The Skeptics Dictionary discredits acupuncture and Oriental medicine altogether. Even the National Institutes of Health has apparently stopped trying to do that! NIH is largely supportive of acupuncture in its recent research and memorandums, although still pretty confused as to why it works. In the process of its attempt to debunk acupuncture, The Skeptics Dictionary makes the statement that “chi is defined as being undetectable by the methods of empirical science.” and “Empirical studies on acupuncture are in their infancy. Such studies ignore notions based on metaphysics (such as unblocking chi along meridians).”
Really? This is not so anymore. The differences are largely nomenclature based. Western medicine is no longer fixated only on the mechanics of the body. You know, “the hand bone is connected to the arm bone,” kind of thing. They can’t be anymore. Science is not ignorant. Western science has always been an open-ended, results-oriented discipline. What is metaphysics in one generation (immeasurable by known scientific understanding) becomes standard scientific processes and even dogma in another time and age? Good examples are electromagnetic energy, gravity, and quantum mechanics. All of which were gobbledygook a few hundred years ago.
Mechanical type diseases (Form) are handled pretty well these days in modern western medicine. Bones are knitted, arteries are repaired with microsurgery, and digits are reattached. What is currently giving modern medicine fits is related to system function as opposed to simply the form. Medicine has to expand its view beyond what can be seen, tasted, and touched. Immunology is dealing with body systems and information in ways that were only barely thought about a few decades ago. How does the body communicate with itself? How would a body/mind system actually attack itself? Why would it do such a thing? It is not just a mechanical process. It involves a study of information. It involves networking within the body that includes and moves beyond just a purely neural system.
All of a sudden, chi does not sound quite so metaphysical. It can be thought of as communication or information exchange within the body/mind. It can fit quite nicely within the expanding knowledge base that western medicine is attempting to amass. The study of function in relationship to form actually appears quite practical.
Oriental medicine has been delving into this area of human physiology for thousands of years. We looked at relationships of bodily connections before early western medicine discovered the blood vessels. It is a study that many modern medical researchers are finding quite interesting. One way to describe how all this works is that Oriental medicine tends to promote function. For example, the Liver system is about movement in the Liver rather than about liver enzymes. It speaks more of the activity of the enzymes than a measure of the enzymes themselves. Who can argue that movement captures something real and vital to the physiological function usually associated with the liver?
There is no question that often this functional side of us is the problem. An allergic reaction happens when the system gets confused. It overreacts to a relatively benign stimulus and produces a severe physical response that often does too much damage relative to the antigen. To its extreme, this can become what we have come to call an autoimmune reaction—a debilitating form of illness that modern western medicine has little to offer. But science, as we said, is not ignorant. Slow, perhaps. But it can see what it can, and cannot do. Oriental medicine is not something to be debunked except by those who have nothing more useful to do with their time and energy. Instead, at least to the more coherent modern researchers, it is becoming a finger pointing to the moon of a deeper study of function, as opposed to form alone. In the herbal realm, a formula such as Stomach Chi, though often thought of as solely digestive, is at its root a way to stimulate, regulate, and order function. It attempts to move energy where it is pooling and nourish energy where it is weak. It is digestive but in a more complete way.
This is a re-post from June 27, 2006, at 1:06 PM