A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: ch'i and chi kung

19 Nov 2003
As an agnostic on the subject of "chi", "quantum physics", "god", "evolution by natural selection", "the tooth fairy", and just about anything else for which I lack first-hand experience, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your amazing and sometimes hilarious series of discussions. I finally, in the second to last exchange, hit on a remark that I think goes to the heart of the disagreement between you and many of your readers and to a problem I have long had with both proponents of the occult and/or religious-leaning thought and, equally, with many scientists:

"What Mr. Shen considers arrogance, I consider to be a difference of opinion. To me, it is the combination of various material elements which gives rise to life, not life which gives animation to dead matter."

This puts me in mind of Stephen J. Gould: "All things are grounded in matter. Mind, spirit, and god itself are just words that reflect the results of wondrous neuronal activity."

Both you and Gould are indeed, generally eloquent and convincing; however, I would think that absolute, currently untestable, statements would have no place in a scientific discourse or argument. You correctly indicate to those insisting on both the existence of 'chi' and, in some cases, supernatural effects emanating from it, that they must do the science if they expect you to give any credence to their claims. I would ask you then, when do you think I might expect to see some scientists or engineers gather together "various material elements" (not currently or previously alive) and produce an animate Gustav Mahler, Komodo Dragon, amoeba, or anything "alive"?

Matter gives rise to life. Life animates matter. Scientifically speaking, both statements are equally, at this point in time, just noise - meaningless words - voodoo & hocus pocus. As someone who apparently insists that the scientific method is the only reliable or legitimate route to knowledge, your use of such language (even as an expression of "opinion") might make one tend to think you are not as objective and emotionally detached from the subject as you would have us believe.

I would suggest that this entire subject of "chi" would be much easier to deal with and less contentious if 'believers' would use the word as an abstract, rather than common, noun. After all, such things as "beauty", "humor", and "joy" can hardly be scientifically defined, much less quantified, and yet, increasingly, personal perception of these abstracts is found to have measurable, sometimes profound, biological effects. "Fear" and "panic" can render a person helpless or set in motion abnormal biological activities that provide the person with seemingly superhuman strength and agility. I suppose one (read "you") might argue that these abstracts are, themselves, nothing more than the effects of prior biological activity, but then that would a) bring us into an endless "chicken & egg" cycle, and b) give rise to currently unanswerable questions about definition, quantification, and prediction.

Enough. I ramble. For now, I will close by saying that I personally hold the most scientific of all possible views on the subject of "chi": I don't know.

John Bennett

reply: Mr. Bennett's comments remind me of a line I've heard many times, most recently from a homeopath, who put it this way

I would like to remind the rationalists that vitalism is alive and well until scientists can put a bunch of chemicals together in beaker and make a living cell (or even a virus).

The very next day there was a news story about scientists creating a virus in the lab. The chiropractor wrote me

Well, I guess they can make a functional virus. They will never make a living cell.

I think even if scientists do create a living cell from non-living things this will not put a dent in the belief in vitalism. On the other hand, the failure to create a living cell may go on indefinitely and also not put a dent in the belief that it can be done.

Mr. Bennett is wrong in his assumption that currently untestable, statements ... have no place in a scientific discourse or argument. Also, it is at least possible to conceive of ways to try to create a living cell. What possible way is their for us to create matter out of spirit?

Finally, to compare the concept of chi to that of beauty is misguided. Anyone who claims that beauty permeates beautiful objects is clearly talking metaphysics. Treating beauty as something abstract doesn't make it more scientific. His examples of the effects of fear are not about abstractions. Nobody has a physiological reaction to the abstract concept of fear. Those bodily reactions are to perceived objects that are deemed dangerous, threatening, or potentially harmful. I understand how fear or anger or beauty can be abstractions, but I have no idea what an abstraction of chi would be. Nor do I have any notion of how chi flows, is blocked, is harmonized, etc.

I don't claim to know that chi doesn't exist, any more than I claim to know that God doesn't exist. I claim that I don't see any good reasons for believing in either.

1 Nov 2000 
Regards your skeptics web site reference to Qi Gong, I thought you might be interested to know of my experiences.

My background is physics and maths and I work in IT, my real passion however is playing Sax (jazz etc) and it was in my constant search for knowledge regards breathing over the last ten years that led me to the Alexander Technique ( first stop of my pre-amble ). The benefit that Alexander Technique has brought into the quality of my playing is huge, of course I cant prove that some other development was not responsible but my single mindedness applies to Sax not Alexander Technique and I am not particularly inclined to award credit where it is not due.

