The science of Eastern medicine

Chinese Medicine is a complete system of health care that has been in continuous use for thousands of years.  During that time, and over the generations, it has been refined, expanded, discussed and elaborated.  There are hundreds of separate approaches to Chinese Medicine, but the system taught at universities was put together by the Chinese government in the 1960s and called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

It is a superb complement to Western medicine because the way that we view the body, health and illness is very different from Western medicine.  It is another perspective from which to see the body and therefore adds another layer of information to the experience of health and illness.

As a Westerner, it can be very difficult to grasp just how different the approaches are.  When we learn science at school, or even in medical school, it is often based on underlying assumptions about what the world is made of and who we are in relation to the world.

I was very fortunate to study the History and Philosophy of Science during my Psychology degree, so I understand how most of us in the West just take these assumptions to be true without question.  But as cutting-edge physicists have been discovering for many decades, how things really are is actually very much like ancient Eastern ideas about energy and matter.

Chinese medicine is based on the ideas of Taoism – the indivisible one-ness of everything is the Tao.  This one-ness expresses itself as the ever-changing interplay of opposites – Yin and Yang.  Everything in the universe is made of energy, and this is shaped by information to become matter – this is Qi (or Chi).  Chi, while constantly dancing in Yin and Yang forms, makes up everything in the world that we can see, hear, touch.

Is Eastern medicine scientific?

Westerners who dismiss Eastern medicine because it looks “unscientific” might be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Centuries upon centuries of carefully gathered information is there for us to make use of – to relieve suffering and improve the lives of the human inhabitants of this world.

The Western scientific method is simple:

  1. Look at something that is happening in the world
  2. Describe it as best you can
    (the best scientists try to see everything as though they have no prior knowledge, so everything is fresh and tiny details are noticed)
  3. Think of a way to explain why this is happening
    (this is called a theory or a model)
  4. Test it to see if it happens again in the same way – if it does, add it to the knowledge bank and see how you can grow your theory or model to explain more things


The Eastern scientific model is exactly the same.

The difference is that the Taoists saw humans as being completely intertwined within the natural world, so the language is naturalistic (“Wind”, “Cold”, “Damp” etc).  These are labels to help everyone talk about the theory or model and understand each other.

In Western science and medicine, Latin or Greek words are used.  Most people don’t understand Latin or Greek, so straight away the knowledge is more out of reach than if plain language was used.  For example, “dermatitis” comes from the Greek “derma” meaning skin, and “itis” which refers to inflammation.  So it means “inflamed skin”.  Where does the word “inflammation” come from?  From the Latin meaning “to set on fire”.

So dermatitis is heat in the skin.  In Chinese medicine, it is also heat in the skin. Those fancy medical words sometimes mask a basic way of seeing the body that is shared across cultures.

Of course, nowadays Western scientific medicine is very detailed, focusing down to tiny genes, proteins and molecules.

Chinese medicine is broad and flexible, looking at how the system of the body works and using the self-repair abilities of the body to recover from disease and prevent further problems.

We are very blessed in this country to have access to both of these medical systems.  They can be used together – this is the great benefit of Complementary Medicine. It adds a very useful new dimension to your healing process.