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The Shroud of Turin from the point of view of physics, Part 3



After a month without being able to publish, we finish the article by M. Carreira. It is important to contemplate and study the syndone from physics to avoid ambiguities. It is also interesting to see how, with the passage of time, knowledge advances and is refined. An example is the issue of coins, which is accepted more as pareidolia than as reality. Written in 1998, this article allows us to see the advances and continues to provide us with avenues of knowledge and to open new paths.








2.3. Non-artificial processes

After considering artificial ways of producing the syndonic image, we must critically analyze the possibilities of other processes that do not depend on human technique. The most natural one, proposed almost as obvious since a century ago, is the contact of a body with the canvas in such a way that the resulting stains automatically form an image of the whole surface of the body. The canvas being a single piece that enveloped the corpse from head to toe, the dorsal and frontal image will be found in perfect concordance. The presence of blood stains is a clear indication of this contact, and it is also explained that the blood itself avoids the formation of stains on the canvas covered by it.


Those who do not accept the authenticity of the Shroud as a relic from the time of Jesus, come to speculate, especially after the dating of C 14, about the identity of some medieval corpse, used to obtain a fraudulent relic. Even on this assumption, it is admitted that the image, with all its accompanying characters, is due to the fact that the canvas actually enveloped a human body, of a man subjected to all the tortures described in the Gospels: it is not a painting. Naturally, experimental science cannot give a physical or chemical proof of the identity of the person: it can and must only analyze the process suggested for the canvas to show us what we observe on it.


At first glance it may be supposed that fluids or gases emanating from a corpse covered with blood and sweat, perhaps reacting with the scents and resins used in the Jewish way of shrouding, may give rise to diffuse and faint stains, or more definite and marked ones, according to the distance of the cloth from the various parts of the body. If the cloth simply falls over the corpse, instead of wrapping it laterally, it is also logical that there is no image of the sides. It may be thought that there will be no pigment in the fibers, but a very faint and almost invisible discoloration except as a set stain when viewed at a sufficient distance. All of which has, no doubt, much in its favor when comparing what has been said with the description of the Shroud of Turin.


Because this hypothesis is basically plausible and because of its explanatory power, the "vaporigraphy", already proposed by Dr. Vignon at the beginning of the century13 , continues to have many followers. But a more detailed study shows its inadequacy and even its incongruence with the facts to be explained.


If the image is due to more or less intimate contact, it is to be expected that the dorsal image, of the body weighing on the cloth, is much clearer and of greater intensity than the frontal image, which is produced only by the weight of the cloth on the body. In the Turin image there is no difference in intensity or detail between the two sides, leading some scholars to affirm that the body levitated on the Shroud. It is not necessary to resort to this hypothesis if we have other reasons to reject the proposed explanation, and so it happens.


Observing the fibers under the microscope, the penetration by diffusion or capillarity, which should be expected when a liquid or gas comes into contact with the cloth, is totally lacking. Only on the outermost surface of each fibril is the coloration of the image found, as has already been repeatedly indicated.


Assuming contact in the areas where there is an image, it is necessary to explain why there is no distortion, especially in the face. If a cloth is applied in such a way that the cheeks, lateral areas of the forehead, the neck under the chin are marked, then leaving the cloth on a plane should produce an obvious widening of the image. This effect is not observed. There is also no image corresponding to the top of the head: the expected union between the frontal and the dorsal image is missing, even though the canvas is continuous over the whole body. There is no lateral image on the sides, but there are blood stains, especially on the left elbow, which must be produced by lateral contact of the canvas.


Once again it is necessary to emphasize the non-organic character of the stains, which do not change color even in the immediate vicinity of important burns from the fire of 1532, and which have the spectral reflectance more similar to the burns and not to any chemical compound superimposed on the cellulose. Finally, it is not possible to obtain the fineness of detail, found especially in the image of the coin, by any kind of diffusion of agents that are dispersed in all directions between the body and the canvas.


The archaeology of centuries has brought to our museums a large number of mummies of various cultures, with cloths of all kinds in contact with corpses covered with agents whose activity was to preserve them from corruption or, on the contrary, with stains indicating the decomposition of the flesh wrapped in them. In no case has anything remotely resembling the Turin image been found; nor has any evidence been produced, in laboratory work, that would lead one to affirm the possibility of achieving it by contact of this kind.


