Friday, 20 August 2010

Dr Yang's Chi bioelectricity conection

The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets of Health, Longevity, & Enlightenment Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming is a Tai Chi Master and also a scientifically trained physicist and mechanical engineer PhD. His book The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets of Health, Longevity, & Enlightenment (contains a section on the scientific interpretation of Chi).

The main hypothesis of the book is that Chi and bioelectromagnetic energy are the same thing. Chi is what the ancient Chinese and Chinese medicine is based upon. Bioelectric energy is what Western science calls bioelectricity. Western medicine understands that electricity plays a fundamental part in the operation of the human body, such as electrical nerve impulses of neurons or ion-exchange.

In many ways I find this connection to be quite intriguing. Clearly there are a lot of parallels due to the fact that many parts of the body such as the (fasica) are electrically conductive. It has also been well reported (in fact shouted from the rooftops by every alternative healer in the world) that research has revealed that each of the traditional Chinese acupuncture points corresponds to a point in the body of a particularly low electrical resistance. Equally bioelectricity can help to explain the presence of the near-field electromagnetic force around the body which have strong parallels with an aura and kirlian photography.

Equally I could be convinced that there is a sound scientific basis to the fact that electrical flows in the body generate an electromagnetic force and hence an EM field around the body. When two bodies come close to each other these fields can plausibly interact with each other and hence, "sensing person's aura" or "healing by laying on of hands" are not totally without foundation in my opinion.

Dr. Yang however takes these principles too far in a desperate attempt to "prove the existence of Chi", making massive logic leaps, which is disappointing for academically trained scientist. To be fair to him however he readily admits that these are only hypotheses on his part. A couple of his howlers include:
[a halo] is commonly seen in paintings of Jesus Christ, the Buddha and other Oriental goods. Frequently the light is picture as surrounding the whole body. This phenomenon may again be explained by the body Electric theory. When a person has cultivated his Chi (electricity) to a high level, Chi may be led to and accumulate in the head. This Chi then interact with the oxygen molecules in the air, and ionise them, causing them to glow.
No. Do we see oxygen molecules of the air glowing around the transmission line strung up to electricity pylons? Does your washing machine glow? No. The minute voltages and currents in human body are never likely to cause ionisation.
[Talking about interaction with the Earth's magnetic field] I believe this means if you live in the northern hemisphere, your brain (i.e. your upper dan-tien) is constantly being nourished and stimulated by the energy from the lower dan-tien. <....> This may be a possible explanation for why more human technology was developed in the northern hemisphere.
Nothing to do with the fact that the majority of the population live in the northern hemisphere then? Or perhaps the huge numbers of socio-economic and political factors throughout history that have shaped the world. These types of statements annoy me, as they undermine Dr. Yang's entire argument with ludicrous alternative new-age mumbo-jumbo. Dr. Yang makes a convincing case for the parallels between Chi and bioelectricity, and then shoots himself in the foot by getting carried away. To quote again:
Countless experiments have been conducted in China, Japan and other countries to study how external magnetic or electrical fields can adjust the body's chi field. <.....> Although many experimenters have claimed a degree of success in the experiments, none has been able to publish any detailed convincing proof of his results, or give a good explanation for the theory behind his experiment.
So that is simply all we're able to say at this point, the rest is speculation. There maybe parallels between bioelectricity and chi, but there is simply no proof that they are one and the same. This is not for lack of research mind you, hence given the plethora on null results, it is tempting to draw the opposite conclusion, that they are in fact different (but I will resist that temptation for now). Despite Dr Yang's best efforts therefore (and I recommend reading what he has to say) Chi remains intangible, bioelectricity is not.


  1. Just posted on a couple of your other articles touching on the existence (or nonexistence) of Chi. If you have been reading them, by now you know my agenda.

    I like this post.

    The halo thing is a bit shaky - one of my tai chi teachers once said that if I practice for a long time in a dark room, wearing all black, in front of a mirror that after a while I would be able to see my hands glow.

    Still haven't gotten this one to work, but I believe he said that he had been able to perform the feat before (he is only of the mildly eccentric variety). Maybe one day!

  2. I think people can be made to see what they want to see quite easily. If you spend hours dressed in black practising in a dark room, you probably will convince yourself you can see a halo, just so you can justifying getting the hell out of there to enjoy the sunshine :-)