Founders Note: Here’s the second part of a series of post by my student, Michelle Yan. In this series, she is exploring how acupuncture might function away from Earth. In this post, she digs into some ideas concerning scientific paradigms – a crucial step in the journey to understand extraterrestrial Chinese medicine. You can read the first part of the series here. The third part will be coming shortly. She’s very interested in how this discussion is received – do people find it intriguing? If you see something you’re interested in discussing, head over to our Facebook page, or perhaps get free registration to our forums by subscribing to the newsletter.
In my previous post, I posited that “Where humans go, medicine follows, and as long as human beings are alive in Space, Chinese Medicine is, and can work.” The question is then, how does
Chinese Medicine work? Particularly in extreme and dangerous environments, you want to have a robust understanding of the inner workings of anything you rely upon for your life. Further, if we are to understand how acupuncture is different (or the same) in space, we really need to be clear in our understanding of the fundamentals of Chinese medical science.
In digging into the question, we inevitably run into questions of proof, validation, replicability and other thorny issues. The status of acupuncture and Chinese medicine theory within the context of contemporary medical science is complex. But, it is fair to say that skepticism, arising from worldview differences, lies at the heart of the difficulty as we seek to describe “how Chinese medicine works.”
Is Chinese Medicine ‘scientific’ enough to warrant bringing it to Space with us?
Science is the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation. The dominant worldview of what is “scientific” today is greatly influenced by Logical Positivism, a philosophical movement that arose in Vienna in the late 1920s. Logical Positivism demands evidence. And not just any type of evidence, but either evidence of fact, that which can be objectively verified through the physical senses, or mathematically-proven. Science defined by logical positivism favors scientists and mathematicians, since it only allows them to speak – using their own standard of evidence.
In this view, taken to its extreme, any other statements about the world, life, morals and beauty are deemed unscientific, insignificant, reduced to mere “pseudo-science.”
In medical science, Logical Positivism takes the form of materialistic reductionism. Materialism means taking physical matter to be the fundamental substance in nature. All phenomena, including mental processes and consciousness, are the result of physical-material interactions. Reductionism is the act of explaining complex biological and psychological processes, solely through the lens of physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon. This means that if one cannot test or mathematically prove a complex biological phenomena in terms of its physical-material interactions, then it does not exists, and belongs to the realm of pseudo-science.
In other words, if ones does not have the lab results to prove it, or cannot explain the molecular-chemical pathway of a complex biological phenomena, it does not exist.
These methods are useful in creating excellent snapshots of a process, and providing pixel-level detail for describing a process. However, from another perspective, one can see that these methods tend to struggle in explaining the complex interactions of a whole. Perhaps this is because in many ways, the world is varying shades of grey – not black and white. Many people can see that the universe unfolds like a river. Everything is in flux. There exists the entire gradation of grey which moves from the extreme positions of black and white, and into the center.
The earth’s atmosphere shades into space, the head shades into the neck, and neck into the arms. The points for which a mound of sand turns into a hill, a hill into a mountain are arbitrarily set by the black and white labels of our social and mental constructs. Greyness exists and Logical Positivism’s black and white labels move from accurate to inaccurate, while not allowing the admission of “greyness”, because it is not supposed to exist. Either/or – not both. This paradigm struggles to describe and validate complex, sometimes paradoxical, real systems.
In studying living processes, such as the human body, the problem is further compounded with materialistic reductionist thinking.
Our cells are constantly in flux, changing and renewing themselves. Our homeostatic bodies are constantly adapting and adjusting to the environment. We have both objective and subjective experiences, such as the dreams we experience when asleep, and the complex mix of emotions co-mingled with our sense perceptions of taste, color and sound.
They all exist because we experience them, and in degrees and vagueness of each other, yet materialistic reductionist science will not admit them as evidence, because they are subjective, and not able to be reduced and studied as physical matter (material). Reductionism attempts to explain them away as physical molecular interactions, in order to count as science and “answers”.
So there is a mismatch problem with adopting Logical Positivism and materialistic reductionism as the dominant paradigms behind what is considered scientific today. While Logical Positivism is no longer an overtly dominant approach, its cousin, materialistic reductionism is alive and well – and could be a problem for the adoption of Chinese medicine more widely. The next article in this series will explore and demonstrate how the paradigm of science is different in Classical Chinese Medicine and why it is valuable to consider it – and what this all has to do with space!