If you aren't familiar with Alexander Technique then the basic premise is that our "use" of our bodies starts off near perfect and declines from the age of 4 or 5. The technique does not seek to "add" to a person but simply to remove the bad habits which start as soon as we start to sit in chairs, experience stress etc. I think the "western" mind can relate to this more easily - once people accept that they have accumulated detrimental baggage then the claim that you will "feel better" or have more energy translates only to "you will feel as good as you were meant to be before your life-style interfered".

I would describe the impact of Alexander Technique on my life as huge - it started only in a quest to sound better but the mental and emotional benefits are also there and not to be under-estimated. Its estimated that over 80% of adults do not breathe correctly - some even exhibit a phenomenon called reverse breathing which is detrimental if continued for extended periods. Even the most skeptical doctors readily admit the link between depression and low energy levels and poor shallow breathing.

It seems a shame that modern reductionism has moved us into a position where we separate the mind and body. I was once part of this way of thinking - I now view it as analogous to a mechanic who is only willing to try and repair cars by looking at the engine - unwilling to examine the wheels, suspension etc. I don't accept "new age" beliefs without subjective proof - basically it either makes me sound better ( perhaps feel better ) or its rejected. Also as a musician I do have a very sensitive scale - there are enough judges out there to determine quality in the tone of a musician accurately but not necessarily objectively or quantitatively.

I despair that Alexander Technique books are so often found next to books on Crystal Healing - many doctors advocate Alexander technique - it's respectability amongst the acting/musical and general rational community is high. Why do we insist on bagging anything not within the realms of hard science in the "quack" bag - especially since disciplines such as Alexander actually show the limitations of traditional medicine. A case in point - my neighbour is suffering from a severe upper back condition associated with the degenerative condition of the spine - at no point has any doctor or surgeon examined how she uses her body - in other words the possible causes of the condition are neglected - only the physical implications of restorative surgery is considered. I helped this neighbour relieve pain and possibly slow the degeneration simply by showing her how much unnecessary stress she was placing on the upper back through tension and misuse.

If I had encountered Qi Gong before Alexander Technique I would neither have regarded it of value or even understood it ( by the way the understanding here is largely physical not cerebral ). Now I understand and practice Qi Gong. If you read about it in a Chinese text then the cultural differences may be a problem, on the other hand if you already have learnt a technique suited to Westerners such as the Alexander technique then you may be able to "read through" the descriptive terms such as "Chi" and actually equate them to terms more meaningful to a western frame of reference. I don't buy all the philosophies embodied in Qi Gong but the underlying principles of breath may be translated directly into Alexandrian terms. I certainly experience something which we could call "Chi" and indeed I associate energy with it - but a life force or electrical activity - No ? I don't need these concepts I have already learnt that kinesthetic feedback is faulty - one doesn't need to believe ( in the religious sense ) in these imagery devices - anyone who learns Alexander Technique has already learnt that due to faulty kinesthetic feedback we often have to resort to imagery - it doesn't mean we believe in it - we just know its a means to an end - the end being enhanced mental and physical well being.

I would humbly suggest that some eastern disciplines will always "suffer in translation" and are also severely compromised when examined by the westerner who already may have totally divorced the mental and physical sides of his being - such a person is not really qualified to comment on the validity of the techniques ( except perhaps to raise an eyebrow at some of the more bizarre claims ). I am still not sure whether Qi Gong will one day allow me to break bricks in my hands etc - in some ways it doesn't really matter - it helps me breath and play sax better - also I feel better for it.

Personally I am just relieved that I have found a route which is rational and non-quasi religious which has enabled me to rediscover the link between my physical and mental self in a way I could accept. Alexander has done the Westerner a huge favour by giving us a way in which we can perhaps understand and even benefit from some Eastern techniques whilst maintaining our flavour of objectivity.

Anyway I found your site interesting and probably agree on your prognosis of many "quack" beliefs, I think however you should consider whether a mild skeptical report of a technique such as Qi Gong ( over 2000 years old ) really deserves to be considered in the same frame of reference as the "Elvis is an Alien" type stuff that seems so popular in contemporary America ?
Jon (Cambridge UK )

reply: I would have no problem if it were simply claimed that Qi Gong can help you breathe better. It's the chi harnessing stuff that belongs right there with Elvis the Alien.

