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Thermal Dissonance

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"This platform — it should be red-hot, but it is cool to the touch."
Aqualad, Young Justice (2010)

Simply put, an object or person exhibits Thermal Dissonance when it's not the temperature it should be. It's true that some objects have a very low thermal conductivity, but these objects don't heat up or cool down no matter how long they spend in a hot or cold environment. They somehow seem able to defy conventional thermodynamics and choose what temperature they want to be, because of this the object can be a piece of hyper advanced Phlebotinum, an Ancient Artifact or stranger fare. When touched or held it is either much warmer or colder than the ambient temperature would indicate, with no obvious reason for this temperature difference. A sufficiently powerful Thermally Dissonant object may also be able to change the temperature of its surroundings, freezing an active volcano or melting a glacier if dropped in.

Since temperature doesn't transmit well through visual media, characters who come in contact with the Thermally Dissonant object have to outright state that it's unusually hot, cold, or body temperature. The character will touch the object and either rapidly pull away their hand commenting on it being too hot or cold, or incredulously grab it since it isn't as hot or cold as it should be. If the object is worn or carried, it never changes temperature either.

Compare to Thermal Dissident, where the individual prefers something hotter or colder than those around him. Likely to result in a Thermostat Tamper Tantrum.

Related to Evil Is Deathly Cold, Chill of Undeath, and Convection, Schmonvection.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the X-Men story "Lost in the Funhouse", the doors of an alien citadel stand up to a sustained blast from Havok without even getting warm. Havok compares them to Krell metal from Forbidden Planet (see below).

    Fan Works 
  • Children of an Elder God: Touji and Kensuke were standing next to Rei when Asuka met the group. When Rei saw the German girl wrapping her arm around Shinji's and dragging him away, the ambient temperature suddenly dropped, and Touji and Kensuke felt a blast of cold hitting them.
  • In The DOOM Chronicles, the protagonist realizes that, despite the appearance of the place (especially the rivers and seas of lava) implying that it should be hot, Hell's atmosphere is icy-cold.
  • Higher Learning: Misato has the misfortune of sitting next to Gendo at the school recital. The ambient temperature drops almost to freezing point when Gendo sees Rei smile and hug Miyazaki-sensei after her successful performance; when he gets up to leave, the cold lingers behind him — to the point that Misato, not having the nerve to look, is under the impression that he's still sitting there.
  • Pokémon Master: Due to their elemental mastery, Fire and Water Pokemon Master's body temperature remains constant, regardless the environment. In a scene Misty wore a sleeveless outfit despite the temperature being freezing-cold because she is a Water Master and coldness does not affect her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The DeLorean in Back to the Future follows this, though it's as much a way of playing with the audience's expectations as anything - the DeLorean is ice-cold after making a trip through time, though you would expect it to be hot (especially given the fire trails it leaves behind).
  • Forbidden Planet: During their tour of the Krell city, Dr. Morbius has Commander Adams try out his Ray Gun on a door made of 26 inches of molecular-condensed metal. The beam doesn't even warm it up.
  • In the Harry Potter films, the presence of Dementors causes the temperature to lower drastically. Windows covered in frost, flowers wilt and die, humans can see their breath and even a thick layer of ice forms over the surface of a pond within moments.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, not only does the One Ring remain cool enough to touch after being dropped into a household fire; when it's finally dropped into Mount Doom, it appears to actually cool the lava to a thin crust of solid black rock before the heat of the volcano becomes too much to resist, and it finally melts.
  • The rocketpack from The Rocketeer remains cool even after flight. It's later explained by Howard Hughes that the rocketpack has a double-walled chamber into which the fuel is pumped, cooling the chamber while preheating fuel simultaneously, to Hand Wave the possibility of Toasted Buns. Real rockets indeed do this (it's called regenerative cooling), but it doesn't exactly keep things cool enough to touch.
  • In Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the kids jump into lava it's actually freezing cold.
  • In These Are the Damned, the protagonists discover a group of children hidden in a facility beneath a medical base. They realise something is wrong when the childrens' skin is cold and their guards all wear anti-radiation suits. Then they start feeling ill...
  • In The Waterboy, Bobby gives Vicky Valencourt a bottle of water that is extremely cold at all times, even though it's kept in a room-temperature environment. Supposedly this is because it was blessed by an Eskimo medicine man.

