psychoneuroimmunology

zaphod s-miller at nwu.edu
Mon Nov 29 16:31:10 EST 1993


In article <93332.153728SAC14 at psuvm.psu.edu> ,
SAC14 at psuvm.psu.edu writes:
>I am writing an article about firewalking as practiced by
people in the US.
>These folks walk on hot wood coals without burning their feet.
Psychoneuro-
>immunology is offered as a possible source for explaining the
phenomenon. Can
>anyone out there help me with this? I understand that people
have differing
>tolerances for pain; that callouses, perspiration, and lack of
sustained
>contact may play a role; and so on. But PNI is held up by some
as holding
>some answers. Is there any research indicating that a person's
mind can
>work with the body to not only prevent pain but to prevent the
physical burn
>itself?

I think a more prosaic explanation is likely. While the coals
are indeed very hot, they have a low heat capacity. You can
tell this because in the videos of people fire walking, you'll
see dark footprints in the coals. This indicates that the feet
absorb enough heat to cool the coals from red hot to black. The
lack of burns probably indicates that not a lot of heat is
transferred. No, I do not believe there is any way for the
brain to change the laws of physics. The only mechanisms
available are to increase sweating and blood flow to the feet.
Sweating would protect the soles similar to snuffing out a
candle with wet fingertips. (ie it takes a lot of heat to heat
water, especially to change state from liquid to gas).
Increasing blood flow could carry away heat provided that the
heat load was not excessive. Which is back to my original
point. The heat capacity and conductivity of charcoal is very
low.



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