06 Jan 01 
Here's something that happened to me that I'd like explained in terms of a scientific paradigm : I'd been practising t'ai chi for perhaps a year and had gone to work on a cruise ship. One night, I was asked what I'd been doing on the beach, and I explained it was a t'ai chi form. The discussion continued and one of the guys offered to show us all our 'third eye'. He pressed his thumb hard into the centre of our foreheads and asked us if we felt anything when he took it away. Hmm. I decided to try something, but had absolutely no idea whether anything would happen, and if anything were to happen, what it might be. I stood in the prescribed chi gung posture and did my best to achieve and maintain the precise body alignments required. None of the people in the room were prepared in any way - and I repeat, I had no idea what might happen myself. I then extended my forefinger to touch the 'third eye' spot of one of the other guys, and stood and waited.

After perhaps 60-90 seconds I felt quite distinctly a squirting sensation in the first joint of my forefinger and also in the centre of the fingertip, about 1/4 inch under the skin. The sensation was directly comparable to the feeling we experience when urinating. At precisely the same moment, the other guy swore quite violently and jerked his head back. Now I know I didn't move externally when this happened - I was concentrating quite hard on relaxing my body and there was no muscle movement. Darren (that was his name) was unable to speak for some moments and when we could get him to try to describe what had happened, all he would say was 'It felt like the back of my head came off'.

I have to say that up to that point I'd been firmly agnostic about the nature/reality of chi (and had clung tenaciously to that agnosticism in the face of many subtle but odd experiences) but this was enough to take me off the fence somewhat. Nobody in the room - least of all myself - had any preconceptions about what would happen, and yet, with no external cues, I experienced a definite sensation that produced a violent reaction with no external movement.

I also have to say that I prefer an agnostic attitude to that of a skeptic. Skeptics seem to resort to personalities very early in the game, plus experiences such as the one I've just described are written off as 'anecdotal' - if it didn't happen in a lab IT DIDN'T HAPPEN - and there is a real danger that because something doesn't fit with our current model of the universe it's dismissed as either theoretically impossible or fraudulent. Anyone investigating in this field is written off as a nutter.

That doesn't seem especially rational to me. If you can explain the above described incident without calling me deluded or a liar, I'll be really interested. I suspect, however, from other entries in your dictionary, that you won't be able to resist that temptation.

Richard Macnamara

reply: What temptation? I can't explain what happened, but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that chi was involved. how many times were you able to repeat the experience? If it only happened the once, I'd look for some other sort of explanation. Maybe your friend was struck by ball lightning and a bit passed over to you (though you thought it was the other way around). 

Mr. Macnamara replies:
8 Jan 2001

This is the kind of non-answer that gets skeptics a bad name. You see what I mean ? T'ai chi people at least have a model for this stuff - and if you do the exercises, results happen. No, I haven't since tried to repeat the experiment because it seemed as if it might not be healthy for the other person concerned. My sense-data gets written off as unreliable anecdotal evidence and nobody has to look for a proper explanation. Because everybody knows everything already, everybody knows that sort of thing can't happen. Further, by insisting that the sort of thing you look for conforms to the reproducible, mechanistic model you don't look at what is actually there. The trouble with Occam's razor is that it begs the question of what data to include in the first place.

reply: I don't know what to say Richard. All I said was that I can't explain what happened to you and your friend. I suggested one possible explanation, but didn't push it. I don't think the concern over reproducibility is unreasonable, in light of the extraordinary claim being made by you that somehow you tapped into chi and sent a blast that felt like you were urinating out of your finger and it went into your friend's third eye, where it stopped and made him feel like the back of his head was blown off.

You haven't even begun to address the question I posed and by being flippant about it you ensure at least that I don't have to take you seriously either. 

reply: Flippant? I don't think so, but you may be an especially sensitive soul. I have consulted my astrotherapist and she is convinced that you and your friend had an OBE or an angel experience. Either that or you were dipping into the booze or LSD.

A book I would recommend is 'Biology as Ideology' in which the whole business of science as religion substitute is addressed with remarkable clarity by a leading geneticist (whose name I forget [Richard Lewontin], but he's big mates with Stephen Jay Gould).

reply: I'm sure it's a great book. I always read books recommended to me by people after they hurl an insult or two. If anything, for some people religion is a substitute for science, i.e., knowledge.

