Jan 19 2012

TCM Apologetics

A recent article defending Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) provides, ironically, an excellent argument for the rejection of TCM as a valid form of medicine. The authors, Jingqing Hua and Baoyan Liub, engage in a number of logical fallacies that are worth exploring.

Their introduction sets the tone:

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a history of thousands of years. It is formed by summarizing the precious experience of understanding life, maintaining health, and fighting diseases accumulated in daily life, production and medical practice. It not only has systematic theories, but also has abundant preventative and therapeutic methods for disease.

It may be trivially true that TCM has a long history, but it is hard to ignore that the placement of this statement at the beginning of a scientific article implies an argument from antiquity – that TCM should be taken seriously because of this long history. I would argue that this is actually a reason to be suspicious of TCM, for it derives from a pre-scientific largely superstition-based culture, similar in this way to the pre-scientific Western culture that produced the humoral theory of biology.

The next line is an admission that TCM is largely based on anecdotal information, described as the “precious experience” of life. This is a point that is often overlooked or not understood by proponents but central to the scientific/skeptical position – what is the value and predictive power of “precious experience” in developing a system of medicine?

I maintain that there are many good reasons to conclude that any system which derives from everyday experience is likely to be seriously flawed and almost entirely cut off from reality. Obvious short term effects, the lowest hanging fruit of observation, are likely to be reliable. Uncontrolled observation is a reasonable way to discover which plants, for example, are deadly poisons. This is likely to produce some false positives but few false negatives, which is fine for survival.

Other obvious effects, like nausea, diarrhea, and psychedelic effects are also easy to discover. Similarly it was probably obvious that people need to eat, breathe, and drink in order to stay healthy and alive. But records of pre-scientific thinking about health and disease shows that little else was.

Pre-scientific doctors thought, for example, that pus was a good thing, a sign that a wound was healing.  They also did not realize that removing blood from the body was harmful, because they did not understand the vital physiological effects of blood and had fanciful superstitious notions about its role in the body.

So there are severe practical limits to what uncontrolled life experiences could figure out about health and disease. Every culture figured out some basic things, like local plants that had some uses, how to treat some forms of trauma, and to midwife childbirth, but could not figure out the complexities of biology, physiology, anatomy,  biochemistry, infection and disease pathophysiology.

Understanding health and disease took a more sophisticated method of observing nature – science.

How, then, could a pre-scientifc culture without any knowledge of modern biology and without the methods of science develop a valid and effective system of medicine? The answer is – they couldn’t. In addition, there is now a large body of psychological research showing the many ways in which people systematically deceive themselves when it comes to finding correlations and making assumptions about cause and effect.

There is nothing about the Chinese culture or the Chinese people that should make them exempt from these documented psychological effects, or that would make their culture unique among the world’s cultures in stumbling upon notions about health and illness that were actually correct. It is extreme cultural hubris to think otherwise.

As evidence for this, in my opinion, is the very description of TCM given by the authors. They give a description of TCM philosophy, breaking it down into three components. The first is yin-yang:

According to the theory of yin–yang, all opposite matters in the universe, which are interrelated with each other or two opposite aspects within one matter, can be defined as yin or yang.

This is a “push-pull” philosophy of health – but it is just that, a philosophy. Nothing has been discovered in physiology that correlates with yin-yang, that would lead to the prediction that a yin-yang systems exists, or supports the existence or effects of yin-yang. It is just a made-up notion without any basis in physical reality – just like the balancing of the four humors of Galenic medicine.

Next is the five phases:

The five phases theory defines the nature of matters based on the related characteristics of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. The five phases maintain the generation and restriction relationship among them. TCM uses five phase theory to describe the relationship between five zang and their physiological function, five zang and structure and function of various parts of the human body, and also the correlation between each part of human body and nature and society.

Your liver, apparently, has the aspect of wood.  This is an elaborate belief system, just like astrology, and has as much validity. It is rather poetic, also like astrology, and one can understand how a pre-scientific society would develop such ideas in order to attempt to understand something as complex and mysterious as the human body and illness.

There is no reason to presume, however, that such a description offers any insight into how the body functions or how to approach or treat any particular ailment.  The authors give an example:

In the treatment of the syndrome of disharmony between the heart and kidney caused by deficiency of kidney-yin and hyperactivity of heart-fire, according to the law of ‘water restrains fire’, we can use the therapy of reducing fire and reinforcing water.

I would rather treat a problem with heart or kidney function based upon a good ‘ol reductionist view of heart and renal function, understanding the role of blood pressure, body fluids, kidney function and regulation, electrolytes, etc. The notion (“law”?) that water restrains fire does not seem to offer any insight into how to treat a pre-renal syndrome.

Finally there is the visceral and meridian theories, which constitute an alternate (meaning incorrect) way of understanding the organs of the body:

Also, combining visceral manifestation theory with yin–yang and five phase theory, TCM has formed its own understanding towards the law of physiological and pathological changes of the human body. For instance, the liver matches wood, and the spleen belongs to earth. The over-acting of wood will lead to over-restraining on earth. Thus, we can see patients with transverse invasion of the stagnated liver-qi attacking the spleen.

How exactly does stagnated liver-qi attck the spleen? How would this be diagnosed? What I am saying is – what is the reductionist understanding of these concepts? It is common for proponents of such alternate ways of knowing to denigrate reductionist science, but if a way of “understanding” how something works reflects reality, then it should make sense and hold up to the evidence all the way down.

“Reductionist” really just means deeper levels of understanding how the world works.  It should not be confused with “hyperreductionism” which means ignoring or minimizing higher order levels of organization and function. You cannot, for example, understand how the body works just from biochemisty, or even from studying single cells. You have to understand how tissues, organs, and the whole body works together.

Science, actually, takes the most holistic view of health and disease, for it attempts to understand how the body works at every level of organization, and recognizes the folly of ignoring any level. You cannot ignore how the system works together, nor can you ignore how the individual parts work all the way down to their most basic components.

Ancient philosophies of medicine, however, either ignore the deeper levels of function, or make up fanciful underlying concepts, like wood and earth, that have nothing to do with reality.

Finally they describe the meridians:

The meridians transport qi and blood all over the body, link up the upper and the lower, the inside and the surface of the human body, response and conduct the information.

Except, there is no evidence that the meridians actually exist. At the risk of sounding redundant, they are as made up and fictional as the ether, flogistum, Bigfoot, and unicorns. The linking of qi and blood is reflective of the fact that the notion of qi is historically tied to blood, and techniques such as acupuncture and cupping were also closely related to bleeding techniques that we are more familiar with from Galenic medicine.

This leads to the next section on therapeutics in TCM. Of course they discuss acupuncture and also moxibustion and massage, but give very quick descriptions. They state multiple times that these techniques “treat disease” – which is an odd and extraordinary claim for several reasons. There is, of course, no evidence that acupuncture or moxibustion alters the course of any disease. You have to believe in the notions of qi etc. described above to believe that there is any plausibility to the use of acupuncture for disease. Even for symptomatic treatment (the bulk of scientific acupuncture studies) the evidence is weak to negative.

