic claimed that the auras she could see stretched five inches beyond the person, and that she could see the aura extend beyond the top of a screen that a person was behind. Ten screens were presented, and by prior agreement between her and Randi, she needed to score 80% correct predicting which screens had a person behind them. Random guessing would have resulted in a score of 50%, but she scored only 40%.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Can you or someone you know do better than that? If you can, Skeptoid can qualify you to apply for the million dollar prize. Just come to the Skeptoid.com web site and click on the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

Since that highly publicized failure on live television, author Robert Bruce, in his book Auric Mechanics and Theory, has taken the classic step of moving the goalposts. He states that auras cannot be seen in complete darkness or if any part of the person emitting the aura is obscured. This special pleading presumes that auras have some quality that places them on a higher plane than what might be testable using basic blinded experiments. So what it all boils down to is that the only supporting evidence for the existence of auras is the logical fallacy of special pleading that claims they are beyond the threshold of detection for anyone except self-described psychics whose claims must be allowed to be untestable.

Well, that's bogus, and it's childish. If Robert Bruce had anything in his book that could withstand any kind of scrutiny, he could easily be a million dollars richer. Until aura advocates make some kind of reasonable, quantifiable description of their phenomenon, any discussion of auras — including their photography, their meaning, or their paranormal detection — should be treated with extreme skepticism.

Brian Dunning

© 2007 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Cytowic, Richard E. Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses - Second Edition. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001. 34, 50, 163.

Loftin, Robert W. "Auras: Searching for the Light." Skeptical Inquirer. 21 Sep. 1990, Volume 14, Number 4: 403-409.

Nickell, Joe. "Aura Photography: A Candid Shot." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 May 2000, Volume 24, Number 3: 15-17.

Novella, S. "Mood Photography." NeuroLogica Blog. Steven Novella, MD, 25 Jul. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2014. <http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/mood-photography/>

Randi, J., Clarke, A.C. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997. 21, 136, 166.

Stenger, Victor J. "The Physics of 'Alternative Medicine' Bioenergetic Fields." The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 1 Apr. 1999, Volume 3, Number 1: 1501.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "How to See Your Aura." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 20 Nov 2007. Web. 4 Jul 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4075>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 191 comments

I had a different kind of aura camera which had a kirlian attachment on an instamatic type camera. The pictures that I took were amazing as I could take pictures of people, plants, stone walls, and items of all kinds as it did not require plates to place a hand on. The colors emitted from the energy of each subject seemed to depict the aura type colors you would expect from the subjects of the photos. I don't know how it worked but it was verifiable to me and others that this was a phenomenon. It brought to me and others great enjoyment.

Rona Giese, Clifton, CO, USA
April 10, 2014 9:10am

Could it just be a representation of the color of the clothing that was worn? My family went to Sedona, AZ last week. We each had our aura done. We put our hands on some metal button-looking things and a picture was taken. An image appeared on a computer screen with various colors. All five of us had distinctive images. This was all for fun, as I have a lot of trouble believing something like this. My aura was interpreted as being very balanced, and the other four became very jealous. So they demanded we try to disprove the results. To do so we then went down the street to a competitor and had it all done again. The distinctive images with different colors in different places and they all came out exactly the same (me being very balanced again!), to everyone's surprise. I don't know what the colors could mean (are they from the clothing we were wearing?) but at least the results were consistent. We had no ideas on how it could be debunked (although if I would do it again, I would change my shirt color and see if the results were the same).

Don, Westport, Connecticut
April 23, 2014 11:53am

If someone is seeing an aura it would be difficult to know what they are actually seeing. They could be seeing a known or unknown type of energy or perceiving something about the persons soul and their brain translating it into colors. The only provable experiment would be two people who could see them, separately showing them the same people and comparing results.

Biskit, nashville
April 30, 2014 5:15am

Tony Parkes

"@Micky, the problem is if you are using only your own reference, you have your own internal bias, we all have."

I certainly agree. But I have a problem with the label "woo" as being a blanket term used for anything outside of scientifically proven events/processes.
Similar to Skeptoid's interpretation of "conspiracy theory" as anything outside the "Official Story", that term itself criticized.

"Think about it, just by experimenting yourself you are opening yourself up to the possibility,..."

Exactly. Nobody else to influence you with their own confirmation bias, entirely private, nobody nearby need know what you are doing, no derision, no lectures on "scientific proof" etc.

The people who are going to extend this simple "experiment" into something that it is not, are the same as those that extend a simple belief in God (for example) into fanatical rules and regulations that somehow exclude everybody else on the planet that doesn't belong to their belief system.

The belief that science is the only valid method for proving anything to be true, is another example of such fanaticism.

That it is the mind that concocted those beliefs and rules in the first place is forgotten, it seems, by many here that post to Skeptoid.

