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Quackery & Asian Healing Modalities

Allegations of Quackery in Asian Healing Modalities: Facts & Fallacies

"Acupressure, along with other Chinese and Asian Bodywork therapies, are totally fraudulent and pseudoscientific nonsense."

Is the above statement true? Skeptics make such claims with some regularity. Is there enough evidence out there for us to make a determination? On this page, we shall address this issue.




The Origins of Eastern Theoretical Models

Traditional Asian healing modalities from India, China, and other Eastern cultures employ a different meta-system to describe the body, delving into such terminology as ‘meridians', ‘chakras', ‘and energy points', none which have been emperically observed, measured, or recorded. This is in sharp contrast to organs, muscles, and other bodily systems which can be readily observed.

Will this ‘Chi' (alternatively Ki, Qi, Gi, or Prana (in India)) energy alleged to be in and around the body ever be measured? At one time, we could not measure static electricity in the air , but it was still there. The same may well be the case with these Eastern concepts of energy. Perhaps the energy is electrical, or maybe it exists solely on a quantum level, or possibly Chi is something else entirely that we are not yet familiar with.

We do not yet know everything about biological science or the world of physics, and to assume the posture of 'final authority' is to directly squash efforts to advance in the sciences. One thing is certain: Scientific discovery moves forward, increasing our collective understanding. At some point, we may discover the nature of Chi, and find a means of measuring it.

What we do know is this: If ‘Chi' is, indeed, a quantum phenomenon, our observation (and attempted observations) may directly affect the outcome, or we may have thus far failed to devise experimental models that will capture or measure this elusive 'energy'. The possiblity exists that we have just not been able to identify or measure Chi, even with our current state of advanced technology. Remember, we always feel we're on the edge of science. Looking back, however, we see that there is no such place.

(CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia Schrodinger's Cat Entry)

In the 1970s, a method of observing living organisms under high voltage, low amperage fields revealed a new means of learning about living things. The Kirlian Camera (CLICK HERE to Link to YouTube 'Kirlian Photography As An Art & Science' Video) was developed accidentally, and showed promise as a diagnostic tool. What was seen by the camera was more a function of the body's surface moisture, plus a number of other factors, and is therefore an unlikely candidate for Chi. Even so, some have suggested that Kirlian photography is a way of visualizing, and measuring, Chi, or possibly a means of measuring other variables that change in response to changing levels and qualities of Chi.

Others have speculated that Chi is a function of Bioelectromagnetism (CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia Bioelectromagnetism Emtry) , or Bioelectricity. Both these terms refer to the observable electrical, magnetic or electromagnetic fields produced by living cells going about their life processes. As all living creatures create weak magnetic fields in and around their bodies, as well as weak electric currents within their bodies, speculation that Chi is related to, or is synonymous with, Bioelectromagetism may be worthy of further academic persuit. A living organism also puts out all sorts of EM frequencies, from ULF to the very high frequency, as well as visible light. Yes; it is true that living things give off a small amount of EM radiation within the visible spectrum.

When dealing with wave/matter at the quantum level, energy can simultaneously exist in different energy states, atoms can be in two places at once, and observation may affect the outcome of an experiment. This effect of observer affecting outcome is something that, in non-Quantum Physics research, scientists try to avoid at all costs. If Chi has proven to be elusive in observation, it could be due to Chi being a quantum phenomenon. If such is the case, according to some interpretations of how 'superstates' work in physical reality, an observer's bias, as well as the mere act of observing, whether by human sense or by electronic or mechanical device, may potentially affect outcome of the experiment.

The energy-based ‘chakras' described in the traditional Indian literature correspond to the five main neural ganglia of the spinal column, points where the nerve endings form junctions. At the ganglia, local nerves from different organs and areas connect with the spinal cord. The other two chakras are said to correspond with the upper and lower areas of the brain. Each chakra is also associated with different endocrine glands. So, it is not as though these concepts are arbitrary, without any apparent meaning or relation to the body.

