Say there's a torture technique that hangs people by metal chains (gruesome, I know; stay with me) and the room slowly heats at a steady rate. (Like boiling a frog in an increasingly hot pot of water.) The rate of the temperature increase can either be controlled automatically or by a dial in case the torturer wants to draw out the pain or kill the victim quickly. The room slowly increases in heat until the person dies.

What kind of changes would the human body undergo? Would the outside flesh char and burn before the person became unconscious or died? Can the human body combust into flames by heated air alone, or does it need something to ignite it? In this scenario, what effect would the chains have on this person?

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    $\begingroup$ you could have a look at the brazen bull torture device. Not exactly what you're asking for, but somewhat similar. $\endgroup$
    – BgrWorker
    Jul 23, 2018 at 14:34

4 Answers 4


Your plan will not work. You will quickly have a hallucination, and then unconscious victim not even knowing that he is being tortured for most of the process.

Here is how to get the most bang for your buck.

Forget the chains. If you want to mutilate your victim, then this is a waste of time.

Put them in a device full of water neck deep then cover it up. Expose the head. Now you can heat the water. Water has a few awesome properties. It can absorb a ton of heat creating a very descent system. It conducts temperature way better than air. It completely negates all human body strategies for self cooling.

Now you can bring it up to whatever temperature you want. Maybe 60C as other answers have mentioned. By keeping the head separated, and maybe applying ice to the head, you can keep the cranial temperature within tolerable levels while heating the rest of the victim.

The effects of being heated are very unpleasant as skin begins to cook. While this will do permanent damage, Besides the pain, being trapped in the device will cause a huge panic reaction. You can probably keep the process going for hours as long as you can keep the head cool. Organ failure will eventual occur causing death.

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    $\begingroup$ You seem to have put quite a bit of thought into this. $\endgroup$
    – ironduke97
    Jul 24, 2018 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ Once I saw a mug with text: "No, I am not mass murderer, neither am I a terrorist. I am just a writer." If you do not own it, please buy one. Most chilling +1 I gave on this site... $\endgroup$ Jul 24, 2018 at 10:27

Unless the temperature is ramped up to a sufficiently high level in a fairly short period of time, death is going to occur as a result of hyperthermia long before any significant "burning" effects occur.

With due care you should be able to delay hyperthermia for a few days, but your victim is most likely to be unconscious or even dead in a matter of hours, as prolonged exposure to temperatures over 40C will be fatal.

In spite of the legends, the frog jumps out of the water before being boiled.

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    $\begingroup$ I was under the impression that heat stroke was dangerous in part because it's difficult to tell if you're actually overheating, which suggests it's of limited use as a torture implement. (Generally, people are supposed to know they're being tortured!) $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:00

Because we did that to human we know that:

  • to ignite person you need source of flame that will ignite human fat combined with lymph or other human fluid. Kind like bacon that is sizzling and then you put fire on it. (the fire and high temperature will open skin and expose fat and tissue)
  • to char or burn you need very high temperature with open flame in very short time. Kind like gas torch to meat.
  • When you rise the temperature you slowly boil human. With long time they will get 3rd degree burn, bubbles. Around 40 C in the brain you will kill their brain. Of course the body will try to save itself but the longer you are in high temperature the weaker the cooling will be. Kind like all those people who died after sauna marathons. But before that people will get sunstroke (which is actually temperature stroke).
  • The chains will get the surrounding temperature much faster. Especially it they are steel. So a room temp of 60 C means the chain will have the same and will burn the tissue.
  • $\begingroup$ Would the chain burning the tissue be enough to create your bacon example? Or do you specifically need a match or a spark? $\endgroup$
    – Jay Dee
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ 60C may hurt, and do damage but it's nowhere near temperature to fry something. Thinks fry at at least 110C Fat ignites at over 400C $\endgroup$
    – Andrey
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:56

This would probably cause the victim to die of heat exhaustion before the body burns, though given enough heat, anything burns. A human will die by hyperthermia at 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) in sufficiently humid environment in 10 minutes. This of course depends on the humidity and the level of water in the victim, all of which can change the ability to sweat. Any damage to the skin from the metal would likely occur long after death by this method.

There are cases where humans can "spontaneously combust" but they aren't really spontaneous and occur under certain conditions. The most well known to science is called the "Wick effect". This event is caused by burning clothing causing the skin to crack and expose subcutaneous fat to the cloth, which can fuel the fire, much like wax to a candle wick, giving this effect the name. From here, there is enough fuel in the body to burn away most of the body at a fairly low flame heat. Incidents have been left furniture the victim was sitting on with very little damage, mostly only in the areas of direct contact. Another unpleasant nature of this effect is that most humans aren't completely destroyed by fire. Limbs (especially feet and legs) often survive as they don't have sufficient fat storage to sustain the fire. Typically this is more accidental and typically only works on chronic alcoholics and elderly women.

Either way, your torture device would not cause a human to burst into flames.


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