top of page

Episode 10-Gate control theory of pain &
mystical powers

Welcome to the 10th episode! Join Shakin Shaner as he discusses the gate control theory of pain and how we instinctively sucked a burned finger. He then heads on a rabbit hole to discuss two mythical heroes, Finn of Irish folklore and Sigurd of Norse mythology.

  • Did they gain their power from sucking a burned finger?

  • Does this open a mystical gateway? 


Discover the absurdity of this episode.  

Gate Control Theory of Pain

Two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed in 1965, what they called the gate control theory of pain, which, for the most part, holds up to this day. Additional research showed that feeling pain is more about a balance of stimuli on the different types of nerve fibers.  The idea was that certain fibers that increased the input were ones that opened the gate, and the ones that reduced the input closed the gate.


The gate control theory was fleshed out in 1996 when neurophysiologist Edward Perl discovered that cells contain nociceptors, which are neurons that signal the presence of tissue-damaging stimuli or the existence of tissue damage. Of the two main types of nerve fibers, large and small, the large fibers carry non-nociceptive information (no pain), while small fibers transmit nociceptive information (pain).


Studies where electric stimulation was applied to nerves, as the current was raised, the first fibers to be stimulated were the largest ones. As the intensity of the stimulus increased, smaller and smaller fibers get recruited in. At low intensity, the patient recognized the stimulus, but it was not be painful. But when the intensity of the stimulus was increased, eventually a threshold was reached where suddenly it was painful. Thus, the idea was that shutting the gate was something that the large fibers produced, and opening the gate was something that the small fibers produced.


After you have burned or cut your finger and you suck on it you are countering the large fibers with "counter irritation." This produces a decrease in the magnitude of the barrage of signals being driven across the incoming fiber activation. You are shutting the gate and reducing your pain.


Gate control theory is also often used to explain why massage and touch can be helpful pain management strategies during childbirth. Because the touch increases large fiber activity, it has an inhibitory effect on pain signals.


While gate control theory does not explain every aspect of how people experience pain, it was the first to consider the psychological factors that influence the perception and experience of pain. The theory helped transform approaches to pain management.

Finn MacHumail

Finn McCool (Fionn MacCumhaill) was a 3rd Century AD warrior chieftain in medieval Ireland. He led a clan of warriors called the Fianna, and his adventures are documented in the Fenian Cycle. His legend extends beyond these historical documents into the myth of the Giants Causeway. There are many stories in Irish Mythology of adventures, voyages, battles and Gods which are commonly categorized by historians into four main cycles. One of which is the Finn Cycle, also known as the Fenian Cycle.


These stories are based around the mythical Irish hero Fionn MacCool and his warriors of the Fianna, who were forest-dwelling mercenaries known as the soldiers of destiny. These Finnian Tales were said to have been written as poems by Finn McCool’s son, Oisín, and retold by the Irish people for generations. To learn more about Finn, click here!

Image by Gioele Fazzeri


Image by Victor B.

Sigurðr, Siegfried (Middle High German: Sîvrit) or Sigurd is a legendary hero of Norse mythology, as well as the central character in the Vǫlsunga saga. The earliest extant representations for his legend come in pictorial form from seven runestones in Sweden and most notably the Ramsund carving (c. 1000) and the Gök Runestone (11th century).

Scandinavian stories about Sigurðr have a strong connection to Germanic mythology. While older scholarship took this to represent the original form of the Sigurðr story, newer scholarship is more inclined to see it as a development of the tradition that is unique to Scandinavia.  To read more about Sigurd, click here!

bottom of page