  • This is played both ways with the Slytherin Locket Horcrux in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is described as being cold to the touch, yet at one point it burns Harry's chest, leaving him with yet another scar. This is because not only is the locket imbued with very powerful Dark magic, it has something of a mind of its own — and a spiteful, cruel one at that.
  • Maleficent in The Kingdom Keepers gives off a strong chill wherever she goes, notifying the imagineers of her presence whenever the temperature drops drastically.
  • Left Behind: All over the place with the Tribulation Force and believers in Christ during the lethal Heat Wave caused by one of God's Bowl Judgments, as vehicles and structures owned and used by them are protected from the high temperatures.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf throws the One Ring into the fire to bring out the letters written on it. When he pulls it out, Frodo is surprised that it's not hot. It takes much hotter fire than normal to affect the Ring at all, which is why it has to be brought to Mount Doom to be destroyed.
  • The Perry Rhodan universe features "Luurs metal", which naturally maintains a constant temperature a bit above the freezing point of water. (It comes up as a plot point in one issue because thin threads of it are used in Terran bank notes as an anti-counterfeiting measure at that time; naturally, that issue is then all about somebody having found a way to make counterfeit notes anyway and using those to try to mount an economic attack on the Solar Empire.)
  • In the novelization of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, David (a human) has just finished having sex with Saavik (Romulan-Vulcan hybrid). Saavik comments that "Lying next to you is like lying in the shade on a hot summer's day", and David replies, "I was just thinking that lying next to you is like being in the sun on the first day of spring."
  • In Twilight (2005), Edward gives Bella his jacket, and she notes that it doesn't seem to have absorbed any of his body heat. Of course, in this case it's not the jacket but Edward who is unusual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the classic series of Doctor Who, Time Lord healing can involve developing a frost on the skin ("The Dæmons" and "Planet of the Daleks"). The Doctor's inhumanly low body temperature also gives him away in "The Mark of the Rani".
  • In Farscape, John (human) has a completely different body temperature than the outwardly human Peacekeepers (who have something of a weakness to heat), which gives him away since Scorpius has infrared vision.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: When Nori descends into the crater created by a meteorite to explore the mysterious man that came in that meteorite, she falls down on embers and flames, yet she is completely unaffected. It doesn't take her too much to notice the embers and the flames are completely cold.

    Video Games 
  • Dwarf Fortress
    • The deepest level of the caverns has some giant mushrooms called nether-caps which have the property of always being cold, to add to their creepyness. Interestingly, this means that it is impossible to set nether-cap logs on fire— they stay just as cold even when they're at the bottom of a pool of magma.
    • Quite a lot of creatures have the "fixed body temperature" tag, which does exactly what it says, including Magma Men and Fire Men. Interestingly they can still affect the temperature of other things even while their own stays the same, letting them spontaneously create or destroy a potentially infinite amount of heat.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the Daedric Artifact of Mephala, the Ebony Blade. It's described as cooling the hottest fires of the Skyforge.
  • In Ultima Underworld II, one of the keys is described as feeling "unnaturally cold to the touch".
  • While performing an autopsy on a Muton in XCOM 2, Tygan is disturbed by the fact that the corpse is still warm hours or days after its death, when most other corpses cool long before then.

    Visual Novels 
  • While investigating the Demon Tsukuyomi in Spirit Hunter: NG, Akira finds a chain in a burnt locale and is shocked to find that it's hot to the touch, despite looking normal and having no reason to be heated up. This is a form of supernatural imprint from the chain's past, when it was used as part of the ritual that burnt down the department store.

    Western Animation 
  • In Young Justice (2010), the characters almost fall into lava while in the Tower of Fate, only for a floor to close over it. As Aqualad notes, a relatively thin layer of stone should be incredibly hot or even melting from the lava, but after all, it's magic.

    Real Life 
  • The Earth's thermosphere. It's supposed to be the hottest part of the Earth's atmosphere, but appears freezing cold because there are very few molecules there.
  • Freezer burns occur, obviously, because of cold temperatures but if you're not numb completely they can feel like they burn.
  • Aluminum foil can be safely touched and removed from a baking pan even though the pan itself may be too hot to touch - this is because the foil, being thin, can't store enough thermal energy to cause burns (that is, the foil is cooled fast enough by your skin that it doesn't cause a burn).
    • Be careful when experimenting with this that you touch a part of the foil not also in direct contact with something else. The foil itself is safe, but if you, say, touch the baking dish through the foil, the foil will be happy to transfer the dish's heat into your finger.
  • The coasts of Northern California may look sunny and bright as early in the year as February. However, the horrific wind chill often forces everyone to keep wearing thick coats.
  • To someone from the East Coast, any part of the ocean in the West Coast can be like this- by June, the Atlantic can be warm enough to go swimming in New England, but in Oregon the water of the Pacific is cold enough that you'd need a wetsuit in August. This is because of the way the ocean currents go- the Atlantic coast has the Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean north. The prevailing current on the Pacific Coast, on the other hand, heads south from the Gulf of Alaska and is thus very cold, and it's aided by areas where extremely cold water wells up from the deep ocean.
  • A thermal tile from the Space Shuttle can be glowing yellow-to-white-hot on the inside, but you can still pick it up with your bare hands because it has extremely poor thermal conductivity. See for yourself.
    • This is also why if a meteor falls, you can just go ahead and pick it up. While entering Earth's atmosphere does expose it to quite a bit of heat, the heating is so brief that it is confined to the surface and doesn't have time to conduct inwards.
  • Aerogel was developed as a super-effective insulator. Standard demonstrations feature blow torches burning on one side of thin samples with easily burned or melted objects on the other side entirely unaffected.
  • Maintaining Thermal Dissonance is what being a warm-blooded creature is all about.