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Disciplinary Orientation of Classical Chinese Medicine

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Classical Chinese Medicine is a special medical system based on ancient cosmology. It uses Yi Jing as a philosophical foundation, and is characterized by imagery and numerological thinking. It treats illness primarily by regulating Qi and it uses pulse as an essential part of the diagnosis. This Medicine reached its pinnacle during the Han and Tang dynasties. It presents a systemic medicine based on experience, and is governed by practices derived from the observation of stable phenomena in nature. These practices are, in turn, described by means of axioms in its self-consistent theories, logical deductions, and numerological calculations.

The scope of Classical Chinese Medicine can be summarized by the "Four Great Classics";

  • Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon covers the basic theory and acupuncture;
  • Shennong's Materia Medica covers the herbology;
  • On Eighty One Difficult Questions covers pulse diagnosis;
  • Shang Han Lun covers classical formula in six stage diagnostic system.

During the process of human evolution, there are usually three ways to discover truth: religion, philosophy, and science. Science is the most precise method; religion is the most cursory, while the philosophical approaches fall in the middle as the most balanced. In the past 500 years, we humans have learned that the scientific method provides an effective model to understand the natural realm, so we also apply the same approach to explore the fields of thinking and spirituality. Eventually, we learned to apply the scientific approach to all unchartered territory, from astronomy to thinking, spirituality, neurology, and consciousness. However, when scientists face difficulties such as when they attempt to understand and explicate new areas like quantum mechanics, in addition to the methods of the natural science, human beings can only draw on logical thinking and philosophical speculation to reach the conclusions they seek.

As a holistic modality, Chinese Medicine had no other choice but to use a combination of authentication and speculation to understand the sky,the earth, and human beings during its advent and developing period. In the macro world, human cognition and the acquisition of knowledge of the truth require a high degree of philosophical reflection. This is what the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, meant by "inductive logic". It was this approach that was used to derive one phenomenon from another, to go from individuals to groups, and to shift from the special material nature to the universal material nature. This is the reason why Chinese Medicine adopted analog as a research method. It started with axioms and supposition and, unless it found counter examples, it firmly believed that those starting points were not only correct but, could also provide the basis to apply judgments based on general principles to specific areas. Under this system, the principle of the micro-world knowledge to the test of truth is no longer a measurement or a direct proof. Its objective becomes to predict results in which no counter-examples exist. If the results are consistent and there are no counter-examples, the self-consistent system can be established with relative success.

"Self-consistency is a system that is consistent with one's self or with itself. It is not self-contradictory, nor a deviation from the ordinary standard by which the conduct is guided. Logically it is consistent throughout; with each component in harmony with the rest."

"An axiom, or postulate, is a premise or starting point for reasoning. As classically conceived, an axiom is a premise as evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. An axiom can be any mathematical statement that serves as a starting point from which other statements can be logically derived. Within the system they define, axioms (unless redundant) cannot be derived by principles of deduction, nor are they demonstrable by mathematical proofs simply because they are starting points. There is nothing else from which they logically follow otherwise they would be classified as theorems. However, an axiom in one system can become be a theorem in another, and vice versa."

Axioms can build a complete and "no contradiction" system to meet the consistency of a theoretical system. Almost all of the areas of mathematics and even some scientific fields outside of mathematics draw on the axiomatic system to construct their theories. Einstein's theory of relativity and Hawking's theories of time and space are based on such understandings.

Here are some examples of axioms in Chinese Medicine:

  1. All that is in the process of being created or in movement in the universe needs energy (known as primordial Qi or Taiji).
  2. There are day and night in every day (known as Yin and Yang).
  3. There are four seasons in a year (known as four phenomena).
  4. The earth orientation is divided into east, west, south, north, and middle (known as five elements).
  5. Although everything in the world has relevance, some components are stronger, and some are weaker (known as analog method).
  6. The motion of celestial bodies affects the earth (known as the earth responds to the sky).
  7. Human beings are part of the universe (known as human responds to the sky).
  8. All the creatures in the world have their birth and death (known as the birth, growth, transformation, resizing, and storage).
  9. All the movements of the universe are in endless circles (known as circular motion and Zi Wu circulation).

Axioms are set up for the convenience of study, under certain circumstances based on specific standards. it is possible to carry out deeper research. This standard is the axiom. The axioms are independent and do not need to be proven. They become the habitual usage or a stable theoretical system in which it is inconvenient to make changes. They can also be so general that it becomes impossible to use them in the existing theory to develop a general height (such as 1 +1 = 2). In this sense, the classics of Chinese Medicine can become the works on axioms for the healing modality. Classics cannot be changed and can only serve as foundations for further interpretations.

As a self-consistent system, Classic Chinese Medicine must have a stable ideological model to follow. This ideological model is Yi Jing, the philosophical foundation of Chinese Medicine. It is only within this stability, that one can use the term "classic". In this self-consistent system, any answer to the basic questions of Classical Chinese Medicine must conform to this model. Otherwise, Classical Chinese Medicine will no longer form a self-consistent system. Efforts to seek answers from outside the system will deviate from the self-consistent character of Chinese Medicine. Then the result cannot be considered to be Classic Chinese Medicine any longer. The resulting modality can only be called "modern" Chinese Medicine. The term "Modern" implies change because nothing can remain "modern" forever. It is of great necessity and importance for Yi Jing to remain the philosophical foundation of all Classical Chinese Medicine. A self-consistent system is independent. It does not need to be proven or to be supported by other systems. The argument about whether Chinese Medicine is scientific should be discontinued.