The authors also describe TCM herbalism, stating:

Currently, there are over 12,800 types of Chinese medicinals known by people, including over 11,000 medicinal plants, over 1500 medicinal animals, and over 80 medicinal minerals. Also, there are approximately 1 million TCM prescriptions found.

This relates to my main point above – how could practitioners have sorted out the risks, benefit, side effects, interactions, indications, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacokinetics of 1 million preparations without using any systematic scientific methods? This would be a challenge for a modern scientific institution, and would have been impossible for any pre-scientific society. One has to either ignore this issue, or assume preternatural abilities on the part of TCM practitioners, at the very least making them immune to all the mechanisms of deception and bias that seem to plague modern ordinary humans.

All of this background is just a long windup to what appears to be the main point of this article – the challenge of studying these therapies and idea with modern scientific methods. Those of use familiar with this line of reasoning can see the massive special pleading coming a mile away.

They outline five challenges to scientifically studying TCM – that TCM considers overall health (I guess rather than just one condition at a time), therapies require ongoing assessment and adjustment, multiple therapies are given simultaneously to work together, and there are multiple targets of therapy.

Let me turn this around a bit – assuming the premises of this reasoning are true (that TCM must include these higher levels of complexity) then it is true that TCM treatments would be difficult to study systematically. At the same time, however, they would make it very difficult (likely impossible) to derive any reliable conclusions about therapy from “precious experience”. I would argue that the same features that make TCM difficult to study in a controlled setting make it impossible to assess in an uncontrolled setting.

So how, then, can TCM practitioners have any practical knowledge about what therapies work and are appropriate in specific situations? Something akin to “magical intuition” is the only answer.

That point aside – it is difficult, but not impossible, to study such treatment. First, I disagree with the premise and believe it is just special pleading, an excuse for the lack of scientific evidence for TCM. In modern medicine we often use multiple treatments working together to address a complex syndrome. Each individual component, however, should contribute to the overall benefit, and should be able to demonstrate its contribution in controlled studies.

Any contribution too small to detect in clinical trials is probably too small to be of clinical significance. Also, even if we accept the premise that multiple treatments only work when given together, you can still study this in a controlled setting – by individualizes a holistic treatment plan and then giving it or a placebo substitute in a blinded fashion.

You may have noticed that I left off the fifth “challenge” to studying TCM (which is often used as an excuse for a lack of evidence). The authors write:

Finally, the cultural characteristic embodied in traditional Chinese medicine requires more consideration on ecological features of data in TCM when conducting statistical analysis.

I’m not sure what to make of that statement, and the authors give no further explanation. I would just point out that science – and reality – has no cultural characteristic. If something is true about the world, it is true no matter what culture you come from. The point of science is to be transparent and universal, so that anyone doing the same experiment, no matter what culture they come from, should have the same result.

Conclusion

TCM is a pre-scientific superstitious view of biology and illness, similar to the humoral theory of Galen, or the notions of any pre-scientific culture. It is strange and unscientific to treat TCM as anything else. Any individual diagnostic or treatment method within TCM should be evaluated according to standard principles of science and science-based medicine, and not given special treatment.

 

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84 responses so far

84 Responses to “TCM Apologetics”

  1. cwfongon 19 Jan 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Nice, except that a couple of dummies inadequately defending TCM leaves some more intelligent analysis of its effectiveness to be desired. It’s not all bad in other words.

  2. cjablonskion 19 Jan 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Steven, did you try to link the paper as an attachment from your webmail? I’d be curious to read it (or at least see the source and the authors).

  3. Karl Withakayon 19 Jan 2012 at 2:09 pm

    “Finally, the cultural characteristic embodied in traditional Chinese medicine requires more consideration on ecological features of data in TCM when conducting statistical analysis.”

    They left out the part regarding the qualitative proportionality being inversely correlated to the nominative parameters of denominational validation. #gishgallupforthewin

  4. Steven Novellaon 19 Jan 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Yes – I accidentally linked to it locally. It’s fixed now – the link goes to the online abstract.

    cwfong – I found this article to be typical (although I agree not very good writing). What they describe is a fair description of TCM. Sure, there is a range of claims and beliefs (just like there is in astrology) and you can always take the defense – that’s not real or high quality TCM (just like astrologers do), but I am not convinced that there is anything better out there.

  5. delaneypaon 19 Jan 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Can’t we play their game: “Western Medicine has a history of thousands of years. It is formed by summarizing the precious experience of understanding life….”

  6. Kerry Maxwellon 19 Jan 2012 at 11:31 pm

    The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA had an exhibit of Ancient Chinese Medicine some years ago. Among the various “remedies” were cadmium and lead. While I was versed in many areas of skepticism at the time ( having grown up with the writings of Randi, Sagan and Martin Gardner), I was still rather prone to the argument from antiquity, and the naturalistic fallacy. And the Peabody Museum at Harvard had contributed to my being an easy touch for any “medical” botany claims, particularly of the psychoactive variety. But these toxic substances threw a whole new light on my new age addled perspective.

  7. sonicon 20 Jan 2012 at 2:57 am

    yin-yang is not a philosophy of health– it is a statement about the nature of the universe as a whole.
    In modern physics this notion is probably best captured by the ‘wave-particle’ duality.
    I believe Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein both agreed that nature might well be thought to include two contradictory pictures of reality-
    Turns out that this concept had deep meaning to Niels Bohr . He used the symbol on his ‘coat of arms’ in fact.
    http://www.numericana.com/arms/bohr.htm
    Perhaps this yin and yang thing does have something to do with physical reality-”all the way down”.

    The reductionist understanding of the statement “stagnated liver-qi attacking the spleen” might be this-
    causes of splenomegaly (spleen enlargement) include portal hypertension (often caused by liver disease.)
    That is to say that there seems to be agreement between modern medicine and TCM in this case– problems in the spleen are sometimes caused by problems in the liver. In practical terms I would suggest that a practitioner of either system would check liver function given the observation of certain spleen difficulties.
    I am guessing. Am I right?

    Here is a list of diseases and disorders that can be treated by acupuncture according to the World Health Organization as of 2011-
    http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js4926e/5.html
    Are they an unreliable source in general?

  8. eiskrystalon 20 Jan 2012 at 4:19 am

    Here is a list of diseases and disorders that can be treated by acupuncture according to the World Health Organization as of 2011-

    Sorry, but the WHO isn’t perfect. You should already be aware of “argument from authority”.

    That paper is actually from 2003 and contains only reviews up to 1999, I would like to see if their findings still hold up now considering the constant flow of better controlled trials showing that acupuncture is nothing but placebo that have appeared in the last 5 years.

