Acupuncture and Energy Medicine

by Dr. Bruce Goldberg


In 1971 an American journalist witnessed major surgery being conducted using acupuncture as the sole means of anesthesia. He reported his observation in The New York Times, igniting a great deal of interest in the subject. Acupuncture was suddenly taken more seriously in the West, and a considerable amount of subsequent research has been conducted into the way acupuncture "works."

Early research suggested that the measured effects were purely neurological in origin (the so-called gate theory, or the reduction of pain sensations by stimulating alternative nerve pathways), whereas later research implicated various chemical mechanisms (e.g., endorphins transported via the bloodstream).

Though this kind of research has gone a long way toward giving acupuncture the recognition it deserves in the West, it has tended to focus excessive attention on pain control, thereby de-emphasizing acupuncture's wider range of therapeutic effects while ignoring the theoretical basis of Chinese medicine that created the system in the first place (the ch'i energy theory).

There are exceptions to the above rule, of course. A major conference organized by the World Research Foundation, called The Congress of Bioenergetic Medicine, was held in Los Angeles in November 1986. The conference aimed to bridge the gap between medicine and latest discoveries in physics, and included detailed discussions of acupuncture and homeopathy. Particularly active researchers in these disciplines are Professor Williams Tiller of Stanford University, California, and Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama in Tokyo. Both scientists had been involved for many years in serious scientific study of the body's subtle energy systems. Dr. Motoyama invented a sophisticated diagnostic tool premised on the energy flow within the body's meridians, which is now in Japanese hospitals, and to a lesser extent in the United States , for early detection of organic imbalance.

The fact that this kind of research is still so rare demonstrates the difficulty of uniting the Western medical worldview with that of energy medicine. That this is not simply a problem of Eastern and Western thought disjunction has been clearly shown by Professor Tiller's research into acupuncture and the purely Western system of homeopathy. Fundamental to acupuncture's "orphaned" status is the medical profession's vague aversion to the concept of subtle energy.

Energy medicine accepts the existence of subtle energy system within body, holding that manipulating the body energetically can cause physical, material changes to take place. Matter and energy are understood to be completely interchangeable-in fact, they are regarded as being, ultimately, the same thing. These ideas are common coin among disciples of post-Einsteinium "energy psychics," but the Western medical viewpoint remains rooted in an outdated , Newtonian worldview, the same one that has shaped Western conceptions of material reality for 300 years. This worldview has inculcated the notion that body is a collection of component parts, not an integrated whole; a collection of individual organs and chemical reactions, not a dynamic being; and , perhaps most tragically, it sees the mind as being completely separate from the body.

Of course, the scientific method has had its successes and advantages, but as medicine moves forward technologically, we appear to be losing sight of the concept of health care, of the everyday maintenance of health, and the promotion of overall well-being.

The Chinese term for psychics is Wu Li, which may be translated as "patterns of organic energy." Acupuncture is essentially as energy medicine, acting on the body's subtle energy system to bring about changes in the mind and the body. In order to begin to understand it in Western terms, we must accept the interchangeable nature of energy and mass, of mind and body. We must also accept the idea that the fundamental essence of nature is change and indeterminance.

The fact that the new physics corroborates these is notions is surely exciting, but if the technology of this new science were to be employed in research into the subtle energies of the body and its intercalated meridian system, great advances into our understanding of " energy medicine system", might be made. Historically, the kind of equipment necessary to technological advances may put acupuncture on a scientifically verifiable basis in the very near future.