Fire Walking Explained

by Bob Nixon

Fire walking is often portrayed by new age gurus and personal development salesmen as an example of what is possible when your mind is pointing in the right direction. Of course, you can get your mind in the right state only by offering time, money or devotion to the belief system or course offered in the sales brochure or hold writings.

In fact, while fire walking is an impressive feat, it has a perfectly rational explanation. There is no need to achieve a heightened state of awareness, or to rely on “mind over matter”. It is however, something of a test in your faith in physics.

Think of baking bread. It is possible to open the oven and place your hand inside for a considerable time, despite the fact that the oven is perhaps 200 degrees Celsius. You can even briefly touch the bread, but you would quickly learn that it was a mistake if you were to touch the metal or ceramic container that the bread was in.

The difference comes from the ability of various substances to conduct, or transfer heat. Air is a very poor conductor of heat. Bread is better, but not as good as metal which conducts heat with great efficiency.

Wood does not conduct heat particularly well. The average human foot will happily be in contact with a glowing wood coal for about a second before sufficient heat is transferred to burn the flesh. The average step takes about half a second so for most people, so it is possible to take two steps with each foot before a dangerous amount of heat has built up.

In fact the name “fire walking” is a misnomer. No one can walk on fire. It is possible to walk only on hot coals, without flames being present.

Keep in mind though that fire walking is not inherently safe. These coals are hot – perhaps 500 degrees Celsius – and they are dangerous. It is not at all uncommon for people to be burned by the coals and painful blisters are the result. The Australian Skeptics do not suggest that anyone undertake a fire walk without the help of someone experienced in the activity. The Australian Skeptics do from time to time run fire walks. If you are interested in taking part in one of these, contact us and we’ll see what can be arranged.

Bob Nixon, Challenge Coordinator

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