    Also :

    In this publication the term “acupuncture” is used in its broad sense to include traditional body needling, moxibustion, electric acupuncture (electro-acupuncture), laser acupuncture (photo-acupuncture) …

    So the review is old and it doesn’t make any distinction between acupuncture, herbology, eletro-stimulation or photo-stimulation. I’d say that is quite unreliable.

  9. BillyJoe7on 20 Jan 2012 at 4:50 am

    sonic,

    “yin-yang is not a philosophy of health– it is a statement about the nature of the universe as a whole.
    In modern physics this notion is probably best captured by the ‘wave-particle’ duality.”

    Only if you misunderstand wave-particle duality.
    It is not true that the denizens of the subatomic world are both waves and particles. They are neither waves nor particles. It’s just that some of their properties are analagous to those of waves and some of their properties are analogous to those of particles. But they are neither. They are something quite different to both these objects of our macroscopic world. There is no single object in the the world of our everyday experience to compare them to, so we have to make do with two different objects to assist our understanding of the subatomic world.

  10. Harboon 20 Jan 2012 at 6:14 am

    Thank You Steven,
    I am going to quote you, steal this, and distribute this widely.
    It is one of the most succinct, useful posts you have ever done.
    Keep it up, the medical world needs you more than ever.
    Good night and farewell.

  11. Steven Novellaon 20 Jan 2012 at 7:22 am

    Sonic – so how did the ancient Chinese come to this deep understanding of quantum physics and ultimate reality? Or, perhaps, you are just looking for any coincidental superficial overlap between their philosophy and modern science. Anything that involves two states or conditions could then be said to be analogous to yin-yang. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.

    Christians and other religions do the same thing – looking for coincidental superficial similarities between their texts and some modern science and then declare that the Bible is true. It’s just as transparently foolish.

    Same goes for the portal hypertension causing splenomegaly – all you had to do was find some condition where a liver condition affects the spleen (you can probably find some connection between any two organs) and then declare the “liver is wood” statement to be accurate. Nonsense. That statement gives us no insight at all about pathophysiology, nor does it lead to any insight into treatment.

    The WHOs list on acupuncture is political, not scientific. They have a history of bowing to political correctness and deferring to local culture, or putting such reviews in the hands of biased panels. And there has been a lot of higher quality research in the last ten years – bottom line, acupuncture has not been shown to work for anything. The best data shows that meridians do not exist, acupuncture points do not exist, it does not matter where you put the needles or even if you put the needles. At best there may be some non-specific effects of minor local trauma. None of this supports the underlying philosophy of TCM, and it is extreme folly to suggest that it does.

  12. Kawarthajonon 20 Jan 2012 at 9:30 am

    What is flogistum? I’ve never heard of it before. Is it the same thing as phlogiston?

  13. tmac57on 20 Jan 2012 at 10:32 am

    Sonic- The idea that the philosophy of yin-yang has profound explanatory power in the nature of reality as a whole,strikes me as an exercise in pareidolia. You can find patterns to fit whatever you want if you try hard enough.Just be sure to ignore the ones that don’t quite fit in ;)

    Let me try my hand at TCM:
    A patient is diagnosed with liver disease.
    The liver is as wood.
    The liver processes alcohol in the body.
    Therefore,the cure for liver disease is to drink wood alcohol.
    QED!

  14. Skepticoon 20 Jan 2012 at 10:37 am

    Steven, you hit on the exact question I’ve raised numerous times before, whether it’s alt medicine, or any other kind of woo, but no one has been able to answer me. They say Chinese medicine can’t be tested. Well then, how did the ancients manage to figure out all those complex rules? And how do they know it works now?

  15. tmac57on 20 Jan 2012 at 11:17 am

    Skeptico-You might also ask how astrologers came up with all those complex charts and interpretations of cosmic relationships to human fates.

  16. lizditzon 20 Jan 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Why is it referred to as “traditional chinese medicine”? Shouldn’t it be “traditional chinese magical thinking”?

  17. BillyJoe7on 20 Jan 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Skeptico,

    “They say Chinese medicine can’t be tested. Well then, how did the ancients manage to figure out all those complex rules? And how do they know it works now?”

    They relied on subjective experience and anecdote.
    …and they made stuff up.
    Modern supporters are still doing it but they have no excuse except ignorance.

  18. BillyJoe7on 20 Jan 2012 at 2:55 pm

    “Anything that involves two states or conditions could then be said to be analogous to yin-yang. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.”

    A better analogy would be energy-matter or energy/matter-gravity.
    …but, yes, ridiculous.

  19. cwfongon 20 Jan 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Yin yang philosophy was and is analogous to the western ideas that separated good forces from evil. In early civilizations both dichotometric systems found their way into the practice of medicine as causal factors. Just as they exist in aboriginal myths everywhere. Something like the nature versus culture dichotomy that still (and mysteriously) exists in the practice of psychiatric medicine.
    Some herbal “medicines” discovered in China and elsewhere have been found to have valuable properties that we’ve been better off from the discovery of than not. But the failure of the Chinese to move on from their cultural past in this area is somewhat of a mystery – almost as if this has been their religion. (Less harmful than the theistic middle eastern/western varieties perhaps but that’s a different question.)
    And sonic is correct that “in modern physics this notion is probably best captured by the ‘wave-particle’ duality.” To find dichotomies in nature is not a problem. It’s the inference from that to false dichotomies that get you into trouble.

  20. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 6:20 am

    cwfong: “And sonic is correct that “in modern physics this notion is probably best captured by the ‘wave-particle’ duality.” ”

    If you have a very superficial view of wave-particle duality then, yes, the yin-yang concept of the nature of reality is analogous to that superficial view of wave-particle duality.
    On a deeper level, however, there is no resemblance whatsoever between the two.
    This makes the following statement untrue:

    sonic: “Perhaps this yin and yang thing does have something to do with physical reality-”all the way down””

    No, not ‘all the way down’. Only superficially.
    The yin-yang concept is a very simple one. In essence, yin and yang are always equal and opposite qualities – more like the crest and trough of a wave in fact.

  21. cwfongon 21 Jan 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Yin and yang are not at all like the crest and trough of a wave. And neither is the wave particle duality. They are dichotomous. Mutually exclusive parts of a whole. Nothing simple about it. Go look it up.

    Worst explanation of anything yet: “It is not true that the denizens of the subatomic world are both waves and particles. They are neither waves nor particles. It’s just that some of their properties are analagous to those of waves and some of their properties are analogous to those of particles. But they are neither.”

  22. sonicon 21 Jan 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Dr. N-
    Thank-you.
    I agree that WHO is not always the best source– too political.
    The UN is a political organization and it seems to me they have a way of politicizing everything- science and medicine included.
    Darn politicians.

    You gave an example that I read as ‘spleen difficulties can be caused by liver malfunction’. Turns out that might be correct and that in both systems practitioners would check liver function given spleen difficulties (I checked). Perhaps a lucky guess.
    Perhaps a different example of what they got wrong would be better.

