I would like to add something to Barry Evans' reasonable but incomplete explanation in the "The Physics of Firewalking," (Sept. 27). Well-established neuroscience recognizes the different types of neurological signals transmitted within our bodies, including distinguishing between fast and slow pain. There is also the matter of Gate Theory, which allows for certain signals to reach the brain while others are denied access.
Both of these points are fundamental to the use of hypnosis for pain control or relief, something I'm familiar with as a clinical and medical hypnotist. Compared to anesthesia-free surgery or dental procedures, walking overthoroughly burned coals is slightly less impressive. Yet it is hypnosis, even self-induced, that makes all this possible. There is a talent to it, to be sure, and some can more easily access this altered state than others (attitude may be part of it but hardly captures the essence of what's involved, nor is it really a matter of "peakness").
Everyone possesses an ability to access the hypnotic state and indeed goes in and out of various forms of trance regularly when their attention becomes very absorbed and focused during activities as ordinary as driving and watching TV. It is the intention to do so, and the cooperative practice of doing so with someone trained to competently facilitate desired subconscious learning, that makes hypnosis a valuable complementary care modality for chronic pain relief, smoking cessation, weight loss, stress reduction and more.
Dave Berman, Arcata