Is the Mysterious Power of Qi Grounded in Science or Magical Thinking?

The Power of Qi Gong according to Chinese philosophy, is the force that makes up and binds together all things in the universe.

To the confusion and perplexity of Westerners, it is sometime defined in ancient texts as “both everything and nothing.” I have found it difficult to make sense of that definition, but most practitioners of Qi Gong (the practice of cultivating qi) have no problem understanding this.

In English, qi is usually translated as “vital life force,” but qi goes beyond that simple translation.

According to Chinese philosophy, qi is the force that makes up and binds together all things in the universe.

There is the physical or nourishing portion of qi that makes up the air, water, and food that we take in. The other branch of chi is more insubstantial. It is the vital fluids and the energy itself that flows through our bodies.

The first…could be thought of as those things we take in and make a part of us while the second is what has already become part of us and is then released to continue the cycle of life. It is the imbalances and interruptions of this flowing force that is responsible for most human ailments whether physical, mental, or emotional.

Acupuncture and Massage College of Miami, Florida, 2017

Quasi-scientific studies of qi in the 1980s did not meet the rigorous standards accepted by the scientific community, including the lack of reproducibility of the results. The emphasis then changed within the Chinese scientific community to investigations of the health benefits of Qi Gong practice in traditional Chinese medicine.

Today, millions of people worldwide practice Qi Gong. They use it for strengthening, exercising, disease prevention, self-healing, meditation, and martial arts training. I personally find it calming and centering.

If you feel it, does it really exists the power of Qi?

Practitioners are convinced of the Power of Qi. It’s easy to feel “something” within a few moments of starting a Qi Gong exercise. It ranges from a tingling sensation in the palms to a stronger feeling of “energy” coursing through the body.

If you feel it, practitioners say, it must exist. I have often agreed with this; especially when deep into a set of exercises I would move my hands down my flanks a few inches from my body and feel ripples in the space between my hands and my torso. Or I would hold my palms a few inches apart and move them slowly together. I would feel strong resistance in the empty space between them, a sort of magnetic repulsion.

I consider myself a rational person. I have a scientific background and I’ve spent many decades practicing Qi Gong. As far back as I can remember, there has been an ongoing debate about the Power of Qi. Sometimes I debate this with myself: Is it real?

For the first time that the rat brain is capable of synthesizing and releasing DMT at concentrations comparable to known monoamine neurotransmitters and raise the possibility that this phenomenon may occur similarly in human brains.”

Scientific Reports, study published on 2019

DMT is a hallucinogen structurally similar to serotonin and dopamine. Some forms of meditation are believed to open up different parts of our brains, and if these produce DMT, it may cause you feeling the Power of Qi energy.

Science and Qi

The history of science is littered with ideas that were disproven.

In 1887, the Michelson-Morley experiment, one of the most important experiments ever devised, proved that the ether did not exist, and the concept was discarded.

Curiously, the ether sounds very much like qi. Practitioners of Qi Gong believe that qi is a form of energy. As a physicist, I ask myself, what kind of energy it could be. Is it a type of electromagnetic wave, light or radio waves?

Human beings have a very narrow bandwidth for detecting electromagnetic waves. The electromagnetic spectrum ranges from tiny but lethal gamma rays to immense gravity waves.

The tiny slice we call “visible light” has wavelengths of about 1 millionth of a meter. Evolution has designed the pupils of our eyes to admit rays of this size, but not larger or smaller. We cannot “see” infrared or ultraviolet light.

In this regard, our brains are filters, keeping out almost all of the electromagnetic wave information coming in from the universe because we don’t have the capacity to process it.

Now suppose (and there is no proof that this is true) qi is an electromagnetic wave outside the visible spectrum. Our brains cannot detect radio frequencies outside the visible light spectrum. But what if qi is a part of the larger electromagnetic spectrum? Could we can train our brains to experience the wavelengths that constitute qi?

These exercises often focus on the pineal gland, an organ near the brain stem (sometimes called the third eye.) Qi Gong masters and adepts claim that the pineal gland, once awakened, can deepen the benefits of Qi Gong meditation.

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