Admittedly, these are not terms that have been derived from any Western system of thought or discovery, having their roots in theoretical models of life formulated thousands of years ago in Asia. These conceptions are part of a larger cosmology, which in the case of Indian thought, seems an oddly-accurate ancient description of the universe, including the atomic and subatomic nature of matter. Remember, these concepts are just theoretical models.

Even some of our most respected contemporary scientific notions are, in reality, unproven, and are purely theoretical, though supported by scientific research. An amusing discussion of a bunch of jokesters about how the stars are actually diamonds, fully supported by mathematics, may be found at landoverbaptist.net. This web site is actually poking fun at religion, and members take special pride in posting ill-conceived interpretations of Scripture.

While we at Mountainside On-Site Massage Therapy find this disrespect of faith less than amusing, we felt that the Stars & Diamonds discussion is a good example of how, even rational and intelligent science can be fraught with errors, due to starting with faulty premises and proceeding from there. A faulty premise can, appaerently, seem supported even when it is not. This is true of all science, but is especially important when it concerns Health.

(CLICK HERE to Link to 'Stars Are Diamonds' Discussion)



Models Are Just That and Nothing More

Consider that the Atomic Model is just an easy way for us to understand atoms. Subatomic particles exhibit odd characteristics, existing in a state more akin to waveforms and energy than solids and matter. Yet we still use our useful atomic model because it yields results, even though it is an incomplete view. Each model, the Atomic and the Quantum, are useful, yet neither offers a truly comprehensive picture of things.

Quantum Mechanics is useful when dealing with properties of extremely small phenomena (much smaller than nanoparticles, the subatomic level), while the Atomic model is useful for dealing with larger scales. And of course, atoms don't REALLY look like the models we played with in high school and college with a big ball in the center and tiny electron ‘planets' orbiting around.

That's just a useful model helpful for visualizing something that is difficult to imagine, and (thus far) has eluded clear photography. It may well end up being the same with Asian models of healing. Think about it: Up until very recently, scientists haven't been able to photograph an atom, but we still knew that atoms existed.
(CLICK HERE to Link to Our First Ever Photo of a Single Atom!)

If, one day, Chi were found to be a 'Quantum Event', this would not be surprising, as the literature considers Chi as a wave, a 'wind', an energy, and not a material ‘thing'. The symbol for Chi, traditionally, was three wavy lines, as well as the image of steam rising from a bowl of rice.

In fact, many of the treatises on Asian healing mention 'wind' but are in fact referring to Chi, and not literal movement of air or gas in the body. That electrons, at their smaller-than-nano-size, actually resemble a cloud more than distinct orbiting 'things' calls us to admit that even ages ago, the originators of these Asian Philosophies were not too far off. Apparently, there are other routes to legitimate bodies of knowledge, accumulated not through the sort of experimentation that we modern Westerners have come to consider as the only means of acquiring new information about the world and nature.



How Methodologically Empirical Western Philosophies Disallow Consideration of Eastern Models of Nature

These Eastern concepts began as insights gained during meditation by sages who lived in the ancient past. These practitioners, rooted in the Buddhist, Vedic, and Vedantic traditions, have left an extensive and highly detailed account of how to attain different states of conciousness. All of these works deal with cultivating Chi, or Prana. (CLICK HERE to Link to Discussion of Chi & Meditation Based on Eastern Texts) However, this is not a valid route for the acquisition of knowledge in the view of Western science. The Scientific Method relies on reproducible results, and learning by trial-and-error experimentation. (Think of how effective this is for research and development: Look around!)

Western and Eastern cultures have traditionally had a different perspectives on science, owing to differences in their philosophical heritage of scholars and tradition of thought. Empiricism (CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia Empiricism Entry) and Rationalism (CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia Rationalism Entry) the systems of philosophy which led to the Scientific Revolution (CLICK HERE to Link to Scientific Revolution Entry) contrast sharply with the philosophical systems of the Asian lands. The resultant healing systems that emerged are vastly different, and it would not take a scholar to see that each fits with the sort of Systems of Thought prevalent in each culture. We are all limited by our cultural biases; here what's meant are deeper biases, such as how we view ourselves and the how the world is constituted, and not racial or personal biases.