I'm sorry, but you guys display the same inflexibility of thought and the same 'we have the TRUTH dammit' mentality of religious fundamentalists. I make no such claims, but in my experience of these matters, the practise of chi gung or t'ai chi, when taught by someone who actually knows what they're doing, produces results for which our models cannot account. To deny these results is simply to deny what is.

reply: Well, I'm glad to see you aren't dogmatic about it.

Fortunately there are enough people of genuine curiosity out there to begin investigating this stuff without getting hung up on issues of 'scientific correctness' which I'm beginning to identify with its political counterpart as Just Another Limiting Ideology.

reply: Investigate? How can anyone investigate something properly when you consider it demeaning to request that you do it again? You don't want an investigation; you want an affirmation of your preconceived beliefs.

Unfortunately folks like yourself and most egregiously James Randi, the mujaheddin of the scientific community, need to attack anyone doing work in this field and get down to personalities, dismissing their enemies as frauds and/or deluded madmen. Take a look through your database and check out how many personal slurs there are. If you write these people off as loonies, you don't have to look at the data.

reply: I may have been abusive in the early days, but if you look carefully I think you will find that I rarely get personal first. It is usually in response to someone like yourself who first takes it to the personal level. There is no reasoning with some people, so why bother? We might as well have some fun, but only when the other guy starts it. You started it and you've continued it. You seem to have some preconceived idea as to how I would respond and you responded to your own notion of my response.

And to briefly deal with the nature of the results produced by t'ai chi, why don't you invest some time in this yourself before you deny its existence. I've been paying the exorbitant sum of five pounds sterling per weekly lesson which is a complete waste unless you actually PRACTICE. As a musician, I understand the commitment and discipline required to get the best out of something like this : in my experience, most people don't. When you've spent many hours a day just running scales, which at the time can seem a totally meaningless activity, you begin to understand your own nervous system in a whole new way, and you realise that progress comes in a series of leaps followed by plateaux [?].

reply: Well, it certainly seems to me like you're wasting your money. You're rude, insensitive and don't seem to be able to read.

The other thing is to find a good teacher. If you're genuinely interested, I could recommend one. Our correspondence thus far makes me doubt that you'd have the openness of mind required to make much progress.

Be happy in your certitude,

Richard Macnamara

reply: Do other people take your recommendations seriously after you've insulted them? Do others mistake your attitude for open-mindedness? What did you expect me to say? You know, Richard, I see now that chi is real. You have persuaded me by your anecdote. I will henceforth abandon all criticisms of chi. Maybe you do have a blockage somewhere and maybe you have progressed from where you began, but your response indicates that you are not in any position to give others advice on how to evaluate anything.

4 Sep 00 

Just thought I would put my 2 cents worth on the subject of chi.

I agree that that chi does not exist but it seems that those who think it does can do some nifty things. I would point out the Shaolin Monks as one example and this guy who keeps showing up on "Ripley's Believe it or Not" as another.

The Monks can raise or lower body temperature at will take all sorts of physical punishment with nary a mark. This Ripley's guy has (under scrutiny) used the "touch of death" to render people unconscious. Now, I know that they aren't tapping in to some otherworldly force, but shouldn't some study be done to see how these things happen?

reply: Yes. Somebody should also try to determine if the claims are true.

Chances are that the monks have superior physical conditioning and are more aware of what their bodies are capable of and the touch of death fellow knows some nifty pressure points, yet I can't help but be intrigued. Your page on chi wasn't to clear on who debunked what and where. I would be interested in knowing more about the tests and how they were conducted. You picked the easy ones, (well, breaking a brick isn't easy per se) how about some of the harder parlor tricks? I'm sure in all cases that it is explainable, but I want to know how to do these things without the religious mummery that surrounds them.
Paul MacDonald

reply: Conjuring is not my specialty. See The Psychic Mafia, Secrets of the Psychics, All the Secrets of Magic Revealed: The Tricks and Illusions of the World's Greatest Magicians, A Magician Among the Spirits, Miracle Mongers and Their Methods, Indian Skeptic, and a great documentary on Indian miracle workers called "Guru Busters."

24 Aug 2000 
I haven't tried reviving flies but I have revived wasps and an ant. Both have quite amazing powers of recovery.