    Re: yin- yang. I’m not sure where great ideas come from. Einstein said he used his ‘creative imagination’. Max Planck claimed his idea of the quantum was a lucky guess born of desperation. Feynman supposedly thought about things for extended periods before insight arrived.
    Perhaps the guy who came up with the idea of yin-yang made a lucky guess. Billions of Chinese over centuries– maybe one of them made a lucky guess one time.
    I don’t know. A good question. Where do great ideas come from?

  23. sonicon 21 Jan 2012 at 2:04 pm

    eiskrystal-
    Excellent points. I’m going to agree that it is old data. Also I think WHO is a political organization (as is the UN) first and foremost and probably not the best place to learn about medical results.
    I wouldn’t go to the US senate to find out about science either. No way…

    BillyJoe7-
    Here’s how Bohr said it–
    “There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.”
    Oh, but you were saying he didn’t understand the ‘wave-particle duality’. Or was it the yin-yang he didn’t understand?
    Which concept do you understand better than Bohr– let’s get that clear before we go further here—

    cwfong-
    Thank-you

  24. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 8:49 pm

    cwfong,

    “Yin and yang are not at all like the crest and trough of a wave.”

    Yes, that is a legitimate analogy.
    But maybe you might care to elaborate?

    “And neither is the wave particle duality.”

    If you think I said that, your powers of comprehension have failed you.

    Worst explanation of anything yet: “It is not true that the denizens of the subatomic world are both waves and particles. They are neither waves nor particles. It’s just that some of their properties are analagous to those of waves and some of their properties are analogous to those of particles. But they are neither.”

    But don’t give your own version whatever you do.
    That would be much too risky wouldn’t it. It might actually set you up for rebuttal. Hit and run, evasion, and obfuscation is more your style. Oh well…

  25. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 9:02 pm

    sonic,

    “Perhaps the guy who came up with the idea of yin-yang made a lucky guess.”

    Not a lucky guess. The world is full of qualities that are equal and opposite. It just has nothing to do with wave-particle duality.

    “Here’s how Bohr said it–

    There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.

    Of course there is a quantum world. Maybe you have him out of context? And, yes there is an abstract physical description of that quantum world. And a mathematics that is second to none. And, yes, quantum physics is finding out as much as we can about that quantum world.
    But maybe you should give your own impression on the subject rather than quoting someone where context can make all the difference in the meaning.

    “Oh, but you were saying he didn’t understand the ‘wave-particle duality’. Or was it the yin-yang he didn’t understand?”

    You’ll have to point out where I said that becasue I do not recall saying anything of the sort.

    “Which concept do you understand better than Bohr– let’s get that clear before we go further here”

    I have made no comment about Bohr.

  26. cwfongon 21 Jan 2012 at 9:33 pm

    *“Yin and yang are not at all like the crest and trough of a wave.”
    Yes, that is a legitimate analogy.
    But maybe you might care to elaborate?*

    The crest and trough of a wave are not dichotomous. Not mutually exclusive parts of a whole. And nothing about yin and yang is that simple. Have somebody who has actually studied and understands the subject explain it to you. Obviously you don’t expect that I can.

    I can’t explain the wave particle duality to you either. Because what you called the denizens of the subatomic world are in time both waves and particles, and since you don’t believe that, you won’t believe it. Like the scorpion, that’s your nature.

  27. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Here is Russell Stannard’s account of Bohr’s solution to the “wave-particle paradox”:

    http://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/science/physics-and-astronomy/physics/paradox-wave-particles

    Bohr is not actually saying that there is no quantum world. He is saying that we can say nothing about that world over and above our observations of it – which we can only do by interacting with it. We cannot say what an electron is of itself – what it is when it is not interacting with anything. We can only make observations about what happens when electrons interact with objects in our experimental setups.
    Who would disagree?

    We can use logic, though, to say waht electrons are not.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAgcqgDc-YM
    (Richard Feynman lecture – sorry, it’s almost an hour long)

    Here is a summary of the relevant point:

    In the double slit experiment:
    If electrons are particles and we pass them through the two slits (sensors turned off), we should get a scatter pattern. In fact, we get an interference pattern.
    Therefore electrons cannot be particles.
    However, they do leave leave dots on the screen.
    Therefore, they do behave AS IF they are particles WHEN THEY HIT THE SCREEN.

    If electrons are waves they cannot leave dots on the screen.
    Therefore electrons cannot be waves.
    However, when we pass them through the two slits (sensors turned off), we should get an interference pattern. In fact, we do get a interference pattern.
    Therefore, by leaving an interference pattern, they do behave AS IF they are waves.

    Summary of the logical argument:
    Electrons travel as if they are waves and interact as if they are particles, but they cannot be waves and they cannot be particles.

    Up to now no one has disproved Bohr’s opinion that we cannot know what an electron is of itself – what it is when it is not interacting with anything. But that doesn’t mean we cannot say what it is not. The above logical argument proves that, although an electron can behave as if it is a particle and, at other times, as if it is a wave, it cannot actually be a particle and it cannot actually be a wave.

    It must be somethng else, something that is not part of the world of our everyday experience, and for which our everyday experience provides no analogies.
    Some call that a ‘wavicle’, but that’s just a label.

  28. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 10:32 pm

    cwfong,

    “The crest and trough of a wave are not dichotomous.”
    Neither is yin and yang.

    “Not mutually exclusive parts of a whole.”
    Neither is yin and yang.

    In fact, the crest and trough is an example par excellence of yin and yang.

    “the denizens of the subatomic world are in time both waves and particles.”

    See the above logical argument against that view.

  29. cwfongon 21 Jan 2012 at 10:46 pm

    *But that doesn’t mean we cannot say what it is not.*
    You can say it, but you can’t prove a negative that simply. Logical arguments based on unproven assumptions don’t “prove” anything. Study more modern physicists than Bohr for a better picture. Try Lawrence Krauss. He might tell you about the theory that all particles in the universe came from the wave function.

  30. cwfongon 21 Jan 2012 at 11:04 pm

    *“Not mutually exclusive parts of a whole.”
    Neither is yin and yang.*

    Wikipedia: Dichotomy
    An example of a dichotomy is the partition of a scene into figure and ground – the letters are foreground or figure; the rest is the background.
    A dichotomy is any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts. It is a partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) that are:
    jointly exhaustive: everything must belong to one part or the other, and
    mutually exclusive: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts.

    The Taoist dichotomy of YIN-YANG is meant to be both symbiotic and complementary, different, possibly opposite, but mutually useful and profitable.

    Quibble if and when you don’t understand where dichotomy means mutually exclusive.

  31. BillyJoe7on 21 Jan 2012 at 11:41 pm

    cwfong,

    It is a sound logical argument.
    And there are no unproven assumptions.
    If you disagree, you must show where you think that logical argument fails or what the unproven assumptions are.
    It is insufficient to simply state it as a fact.

