Monday, 2 August 2010

Double blind research

In order to research in the medical field one of the most well used techniques is double blind trials. This is a technique whereby both the participant and researcher do not know whether the drug or therapy being tested is real or a placebo. These techniques remove bias (subconscious or otherwise) by effectively eliminating "the brain".

But how is it possible to conduct such an experiment when visualisation and "the brain" are of fundamental importance? The placebo effect after all is real, and in fact isn't that exactly what the internal arts are attempting to tap into? For example, it has been shown (in proper scientifically validated trials) that the more spiritual you allow your meditation to be, the more effective it is. This was reported in the New Scientist in 2005 (requires subscription, but there are a number of subsequent write-ups for example here). [If someone can point me to the precise research paper I would be grateful].

Meditation at least is "all in the mind" and lends itself to trials, but when it comes to chi gung and tai chi this becomes increasingly intractable due to the huge numbers of additional variables. For example, researchers have attempted to develop a minimal tai chi form in order to make the problem tractable. However, as Masters at the International Tai Chi symposium this year debated - just how much reductionism is possible before the essence is lost (well written up here)? It seems there is an intractable dichotomy here: in order to study tai chi it needs to be simplified, but then what you are studying is not really tai chi more.. But I guess at least it helps to develop the model.

But at the end of the day, why should tai chi be proved or researched scientifically? After all, it is not like there are readily available scientific answers to analogous questions like "what is better for you playing cricket or cycling?". Why should the internal arts be any different?

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