Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 14th, 2014

 

Here’s a question I’m posing to some of my experimental parapsychologist colleagues.  It might stretch your imagination a little.  If a good answer turns up, I’ll post something on it.

For the last couple of years, my wife and I have been going to classes in Tai Chi Chah, a form of the Chinese art of Tai Chi, adapted to older folks who really aren’t up to balancing on one leg, but would like to get some good stretching.  At various times during the exercises, we hold the palms of our hands facing each other and see if we can feel the subtle energy of chi.  I’ve been able to do that from the beginning.  From the Tai Chi perspective, I’ve learned to detect a subtle, “non-physical” energy.

But when I was very active in hypnosis research some 50 years ago, one of our standard ways of assessing suggestibility and hypnotizability was to have a subject hold their hands in front of them, palms facing each other, and suggest they would feel a force between them.  This is not a difficult suggestion, in that most ordinary people would feel something, and often feel it quite strongly.  By wording the suggestions appropriately, you can make it an attractive force, so the hands move together, or a repulsive force, so the hands move apart, experientially “all by themselves.”

So have I been learning to detect a subtle energy, or just exercising my imagination?

When I trained in the Japanese martial art of Aikido back in the 1970s – ki is central there, Ai (Harmony), Ki (subtle energy), Do (way)-  I knew I could look at this either way, maybe a real subtle energy, maybe imagination, but the distinction didn’t seem important, because clearly the idea of flowing ki (the Japanese word for chi) as part of attacking and defending, clearly provided a unifying mental template for the many different techniques we learned, and seemed to make the techniques work more smoothly and effectively.  When I occasionally taught Aikido to new people, I would talk about chi flows, sensing them, and sometimes correct students whose techniques weren’t working right by saying things to them like “It feels like there’s a gap in your ki flow at your elbow right here.”  It helped.

What I thought about this morning (instead of further developing my ability to concentrate by just sticking with the exercises) was whether we could ever really make discriminations between several possibilities.

(1) Is there really some kind of “subtle energy” called chi or ki, which in arts like Tai Chi or Aikido people learn to sense and direct?

(1A) When, in my hypnosis research, I thought I was controlling subjects’ imagination to sense an unreal force, might I have actually been, at least sometimes, teaching them to sense ki or chi?

(2) Or, a purely physicalist perspective, assuming our current knowledge of physical energies is essentially complete, then sensing or directing ki must always be a matter of just imagination?  (No doubt it is imagination sometimes)

(3) Or might we sometimes detect effects (biological, experiential, physical) when a person feels they are sensing and manipulating ki that we cannot find a conventional physical explanation for, but we can, drawing on parapsychological findings, attribute to the parapsychological phenomenon of psychokinesis, “mere PK?”  Or to some psychic “healing energy” form of PK, as in Bernard Grad’s classic experiments on healing?

(4) Or, since it’s not at all clear to me how to do this, are some of my colleagues smart enough to figure out an experimental design or designs to clarify things here?

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11 Responses to “Chi/Ki, Imagination, or Mere PK?”

  1. Craig says:

    Dr. Tart, I used to be skeptical about chi/ki until I heard an account of a close friend of mine, a 3 Don in a traditional Japanese martial art (to protect the anonymity of her and her teacher, I will not disclose which one). Once, she asked her master, ranked a grand master, what “ki” was. He responded by putting his fist to his belt and throwing her something that she saw as a bright spark of energy fly across the room toward her face. Nothing hit her. That was his answer. She thought she was the only one to experience that energy until, after class, another student asked her, “What did Hanshi throw at you?”

    I’m no martial artist, but as someone interested in Eastern philosophy and ideas, I feel that her teacher’s answer was just about as honest and accurate an answer that he could have given her.