The wasps were drowning (i.e. running out of oxygen due to being immersed in a liquid - lack of lungs notwithstanding!) in a public fountain. I lifted out as many as I could and set them to dry on the stone rim of the fountain. Almost all of them recovered enough to fly away. The ant was one I stood on, on sandy ground, with my full weight, and twisting my foot. Over a few minutes, it recovered and went on its way, apparently unharmed.

Just goes to show that it is one thing to do an experiment, it is quite another to interpret the results. The fly experiment you cited (March/April 1994 issue of "Karate International") is, of course, useless as an experiment because there is no control fly that does not get exposed to chi, let alone a reasonable number of flies to allow for variation between individuals. In short, it was crap, not science.

Norman Paterson, University of St Andrews 

22 Aug 2000 
I have just been reading some of your readers' comments on chi. The defensive and angry stance of skeptics is interesting to me - why feel so threatened by something just because you don't understand it? There is in fact nothing mystical about chi, it is simply life energy. I don't know anything about transferring knowledge via chi or bringing flies to life - that does sound like codswallop to me - but until you have felt chi move through your body as a direct result of simply moving your hand, you can hardly claim to know what you are talking about. And no, this is not "runner's high", or the result of releasing tensed up muscles - I have experienced chi while simply relaxing, standing still first thing in the morning and practising basic chi gung hand exercises. And no, it hasn't taken me years to learn how to do this - more like months. And no, it didn't cost much. The school where I learn Shaolin Kempo and Chen style tai chi provides straightforward instruction at a cost that would compare favourably to gym memberships and many sports. The point you seem to be missing is that nobody who practises chi gung, acupuncture, acupressure and the like claim there is anything mystical about it. Chi is no more supernatural than the air we breathe. There will always be opportunists who try to capitalise on people's ignorance and give those with real knowledge a bad name. The sad thing is, your skepticism is just ignorance in another form.

Krista Huls

reply: Thank you for setting the record straight and helping me gain knowledge and remove my ignorance about chi. But I am a bit puzzled. On the one hand you dismiss out of hand the beliefs of others who, like you, think chi is real. Yet, you say you've never heard of such notions. Then, you say that there is nothing mystical about chi. I agree. But then you say that those who have not felt chi can't know chi; or, in short, to know chi is to feel chi. I agree with that, too. But it is a giant epistemological leap to conclude that one's subjective experience defines reality, which is what you seem to be claiming. For, despite your subjective feelings of energy, no objective detection or measurement of energy has ever been made of chi. I find this mysterious. Every other energy we can feel, we can also detect and measure objectively.

You say that chi is no more supernatural than the air we breathe. Well, if you followed that up with the claim that chi is just the feeling we get when we breathe a certain way and introduce more oxygen to blood stream, etc., then I might think you were a serious investigator of these things. As it is, you come across as someone who is easily satisfied with an explanation that fits what you want to believe and who does not seek contrary evidence in an effort to avoid error. Your observations are unlikely to assist anyone investigating these matters.

Krista replies

23 Aug 2000
Feel free to stay ignorant about chi or anything else, it is you who is missing out. You too are letting your subjective experience (or rather lack of) define your idea of reality by claiming there is no such thing as chi just because you haven't seen, felt or measured it. People just like you once denied the existence of germs, molecules, the earth being round and many other things that they had not seen, felt or measured. My point was that it's pretty closed-minded to attack something if you have never experienced it or tried to experience it. You have every right to doubt phenomena that you have no proof of, I too doubt a lot of things I hear, but I am not so arrogant as to completely dismiss them just because they are outside my realm of experience. I was pretty skeptical about chi when I first started chi gung (energy cultivation) practise - my objective was to improve my kempo through relaxation and grounding my stance in tai chi, but I have felt something called chi, prana, life force, energy, call it what you will, that flows through my body when I do certain tai chi exercises, it's not something I can explain any other way.

Krista Huls

reply: I believe you.

10 Dec 99
First off, I like the page. I tend to be a skeptic. I don't try to be, but basically I just have a hard time buying all that crap. For things I'm not informed enough to dispel in my mind, but doubt anyway, the dictionary is really enlightening.

Basically I read the comments on Chi power and Chi gung, and although I don't want to spend too much time on this, I felt I had something to add for the side of skepticism. So if there's room to post this, and it sounds worthy, I'd appreciate it.

