What is the electricity that flows through the body that allows salamanders to grow new legs, and young children grow new finger tips? Is it the same thing that the Chinese call Qi?
Dan Keown’s witty and original book, The Spark in the Machine, shows how western medicine validates the theories of Chinese medicine, and how Chinese medicine explains the mysteries of the body that western medicine largely ignores. He shows the incredible story of how our bodies form from single cells, why the hearts of two people in love truly beat as one, why astronauts get osteoporosis in space, and how jing and neural crest cells are really the same thing.
An extract from the book, The Spark in the Machine – Singing Dragon Books
The ‘mother’ DNA may have been programmed to be a skin cell on the hand, or a freckle, or a liver cell, but in the process of becoming mature it has turned on certain DNA and locked off most of the rest. In order for this DNA to produce a new Dolly the scientists have to unlock this DNA, winding back the clock to make it think it is young again. (This last point is important – wicked witches in fairy tales clamoured for this type of thing and, as we shall see, winding back the clock is not meant to be done; factals create massively different results from very similar starting positions–thinkDNA.Trying, but failing, to wind back the clock to get the exact starting position is why the bizarre aberrations in cloning happen.)
The ingredients of life may have all been put into place, but that did not mean that life was present. The cell consisted of a new egg cell with the mature maternal DNA unlocked within, but there was still no life, and this is where it gets weird…
Dr Frankenstein was right. He wildly overestimated how much electricity you would need but had exactly the right idea. The scientists at Roslin used a dose of electricity so small that it would barely disturb dust; it turned out there was no need for rickety lightning conductors perched atop gothic mansions. The tiny jolt of electricity did something truly astonishing: it kicked the cell into life!
I am sure the irony of using Dr Frankenstein’s methods was not lost on the scientists who created Dolly, a sheep who was incidentally named in honour of Dolly Parton’s twin assets. The process was not as smooth as is suggested: it took 277 attempts to make Dolly and in the process they created monsters of various proportions and shapes. Cloning causes truly freakish things to happen: giant creatures, dwarves, true mutants with multiple heads and too many limbs. Cloning is playing with the very building blocks of life and it is no wonder that it causes the delicate flower of organisation to go haywire. Regardless of the ethical considerations, the implications of this are truly staggering: life can be created with electricity!
What is it about electricity that enables it to produce life? It is a question that moves to the very centre of our existence, for our lives are governed by electricity. The fingers typing on this keyboard are doing so by electrical charges moving down from my brain. My muscles are contracting as a result of electrical charges. These very thoughts are mirrored in electrical activity in my brain. Our life is electric, and what is bio-electricity if not concentrated metabolism, pure bio-energy, what Chinese medicine sees as Qi?
The parallels between Qi and electricity are intriguing. Science often balks at the idea of Qi as a vague invisible force but is quite happy to believe in the vague invisible force of electricity. We all know that electricity travels in power lines, but when you place a fluorescent bulb near a power line it will glow. Is the electricity in the air or the line? If it is in the air then how is it travelling? If it’s electrons then where do they end, and if it’s a force field why do they talk about electrons? Electricity constantly poses more questions than it answers.
CLONING SHEEP WITH QI
Invisible? Similarly, the argument that Qi cannot exist because we cannot see it is fallacious. Qi is visible in the same way that electricity is visible: through its effects. Anyone claiming that pixie dust is moving an electric motor would be laughed at, since we all know the truth. But! It is not the electricity you see, only the effect of the electricity. It is the same in the body: all your actions, whether it be sleeping, laughing or running, are an effect of Qi. That is the proof.
‘Fine!’ you may say. ‘What about lightning? You can see that!’
The same is true of metabolic energy or Qi, though. Humans emit light; it is just so faint that only machines can measure it. Strangely, it appears to come most strongly out of the fingernails in a similar way to which ‘evil-Qi’ is seen in popular fiction (such as Star Wars’ evil Emperor).
