Founders Note: Here’s the third part of a series of posts 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 Chinese medicine in space. You can read the first part of the series here, and the second part here. 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.
The study of Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) is based on the classics that were written around 200 B.C., before the existence of our current paradigms of science. So the methods and system of CCM medical science may offer a glimpse into a different set of paradigms which may be more helpful and robust in observing, describing, and navigating the greyness of our world.
In Classical Chinese Medical thought and philosophy, the most basic model is a dialectical one which contains Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang can be understood as A and not-A. They establish the polar opposites in the model. But unlike Logical Positivistic thinking, CCM models do not have problems with paradoxes and greyness. Why is this so?
The reason is because the Yin-Yang paradigm is multivalence, whereas the Logical Positivistic paradigm is bivalence.
Bivalence means that there is only 0s and 1s, black and white. They are individual descriptors/identifiers and they cannot co-exist. Something is either 0 or 1, black or white, A or non-A. One is used to disprove the existence of the other.
The CCM paradigm starts with multivalence, and asserts that everything within the whole is in degrees of each other.
Multivalence means analogue, 0s and 1s do not exist as individual identifiers, but co-exists in greyness. Greyness is the whole, and black and white, 0s and 1s are special cases of greyness. The paradigm encompasses, but is not obsessed with the special cases. Instead, it maps out the six relational principles that describes the interaction of Yin and Yang. The description allows us to distinguish the various degrees of greyness.
In this way, the paradigm is useful in navigating greyness.
The system being in constant flux is a given, and the emphasis is placed on identifying their degrees of greyness from each other. From this foundational paradigm, further models such as the Wuxing Five Phase-element, Liuqi Six Conformation, the 12 organ networks, and hexagram models emerges, mapping more and more detailed stations-of-change to allow one to gain mastery of the different shades of grey.
Chinese Medicine is further transposed into being functional medicine through the use of Symbol science.
The role and nature of symbolism in ancient civilization was extensively studied by modern day scholars such as R.A Schwaller de Lubicz, who proposed that Symbol science was the highly complex process of synthesizing the manifold layers of reality into a single crystal of meaning, a carefully chosen signifer from nature. It was done so to disseminate knowledge and create a functional culture.
In CCM, the manifold layers of reality include the form layer (what we can perceive with our senses), the function layer (what it does, the process) and the macrocosmic layer ( relationship to the seasons, the planets, and the larger environment).
As a science that describes and allow us to navigate the greyness of our world more effectively, Classical Chinese Medicine paradigm is less fixed on labeling something black and white, but more interested in the patterns that points to the degrees of variation from Yin and Yang, so as to differentiate and treat. Another valuable aspect is the unification of Yin and Yang (A and not-A) as they interact and function as a whole.
For example, in CCM, one may say that a patient has cancer and does not have cancer at the same time. How is this possible?
Initially, the logical mind will like to vehemently reject this notion, accuse it as being unscientific and make preference in living in the certainty of science and logic. We will like to base our logic and faith on the biopsy results; actual physical proof of what is happening in our cells.
But on deeper investigation, when we take into account the entire picture and process of having cancer, one can observe all the greyness that is present between; from the initial work-up, to the diagnosis, the treatment process, and eventual recovery.
How certain are we of these stages? And even after one has been “cured” of cancer, who is to say that it will not go into remission? When did the cancer really start in our bodies anyway? When the diagnosis was made or way before that? Is there a difference before knowing and the actual process? The lab results were snapshots taken of a moment in time, while our cells continue to change and renew itself. Who is to know what the sum result of all our inner and outer influences were?
The greyness-reality seeps in, and in the face of the totality of the whole, the modern paradigm of Logical Positivistic science breaks down, and stops short at offering concrete answers.
CCM, on the other hand, continues to function in this realm of vague-fuzziness. Energy put into labeling and defining, is channelled into differentiating and identifying processes, and medical interventions given accordingly. In the face of greyness, CCM continues to offer treatment solutions.
However, the value of bringing Chinese Medicine to space, lies less in the herbal remedies and medical intervention tools, but more the medical paradigms that enable us to identify patterns of differentiation, and understanding the unity of the human body system, when faced with the uncertainty of change. The model-maps such as the Wuxing five-phase elements, and Six Conformations, may be simply need to be tweaked to remain useful in helping us navigate through the greyness and uncertainty of space exploration, and orient ourselves to the new environment of being in Space.
The next few posts in this series will be about applying these maps to human physiology and pathology during spaceflight exploration.
 To learn more about Bivalence and Multivalence, see Bart. Kosko, Fuzzy Thinking, (Hyperion, 1993)
 See R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, The Temple of Mall: Apet of the South at Luxor, 2 volumes, translated by Robert and Deborah Lawlor (Inner Traditions, 1998).
 Heiner Fruehauf, The Science of Symbols: Exploring a Forgotten Gateway to Chinese Medicine, Part 1