Science and Qi

Posted By on November 13, 2009

“Cody Finds A New Coffeeshop”

.: On Wednesday I visited the George Street Co-op with Sam who was there to post some of his artwork. As I approached the barista in the upstairs café, he listed the standard categories of offerings along with choice descriptions. Everything they sell – tea, coffee, wraps – is organic, he explained, including the materials used to make the teabags themselves. I was instantly relieved, for I cannot tell you how many times I have been disappointed by tealeaf containment strategies that turn out to be silica-based.

.: While waiting for my All-Natural Organic Moroccan Mint Tea to seep, I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings and took a look at the table of contents. The featured articles seemed harmless enough:

Pain Management For Arthritis Sufferers (page 14)
Don’t Fence Me In – Go with a Free-range Gobbler (page 16)
Refocusing the American Dream – Young Adults Adopt Simpler Lifestyles (page 18)
A Pet’s First Visit To The Vet – Tips to Avoid Trauma (page 20)
Living Simply (page 24)
Breathe In, Breathe Out (page 28)

.: In other words, your standard magazine fluff. However, my eyes widened at the last item: Chinese Concept of Qi – Supported by Western Science by Fran Maher & Brian Coffey, on page 36. My first thought was to recall what Alan Leshner said in his talk:

“Surveys show time and again that people like science. Those same surveys also show that people don’t know what the hell science is.”

.: Will Mrs. Maher and Mr. Coffey’s article bring this assessment into doubt? Let’s see what Western science has to say. Take it away, M & C:

Recently, cutting-edge physics and cellular biology have been proving theories that relate directly to the concept of Qi. This blending of Eastern and Western thought has provided new insights.

.: Hot damn! I’m a biologist, and I love learning about new techniques. New insights sound like just what I need to jumpstart my dissertation. What can you tell me?

Science has shown that every atom has infinitely more energy than it has matter.

.: Ah, I understand now. When you were talking about Western science supporting the Chinese concept of Qi, what you really meant by “Western science” was “Shit that’s too hard for us to understand.” But Fran, Brian – sit down for a second. Here, let me introduce you to a friend of mine. Heck, you’ve probably even met her already. Her name is E = mc2. See that little equal sign in her midriff? Those things don’t like to hang around with infinities. Oh, I see you’re eyes are glazing over. Let’s review: E stands for energy, and m stands for—

.: Yes, energy.

.: No, that’s not what—

.: Okay, just bear with me here. When I say “energy” all I mean is “the capacity to do work.” Pay attention. I’ll explain what work is later. Now, E stands for energy, m stands for mass, and c stands for the speed of light. Please note that c does not stand for light – only the magnitude of light’s velocity. It’s a number, not an entity. (I’m only going to such pains to explain all this because it’s evident that you are both morons.)

.: Shut up. You said that every atom has infinitely more energy than it has matter, and you had the gall to say that beneath a headline that claims Qi is supported by Western science. You don’t get to talk any more. Now, what other crap fell out of you and onto this paper?

The speed of electromagnetic energy signals in the body (and elsewhere) is 186,000 miles per second.

.: First, SI units plz. Second, no, not elsewhere. Hardly anywhere, in fact, and definitely not in our bodies. The speed of light (which is what your clunky phrase “electromagnetic energy signals” is alluding to) has been measured at 299,792,458 meters per second in a vacuum. In air it’s slightly slower, and in water it’s slower still. If you’re talking about “electromagnetic energy signals” in our bodies, then you’re probably thinking about nerve impulses. They may be fast, but they are six orders of magnitude more sluggish than light.

The Chinese have long believed that these measurable energies, now proven to be communicating in the body, were sensed by their ancestors.

.: Then however long they’ve believed that is however long they’ve been wrong. That said, considering your numerous misrepresentations of “Western science” (as if there are no modern physicists in the East), I would be surprised if you haven’t thoroughly botched your understanding of Qi as well.

Over time, they learned to use the energies as a subtle form of assessment and intervention to build, circulate, and balance Qi.

