Can science explain qi? This gets debated all the time.
There are many facets to this argument. Let’s start by breaking it down.
The terminology is different. The paradigm and theories of Chinese medicine is different from western medicine. The translation of the words are loose and multi-faceted. Chinese medicine was developed many years ago through subjective understanding.
Science is, at its root, objectivity. It is a method for determining what can be determined.
But it is with great difficulty to determine with absolute certainty whether a thing is true or false. Science is a good thing. We need science to have rigorous evaluation on different theories to bring out the truths.
In doing this, anything that is subjective, cannot be considered science. That rules out history, philosophy, personal experience, anecdotes and even popular expert opinions.
The way scientists uncover the truth is through research and the use of technology.
In research, there are different methods that are considered better or worse.
On the bottom are studies using observation (cohort), like being a fly on the wall. They watch what happens to a group over time. This is the weakest form because there is more chance of bias.
A better approach is using “Randomized Control Trials” (RCT) to help reduce bias. This is the hallmark of most studies in medicine.
The studies that carry the most weight are called “meta analysis”. This is a study of all the studies. They take a look of what studies have been done and see what conclusions can be made.
The outcomes of the studies are statistics and measured in degrees.
A certain study will have an outcome and researchers will say, there is strong, weak or no statistical significance. Or they will say that more research needs to be done because the sample size is too small.
What matters in these studies is how well they are done. People can still manipulate the data or get it wrong. Correlation is not causation.
For example, the rooster crows and the sun rises so the rooster causes the sun to rise.
The two are correlated but not caused.
For example you may have heard that saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease because those two things were often correlated with heart disease. However in a recent meta analysis about fat and heart disease, they found no evidence linking the two together. In fact, they found dairy fat reduces the risk of heart disease.
Through the use of technology, we can discover more about the world around us. These are more precise because there is much less chance of human bias. If you stick a thermometer into bucket of water, you can get pretty accurate temperature reading.
The variable here is controlling for accuracy. Sometimes there may be interference or the equipment may not be that precise, but technology helps eliminate the human bias. Medicine is the study of humans by humans.
Even with all these methods for attempting to screen out bias, the medical practice is still very prone to personal opinion.
In a study done in 2009 by Duke University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that only 11% of treatments were backed by strong evidence from multiple randomized clinical trials, meanwhile, 48% of the recommendations were based on the personal opinions of experts in the field.
Often the main paradigm or way of thinking is created by the opinion leaders in the field. Sometimes, new research that starts pointing in a new direction is met with a lot of skepticism.
The guy (Barry Marshall) that discovered that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria and not stress had a lot of skeptics, until he drank a vial full of bacteria in the lab one day to prove it.
Not that this kind of experimentation is condoned, but he proved his point.
I only point this out to illustrate that the medical community isn't purely objectionable and rational. Also, what is commonly taught, is subject to change.
University education lags behind research discoveries, on average 17 years. So, we need to be open to new experiences and studies.
Returning to the topic of qi.
Can “qi” be felt?
What is felt in qigong is subjective. So it can’t be scientific.
Pain, though most of us know it, is subjective, so it can’t be scientific.
There is no medical device that can take a reading, to show that you are experiencing a certain pain level.
The standard definition of pain in medicine is “whatever the experiencing person says it is”. And the method for charting it is literally a smiley chart and has been universally adapted for assessment of pain intensity.
But we can know things about qi or rather the sensation of it, just as we can know about pain using western paradigms and terminology.
Lets take a look at the nervous system.
There are four parts of the Autonomic Nervous System. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain it fairly simply).
So your body has a bunch of feelers everywhere managing your whole system subconsciously.
In the practice of qigong, the two parts that concerns us are the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
Eighty percent of the weight of the SNS is in the fibers of the skin. These fibers are not only responsible for temperature regulation and regulation of skin tone, but also the perception of electromagnetic events.
This is the area of where qi is felt.
Now, what precisely are they feeling when their hands get warm or they feel that magnetic pull between their hands.
That's hard to say because it's subjective, but we know the sensation is originating in the nervous system.
But is there an energy around us?
Einstein proved long ago that there are two things that make up the universe: matter and energy. But, really it's only energy, because matter is condensed energy.
So, we are an energy system first and a structural system second. Everything interacts.
There has been a discovery about energy emanating from all living organisms. It's called biophotons.
Biophotons have been proven by a Physicist named Fritz-Albert Popp.
Biophotons are tiny packets of light that are sent and received by all the cells in our body, communicate with our nervous system. They carry information just like fiber optic cords do with light across thousands of miles in an instant.
This may come to you as a rather unusual concept, that our bodies actually create a low frequency of light that is undetected by the naked eye. But they have found through using technology, using a "photomultiplier" which can detect a candle flame 7 miles away, that all organisms create this phenomenon.
In another discovery,
A new optical sensor was successfully tested in the "magnetically best shielded room on Earth." which makes ideal for testing tiny magnetic fields, like the heart. They were able to measure the magnetic field of the heart several feet away.
So what we can gather from all of this is that there are many things going on in our body.
What people experience when they practice qigong, is real, they feel it and they see the benefits. There is also science pointing at the subjective experience. Things like breathing, mental visualization and mindfulness have a direct influence on our physiology.
Also if you are not comfortable with the qigong paradigm, you can approach it from a material point of view, the more concrete form of energy.
About the blog
Luke Shao and Master Wang are on a mission to share the ancient Chinese approach to acquiring any skill.