    And with your reference to Lawrence Krauss, you continue explain nothing yourself, thereby again cowardly failing to expose yourself to refutation.

    “The Taoist dichotomy of YIN-YANG is meant to be both symbiotic and complementary….dichotomy means mutually exclusive.”

    And you are making no sense regarding yin and yang.
    In particular, your last two statements – counterposed above – are contradictory.
    Yin and Yang are not dichotomous, neither are the crests and troughs of waves. That is my point. That is why the crests and troughs of waves is a good example of yin and yang.

  32. HHCon 21 Jan 2012 at 11:43 pm

    Your blog post states that nothing in physiology correlates with ying-yang theory. But body strength conditioning/ training uses the push/pull technique to achieve its goals. So, there appears to be one reality-based challenge to your absolute statement.

  33. sonicon 22 Jan 2012 at 12:02 am

    BillyJoe7-
    The links aren’t bad, but are non-sequitar to my question.

    Bohr is the one who used the symbol (yin-yang) on his coat of arms. He is the one who claimed the two concepts -yin-yang/ complementary (aka wave-particle duality) – similar.
    So which one was he wrong about? Perhaps both?
    The reason I quote him on this matter is because he is the one who made the claim. I don’t disagree. You do.
    Perhaps it is just that Bohr’s thinking is superficial on this subject compared to yours.
    Is that what you mean?

  34. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 12:04 am

    Everyone who understands the yin yang philosophy points out that yin and yang are dichotomous.
    And everyone except you can see where your logical arguments fail.

    And how you’re reverting to calling me a coward because I refer you to an authority that runs counter to yours. So much for dealing civilly with you. You are incurably ignorant and I should have known when I started that there’s no dealing with you intelligently or honestly. Keep up with the insults – it seems that’s all you’re good for, plus a few guilty laughs at your unfortunate efforts.

  35. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 12:32 am

    cwfong,

    “Everyone who understands the yin yang philosophy points out that yin and yang are dichotomous.”

    Who is everyone?
    In fact, yin and yang are not dichotomous.
    And, in any case, how do you expain your contradictory statements:

    “The Taoist dichotomy of YIN-YANG is meant to be both symbiotic and complementary….dichotomy means mutually exclusive.”

    Maybe you want to have it both ways?
    Anyway…
    Dichotomy does mean mutully exlusive.
    But yin and yang are not mutually excclusive.
    And crests and troughs are not mutually exclusive.
    Perhaps you should “look it up”.

    “And how you’re reverting to calling me a coward…So much for dealing civilly with you.”

    So this is dealing civilly with me?…
    “Worst explanation of anything yet:”
    “Have somebody who has actually studied and understands the subject explain it to you.”
    “Like the scorpion, that’s your nature.”
    I’m not complaining but, when I respond in kind, I don’t expect you to complain either.

  36. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 12:51 am

    Yep, hit and run, evasion, and obfuscation is my style.
    And more chuckles at your inability to see that mutually exclusive yet mutually useful and profitable are not contradictory.

  37. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 12:55 am

    sonic,

    “Bohr is the one who used the symbol (yin-yang) on his coat of arms. He is the one who claimed the two concepts -yin-yang/ complementary (aka wave-particle duality) – similar.”

    Sorry, I must have missed that reference.
    I always assume people are talking for themselves (based, of course, on what they’ve read and learnt of the subject) and that, if they quote someone else’s opinion, they is an implication that they agree with that opinion. In which case I expect that they can defend that opinion.

    Perhaps Bohr meant that, in one sense, wave-particle duality is analogous to yin-yang.

    For example: It is true that electrons travel as (if they are) waves and interact as (if they are) particles and, in this sense they are analogous to yin and yang. However, if you follow Richard Feynman’s logic, you have to conclude that electrons are actually neither waves nor particles but something else for which there is no everyday analogy. In any case, yin and yang gives no insight into quantum physics. In other words, it’s an analogy about what electrons appear to be at different times, not what they actually are, and maybe that’s all Bohr meant.

    This is the problem with quotes pulled out of the context. It’s difficult to be sure exactly what was meant.

  38. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 12:57 am

    cwfong,

    You are just playing with words now and you know it.

  39. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 1:27 am

    Yes, that would be what you would have to assume.

  40. Mlemaon 22 Jan 2012 at 1:35 am

    I do think a wave can have a yang (rising) crest and a yin (descending) trough. Yin and yang are always in comparison to each other. So each thing is yin or yang in relationship to its complement, or the larger world. Water is yang compared to ice, but yin compared to steam. And then water itself is yin, while fire is yang.
    Yin yang doesn’t compare good and evil. But you could possibly say that if two parts of one whole were out of balance with each other (so that there was a preponderance of either yin or yang) that would be bad. Balance is good.

    TCM was able to treat dysfunction and disease by balancing yin yang in the body. Ailments would be diagnosed as yin or yang (with many qualifying “mild” or “strong” aspects, and involvement of yin yang of organs in the body, manifestation of symptoms either yin or yang, etc) and then treated with food, herbs, exercise, or other practice that was in itself yin or yang (also with modulating qualities). It worked because there was often an underlying physiological benefit which the Chinese somehow intuitively labelled correctly as “yin” when it was applied to a detrimental condition also intuitively and appropriately called “yang” (or visa versa :-)

  41. Mlemaon 22 Jan 2012 at 1:45 am

    Here’s a fungus the Chinese valued for vitality
    Cordyceps: Ancient Chinese Herb May Be Useful for Cancer Support
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nalini-chilkov/cordyceps-cancer_b_854566.html

  42. Mlemaon 22 Jan 2012 at 1:57 am

    “It was commonly believed that the survivors of a smallpox attack were immune thereafter and would not catch the disease again. Thus, the preventive measures were attempted by introducing samples from smallpox vesicles into the scratched skin or nostrils of healthy subjects. It was hoped that this imitation of nature could induce some degree of immunity in other people. This process called variolation or inoculation, was practiced in China during 10th century and before that in India around 1000 BC.” – experiment-resources.com

    I think “traditional Chinese medicine” is a misnomer that degrades the richness of the Chinese contribution to well-being by lumping it into a bunch of modalities often practiced by people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing, and calling it “medicine”.

    “Science based medicine” is simply the culmination of the world’s history of “precious experience” in the realm of disease treatment. Separating out acupuncture, herbs, etc. and calling them “traditional Chinese medicine” casts a Sinophobic shadow on therapies that, while they play a role in well-being, and even the prevention and treatment of disease (yes I said that) should never displace modern western medicine, but, if understood, may serve to enhance it in the same way that western medicine has enhanced Chinese health. The underlying philosophy of Chinese (and Indian) therapies, where effective, is the manipulation of qi (or prana). The elucidation of what this means can only be achieved through personal physical experience.