On a personal note, I must confess that, before studying the Shroud of Turin in greater detail, I was ready to accept its origin as the result of this natural process and I had as my main reason for being interested in it to obtain historical, archaeological information about the crucifixion. I still consider this aspect, which is independent of the more or less convincing explanation of how the image was formed, to be of great value, but I am more and more impressed, as a physicist, to encounter something that I cannot explain within the normal activity of matter. And if it is not possible to attribute to matter as we know it what we in fact observe, perhaps we can learn something new from the study of this cloth.


2.4. Processes of unknown origin

With the methodology that demands the search for new causes when those already known are shown to be insufficient, we now come to other possible explanations suggested in various works by authors that complement each other. It is not the intention of this article to make clear the points proposed by each researcher, to attribute to each one the merit or demerit of each hypothesis, but to study the consequences of their theories in order to find the one that can best explain what is observed.


In studies of the Turin image, especially since the 1978 investigations, it is very frequent to find the word "radiation" as the explanatory key to avoid the presence of pigments, artificial or natural. Without suggesting in detail how radiation should be produced from a recent corpse, in a cold and dark cave, it is considered that its predictable effects on the fabric are sufficient to explain the characteristics of the image.


In physics, radiation is any form of matter-energy that is emitted from a source and can reach other objects without immediate contact. It then describes the corpuscular radiation, in which there are discrete particles emitted, for example, by radioactive materials, the solar wind, or the explosion of a star; such emission occurs isotropically in the absence of some factor that channels it in privileged directions. Its penetrating power and effect varies according to the type of particle and its energy: from alpha particles (helium nuclei) emitted by radium and unable to pass through ordinary paper, to neutrinos from the interior of the Sun or from a supernova, which would penetrate light-years of lead with hardly any interaction.


In the case of low-energy particles - little penetrating power - the attenuation of intensity in air is sufficient to suggest that the effect of particles on a surface, capable of reacting to their impact, will be an inverse function of distance. In this way, three-dimensionality could be recovered from the density of the stain. Achieving an image with sufficient detail, on the other hand, requires that the radiation be emitted only in parallel beams, which must be very roughly perpendicular to the body and the canvas so as not to cause distortion.


No particular particle has been proposed as the cause of the images, no source of energy for their emission, and no reason why their behavior should be as described. I know of no experiments done with corpuscular radiation that produce exclusively surface dehydration effects on cellulose, although perhaps electrons in a type of corona discharge, with thermal effects corresponding to those of electric sparks, could cause similar burns in almost equivalent proximity to contact. Without new factors controlling the process, there is no explanation for the lack of image on the sides or top of the head. Nor is there any suggestion as to why the dorsal image, with the cloth under the weight of the body, has the same characteristics as the frontal. On the whole, the hypothesis advances us very little, although it suggests a process that does not involve fluid soaking the fibers or coloring matter to be found in them: it is equivalent to the scorching of the bas-relief described above, but without attributing the fact to more or less improbable technology, but to a mysterious phenomenon outside our physical explanations.


Almost everything said about corpuscular radiation can be applied to electromagnetic radiation: positively, its decreasing intensity with distance, and the ability to affect cellulose without leaving any traces other than surface scorching (especially in the case of ultraviolet radiation); negatively, the lack of explanation of a very marked directionality and absence of lateral image and the fact of similarity of intensity in frontal and dorsal impression. One more factor against: while a low-energy corpuscle beam can be appreciably attenuated by a few centimeters of air penetration, visible or ultraviolet radiation is generally not, although UV or X-radiation of very specific energy can be rapidly attenuated.


This gives rise to a dilemma: all radiation emission occurs either in basically isotropic (Lambertian) form or in parallel beams (collimated, though perhaps imperfectly). In the first case we have attenuation with distance, but the ability to provide detail is not maintained; in the second case, each beam of the beam allows us to mark a point with detail, but the intensity does not decrease with distance. A clear example of this can be seen in the behavior of the light emitted by ordinary lamps, which radiate in an approximately isotropic way: on a piece of paper I do not obtain an image of the bulbs, although I can see that the brightness is greater when I am closer. On the other hand, a laser pointer, emitting collimated light (a practically parallel beam) produces a point almost equally concentrated at a meter or two away, and a group of lasers forming a straight line causes the appearance of an identical line on the screen: the detail is maintained but there is no information about distance. It is not possible, following the laws of optics, to achieve simultaneous retention of detail (by collimated beams) and loss of intensity with distance (isotropic and diffuse propagation).