Many debunkers' statements reveal a strong bias against, and a glaring lack of respect for, non-Western philosophy and derived bodies of accumulated knowledge. Any university professor of the discipline of philosophy knows that there are extensive differences in the epidemiological, ontological, and other basic fundamental aspects of how Eastern and Western cultures define themselves, Nature, and the world.

The Eastern philosophic systems consider the personal, the subjective internal experience to be of prime importance. In the West, such is of no use (discarded), as we rely solely on objective empirical data when studying the natural world. That doesn't mean that ‘chi' or ‘chakras' do not exist, nor does it mean that Yoga isn't a science, albeit one different in approach and scope than any Western science that has yet been developed.

These Traditional Asian 'sciences' were designed expressly for the purpose of understanding the inner world, whereas Western sciences were developed exclusively for gaining understanding of the outer. Eastern Sciences were based on experimentation of a different sort: self-experimentation through such practices as Hatha Yoga (stretches and still poses) and Pranayama (breathing exercises). Yogis consider Yoga to be a Science: Following guidelines set forth by the sages results in definite changes to consciousness, with unquestionably real somatic effects.

The Indian Yogic and Chinese Chi Kung, Kung Fu, etc., exercises result in predictable change that could be replicated in others. But we're chiefly talking about firsthand subjective experience of mental states, which is not what Western science is concerned with. Interestingly, when Western researchers studied Yogis in the 1970s through analysis of brain waves, it was demonstrated that advanced practitioners of Yoga, as well as other Eastern cultural centering and focusing practices, experience a significant change in their brainwave pattern while meditating. So our methods of scientific research have shown another culture's approach, though entirely different than ours, can yield useful results, even if it was devised using a meta-system totally unfamiliar to us.

But how should we proceed in light of evidence-based practice (EBP) or empirically-supported treatment (EST)? (CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia EBP Entry)

Actually, we can gain empirical evidence of how the client responds to a session, even if the mechanism of action is unknown. Remember, the mechanism of action of some popular drugs is yet a mystery. But if results show a statistically-significant improvement, or other changes, such reports are consistent with the tenets of EBP,that is, "...systematic empirical research has provided evidence of statistically significant effectiveness as treatments for specific problems."

If we abide by the tenets of the Precautonary Principle, we would seek to limit the damage that an unproven, dangerous treatment may have on the public. However, Asian Healing Modalities may yet be unproven (in terms of mechanism of action), however, no harm has ever been proven to be widespread among recipients of such treatments.

Therefore, although we encounter many unknowns, utilizing Chinese and Asian Healing Modalities should remain a choice of the public. "The...precautionary approach states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action." (WikiPedia) (CLICK HERE to Link to WikiPedia Precautionary Principle Entry)

Clearly, such systems should be used alongside Western Standard Medicine, and not as a replacement. The view afforded of the body, disease, and wellness, differs significantly in each, and to shun one or the other is to knowingly exclude potentially important data. Ultimately, a patient should visit with a Licensed Medical Doctor, if their practitioner of Asian Healing Modalities is not himself a Licensed Medical Doctor. (Many Medical Doctors are also Asian Healing Practitioners in the year 2011, making this less of an issue today.)

If you utilize the services of an Asian Healing Modality practitioner, consider the benefits of visiting with your Asian Alternative Therapy Practitioner first, so that you may bring along her diagnosis for your MD to review, as some doctors find such information helpful. Your own doctor may find no value in such reports, but making them available is a good idea just in case. The worst that will happen is your doctor will warn you that Asian Healing Modalities are quackery. And in our own experience, the chances of that are quite slim.



Limitations of The Skeptic: Was The Atomic Model Considered ‘Metaphysical Thinking' Before Having Been Proven?

These energies may not yet have been measured or identified, but that does not automatically indicate that Asian healing modalities are based in fantasy. Eastern Studies is a legitimate University Department at many respected institutions of higher learning, as is the study of Holism, which has its roots in diverse systems of organizing knowledge and experience common to both Eastern and Western thought.

Eastern Healing Modality practitioners are accused of being firmly entrenched in ‘metaphysical thinking', according to some skeptics because of their use of Eastern theoretical models. Consider, however, that stating that all matter is made of atoms with electrons spinning around a nucleus PRIOR to such being proven would have been likewise considered ‘metaphysical thinking' by such skeptical minds.