    • Very poetic, I like it! Not too convincing that there was something “real” being thrown, though, as our brain has evolved to predict the trajectory of thrown objects – like rocks thrown at us. Run that subsystem a little faster, as it were, a the brain could fill in an “object.” Or maybe be sensitized to see actual ki…. ;-)

  2. Dr. Tart

    I read your Blog Post with interest, partly because this relates to a discussion subject that a little group that I facilitate covered in last month’s meeting and I found the timing interesting, but mostly because it is a subject that has interested me for some time. How can we use conventional science methodology to explore areas that are at best, considered unconventional?

    While I do not pretend to hold the formal education credentials of either you or your experimental parapsychologist colleagues, I do have a pretty good background in science, particularly physics, (BSEE 73 from Purdue), coupled with an interest in Eastern Occult Philosophy (as it was referred to in early Theosophy of the 1890’s to 1930’s) that I have pursued for nearly 40 years now, which provides me with the chutzpah needed to comment on someone of your stature’s blog post. 

    The challenge that I ran into in attempting to understand such topics as Prana Flow (Chi, Ki, etc.), Chakras, Multiple Bodies of Man, parallel Planes of Existence, etc., that continually showed up in the texts that I was studying was how to reconcile these concepts with the Conventional Space Time (CST) view of reality of conventional science? I was, and am, quite comfortable with working within the CST framework as an engineer, but both personal experience (anecdotal evidence I know), and studying the work of such pioneers in parapsychology as William James and J.B. Rhine long ago led me to accept that there is a lot more to the Universe than just CST.

    As an act of mental self-preservation, I came up with a model that combined the Occult Philosophy view of the universe of Seven Planes of Existence with the ten dimensional String Theory Model, as it was presented in the early 1970’s. This model has allowed me to understand how energy can exist and function is ways that seem to be incompatible within material world rules. Using this model I submit the following observations on your points.

    1. Is there really some kind of “subtle energy” called chi or ki, which in arts like Tai Chi or Aikido people learn to sense and direct?

    The answer is yes, but the challenge lays in that the form of the energy being what it is, it is not possible to measure or monitor it directly using material world technology, only its effects. But this is also true of much of science. We still have not come up with an accepted theory of just what gravity is, although we can certainly measure the effects of gravity and use it in our calculations with great effect.

    (1A) When, in my hypnosis research, I thought I was controlling subjects’ imagination to sense an unreal force, might I have actually been, at least sometimes, teaching them to sense ki or chi?

    What I have come to accept with respect the learning process involving what you describe as a possible “unreal force”, is that what we are doing in situations like this, and what you were doing in “controlling subjects imagination” is that we actually are aware of these energies in our full consciousness, but we have been culturally conditioned to ignore our sensing of them. So rather than teaching the subjects to sense unreal forces using their imagination, what I would say that you were doing is that you were assisting them to remember what they already knew, by making it culturally acceptable through the labeling of the process as it being a product of their imagination, thus removing the blocks set up by the culture that had conditioned to them to discount the sensing of these energies. I am sorry if that is convoluted, but it is a concept that I find difficult to express in just a few sentences and without an explanation of the model.

    (2) Or, a purely physicalist perspective, assuming our current knowledge of physical energies is essentially complete, then sensing or directing ki must always be a matter of just imagination? (No doubt it is imagination sometimes)

    In science, particularly in the area of consciousness studies, the assumption that our knowledge of physical energies as being essentially complete is what I perceive as the biggest barrier to ever understanding just what consciousness is, and how it works. Until it is accepted that there is at least the possibility that consciousness exists in a form that is in fact pure energy, not of the material plane (or at least existing at a frequency range not detectible by conventional test equipment), then there can be no research done that can be truly said to relevant to the subject.

    I have a little website where I put up an article or two a year on topics relating to this subject area and where some time back under the title of “Something to Ponder” I took a look at the single cell amoeba, Arcella, which has no brain, no nerves, no synapses to fire, and yet it demonstrates much of the same functionality with respect to consciousness and reasoning abilities that mammals do. So where is the mental process taking place? I have come to view DNA has having the same role to play as the old punch cards did in computer science. Yes, all the data is there in the DNA to direct the development of a specific life form, but how does that data get made use of? Where and what is the operating system (Windows, Apple, Dos, etc.) that takes that data and uses it to build cells? As it is not apparent in the physical, then it must exist in a form that is not of the physical.