A simple experiment proves the above. With pieces of fluorescent tape (which emits visible light when previously excited, and which is used in photographic laboratories to mark, for example, electrical switches), various geometric figures can be made in different sizes. Having made triangles, circles and squares of one centimeter basic dimension, a photographic paper is placed on the excited tape, with a heavy sheet of glass keeping the paper in intimate contact with the light sources. When the paper is developed, after a few seconds of exposure, a detailed negative is obtained, in which the shapes appear sharply gray against the white background. There has really been no light propagation over any distance and there is no loss of detail or intensity.


Repeating the process with a sheet of glass a little more than a millimeter thick between the fluorescent tape and the photographic paper, a double effect is immediately apparent: the edges of the shapes are blurred, the image is not so dark and the background is not so white. The light has been diffused in all directions. If the separation is double (about three millimeters, two glass plates), this diffusion is more pronounced, and increases with greater distance, until any shape is unrecognizable before the paper is 10 mm from the luminous ribbons. This small distance is sufficient for detail to no longer be preserved on centimeter scales, and the shape of the various pieces of tape can no longer be recognized, even if the general arrangement is still noticeable. The same is also lost if the distance between the fluorescent strips and the photographic paper is increased a little more.


Applying the same criterion to the Shroud of Turin, it is inexplicable that there is detail much finer than a centimeter in portions of the body that must have been at a distance of several centimeters from the canvas, as can be inferred from the loss of intensity of the corresponding print. It cannot simply be called a "radiation" in the physical sense which gives rise to effects incompatible with its laws.


When the three-dimensionality of the image was described in the original work of Jackson and Jumper, a very exact correlation could be established between the color intensity of the print on the canvas and the vertical distance measured between a similar canvas and a human subject in the laboratory, in a horizontal position and covered by the canvas. But there is no correspondence either of tone or of form (without distortion) if one seeks relations with the distances measured according to the normal to the canvas or to the surface of the body at each point: only a measurement according to the vertical (i.e. according to the direction of the terrestrial gravitational field) produces the correlations that allow one to recover the third dimension. This leads Jackson to affirm that gravity is a determining factor in producing the characteristics of the image: something totally unexpected in the case of radiation, whether corpuscular or electromagnetic, even in the case of beam collimation that is sufficient to maintain the reproduction of detail. Neither radioactive particle emission nor light is affected by the earth's gravity in a detectable way.


A special part of the electromagnetic spectrum is constituted by low energy X-rays. Their production has been proposed in the already discussed case of "weak dematerialization", and it is suggested that these rays could have caused the burning of the canvas to form the image, either directly or by excitation of various elements in the body, which re-emit the energy at different wavelengths. As indicated, from the physical point of view, there is no reason to think that X-rays are emitted in a process that consumes energy, rather than producing it. Even less plausible is the requirement for a very fine tuning of such - or any other - radiation so that its effect is visible on the outside of the flax fibers, without any penetration, and so that its directionality is such that it simultaneously produces detail and three-dimensional information.


Dr. Alan Whanger states that, in the Turin image, with contrast-enhancing photographic techniques, it is possible to distinguish the image of bony structures in the face and hands, as well as teeth (similar to how they are seen in medical X-rays). But this does not mean the transmission of radiation (which would give less image density in the negative, and a corresponding blackening in the photographic positive), but emission of the same unknown agent that produces the rest of the body image: the teeth appear as white spots, especially behind the upper lip.


From all of the above it can be stated that no type of radiation, even of miraculous origin, is adequate in its propagation characteristics and energy to explain all that is observed. We still do not know how to "save the phenomena" in the merely descriptive sense of the ancient astronomers in the face of planetary movements; still less can we give a reason for them. But this study leads us to point out a series of requirements and possible factors to be taken into account for a theory that does not contradict the data:


- We ruled out coloration by organic fluids impregnating the fabric by contact.

- We rule out non-contact image formation by corpuscular or luminous radiation.

- We require a process that occurs following the influence of the earth's gravity.

- The mode of formation must naturally lead to a non-deformed image.

- The lack of lateral image of torso and head must be logically explained.

- Equal intensity of the frontal and dorsal image must be possible.

- The hypothesis should perhaps be compatible with the impression of internal bony structures.


Since the Turin image clearly represents the corpse of a crucified man, and since among the thousands of victims of that brutal execution only one case is known of a canvas print, and all considerations of detail and tradition point to Jesus as the crucified man wrapped in that canvas, it is natural to relate the presence of the image to the unique fact of his resurrection, attested by reliable witnesses as a historical fact on which all Christianity is based. For this reason, one can allow a suggestion, perhaps a bold one, speculating about the transformation that places the resurrected body "outside the limits of space and time" (as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it). And this without an external source of energy that destroys the atoms of the body, nor violently affects its environment.


