Why on Earth? Firewalking
How does firewalking work? Is it really a question of mind over matter?
Firewalking has an interesting history. Though nowadays closely associated with New Age gobbledygook, the practice dates back thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Bible (Proverbs 6:28), and could be found in all sorts of out of the way places, from North Africa to the islands of the Pacific.
Mostly, firewalking was the preserve of religious initiates who prepared for the ordeal by chanting prayers or mantras. That’s where the idea that our feet are protected from burning solely by the power of positive thinking comes from.
In fact, the secret of firewalking boils down (if you’ll pardon the expression) to simple physics - it’s all to do with heat capacity and variations in thermal conductivity. Essentially, you should survive a firewalk more or less unscathed because the red hot embers in the firewalk pit actually have poor thermal conductivity and low heat capacity, while human feet have high thermal conductivity and human skin is a poor conductor of heat.
Let’s look at the embers first. They’re certainly pretty hot - probably several hundred degrees Farenheit. But they can’t store much thermal energy, because they’re not very dense and they don’t contain that many molecules. It’s the amount of thermal energy the embers contain - not their actual temperature - that determines how quickly they will heat your feet.
Human skin, on the other hand, is relatively dense, so each heated molecule of ember will be transferring its energy to several skin molecules. Result: the ember cools a lot, and the skin warms only slightly. On top of that, the fact that the human body is a pretty good conductor of heat means that the energy it does absorb is quickly spread about, so much more thermal energy is required to actually cause a burn.
So long as the firewalk pit is short and you cross it quickly, your feet should be fine, whether you believe me or not.