Kelly Hallstrom, one of the senior Tai Chi students at Shaolin Kung Fu Centers in Worcester, recently shared her thoughts on Tai Chi and health benefits. Using an ancient psychological technique, called introspection, she concludes that Tai Chi is good for her own personal mind & body. However, as a candidate for the Ph.D. in microbiology, she also shares some thoughts about science and how science is applied to understand Tai Chi.
I couldn’t resist offering some thoughts of my own. (Thanks, Kelly!) However, the comments in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette Blog only allow for 2000 characters. I wrote slightly more…
Ah, Western Science and Western Medicine. In the western world, if a domain of knowledge is making a claim about the human body, that is the property of physics, i.e. physics-based (material) medicine. So an art that is claiming to stimulate a region of the body through the use of energy flows, targeting and benefiting specific pieces of anatomy (organs)… Then this shall be deemed close enough to medicine that western science must be applied. And if the claims within the art cannot be objectively measured using physical apparati, then the art itself must be categorized as psuedo-science.
In other words, if I open my qua and trigger the dantien to send energy up my back, then science should be able to put an electronic device on me and make a needle move when I do that. And when we cannot do that, we much conclude that Tai Chi itself (the art) is pseudo-sience.
To that, I say ‘No.’ It is not correct to measure a field or domain on something that it does not claim to do, and therefore conclude that the art is pseudoscientific.
I do think it is fair to assess consequences while using scientific techniques.
I find that the study you referenced is scientific.
Did the study control for all possible variables? As you pointed out, no. However, few studies control for all possible variables. Can the study be replicated? Probably. Can additional studies be performed to control for other variables? Probably.
I think it is valid to say that when people do Tai Chi, there is a measured increase in health as indicated by studies in which this, that, and the other health-related thing was observed. That is the scientific way of making a claim.
Can we claim that the Tai Chi is the thing that directly causes the increase in health? No. It will always be plausible that there may be something that the person does while doing Tai Chi that itself is the cause, instead of the Tai Chi. And we may never be able to directly see the true cause.
I think we gain the best focus on pseudoscience when we look at the method that is applied to understand it. I think there are many practitioners in Chinese medicine, Qi Gong, Tai Chi and other areas which are using pseudoscientific methods. I’m sure there are people out there who are making claims which are “made in the context of educating the public about questionable or potentially fraudulent or dangerous claims and practices—efforts to define the nature of science, or humorous parodies of poor scientific reasoning.”*
But I’m not sure that the art itself is making claims that are to be a scientific method.
Similarly, I wouldn’t say the Southern Baptist religion is a pseudoscience. But I would say that there are Southern Baptist Ministers who are making pseudo-scientific claims when they are engaged in faith healing.
* List of topics characterized as pseudoscience – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_topics_characterized_as_pseudoscience