The light emitted is called biophotons and it is an accepted scientific fact. All living creatures emit this light, and whilst some creatures emit visible light too, the mechanism involved appears to be different. Eerily, again just like Star Wars’ Emperor, these biophotons are in the same spectrum of light as the light from lightning: the near-ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Francis Popp, a German scientist, believes that these biophotons are an expression of Qi, and represent an ability of the cells of the organism to stay together.
The parallels with Qi are definitely there. The channels of Qi in the body end at the fingernails and toes, the same places where biophoton emission is strongest. When people get sick or old the rate of biophotons has been found to increase, and the same happens on the same side of the body as a stroke. Acupuncture has been shown to balance this out in stroke patients. Paradoxically, it appears that the more biophotons that are released, the less health, or Qi, the organism appears to have: it is almost as though they are losing their Qi.
It is not known whether biophotons are Qi, but what is definitely known is that most of them emerge from the DNA of our mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells and the origin of energy in our body. Some researchers think they are an indicator of free radical damage but, then again, we don’t really know. Some studies also show that biophotons are coherent. Coherence is a quantum term to explain how energy seems to communicate with itself, light that is in sync with itself. Light having intelligence or memory may appear to be of interest only to quantum physicists, but in the body this is incredible!
The research into this is so poor that we are still really in the dark. The problem is that to measure biophotons you have to measure light at one-thousandth the intensity of what a person can see. This means that you need very expensive equipment and people who are willing to do an awful lot of sitting around.
Biophotons may be a physical manifestation of Qi, or they may just be a by-product of cellular reactions. Further research is needed and until then biophotons remain more of a curiosity than any evidence of Qi. What they do show, though, is that, like electricity, our bodies can produce light and that this light is altered in disease states.
The argument against Qi existing therefore becomes an argument born of stubborness. If Qi is invisible it is only because energy generally is. If Qi is vague and difficult to pin down it is again no different to electricity. To argue against the existence of Qi is to argue against life itself.
What powers life? Qi.
Western medicine concerns itself with the minutiae of the cells, the way in which oxygen and sugar combine in the mitochondria to produce ATP, the incredible machinery that powers each cell, the cells that group together to form organs, muscles, bones, testes and even the drums in our ears. Only in embryology does it concern itself with the question ‘How?’
How do all the cells work together? What drives them to cooperate? Embryology goes into more and more detail about growth factors and messengers and cell types until the description is a complicated mess. Qi is much more useful as a concept because it is unifying. Instead of Chinese medicine concerning itself with minutiae, it concentrates on the innate ability of our cells to work together and function cooperatively. To create teamwork that is more than the individual. To bind together to produce you, warts and all. Qi is the energy produced by each cell, the binding force between those cells and the work they produce: the sum of all metabolism. For want of a better phrase, the term life force comes to mind. There is no comparable force within Western medicine. Many people try to equate Qi with nerve and brain energy, but nerves cannot explain organogenesis, the process by which organs create themselves and then work harmoniously, and why incredible organisation has formed in the embryo way before any nerves have appeared (in the fourth week).
Qi is more than merely cellular metabolic energy; it is developmental energy, cooperative energy. If a football team analogy was used, then Qi would be both the energy of each player and the invisible bonds that bind the team together. These bonds may be sounds (i.e. words and commands), meaningful glances, understandings, or even that certain je ne sais quoi that brilliant teams have; but what these bonds have in common is that they are ephemeral and mainly invisible. Football teams train for hours, days, months, years…even decades to build up this rapport, yet if you asked the manager to show this ‘Team Qi’ then he would shrug his shoulders and tell you to watch them play.
Yet without this energy the team is impotent. You could place the 11 greatest players of all time on a pitch, and without the invisible energy of team-ship they could be beaten by a well- organised pub team. The same is true a trillion times over for the greatest team of all, the 11 trillion cells that make up ‘Team You’.
This is why Qi is so important, because it is unifying rather than reductionist. There is no equivalent concept within Western medicine and this is one reason why it opens up avenues of healing that do not exist in the West.
If Qi is intelligent metabolism – team metabolism – then what would Qi consist of in Western science? Which forces in the body would create it? It would have to be a product of cellular energy, organ energy, and then, most importantly for Acupuncture, the energy of communication and of intelligent cooperation.