.: Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz.

.: See? I can write gibberish too. It’s not hard. Perhaps I might even make some good money from it. It’s so much easier than developing a consistent vocabulary free of ambiguity and rigorously referenced to experiment.

Learn how to put Qi to work for you at a 6-day Qi Healer Intensive seminar.

.: Now it all makes sense. This isn’t an article – it’s an ad for your cockamamie basement seminar series. It just happens to have a listing in the table of contents as if it were a real article. Curious, that.

.: Okay, I’m through with you. Let’s check out some of the entries in the Community Resource Guide (i.e., the classifieds). First up, under the category of Holistic Practictioners comes the man whose email address is

Dr. Ripley specializes in holistic chiropractic, vibrational medicine, spinal decompression, and health coaching. He has also developed the inborn abilities to intuitively analyze nerve/energy pathway interference and facilitate its natural flow through the body.

.: The first part I can follow; he’s caught up in your standard fare of healthcare woo. The second part trips me up, though. If those abilities are inborn, why does he need to develop them? That’s like saying piano playing is inborn – you just need to practice. And do those words even mean anything? If I search for “nerve/energy pathway” in Google, will I get more than six results pointing to highly dubious sources? No? Moving along then…

.: Second, from Energy Healting/Intuitive Work we have Caryn Connolly:

Using a unique blend of energy healing techniques, art, and divine communication, Caryn will balance your chakras allowing abundance and healing to flow freely into your life.

.: You can read all about her and her amazing Technicolor testimonials at

.: And finally, take a trip down Anachronism Lane and visit your local 21st century Shamanic Healer, Mary Beth Spitz:

Harvest Dreams Healing – Harvesting your dreams through conscious intent. Offering Medicine Wheel Workshops which is an awakening process, methods tried and true, as ancient as planet earth, individual energy healings, spiritual journeys to Peru, past life work, aura photography.

.: Planet Earth is close to 4.5 billion years old. Anatomically modern humans are roughly 200,000 years old. I’m willing to bet methods for making shit up are closer in age to the latter than the former.

.: Okay.

.: So why am I writing about this? Why am I poking fun of these wackaloons when I could just be on my way with my $2 Moroccan Mint tea and leave them alone? It’s not very nice of me to respond so rudely towards other people whose only crime is believing differently from me, is it? Well, maybe. If they kept their beliefs to themselves, then I could see how I might come off as rude. But no, they’re charging for services based on their beliefs. Nobody cries foul at Consumer Reports for demonstrating how certain products fail to live up to marketing promises, why should beliefs be held to lower standards?

.: Also, I just spent the last five years in a conservative Texas town, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might get away from the attitude that says it’s okay to ignore the world around us and make believe for real. It’s disheartening to see people who actually support causes that truly matter (equality for all, peace not war, relief for the impoverished and oppressed) get caught up in this nonsense. Is it too much to ask for some quality control?

.: Before we left the Co-op, I made Sam read the article on Qi. He giggled appropriately because it was ridiculous. When I showed him advertisements in another magazine that promised cures and healings for afflictions like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, autism, and AIDS, his giggles became increasingly uncomfortable. It’s all well and good to be respectful of differing worldviews, but sometimes you have to call the fuckers out for what they really are: evil, stupid fuckers.

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4 Responses to “Science and Qi”

  1. Sarah says:

    I totally know Fran and Brian from my former place of employment. I didn’t know that they wrote articles!
    They told me (and a roomful of people) about breatharians.

  2. Cody says:

    Just out of curiosity, how did you stumble across this post? Were you googling Fran and Brian’s names or what?

  3. Sarah says:

    No, I was sent to your blog to read the Thanksgiving essay, and the post about the co-op got my attention because I used to shop there. It was just a funny coincidence that you wrote about Brian and I used to know him. I booked classes at a botanical garden, and he was one of our instructors.

  4. Cody says:

    Okay, now you got me even more curious: how did you stumble across the Thanksgiving post?

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