37. The Thorn in the Eye of the Needle

September 29, 2018 Mind-Body Column No Comments

Acupuncture is a matter of art and philosophy, not of steel and energy.

It exists already for so lang. Surely that cannot be true if it would not be effective?

But of course it can. Just as a reminder: until the early nineteenth century, we in Europe have been happy with ‘body fluids medicine’, for one thousand six hundred years. This medicine was based on the 4 ‘body fluids’ (phlegm, blood, green and black bile). On the menu were bloodletting, leeches, clysmata… to bring the fluids back into balance. Was that effective? Not according to current medical science. Yet it was ‘established knowledge’ for many centuries.

The placebo effect makes everything seem effective.

Just as long as it is something. It’s even more fun when it goes hand in hand with a nice theory. In that case, it will easily stay in effect for 1600 years or longer. This is an important disadvantage of placebo: by making no matter what ‘work’, it hinders the progression of serious science.

Moreover, there is the ‘placebo of the authority of old age’.

By thinking that something that already exists for so long, cannot be wrong, it is just being perpetuated. Even if it is wrong. This is part of the story of acupuncture itself. In China, it was represented as ‘very old’ from the very beginning and so it was thought to be reliable and praiseworthy. Well, even in that time I would also not have called it very thrust worthy, given many epidemic of jaundice by non-sterilized needles. At the same time, modern acupuncture is not old. In the 30 ‘s, the needling was as good as dead in China itself. It was Mao who introduced it again, mainly because there wasn’t enough money for Western medicine. A matter of doing at least something. And that is when one began to use acupuncture for anesthesia. Recent developments are ear-acupuncture and with a similar homunculus-idea: acupuncture on hand, foot, face and nose.

Effectiveness not proven, ineffectiveness indeed

A German study (GERAC, +/-2007) checked the impact of acupuncture on chronic head and back pain. Result: ‘verum acupuncture’ is as effective as ‘fake acupuncture’. So it simply does not matter where you are sticking the needles, it doesn’t even matter that you stick them. The only thing of importance, is the mental process of the patient. A surprising aspect of the GERAC-study is that both verum and fake acupuncture show 2 x better results than care as usual. Based on these findings, acupuncture is now refunded in Germany. In good translation: “Dear people, this doesn’t make any sense… but we will still refund it anyway.” Who remembers the saying “It always pays to tell the truth”?

An American study led to similar results: acupuncture is as effective as a placebo… The acu-train just keeps charging on. Meanwhile, studies on the subject show something fundamentally different, namely: the ‘inner strength’ of the human mind. No hocus pocus is needed, nor magic wands or ditto needles.

From steel needles to symbolic needles to no needles

In ancient China, the needles had a greater symbolic value than in the modern West. Of course it was never the intention of the Wise Old Men that their needles would end up in our materialistic environment. It’s also a fact that certain things are going wrong because of the translation. For example the Chi of that time (‘energy’ that supposedly passed through meridians and was affected by needles had/has nothing to do with the Western understanding of measurable energy. Since Einstein, we know that <Energy = matter>. Chi, however, is something like ‘art’ or ‘love’: something that does not exist outside the one that experiences or perceives it. And it can certainly not be measured with an instrument!

So, in origin it is more about symbolic needles than about needles of steel.

Chi is a symbolic principle, no measurable energy. The whole is a philosophy of striving for harmony (Yin and Yang) between man and the world, or even between man and the ‘underlying invisible world’. So, even in modern times it is best to see the needles as what they have always been: symbolism. Then the steel needles, however, are no longer needed. All that remains is the symbolism. Perhaps that is less exotic,

but at least it is reality.

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