It will not be possible to assign a reproducible cause of a physical order: the resurrection, like the creation of the universe, transcends the laws and the possible experimental verifications. Nor can we be expected to assign reasons that it is one way or another to the detailed development of how the image was formed; all we can ask of our theoretical efforts is a Newtonian "as if": the image has such and such characteristics as if the process of formation were in such and such a way. The only alternative to this way of pursuing our study would be to confess our total inability to understand the origin of the image from the physical point of view, and to turn to a miraculous fact whose details are hidden in the supernatural activity of the Omnipotent.


Proceeding on this basis of wanting to "save the phenomena," at least qualitatively, it is of primary importance to propose some process controlled by gravity, according to the idea emphasized by Dr. Jackson. In our daily experience, only the fall of bodies is something clearly under gravitational control in its dynamic development, and the vertical at each point is determined by the trajectory of bodies in free fall, without lateral forces. Observing a dependence of tone in the image with respect to the vertical distance between canvas and body may suggest a fall of the Shroud at the moment when the body ceases to be located in our spatio-temporal environment, and ceases to serve as a support for the canvas.


If we suppose that this "delocalization" of the body is not instantaneous, but occurs in a time of the order of a second, the canvas can fall about 5 cms (it is not a fall in a vacuum, but in the air and with a braking factor due to the rigidity of the cloth and the possible residual resistance of the evanescent body). During the fall, the canvas, previously bulging due to the convexity of the body, must adopt an increasingly flat shape, with the consequence of allowing an image by successive contact with the various parts of the body, without distortion, and suggesting that there will be no lateral image on the sides or the head, as the canvas tends to move away from these surfaces. It is even possible that not very deep bony structures are seen in contact with the canvas for a brief moment, but only in the frontal part, since the canvas on which the corpse rests does not participate in this fall, and it is the epidermis that produces the dorsal image by simple simultaneous contact.


On the other hand, in the frontal part, the intensity of the image reflects the time of contact: greater in the most protruding parts of the body, which affect the canvas immediately; lesser in those that only come into contact with the canvas when it falls while the phenomenon causing the image is already disappearing. Since the impression always occurs by immediate contact, we have the image in detail; since the duration (and the intensity of evanescent energy) is different as a function of the depth, we have variable intensity and the possibility of recovering three-dimensionality. There is no radiation in the physical sense of the word, since there is no corpuscular or energetic emission at a distance, and the dilemma of combining isotropic and collimated transmission disappears.


According to this explanatory scheme, it is possible to account for the inverse "X-ray" that allows one to see the bones of the fingers extending to the carpal area, and even for the presence of a sort of shadow of the thumb hidden behind the palm of the left hand. The same can be said of the marking of nasal bones and teeth in both jaws. The lack of identifiable image as being due to deeper parts of the skeleton suggests that the time of performance on the canvas was very short. And the superficiality of the image implies a very weak source of energy, with no penetrating power into the linen threads. Perhaps comparable to the static electricity discharges that we observe on synthetic fabrics in dry environmental conditions.


A more detailed and in-depth study of all the characteristics of the image and its implications for this new hypothesis will undoubtedly be necessary to refine the explanatory model or to discard it if it seems incompatible with any data. At present, even considering that it is the most likely suggestion among those that have been made known, there are already several questions that require careful evaluation:


- Why does the bodily delocalization occur for a time, brief, but not instantaneous? If it is a miraculous act, outside the laws of physics, it does not seem clear that it must occur in a way that suggests some finite force acting progressively.

- The impression of the coin of the right eyelid should not be attributed to its delocalization, which is not applicable, but to matter transformed by a resurrection of the formerly living body. Is such an image explicable?

- The denser parts of the body seem to leave a more intense imprint. How does the density (number of particles per volume) relate to the cause of the image?

- The blood stains on the canvas cover canvas where there is no image, even though they correspond to clearly marked epidermal zones in the vicinity of the stain. It seems, therefore, that the image was formed on the canvas from the outside in, so that the blood clot acted as a protective screen over the canvas. On the hypothesis stated above, this would indicate that the energy that affected the canvas was not sufficient to pass through a thin layer of dried blood. Can a variation in properties be noted in the canvas that would suggest that it was exposed to an identifiable agent?

- If it is undoubtedly established that there are other non-bodily images on the canvas that have the same characteristics as the human image they surround, it will be even more difficult to give a single explanation for all of them, even within hypotheses that only attempt to be descriptive in nature and allow recourse to the miracle as the ultimate cause.