We must wonder, then, whether skepticism is diametrically opposed to employment of the Scientific Method, as a skeptic freely admits bias, and cannot possibly claim to be proceeding objectively, guided by results. Skeptics have made up their minds, a narrowness that cannot coexist with true scientific discovery. They then fit the facts to match their ‘conclusions'.

How many famous skeptics have ever innovated anything? Can one be both a creative genius, as well as a devout skeptic? The process of postulating theses, analyzing data throughly , and genuine experimentation requires a researcher to ‘go out on a limb' in attempting to learn more about the world. No true skeptic can do this, as they would already be deciding results before the data were collected and made comprehensible.

A practice that has persisted for 5,000 years is not likely to be bogus. (Nonsense fads are always relegated to the dustbins of history, thankfully.) Should we ban Eastern healing modalities simply because we don't yet know how (or why) they work, and seem shrouded within a system of thought that, at times, seems more poetic than descriptive? Those suggesting so seem driven by a deep-seated xenophobia and disrespect for knowledge gained by other cultures that are acquireed by their own, different, methods of learning.

This xenophobic attitude has gained momentum in recent decades, but like most bias, it isn't driven by rational understanding, but rather a fear of what's different. Researchers, beginning in the 1970s, began quantitative analysis of Eastern practices such as Massage, Meditation, and more. What was found was incredible: Changes were happening during meditation; changes were not solely 'in the mind' and subjective perception of the practitioner, but 'in their bodies' as well. We don't need to measure Chi to see quantifiable, real results. Of course, such research isn't well funded, as there is no profit potential, and without that crucial driving force, such topics are very far in the periphery of modern scientific investigation.



Asian Healing Techniques Affect Change. But Why? And How? And What Do We Do Until We Have The Answers?

If anything, cogent scientific minds should demand further controlled study of Asian Healing Arts. The fact that different practitioners use different approaches to help the same condition does not indicate fraud - go to five medical doctors and you may receive five different t courses of treatment for the same condition, all of them valid. The same is true of healing arts practitioners. (Some self-styled experts suggest that this means that the treatment is arbitrary and without meaning. This argument makes little sense.)

Likewise, accounts of individuals claiming to be helped should be useful in devising new, more comprehensive studies that will garner more data about why such practices seem to help, even though there is (as of yet) no scientific data supporting the existence of ‘chi'. These Asian healing modalities do work, though we are unsure as to why. Advanced martial artists produce real results, yet rely on developing ‘chi'. It certainly seems like chi is something, however, it really isn't something we yet know anything about.

Regardless of whether or not we understand why it works, or if we lack empirical evidence of process or structure of the ‘energy' component of such systems, considering the real-world empirical evidence presented in recent studies regarding quantifiable benefits conferred to clients by Asian Healing Modalities, we must conclude that these systems work, somehow. Maybe it is something like how the ancient Asians postulated, maybe not. But their working models seem adequate. Remember, all science is based on working models. Once a new model is discovered, the old is necessarily discarded.

Studies demonstrating positive results with antioxidants, anti-aging, quality of sleep, and more, should help us realize that we should continue to value Asian healing modalities regardless of whether we understand their mechanism of action. What is being observed in terms of help to the client, is statistically significant, and accounting for it due to alleged placebo effect does not answer one question:

Practitioners of Asian healing arts are not trained in suggestion or hypnotism, so why do so many find Asian healing modalities to be helpful, if it is fraudulent, while so many (clearly) fraudulent ‘therapies' (for instance, Ear Candling) are nearly universally shunned by clients who have endured them and received no results, or even been hurt?

Why aren't clients of practitioners of Asian modalities complaining and raising an uproar? Why didn 't fake treatments evoke the same percentage of positive results- alleged to be placebo effect - as Asian healing modalities allegedly did? In other words, why are these Asian healing techniques so effective as placebos, if they indeed are? The most sensible and logical conclusion is that such modalities are effective for helping clients, though we are still in the dark as to why this is so.

Editorial Board, H. Miller, Content Editor

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