This article deals with comparing and contrasting acupuncture with our western view of health & how medicine is practiced. For information on how chiropractic ‘mixes’ with physical therapy-type procedures, read ‘Do We Dare Mix?’
Man as Machine
The concept of likening the human body as a machine dates back to Descartes, around the mid-1600’s. Although our western culture chose Descartes’ philosophical views as a basis for science and medicine, in the early 1900’s, D.D. Palmer, the Father of Chiropractic, gave the following criticism, “The human babe is not a machine, is not mechanical, is not a piece of mechanism; it has not the counterparts of the engine. You might as well try to illustrate the working of a babe by that of a potato. Both have eyes and skin; they live and grow; there is far more resemblance between the functions of the babe and potato than between the babe and the engine. The main difference lies in the fact that we are accustomed to make the foolish comparison of the engine and not the potato.” Getting back to Descartes — Descartes viewed the body as a machine controlled by natural or physical processes, then viewed the mind as an entity entirely separate from the body. It is at this point I took a few weeks off in writing this article, until I reached the conclusion that the only way to continue is to proceed by sharing my Christian faith as I continue. You see, man has to be more than just a machine governed only by whatever his or her hormones and neurons dictate to them. There has to be both a mind and soul or soul and spirit whose intellect answers to their conscience, in my opinion.
The next individual who majorly expanded upon Descartes’ views was Charles Darwin. Darwin was the son of a Medical doctor who studied to become a clergyman. He is considered to be the Father of the theory of Evolution. Both Descartes’ and Darwin’s beliefs to reduce human life to the level of animals or machines, whose bodies are not controlled by intellect or mind, and ignoring the concept of a soul entirely, stand in stark contrast to the Chinese view of man.
Man as a Garden
As we begin to look at the Chinese view of man, perhaps we need to begin by stating that the Chinese own views of philosophy and cosmology has changed over their several thousand year history (as have other cultures, ours included). I like to go to as close to origins as possible. If you study the Shang dynasty (roughly 4,000 years ago), you’ll discover the Chinese originally worshiped one Deity they referred to as Shangdi, or the “Emperor of Heaven.” This continued for around 500 years. (By comparison, we as a nation are not even 250 years old, and look at how far we have strayed from our beliefs in God). Even though after 500 years the Chinese began to shift their worship from a Creator to paying homage to Heaven, to this day certain concepts remain foundational in Chinese philosophy. I’d like to call attention to a few of them that illustrate their views of man in contrast to western concepts of medicine and science.
One of the first tenets that come up with regards to Acupuncture is qi, or energy. Qi is also the basic element of Chinese cosmology. In other words, the Chinese believe Qi to be the force present at creation. Does this remind you of Genesis 2:7 — “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul?”
The second tenet that plays a large part in Chinese cosmology, is the spatial relationships between Heaven, man and earth. In fact, the Chinese refer to man’s soul as containing an earthly aspect they call Po and a heavenly aspect of man’s soul they refer to as Hun. Furthermore, Chinese philosophy believes at the time of death, the Hun ascends to heaven and the Po returns to the earth.
You may ask, what does this have to do with Acupuncture vs Western medicine? I’ll not get into this much, but the example I’ll give points to how the treatment of mental issues and emotions are looked at entirely different from a Chinese perspective. The Chinese believe there are 8 Branches to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which they apply to all forms of sickness (not just mental/emotional issues). They are: Meditation (or prayer); Chi Gong (a form of exercise); Diet; Herbs; Bonesetting (Chiropractic); Cosmology (physiology); Feng Shui (ergonomics); and lastly, Acupuncture. Only after trying to restore the Psyche or cure the mental illness by seeking prayer, getting exercise, eating a nutritious diet, etc. will the Chinese seek Acupuncture. At that point, if the issue involves anger, the Acupuncturist will most likely treat the Liver meridian. If the issue involves worry, the Gallbladder meridian would be considered for treatment. Another interesting fact is the Ancient Chinese believed the Heart can store memories. These are just a few examples.
Germ Theory or Biological Terrain?
In summary I want to finish this article of man as machine (mechanism) vs. man as a garden (vitalism), by noticing two scientists who contributed to our understanding of microbial life (germs). From the dark ages until the mid 1800’s, it’s hard to believe, but many folks believed life could spontaneously generate, either from non-life, or from entirely different forms of decaying life. For example, people believed fleas could originate from dust, or maggots could spontaneously generate out of dead flesh. Well, in the mid 1800’s a Frenchman named Louis Pasteur was credited for proving once and for all that spontaneous generation was a scientific impossibility. He also was the inventor of the process of pasteurization and has been called the Father of the Germ theory of disease. That is, he (mistakenly) presupposed the human body to be a sterile environment and believed outside germs to be one of the sole causes of disease. The germ theory of disease has also formed the basis of allopathic medicine.
During this same time, another less-known Frenchman named Antoine Bechamp also was conducting experiments related to microorganisms and disease. He differed from Pasteur in that he did not believe in germs as the sole cause of disease. Rather, he called his theory the Biological terrain theory. Instead of viewing the cause of disease only as an invader outside the body (like germs), he believed one needs to also take into account the body’s ability to withstand germs (the overall health of the body, or the body’s immune system). Because of this different view, he preferred to call germs a symptom of disease and not an actual cause of disease.
Today we know it is a proven scientific/medical fact that in all our bodies we have bacterial cells that outnumber our human ones 10 to 1, or somewhere over 95-99% of the cells in our bodies are bacteria ! This does not mean these bacterial cells are all harmful to the body. So in conclusion, let me ask you, Do you view the body as a machine, or rather, a vital, living organism?