It has been repeatedly indicated that physics does not suggest any reason for the reason for the bodily image, nor for any other that may be found on the canvas and that has properties of the same type. What has been presented in this analysis is a process of elimination of unacceptable hypotheses, either because of their explanatory inadequacy or because they are incompatible with part of the data. Only a purely qualitative proposal gives enough congruence to consider it a possible basis for further development: the fall of the upper part of the Shroud through the space where the body was before the resurrection, so that there is a very brief contact of the cloth with the body structures transiently endowed with a slight energy (perhaps similar in its surface effects to electrostatics), while the same phenomenon acts without movement on the part in contact with the back.


The impossibility of directly verifying the hypothesis by laboratory work removes its study from the properly scientific field, although there are possible congruences with properties of the image that could be verified in future examinations, and that would give new reasons to accept or reject the proposal. But any other advance in its intelligibility -indicating causes- will involve considerations of a metaphysical order, supported by purely theological reasons whose value is based on data of faith and not on evidence of reasoning or experimentation. This is not unacceptable in principle: if physics cannot explain intelligent life, even less can it extend its scope to situations of a supernatural order.


3. Summary and conclusions

The body of medical, archaeological, chemical and physical studies clearly points to the direct connection between the Turin canvas and the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. There is no other possible reason why this canvas exists, why it contains the information observed on it, why it has been preserved and venerated for centuries. The undeniable fact that no one has been able to reproduce the image, nor explain it by any known process, also leads to the conclusion that only a unique fact in history can be adduced as the cause.


Experts in Jewish burial customs or in medical reasons of blood flow, perhaps caused by plausible handling of a corpse, may find themselves in disagreement about details inferred from the Shroud. But while customs and ritual laws may be seen as inapplicable in a concrete case of provisional and hasty burial, the laws of physics are not changed by any human circumstance. That is why I consider it the core of the question of the authenticity of this unique object to apply criteria of a physical nature to its study, at least to suggest possible processes, both in the sense of resolving discrepancies and of proposing some positive idea.


Against the enormous body of studies and reasons in support of the authenticity of the Shroud, there is only one discordant fact: the dating by C14. There are serious indications that circumstances that could have led to erroneous conclusions in determining the date have not been taken into account, in addition to methodological flaws. All this has been documented by various authors, even without implying lack of objectivity, or fraud, in the measurement process. Only a new series of tests, made with all the rigor and interpreted with all the factors that would influence the result, can clear the problem of this incongruent dating. And this must be done without invoking hypotheses with little physical or theological foundation to suggest that a supernatural intervention modified the content of C 14 on the canvas in a totally "ad hoc" way that logically misleads and weakens its historical value.


The most difficult problem to solve, from a physical point of view, is that of the formation of the body image that makes the Turin canvas unique. No hypothesis of artificial production is compatible with what is observed; neither is any known or plausible process in the contact of a corpse with the cloth that envelops it. Consequently, we must accept that a supernatural event has been decisive in giving us the image we observe. The obvious fact is the resurrection.


Even within this explanatory "model" (in the scientific sense, which indicates a certain point of view) it is not possible to attribute the image to any kind of "dematerialization" that literally undoes the body; nor can it be explained by any form of radiation in the normal sense of the word, which implies a behavior according to determined laws. It is possible, instead, to give a description, qualitatively coherent with the data, in the hypothesis that the canvas would fall vertically through a body that ceases to be localized, so that the canvas would be in successive contact with various levels of bodily structure.


The Catholic Church has never wanted to pronounce itself on the authenticity of the Shroud, nor on the information that emerges from it, and even less on the explanation of the image: it is not a matter of faith to accept or deny it, nor should the religious aspect be introduced into the study. It is a physical object, of archaeological interest, which must be studied as such. But neither should we close our eyes to its implications, whether positive or negative, with respect to our philosophical and theological ideas. Nor should we apologize to science if an objective study of all the facts leads us to confess that something unknown within the normal physical processes has to be invoked to explain it. And this can give a new reason to support the testimony of those who gave their lives to affirm that Christ rose again by the power of God, never to die again.

The Shroud of Turin is, in this way of understanding it, an amazing complement to the Gospel accounts of the Passion. It is also a trace of a marvelous event: the transformation of a human body into something that exists outside the framework of space and time.


Having said all that, as a physicist, I consider well established according to scientific reasoning, I would now like to add some ideas based on my studies in the philosophy of nature. None of what follows directly influences what has already been presented, but it might open some way towards a deeper understanding of what the concept of resurrection means in its totality.

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