Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

5.6. Chinese Medicine

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c) the missing distinction between cause and effect

The well trained Chinese therapist has a different way to perceive the process of disease. For him the disease is the felt place, the symptom is the felt symptom, the cause is the observed outer reason (König/Wancura 1979: 188). And all the three are interrelated. That is, the digital distinction of cause and effect is inexistent.

Causes of diseases in Chinese medicine are inner factors like

  • joy, fear, anxiety, worry, anger, grief, heredity,

and outer factors like

  • heat, cold, fire, humidity, wind, dryness, dampness

Each outer factor is related with an inner factor. So cold and fear belong together. They are not only the cause, but the consequence as well. Fear may cause cold and cold may cause fear. Cause and the reactional type are equated (König/Wancura 1979: 185). Only a cold type suffers from cold, only an angry type develops anger. Such relations are rarely observed in a Western scientific setting. A comparable finding is that outer warmth (in holding a warm cup) also increases ‘warm’ feelings like generosity and caring (Williams/Bargh 2008).

This identity of feelings and emotions is similarly found in Hippocratic medicine. The list of its causes is not only about the same as in acupuncture. The two methods also resemble in the missing distinction of cause and effect. “Cholê is both Achilles' anger and the inner juice his body has accumulated in excess ever since his days as a nursling at the breast” (Hanson AE). The main difference between Hippocratic and Chinese medicine is that the Hippocratic vital force is a humour and the Chinese is a steam.

This identity of cause and effect cannot be expressed in digital definitions. Therefore it is impossible to nail down a distinction like body/mind or disease/no disease.

Naturally, western doctors have difficulties with such relational ideas. Therefore, there was always a tendency to ‘translate’ acupuncture into Western concepts, to digitalize it. First, all acupuncture points have been given numbers in the West. In Chinese medicine they have only a name according to their (psycho-somato-semiotic) characteristics. The Western point 'Liver 2' is in Chinese XING JIAN which translates into 'to walk the space between'. Or 'Lung 3' is originally 'Heavenly Palace' (TIAN FU) and 'Exchange Pledges, Communicate Faith' (JIAOXIN) became prosaically 'Kidney 8'.

Then, Western scholars soon found out that most (but not all) acupuncture points have a morphological substrate and are related to the course of a peripheral nerve (Schnorrenberger: 11). The localisation and function of certain points on the back, for example, the so-called SHU-points, correspond to the Head’s reflex zones in their localisation and function. They had only be detected some two thousand years earlier by Chinese doctors (Beissner et al. 2009).

These points (illustration) serve as trigger points and can be used to influence the inner organs of the chest and the abdomen. Their use (SHU-MU therapy) has a prominent position in the Western acupuncture. That is, these acupuncture points can be interpreted in a stimulus-response manner according to somato-neuro-visceral reflexes (Pomeranz 1997, Süß/Scharl 2004).

The technique to influence inner regulation through the so-called atherom, a neuro-humero-visceral complex (chap. 4.8), is no speciality of acupuncture. Such therapies are quite common in CAM and even in orthodox medicine (König/Wancura 1979: 31). These points are used in

  • manual therapy (bones, joints),
  • massage (muscles),
  • infiltration of a local anaesthetics (neuro-muscular),
  • points far from the symptom (acupuncture).

An attempt to explain how acupuncture might influence pain on such a segmental level was the ‘gate control theory’. Some ‘gates’ that control the transmission of signals in the fibre had been postulated (Kampik 1988: 17), but this theory has later been abandoned, as it does not explain a lot of findings, e.g., how effects of acupuncture might persist after the needle is removed (Martindale 2001). Hormonal models have been used, as well. “Inserting needles at acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release morphine-like substances that block pain signals. It may also trigger neurotransmitters and neurohormones, which influence such dynamic systems as circulation and the immune response” (Martindale 2001). In rats it could be shown that this mechanism might lead to reduced blood pressure via endogen opioids (Zhou et 2005). Some also propagate a model of electrical organisation of the body or evolutionary theories (Shang 2004) Kampik summarized the models for acupuncture effects (Kampik: 17):

  • Segmental effect
  • neurophysiological effect in a larger context
  • neuro-humoural effects
  • biochemical changes
  • bioelectrical changes



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