    I don’t know any ethical practitioners of TCM who would ever do anything but encourage clients to utilize their MD to address disease or injury. The Chinese people visit their MDs when they’re sick or injured. If they’re fortunate they also know of a qigong practitioner who can help them reach full recovery, or, depending on the problem, maintain a cure. We really need to bust up this “TCM” thing, rename it, and reconfigure it’s parts.

    Qi is and there are people who know how to manipulate and utilize it. Qigong is probably the most direct manipulation of qi. True qigong masters don’t need scientific validation In qigong the master is a facilitator of self-healing, and teaches people how to gain and maintain their health. Scientists quarrel about whether what they do is scientifically valid. There’s no reason I know of to try to validate their discipline by western medical standards, unless we form a standard for the role of qi in human health.

    An engineer experiences qigong:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KJQr7Lfd4Q

    I’m acquainted with a qigong master here in the U.S. His son attends Tufts University, in pre-med.

    If you believe there’s no such thing as “qi”, then don’t bother yourself with it.

    And we should all continue to support the exclusion of “TCM” from “SBM”. In my opinion they are both better kept as separate disciplines, with neither one diluting the other. The best result will come to individuals who are willing to employ both to reach optimal health.

  43. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 1:58 am

    Everything in that sense is in comparison with an each and another. In China we call that a lot of folk lore ying yang.

  44. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 2:11 am

    Look, in Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang (simplified Chinese: 阴阳; traditional Chinese: 陰陽; pinyin: yīnyáng), which is often referred to in the West as “yin and yang”, is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn.

    In Asian folklore, however, it can mean anything you want it to.

  45. sonicon 22 Jan 2012 at 2:30 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I’ll get to my personal opinion in a bit, but first I gotta say-
    Your claim that yin-yang gives no insight into quantum physics is a direct refutation of what Bohr said about his own experience.
    I mention that because you might consider to reconsider that position. :-)

    Feynman put it this way-
    “You can’t say A is made of B or vice versa. All mass is interaction.”

    To understand that statement is to understand the relationship between yin and yang.
    And that is my personal belief.

    BTW- in the future when you make a claim about physics that directly refutes statements made by Bohr about the subject- you might want to at least consider the possibility that you have missed something. Just a thought. One that I learned the hard way. :-)
    BTW- almost everybody knows more about physics than Bohr did. Especially the people who have studied physics the least. Another lesson I learned the hard way. :-(

  46. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 2:31 am

    sonic,

    From your link, http://www.numericana.com/arms/bohr.htm, there is this link: http://www.numericana.com/answer/symbol.htm#taiji, which says in part:

    “The traditional Chinese taiji symbol became a scientific icon when Niels Bohr made it his coat-of-arms in 1947 (with the motto: contraria sunt complementa) but the symbol was never meant to convey any precise scientific meaning… “

  47. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 2:42 am

    ….oops, didn’t see your last post.

    “BTW- in the future when you make a claim about physics that directly refutes statements made by Bohr about the subject- ”

    Please point out what I said that contradicts Bohr. I don’t think I have done any such thing. All that has happened, in my opinion, is that you have misunderstood us both.

    “Feynman put it this way-
    “You can’t say A is made of B or vice versa. All mass is interaction.””

    If you think I have said anything that contradicts Richard Feynman, perhaps you have misunderstood both of us as well. Someone else here is saying that electrons are both particles and waves. Not me. I agree with Feynman that we cannot say what they are – but we can say what they aren’t and that is that they are neither particles nor waves nor anything else in our macroscopic everyday experience (as per Feynman’s logical argument).

  48. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 2:55 am

    cwfong,

    “Look, in Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang … is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn.”

    You did note that word seemingly I trust.
    They are seemingly contrary but actually interconnected – like the crests and troughs of waves….one “giving rise to the other in turn”.
    I do believe you have killed your own argument.

    “In Asian folklore, however, it can mean anything you want it to.”

    I see you have found an escape clause.

  49. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 3:05 am

    Where did Feynman say that particles are not formed from waves, or that electrons are not particle formations? What does he say happens to the particle when the wave function collapses? Inquiring Asians want to know the yin and the yang of these things.

  50. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 3:10 am

    Waves and troughs are seemingly contrary? Wow, who knew. How about those folksy Asians. And I thought that was the other guy’s escape clause.

  51. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 3:26 am

    Oh, wait, Feynman’s quoted as saying that all mass is interaction. So if that’s so, then we can’t say A is made of B. Or that something is made of anything in Australia.

  52. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 3:31 am

    …and now, having realised you are wrong (hey, cwrong!), you resort to playing the fool.

  53. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 3:32 am

    Hey, cwrong, now I remember you.

  54. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 3:41 am

    Well, I do admit I was playing you.

  55. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 3:32 pm

    That only works if that person was fooled.
    I think that makes about three fails so far on this thread.

  56. cwfongon 22 Jan 2012 at 4:05 pm

    The greatest of fools is he who imposes on himself, and thinks
    certainly he knows that which he has least studied, and of
    which he is almost profoundly ignorant.

    Shaftesbury

  57. BillyJoe7on 22 Jan 2012 at 10:19 pm

    ….I will take that as a self reference. ;)

  58. sonicon 23 Jan 2012 at 12:09 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I forgot to say– you are correct- an electron is not a particle or a wave. Your examples and analysis are good.
    May I tip my hat?– you have learned a lot lately, no?

    I’m quite sure that the current understanding of the situation would lead to the conclusion that the best description of an electron is mathematical and that the mathematical symbols have little or no actual physical meaning.
    If you would like a nearly endless stream of quotes to back that notion- I’ve got them at the ready.

    On the other hand, Victor Stenger has written a book “Timeless Reality” where he describes a theory that would allow an electron to be a real particle (Victor believes electrons are real particles with actual locations in space-time). To get that result you must assume the particles move forward and backwards in time though.
    Interesting read. You might like it. I did.

    If Yin-Yang are symbiotic and complementary, then the relationship between the two is an excellent analogy to the ‘wave-particle’ analogy– symbiotic and complementary- but just that- an analogy — like everything else we might say about them…

    You said, “In any case, yin and yang gives no insight into quantum physics.”
    I believe Mr. Bohr would disagree with you about that. And I would suggest that while he didn’t mean the yin-yang to convey a precise scientific definition- neither does ‘wave-particle’ duality or ‘wave’ or’ particle’ or any of the other terms we use to describe the quantum world.
    Yet these concepts can be useful in understanding.

    To get this back on-topic– do you understand why I think the piece might be better without the reference at all?

  59. cwfongon 23 Jan 2012 at 12:10 am

    Of course you will. You’re the self proclaimed master debater.
    http://www.hark.com/clips/mzxhkzjtql-im-a-master-debater

  60. BillyJoe7on 23 Jan 2012 at 5:01 am

    sonic,

    “I’m quite sure that the current understanding of the situation would lead to the conclusion that the best description of an electron is mathematical and that the mathematical symbols have little or no actual physical meaning.”