Hasn't anyone who ever took any Chi based arts ever had a decent working knowledge of physiology? Chi-based arts have been around for hundreds of years with thousands of people practicing it for many hours. All these Chi effects a result of the fact that over all these years Chi practitioners have learned to manipulate the body to create a variety of physiological effects. I took Tai Chi and Kung Fu from the same instructor and I could tell that a lot of the effects I felt were simply results of changes in blood flow and muscle tension resulting from precise exertion. Even my instructor admitted these things played a role. Increased blood flow causes heat; releasing of tensed muscles causes what can be interpreted as waves of pleasure. I could try to give specific examples from my experiences, but I guess the most well known example would be how you get a head rush or things get dark when you stand up too fast from sitting because of blood flow. It's augmented because people really want to believe and that affects their interpretations and memories of what happens. If they weren't, they might assume their muscles, circulatory, and nervous systems were reacting to strange positions instead of attributing it to a mystical power. The whole mystical power idea probably comes from the origins of the Chi arts when so little was known about physiology that appropriate explanations were beyond their capacity so it was attributed to mystical powers. Bigger arms, legs, and strength as well as the burn from weight lifting aren't considered to originate from mystical sources and neither should the sensations of Tai Chi and similar exercise.
Scott Hartl

For several years I practiced Asian martial arts for fun and fitness. Last year, however, I quit altogether when the claims made by certain practitioners about the extraordinary feats of Chi Kung (Qi-Gong) they had performed or witnessed became too much for me to remain silent about, and I was made unwelcome for not sharing the belief they had in them.

In my city, London, Ontario, Canada, there are more than thirty-five martial arts schools, teaching over 3,000 students, many of them children. Not all of these schools cultivate a mystical approach to martial arts, but many of them do. One local teacher claimed that his own instructor could teach merely by touching - the transmitted chi contained the day's lesson!

Martial arts literature is resplendent with claims about Chi K'ung. A full page advertisement in "Inside Kung-Fu" magazine boasts that the "Scientific Premium Company USA" can "instruct you how to develop Chi Power." For a mere $47.95 (plus shipping and handling) you receive a "Chi Power Poster, Chi Power Plus Booklet...plus instructions of how to create a Chi Power Voice." An additional $29.95 gets you a "Pressure Point Chart." Says the blurb, "Move objects with Chi Power without touching them. Move an object with your eyes only. Extinguish a candle flame with your eyes only. Lift a bowl of water with Yin Chi...repel birds, dogs, with your eyes only...erase pain completely with Pressure Points...for most, it works the first day! But if you need help phone us toll free!"

I have so far resisted the lure of learning these "dark secrets of the Orient," but it is heartening to know that there is a 1-800 customer service line available in the event I am unable to perform such feats of Chi K'ung as "repelling birds." (Which reminds me of comedian Steven Wright's line that he "can levitate birds - but nobody cares.")

What's distressing is that this advertisement ran monthly in this magazine and a few others for more than a year. For all I know, it still is running. So it seems likely that the Scientific Premium Company is getting at least enough responses to pay for their ad.

The March/April 1994 issue of "Karate International" contains an article in which the author, James Patrick Lacy, having courageously chosen to "let science decide" describes an experiment where a master of Chi-Kung brought a fly back from the dead using his chi. Lacy describes,

"A fly is caught and put inside a small ginseng bottle...the bottle is filled with water...the fly becomes lifeless looking and the water is drained. The fly is put on a piece of paper while I watch (the Qi-Gong master) wave his healing Qi over the fly about seven times. We sit back and wait a few minutes...the experiment is concluded as I watch the fly start to walk around again."

Lacy breathlessly concludes, "many speak about authentic Qi, but few attempt to prove it in such authentic classical experiments." One can scarcely imagine why.

The consequences of all this are not insignificant. While the belief in chi is deeply rooted in Asian culture, in the west, many people are being persuaded to believe that Chi Gong can impart psychokinetic powers, invulnerability to physical injury, illness, even HIV, according to one recent article in "Inside Kung-Fu".

Students at one martial arts school I attended performed exercises to cultivate "inner power" and "body hardness," which included permitting others to strike their stomach, shins, thighs, and forearms, even solar plexus and rib cage with full power punches and kicks. Since I was not paying $75 a month to receive internal injuries, I stopped going.

Many of those being punched over and over in the stomach to develop their "Chi power" were minors, and nothing was ever said about what the long-term consequences of such beatings might be, not to mention the immediate risk of allowing oneself to be hit. Students who were injured were admonished that they must redouble their efforts to prevent further injury!

