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Home > Newsletters > June 2007 > Qi is Everything - Everything is Energy - Qi is Energy

Qi is Everything - Everything is Energy - Qi is Energy

By Jacob Godwin, L.Ac., M.A.O.M.

“Everything we know is made of energy, in the form of matter or radiation. One of the most striking attributes of energy is its strict conservation: the creation or destruction of energy has never been observed. Thus, energy has the attributes needed in a candidate fundamental building block of the Universe.”1
—David W. Talmage and Richard J. Sanderson

"Every birth is a condensation, every death a dispersal. Birth is not a gain, death not a loss…when condensed, Qi becomes a living being, when dispersed, it is the substratum of mutations."2
—Zhang Zai

"Life is not creation from nothing, and death is not complete dispersion and destruction.[Despite the condensation and dispersion of Qi] its original substance can neither be added nor be lessened."3
—Wang Fu Zhi

"…the idea that the world and its phenomena are perturbations that emerge out of and fold back into a vital energizing field called Qi was already widely held in the late fourth and early third centuries BCE attested to in the Zhuangzi, the Daodejing, and the Mencius as well as other early texts…Qi has to be distinguished from either 'animating vapors' or 'basic matter' because it cannot be resolved into any kind of spiritual-material dichotomy. Qi is both the animating energy and that which is animated. There are no 'things' to be animated; there is only the vital energizing field and its focal manifestations. The energy of transformation resides within the world itself, and it is expressed in what Zhuangzi calls the perpetual 'transforming of things and events'. It is this understanding of a focus-field process of cosmic change that is implicitly assumed in the Daodejing and other texts of this period as a kind of common sense."4
—Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall

What is the difference between the scientific postulate above and our own postulations on Qi found in our fundamental theory textbook, or those found in Daoism, the founding philosophy of Oriental medicine? The word Qi is simply and consistently a term we use to remain in deference to the simple truth stated above that everything is one continuous field of energy. Science knows this as do the mystics. The two are saying the same things about the same world. Our predecessors in the healing arts weren’t delusional. People lived and died by the healers’ abilities. Scientists certainly aren’t delusional. We’ve built a civilization like none seen on this planet before (that we know of).

I appreciate the reaction of those in our field calling for sensible, rational discourse when it comes to our philosophies and theories. However, we must not make the mistake of assuming that our theories are “behind” or “quaint” in any way. The convergence demonstrated above should confirm for any doubter that our theoretical construct of Qi and Yin-Yang are at least as advanced as the most recent scientific findings, if not more so given our three millennia head start.

The mistranslation of Qi is not as deleterious to the efforts of those promoting reason and demonstrability in our field as is the misunderstanding of the word energy. Qi is no-doubt energy. Qi is the fundamental continuum along which every phenomenon occurs. All phenomena exist and are defined by virtue of the contrast of opposing natures inherent to each. The way we describe such opposition is Yin-Yang. The Qi construct, including Yin-Yang, is as complete as it is profound. It is as cutting edge as it is ancient. The term energy cannot be considered limiting if it is the “fundamental building block of the universe”, can it? There is nothing wrong with translating Qi as energy as long as you know what energy really is.

1.“ENERGY IS EVERYTHING” David W. Talmage and Richard J. Sanderson, Webb Waring Institute at the, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

2.  The Foundations of Chinese Medicine 2nd edition—Giovanni Maciocia

3.   The Foundations of Chinese Medicine 2nd edition—Giovanni Maciocia

4.   Dao De Jing, A Philosophical Translation, Making This Life Significant—Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall


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