First, let's take a look of the definition of science:

1, Science on broad sense: "Science (from Latin scientia, meaning 'knowledge') is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. Since classical antiquity, science as a type of knowledge has been closely linked to philosophy. In the early modern period, the words 'science' and 'philosophy' were sometimes used interchangeably. By the 17th century, natural philosophy (which is today called 'natural science') was considered a separate branch of philosophy. However, 'science' continued to be used in a broad sense denoting reliable knowledge about a topic, in the same way it is still used in modern terms such as in library science or political science.

2, Science on narrow sense: "In modern use, 'science' more often refers to a way of pursuing knowledge, not only the knowledge itself. It is often treated as synonymous with 'natural and physical science', and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and its laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use. This is the narrower sense of 'science'. Recently, it has become more common to refer to natural philosophy as 'natural science'. Over the course of the 19th century, the word 'science' became increasingly associated with the scientific method, a disciplined way to study the natural world This definition of science is frequently applied to academic disciplines such as physics, chemistry, geology, and biology."

So there are two kinds of definitions of sciences: one broad and one narrow. It is the narrow classification that has generated the controversy about whether Chinese Medicine is scientific or not. By the broad definition, there is no doubt that Chinese Medicine is scientific; by the narrow one, it may not be. It is neither realistic nor necessary to insist that Chinese Medicine must meet the standards of the narrow definition of science since, as a healing system, it predates the concept of science by a few thousand years.

Secondly, science is not necessarily synonymous with the truth, if by truth we mean the world as it is. Knowledge is the level of awareness of the world as it is. Science is only one of the paths toward that truth. It is, by no means, the only path. If we take science as being the whole and only truth, then much of what we accept as science today can fall into the realm of superstition. As Einstein and Hawking illustrate, we cannot experience everything that is scientific through our physical senses.

Natural phenomena can be divided into two types: 1) natural phenomena within the range of ordinary physical experience; 2) natural phenomena outside the range of ordinary physical experience. Modern science and its objectives are defined within the ordinary physical experience of sound, sight, touch, taste, smell, pressure, and pain. In addition to the four diagnoses of observing, smelling, asking and touching in the range of ordinary physical experience, Chinese Medicine also acknowledges the existence of "meridians", "Qi", and "spirit," all of which fall outside the ordinary physical experience. In fact, Chinese Medicine maintains that there is no supernatural phenomenon. There are only natural phenomena. It is only because of the limitations of modern science and technology that the so-called supernatural phenomena exist.

"Usual phenomena" which can be observed, are only statistically significant for a majority of people, most of the time, in most of the cases, for most possibilities. The rest belong to the "unusual phenomena". In this sense, the connection between Chinese Medicine and the natural world comes closer to the truth than does the link between the world and modern medicine.

Thirdly, in the nineteenth century, the gunboats of the Western countries forcibly opened the doors to China. After continuous failures as a consequence of the huge gap between their level of science and technology and that of Europe, the Qing Dynasty's attitude towards to the West was permanently altered. It shifted from contempt to being forced to learn. During the Opium Wars, China not only suffered defeat on the battlefield, but was also forced to compromise its identity. This experience was completely different from those of its previous foreign invasions. In the past, despite the defeats, Chinese people remained confident that their own civilization was indisputably superior to that of their opponents. It can be said that, in the past five thousand years of history, China had not encountered a civilization it considered superior to itself. But this time, the Chinese people's attitude towards the West changed dramatically. It shifted from the exclusion of the past to the gradual acceptance of "total Westernization". Because in the first Sino-Japanese war China was defeated by a small country like Japan, it was thrown into turmoil of disgrace and self-denial.

This change has been reflected in all aspects of Chinese Medicine.

Objectively, it forced Classic Chinese Medicine to change into modern Western science. The result of this change is that Classic Chinese medicine has been severely emasculated. As a consequence of this, in the country of its origin.

Chinese Medicine has been subjected to unprecedented levels of ridiculous embarrassment. Since then, whether Chinese medicine treatments are right or wrong has had to be determined by Western medicinal standards. This unusual situation, in which the efficacy of one discipline must be judged by the standards of a different one, I am afraid, is extremely rare in the history of science. In order to survive, Chinese Medicine has had to under go "modernization." This is a bit like having to cut the feet to fit shoes. The result has led us to question whether Classic Chinese Medicine is of sufficient value to warrant its existence. The independent complete system of classic Chinese Medicine has almost become a well guarded secret.

In the past half century, the philosophy of Classical Chinese Medicine has been taken away and it has been replaced by the political philosophy of materialist dialectics. Statistics show that the doctors of the Han (206bc-220ce) and Tang (618-906ce) Dynasties, who understood the Yi Jing accounted for 85%of the practitioners. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644ce), this figure dropped to only 12%. Sadly, if we were to conduct the same research today, the results would likely be even more disappointing. What were the requirements in "Inner Cannon" for Chinese medicine doctors? The "Nei Jing" declared the following: "To be a doctor, one must know the sky above, the earth below and the human in the middle." Now this dictum has become little more than empty, meaningless talk. To alter the classics is to ignore their origin. This had already happened to Classical Chinese medicine in ancient times. However, compared to those who are trying to "modernize" Chinese medicine today, the betrayers of the past are really dwarfed. The hidden objective of the modernization of Chinese Medicine is to explain it with the existing human knowledge rather than to transform it drawing on the beautiful words of "science" in the narrow sense. The principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine were derived from the universe close to "Dao," or the Source. Compared to those in modern medicine, concepts in Chinese Medicine are much broader in meaning and scope. If Chinese and Western medicine must be merged successfully and fairly, then the narrow concepts must follow the broad ones and not vice versa.