I even know a physics major who insisted that his teacher could use his chi to send a student "flying across the room" with the merest touch. I admonished him that slugging a student and causing him to fall over is hardly evidence of psychokinetic abilities, but he was quite adamant that such a thing was possible. I put it down to communal reinforcement.
Graham Broad

01 Jan 1997
I was just reading your wonderful dictionary when I came across the "bringing the fly back from the dead" story in the entry on Chi. This is an old bar bet I've done many times. Try it to impress your friends. Here's how it goes:

First catch a fly without injuring it, (this is harder than you might think!). Then you must "drown" the fly in water, (this is also rather tricky, it's hard to keep the little guy under the water. This will take a while). Next put the "dead" fly on a paper towel. If you like you may add some magic powder (salt). Soon the fly will come back to life, (and you didn't even have to use CPR!). Now declare yourself a god and demand to be worshipped.

The reason this works is that a fly has no lungs, it can't drown. Being submerged just puts it into shock. When the fly dries out, (the salt helps to draw out the water) it seems to come back to life. I learned this trick from some old TV movie. I can't remember what it was called or what it was about, but I thought the trick was really cool.

Thanks for providing one of the best sights on the net!
Peter Sosna 

30 Mar 1998 
Hi Mr. Carroll, I just read your article about the Qi-Gong article, and I'm wondering why you never gave any explanation for the feats, which I've personally seen and inspected, of breaking chopsticks with paper, or bending a pole of real steel with their necks.  They have offered the explanation of Qi-Gong but you have not offered any other scientific explanation.  Why is that? Until you do, shouldn't we assume that they're right?  I have personally inspected with my hands the bent steel, and found that it was real steel, and I inspected the chopsticks before they were broken and found them to be real and normal chopsticks as well.  Where's your "scientific" explanation of these seemingly impossible feats?

reply: You don't need a "scientific" explanation of these events. They are "seemingly impossible" only because you know nothing about magic tricks and deception. Furthermore, why do you conclude that because you have been given a metaphysical explanation of an event,  you should assume that explanation is the best possible until proved otherwise?

17 Jun 1996

I read what was written about "chi" in your dictionary. I think your skeptic attitude is justified. For every good thing, there is someone else who will attempt to control it or profit from it. There are many who prey on the gullibility of others. I have my own thoughts on what chi may indeed be, being a skeptic also. After training in Kenpo and kung-fu for over a decade, I believed I have experienced many times the wonderful feeling that chi can bring. It's not supernatural but it is powerful. Probably, every athlete has experienced chi power at one time. Basically, it's just runner's high. That super juiced up feeling that comes with hours of training and pushing the body and mind to its limits. The body merely releases an adrenaline dump through the system... increasing ones strength and endurance. However; adrenaline contains cortisone like properties which, in larger than normal amounts( like those from intense exercising), can cause psychotic like reactions and illogical thought processes. An adrenaline HIGH. Just like a weak hit of LSD that only lasts 10-20 minutes.

The same thing can happen during stressful events or in individuals that suffer from panic attacks. The feeling one gets during an adrenaline high while in a controlled state like a breathdown after an intense workout can be overpowering. One is truly at one with their body. The practitioners of chi feel as though they are stronger (which they are for a little bit) and faster (which they temporarily are as well). The effect on their mind allows them to block out background stimuli and focus on their goal more effectively. All of this is what any athlete is aiming for, because it allows them to perform better. A chi master would merely be an individual who can control when their adrenaline dumps. i.e.: like a boxer when the bell rings or a swimmer seconds before the starting signal. No big mystery... The shit about healing? Refer to acupuncture or else read about how aliens brought the ancients great healing powers from Atlantis and gave us magic beans! I never give much credit to the great healing powers of chi. Better immune system? That's probably because chi practitioners are suppose to be really healthy athlete's. Know anyone who claims these powers who sits around all day snarfing back beer and cheetos?

Incidentally, this same response that describes chi as an adrenaline rush also describes the Christian feeling of "the holy spirit". From all accounts that I have heard they merely describe their brush with god's power and do no more than to describe a body's defensive response to a nervous situation. Keep up the good work.

Trevor Whitman

larrow.gif (1051 bytes)more chi comments


larrow.gif (1051 bytes) ch'i and chi kung

All Reader Comments

This page was designed by Cristian Popa.