    Yes, according to physicists, the mathematics of electrons is second to none.
    And, yes, the symbols have no physical meaning apparently..

    “On the other hand, Victor Stenger has written a book “Timeless Reality” where he describes a theory that would allow an electron to be a real particle…To get that result you must assume the particles move forward and backwards in time though.”

    That’s a friggin’ big assumption in my opinion.

    “If Yin-Yang are symbiotic and complementary, then the relationship between the two is an excellent analogy to the ‘wave-particle’ analogy– symbiotic and complementary- but just that- an analogy — like everything else we might say about them…”

    I’m going to give you that as a win :)
    My point was that an electron is not sometimes a particle and sometimes a wave, but something else entirely all of the time, which has no parallel amongst the objects in our everyday experience.

    “You said, “In any case, yin and yang gives no insight into quantum physics.”
    I believe Mr. Bohr would disagree with you about that. And I would suggest that while he didn’t mean the yin-yang to convey a precise scientific definition- neither does ‘wave-particle’ duality or ‘wave’ or’ particle’ or any of the other terms we use to describe the quantum world.”

    Fair enough. How about “wavicles”

    “To get this back on-topic– do you understand why I think the piece might be better without the reference at all?”

    What reference?

  61. Mojoon 23 Jan 2012 at 5:32 am

    @cwfong

    In Asian folklore, however, it can mean anything you want it to.

    If something “can mean anything you want it to”, then it is basically meaningless.

  62. sonicon 23 Jan 2012 at 10:48 am

    BillyJoe7-
    The term wavicle or anything else runs into similar problems.
    It is an interesting situation– our best description of the physical universe isn’t physical at all. Yin-yang anyone? ;-)

    Of course Stenger (a famous skeptic BTW) might be right. (His book was way better than I thought it would be and very educational– even if the theory he presents is wrong, he does give a lot of foundational information in a way that I found understandable.)

    The reason I brought this up was I found it distracting to have Dr. N. basically say “Neils Bohr didn’t understand physical reality as well as I do,” in the middle of an article about TCM.
    Doesn’t make me confident in the rest of the article– yet I think I should be.
    In other words I think it is a mistake for Dr. N. to call out Bohr. I doubt he knew he was doing it.
    I think the post would be better without that.

  63. cwfongon 23 Jan 2012 at 12:26 pm

    *If something “can mean anything you want it to”, then it is basically meaningless.*

    Yes, that was my point. It’s been BillyJoed.

  64. BillyJoe7on 23 Jan 2012 at 3:19 pm

    …except who is the Asian here.
    If you had picked something from aboriginal folklore, then you might be believed. Now is just sounds like the ad hocery that it surely is.
    (And please do not acuse meof racism, that is not the issue here)

  65. BillyJoe7on 23 Jan 2012 at 3:23 pm

    sonic,

    “The term wavicle or anything else runs into similar problems.”

    It is just meant to convey the fact that electrons (et alia) are neither waves nor particles but something with characteristics of both waves and particles. That’s all.

    “The reason I brought this up was I found it distracting to have Dr. N. basically say “Neils Bohr didn’t understand physical reality as well as I do,” in the middle of an article about TCM.
    Doesn’t make me confident in the rest of the article– yet I think I should be.
    In other words I think it is a mistake for Dr. N. to call out Bohr. I doubt he knew he was doing it.
    I think the post would be better without that.”

    I’ll have to read it again.

  66. cwfongon 23 Jan 2012 at 4:20 pm

    As usual that last comment, ironically on the subject of senselessness, makes no sense. The philosophical concept of Yin and Yang has been watered down in every culture that’s been found over time to use it. It now means by the many to refer simply to the different parts of a whole – and of course all wholes have different parts – so it’s somewhat meaningless to point them out by using terms that originally were meant to describe them as primarily or at least dichotomous.
    Aboriginal folklore has nothing at all to do with whether modern folklore tends to water down and thus un-complicate the original philosophy involved here. And neither does the fact that I am Asian have anything to do with whether the commenter is right or wrong here. It’s the usual BillyJoistic (jingoistic) tactic of diversion.

  67. BillyJoe7on 23 Jan 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Steven Novella: “As evidence for this, in my opinion, is the very description of TCM given by the authors. They give a description of TCM philosophy, breaking it down into three components. The first is yin-yang:

    According to the theory of yin–yang, all opposite matters in the universe, which are interrelated with each other or two opposite aspects within one matter, can be defined as yin or yang.

    This is a “push-pull” philosophy of health – but it is just that, a philosophy. Nothing has been discovered in physiology that correlates with yin-yang, that would lead to the prediction that a yin-yang systems exists, or supports the existence or effects of yin-yang. It is just a made-up notion without any basis in physical reality – just like the balancing of the four humors of Galenic medicine.”

    To refute this you would first have to show that something in physiology correlates with yin yang.
    I can’t see where you have done that.

  68. cwfongon 23 Jan 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I can’t see where anyone here has tried to. Can you?
    (Although there are references to physiological-psychological dichotomies, etc. on Google. Whether they make scientific sense or not is another matter.)

  69. sonicon 24 Jan 2012 at 3:56 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    To gain strength one exercises to fatigue and then rests.
    This is a discovery about physiology. (I believe HHC made this point earlier)
    I believe you can see how yin-yang would apply.

    Here is a list of PubMed references about the relationship–
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=yin%5BTitle%5D%20AND%20yang%5BTitle%5D

    Here’s one for daedalus2u- just in case he’s reading this (has to do with NO)
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10585608

  70. BillyJoe7on 24 Jan 2012 at 10:34 pm

    sonic,

    “To gain strength one exercises to fatigue and then rests.”

    I’m into exercise and, in my opinion, exercising to fatigue is counterproductive. The only time I exercise to fatigue is during competition (they call them “fun” runs”) – except when I miscalculate during training and then I suffer the consequences (fatigue, poor concentration, reduced performance next few days, less time to improve performance before the upcoming competition, poorer performance during competition)
    I haven’t looked at the science, though, so this is just anecdote.

  71. sonicon 24 Jan 2012 at 11:24 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Some say ‘fatigue’ some use the term ‘failure’ (I can’t do another push-up. Leave me alone you prick trainer…).
    Either way, one does something strenuous followed by rest– one without the other doesn’t do the job.
    If you are running- the day you do wind sprints is probably the best example…

  72. Mlemaon 25 Jan 2012 at 12:19 am

    Everyone will have fun with this one

    QiGong Master demonstrating Chi
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYVdhKVb9WE&feature=related

  73. cwfongon 25 Jan 2012 at 2:22 am

    Electrogenesis. It’s a lost art, developed long ago in remote parts of Asia through a study of the nature of electrocytes found in certain fish and eels. Chemical substances found in nature were ingested to magnify electrical forces that most humans then and there, after proper practice, were already capable of emanating.

  74. Steven Novellaon 25 Jan 2012 at 7:36 am

    Sonic-

    I already refuted your entire premise, and you have not seemed to notice.

