This weekend I attended Being Human Conference where philosophers, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, buddhists, anthropologists, data designers and transhumanists met to talk about our understanding of human life: our ethics, relationships, emotions and our future as human species existing in an era of 3D printing and micro motion sensors. Look at their website to watch talks from presenters like Richie Davidson, a leading neuroscientist studying buddhist brains to prove how meditation can help change your brain for good; or Paul Ekman, pioneering psychologist studying emotions; who developed a long lasting relationship with the Dalai Lama. These are some of the leading scientists in the world trying to create bridges of understanding between East and West worldviews.
And I think that is pretty revolutionary and exciting.
I’ve developed my professional career in the design, innovation and business world, and I’m excited to participate in such a cutting edge conference where our deep human questions are brought on to stage to be explored through many lenses. To have insights as designer and creative entrepreneur, and do something meaningful and relevant in the world, it is necessary to inform yourself from as many perspectives as possible, and expand your criteria, disrupt your own biases.
Yet, as someone who has also been a yoga teacher, dancer, healer and meditation practitioner, I am still interested in talking about the mystery more overtly. I wonder if we will ever hear on stage someone talking about qi or prana or energetic centers without being dismissed as esoteric nonsense? How many of us also believe – or have felt – the subtle energy of prana when practicing sun salutations, or practice reiki whenever we have a headache? Do we need a research paper to prove it to believe it? Many of us don’t.
How many opposing paradigms can we hold as a society? Are we entering an era of mystic scientists?
Do we need for western science to be less or more rigorous in its systematic observation of the ‘mystery of life?’ Will we ever be able to reconcile what is still a mystery in western science and for eastern traditions a fundamental fact? “Darwin’s theory of natural selection was less observable. Instead, Darwin’s natural selection attained increasing scientific acceptance because it explained so many diverse phenomena (like adaptive structures, anatomical homologies, the fossil record, and so on). The paradigm of qi is as explanatorily resourceful and deeply rooted in China as Darwinism is in Western science.” Mentions Stephen Asma in his article The Enigma of Chinese Medicine by the New York Times.
This is a great complementary read (for those who attended the conference, watch the videos here if you couldn’t be there) about the enigma (or limitations?) of trying to use western science to prove the eastern understanding of health and life. Millenary traditions like Chinese Medicine use the term Prana, Qi as a fundamental principle, as Buddhism talks about awakening and happiness. H w then do we as a society, that has now the capacity to have a multi-cultural / multi-perspective / multi-disciplinary understanding of reality, reconcile two or many opposing paradigms?
"Starting in the 17th century, the definition of science changed significantly. It wasn’t enough to have a systematic causal story, since many competing stories could fit the same observable phenomenon. Retrograde planetary motion could be explained by Ptolemaic epicycle causation, for example, but that causal picture was eventually unseated by a shift to heliocentric astronomy. What’s needed is the correct and verifiable causal explanation; and the scientific method (the “hypothetico-deductive model” in philosophy of science parlance) arose in order to put causal explanations through a gantlet of empirical tests.
Can qi theory be scientific in this more rigorous sense? Skepticism seems reasonable here because no one has seen qi directly. Even the meridians (or channels) of qi in the body remain undetectable to Western instruments, yet T.C.M. practitioners spend years mastering the meridian anatomical charts.
Are they chasing an illusion that takes authority from tradition alone, or are we still only at the commencement stage of discovery? Qi energy looks unfalsifiable, but maybe the promissory note will soon be paid. After all, scientists theorized, hypothesized and assumed the reality of the gene (a unit of heredity) long before anyone actually observed one. And the Higgs boson was posited in the 1960s, but only confirmed in 2013. Will qi energy be confirmed as the causal underpinning for the often-reported correspondence between acupuncture and healing?”