Re: Scientific Explanation Wanted

Robert J. Bradbury (
Sat, 4 Sep 1999 04:21:48 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 3 Sep 1999, P. Amaripuja wrote:

> * A Javanese traditonal dance called the "Jaran Kepang" frequently exhibits
> tranced dancers who walk over glass shards, eat hard coconut skin and eat
> glass shards.

This is similar, I believe, to phenomena that have been performed for thousands of years by fakirs in India.

I would offer 3 possible explanations:

  1. A gene variant in the individuals that makes them less sensitive to pain.
  2. A training of the mental pathways to suppress the sensation of pain. There are meditation/mental training techniques that allow this.
  3. A self-stimulated release of endorphins that suppress the pain (such as occurs with marathon runners, probably during childbirth, etc.)

> There are no visible post trance side effects. I observed the
> Jaran Kepang myself, and saw no possible illusion present.

I think the paradox is that you "expect" the body to be damaged by these activities. Robert Freitas documents in Nanomedicine that the human body is made of supprisingly strong stuff. I believe I read many years ago, that a major problem in the "survivability" of airplane crashes was not the fact that the bodies are "crushed" during the crashes but that the seats break loose causing the passengers to become projectiles and die from head injuries. Apparently humans can withstand something like 10-15 g forces, while the seats are only designed to withstand 6-8 g forces.

> In a West Javan ritual, called the "Debus", a gigantic nail is hammered
> into a dancer's abdomen, and combustible material is poured and ignited
> on a dancer's hair and used to cook eggs. Again, with no visible physical
> effect.

Well, pucture wounds are not "fatal" if you do not hit vital organs. I would have to know how large the nail is, how deeply it is hammered in, what it is made of, what procedures the individual undergoes after the demonstration, etc. before I would be "surprised".

As far as the "human on fire" goes, it is routinely done in Hollywood. So long as you have a protective chemical covering under the fire and don't allow the "cooking" to go on too long I would accept it as plausible.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that these kinds of stunts are standard magicians tricks. Some careful verification would be required to verify that the stunts were "real".

> If there are some kind of hynosis involved, I do not understand how glass
> shards can be safely digested.

Well, who is to say they are actually digested? Perhaps they are regurgitated after the performance. The standard technique of the people who can swallow swords is to control the reflexes so as to allow an open passage from your mouth to the pit of your stomach.

The stomach is also very acidic. It may bevel the edges of the glass sufficiently that they are not sharp. Perhaps they also include some stones with the glass (maybe taken before or after the performance) to cause the glass to be ground up. The fact that they can swallow the shards would indicate that they are small enough to pass through the rest of the digestive tract. The major barrier I would see is the problem of reducing the "sharpness" but this appears to be feasible.

It seems like most of this falls into the category of things that can be explained by understanding the resiliancy of the human body, special training methods and perhaps some clever magic.