Use your mind simply to follow the directions I posted on here, and make what you will, of any sightings of a grey-blue (or purple) "glow" around your fingers, which may in fact only be a "corona" effect from the electricity in the body.

Macky, Auckland
May 18, 2014 1:24pm

It's quite easy to see auras, actually: just stare at someone who's standing in front of a bright area (like a teacher, for example), and an afterimage will appear around them; you might (incorrectly) interpret this as their aura.

Just some guy, you know, Earth (probably)
April 13, 2015 12:50pm

After-images are not aura's or even closer "etheric" glows around the body.

There are distinct colours discernible around the hands etc when one persists sufficiently in trying to see a glow around them.

Holding the hand in front of a (say) dark hallway entrance with a strong light behind you, one can eventually see a glow that is coloured deep purple, or sometimes the colour of un-inhaled (blue-grey) cigarette smoke to about an inch around the fingers.

I have taken pains to assure readers that this is in no way a scientific experiment, and as far as I know, science is not even interested in it, aura or etheric-viewing having no commercial application.

Skeptoid maintains that there is no energy field around the body, yet the body is driven at all levels by electricity. Where there is electrical flow, there is a magnetic field.

Perhaps that field, or maybe a "corona" effect is what can be discerned after some two weeks of a few minutes a day practice.

I was subjected to quite a bit of ridicule early on this thread by a scientist who while asserting that he saw what I was talking about, would not answer my straight question (over a dozen times) what it is he saw.

Macky, Auckland
May 8, 2015 6:02pm

I've seen aura, and firmly believe they are just brain-farts. IF it were some energy field visible to the naked human eye, then we should be seeing them in the dark, in fact, after adjustment to the local conditions, one should be able to see in the in the dark, but no one can.

I was once woo-woo, but I use my brain to think now. In the case of auras, a pretty nasty time in an underground cave, with no light for a few hours, demonstrated that they are nothing more than an illusion.

The argument that they are due to some 'energy field' is completely comical; woo-woos like to say humans create energy, ergo, we have an energy field, and this is what the aura is. Well, has anyone ever seen an aura around a TV, an iPhone etc?

I was told I had a 'healing' green/turquoise aura, I could even see it, but that is what we call confirmation bias.

My personal view, based on the fact these things only exist when there is light, is the way the rods and cones of the eyes 'read' light under the circumstances people use to observe aura, it's the way the lens is trying to dual focus. If I look at a piece of wood, or even coal, using the aura finding techniques, I can see an aura around these inanimate objects.

It is a great parlor trick, like many of the woo-woo 'truths: "I can teach you to read your aura" then you think I am wise in all things metaphysical.

erique, Manchester, in a hotel
July 2, 2015 10:26am

I don't know about aura's. I haven't seen any.

But why should they be visible in the dark ? Nobody I know (as well as myself) have ever asserted that "etheric glows" or auras are self-illuminating, so why should they be visible in the dark by organs that are built to detect light ?

"I was once woo-woo, but I use my brain to think now." Yet another "born-again rational thinker".

Your term "woo-woo" is typical of some of those so-called skeptics on Skeptoid, when in fact they themselves are trapped in an authoritative system that is supposed to be rational and scientific, when in fact much of their assertions are themselves only belief, with no rational explanations nor evidence, except being told by Authority.

You were told you had a green/turquoise aura, and you admit you could even see it. But that is what "we" (who's "we"?) call confirmation bias ?

Then how do you account for your ability to actually see the green/turquoise aura ? Were you hypnotized ?

"It is a great parlor trick, like many of the woo-woo 'truths: "I can teach you to read your aura" then you think I am wise in all things metaphysical."
Yes I am always skeptical of those that profess to be "psychic" and able to perform or teach others what they can allegedly see themselves.

That's why I took pains to assure Skeptoid that I am in no way engaged in anything resembling a scientific experiment when I posted instructions on how to view an "etheric" glow around the finger/hands etc in the LIGHT.

Macky, Auckland
July 2, 2015 5:47pm

Blavatsky, Besant, Steiner, Leadbeater, Allcot, Wells

Invented etherics for you guys to fool yourselves with..

Ask the magic time travelling coffee table book.. careful.. you might lose it!

Mulga Gill, Sydney
July 4, 2015 5:26pm

I'm not interested in references to other authorities on etherics or whatever.
Neither should anybody else be.

I simply posted a method earlier on in this thread that anybody who was interested could try, in order to observe a purple or blue-grey glow around the fingers/hands conveniently termed the "etheric" as a point of reference.
If successful, they could make what they will of it. No "proofs" of anything whatsoever.

Mulga Gill, you asserted that you had immediately seen what it was after allegedly trying out what I recommended, but when asked over a dozen times what it was that you saw, you would not answer, nor have you to date.

Why say something like that when it is patently untrue, demonstrated by your continued refusal to answer a straight question ?

Macky, Auckland
July 4, 2015 6:52pm

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