    You wrote:”To gain strength one exercises to fatigue and then rests.
    This is a discovery about physiology. (I believe HHC made this point earlier)
    I believe you can see how yin-yang would apply.”

    This is so vague and non-specific an analogy to yin-yang that it proves my point. Yin-yang is a vague philosophy, and superficial similarity can be seen between it and countless ideas and relationships in science and medicine – because it is so simple and vague. Any relationship where there are two basic states or features or forces at work can be said to be analogous to yin yang.

    At best we can say that Chinese culture realized that the world often contains (or can be conceptualized) as having this kind of basic duality. This is not disimilar to Aristotle’s philosophy of the mean – virtue is a balance between two dichotomous extreme vices. It’s kind of a basic philosophical idea.

    But it has nothing to do with any SPECIFIC scientific discovery, including in medicine. Yin-yang philosophy did not lead to it such discoveries, they did not predict them, nor does it inform them. At best we can say that the philosophy, and our current scientific understanding of things, may both reflect a human cognitive bias toward duality or dichotomy.

    But – yin and yang do not exist as any unique force or property of biology. You cannot really “increase yin” -I submit that is a meaningless concept. It does not help us understand, for example, the nature of muscle physiology.

  75. tmac57on 25 Jan 2012 at 10:14 am

    There are two kinds of people in the world:Those who think everything is composed to two states,and those who don’t.

  76. cwfongon 25 Jan 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Wave particle duality.

  77. sonicon 25 Jan 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Dr.N-
    Talk about embarrassing- I haven’t noticed that my premise has been addressed much less refuted.

    My premise is that Neils Bohr found the concept of yin-yang to be helpful in understanding physics and that is why he chose the symbol to be the centerpiece of his coat of arms. I believe that is a fact.
    So if the problem isn’t in the premise- then it is in the reasoning–

    I reason that yin-yang can be seen as an important concept that underlies the understanding of physical reality- and I would use Bohr to back that claim. (Please note- others have used different ideas- this one has no patent on helpfulness).

    From there I reason that the statement that ‘yin-yang has no basis in physical reality’ is either-
    a) a straw man (nobody claims yin or yang are actual physical objects)
    or
    b) an affront to Bohr and physics in general (and I think it is an unknowing one).

    I don’t see you going at straw men. So that leaves b). (I am assuming that physiology has it base in physics- a safe assumption I think).

    Where did I go wrong?

    tmac57-
    You do get off a good one from time to time- don’t you. LOL
    Thanks.

  78. BillyJoe7on 26 Jan 2012 at 4:31 am

    sonic,

    “one does something strenuous followed by rest”

    All I see is a continuum, not two equal and opposite things, but that’s me.
    (exhaustive exercise -> strenuous exercise -> mild exercise -> moving about -> sitting but moving -> sitting still -> lying down -> sleeping -> comatose)

    “….the statement that yin-yang has no basis in physical reality…an affront to…physics in general…I am assuming that physiology has it base in physics….Where did I go wrong?”

    Physiology can be done with complete disregard to physics.
    Otherwise you should be able to find plenty of references to physics in any text on physiology.
    There is speculation about quantum effects in how plants use EMR to produce energy stores but, in general, there are at least two phase transitions between physics and physiology: physics -> chemistry -> physiology.

  79. tmac57on 26 Jan 2012 at 10:26 am

    sonic- Sometimes I am a smartass,and other times I am a dumbass…I am a dichotomass, as it were.

  80. cwfongon 26 Jan 2012 at 10:37 am

    *Physiology can be done with complete disregard to physics.
    Otherwise you should be able to find plenty of references to physics in any text on physiology.
    There is speculation about quantum effects in how plants use EMR to produce energy stores but, in general, there are at least two phase transitions between physics and physiology: physics -> chemistry -> physiology.*

    New worst ever.

  81. Steven Novellaon 26 Jan 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Sonic- where you go wrong is entirely ignoring my criticism. Yin Yang is sometimes spoken of in TCM philosophy as if it is something, not just a concept. How else can you “increase yang.”

    But that aside – even as a concept, it is vague and nonspecific enough to be generally useless. Some things are dichotomous, big deal. Any relationship to yin yang is incidental and nonspecific. Some things are not. A dichotomous view may be counterproductive when it is a false dichotomy.

    Your chain of reasoning – Bohr somehow found the concept of Yin Yang useful means that ying yang underlies physics or our understanding of physics – is incredibly thin. You then go further from this to say that yin yang is useful to our understanding of physiology is beyond thin.

    Your example of how it is useful (exercise and rest) is a terrible example, if anything a false dichotomy showing how counterproductive it is to try to shoehorn in a modern understanding of biology into a simplistic prescientific philosophy.

    I can come up with better examples off the top of my head – such as the sympathetic vs parasympathetic nervous system. Again – completely incidental, with any relationship to the concept of yin yang being superficial.

    Many systems in biology can also be understood as a hierarchical relationship. This means you can take any prescientific philosophy that includes the notion of a hierarchy and claim it provides insight into biology. Other systems are feedback loops (some reinforcing, and some inhibiting) There are many ways to conceptualize systems in biology – and the simple dichotomy of a yin yang concept is only one of them.

  82. sonicon 26 Jan 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Dr. N-
    Thank-you.
    One of the things I have come to respect and enjoy about your critiques is that they are based on such good understanding of what you are critiquing.
    For example- I’m guessing you know more about homeopathy than your average homeopath — and because of that you can critique the subject at its best.

    It seems you don’t understand the Chinese stuff so well…
    Please note- I am not suggesting that they had it all right way back when or that one should see a TCM practitioner instead of an MD, or any such thing. It seems humans have managed to learn a few things over the last 2000 years.
    Is that really a surprise?

    It is true that if one considers that ‘yin and yang’ are actual physical objects, it is silly. But it also hints at misunderstanding. Yin and yang are not actual physical objects.

    Another example– you gave the example of the “stagnated liver-qi attacking the spleen” to illustrate what they got wrong. But the understanding the TCM practitioner has is that given spleen difficulties one checks liver function.
    This is what one would expect a science based doctor to do as well- right?

    I don’t see you making that mistake when it comes to other areas that you critique.

    My two cents…

  83. Mlemaon 26 Jan 2012 at 7:22 pm

    The way in which we see the world effects our experience in it. It also effects how we contribute to it.
    Perhaps yin yang is a valuable philosophy. I don’t know, do you?

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=Agents,+Causality,+and+YinYang+Bipolar+Relativity&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

    onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1256/qj.05.18/pdf

  84. cwfongon 26 Jan 2012 at 8:18 pm

    There certainly is a yin-yang like dichotomy of cooperation and competition in the biological world, if not in the strategic and physical makeup of the universe in general. The philosophy that takes this into account nevertheless must be realistic as to the details of the differences and the consequences of either ignoring them or, worse, misunderstanding them.

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