    (3) Or might we sometimes detect effects (biological, experiential, physical) when a person feels they are sensing and manipulating ki that we cannot find a conventional physical explanation for, but we can, drawing on parapsychological findings, attribute to the parapsychological phenomenon of psychokinesis, “mere PK?” Or to some psychic “healing energy” form of PK, as in Bernard Grad’s classic experiments on healing?

    We can label it, but unfortunately labelling does not provide understanding.

    (4) Or, since it’s not at all clear to me how to do this, are some of my colleagues smart enough to figure out an experimental design or designs to clarify things here?

    As I pointed out earlier, the challenge lays with the form of the energy being what it is (if it is what I have come to believe it is as being beyond the parameters of CST), it is not possible to measure or monitor it directly using CST world conventional technology, only its effects. As I postulated in another article titled “On the Nature of Reality”, the transference of information and resultant effects of the non-physical on the physical, such as those that you listed in item (3) as “psychokinesis, or “mere PK”, can be modeled as a form of “wave energy”, similar to radio transmission, light, RF energy, etc.

    The real challenge in setting up experiments using the Scientific Method though is that, as I was taught it, the Scientific Method begins with the researcher observing the phenomenon to be studied. Then, after observing the phenomenon, the researcher is to formulate a preliminary hypothesis that would attempt to offer an explanation of what was observed. This hypothesis, and the predictions for the operating characteristics inherent in the model, would then be tested and the results evaluated for consistency with the hypothesis. But if the only hypothesis developed by a proponent of the materialism scientific worldview is that the observed phenomenon is the result of unknown material world causes, then only material science related potential causes will be likely to be explored in the testing.

    Additionally, a factor fundamental to designing a proper test using the scientific method is the requirement that (1) all variables related to the test are known, and (2) that all of the known variables can be monitored and recorded to show that they are consistent and unchanging from test to test. If science will not even acknowledge the possibility that anything exists outside of the limitations of physical world view, and there are in fact factors involved that are beyond the realm of conventional material science, then how can they identify the variables associated with the typical type of lab experiments that are done at present relating to the study of ESP. And, if they cannot, or choose to not identify the variables, how can they monitor them or determine if these unknown variables vary from test to test?

    Bottom line, the attitude of the researcher doing the experiment towards the subject matter of the experiment will impact the outcome of the experiment (wave transmission from thought impacting the variables of the experiment). To develop a workable research program in this area will require that the researcher have a far broader education than that of just the conventional PHD programs that I am aware of (although my knowledge in this area of formal education is admittedly limited).

    Sorry that this is so long, but it is a subject that I find I cannot discuss in just a few words and have it make any sense.

    Respectfully
    John R. DeLorez
    webmster@smopblog.com

  3. Tracy says:

    I believe they are the same, qi/chi and the imagination. Or that they are inseparable. I don’t know how you would test that though. I’d have to think on it.

    If we are aswim in a field/the field and only momentary separations then when we turn our attention to something aren’t we also turning our qi to it. A man who had a near death experience and that being his second one asked the beings who were there waiting on him in that near death dimension, ‘How do you get here so quickly?’ He meant how did they arrive to where he was located so instantaneously. They told him and in this order, “Attention, intention and electromagnetism.”

    And yet Russian scientists have learned that if they use certain frequencies to shut off the conscious brain, they can introduce information into the ‘subconscious’ brain (and now I’m no longer certain how to define that after this information and other similar information) that will change the DNA enough to alter phenotypical expression. It resolved a child’s battle with a genetic disease. They haven’t perfected the delivery of this information though. But they do know that words, yes words can be used to change the DNA.

    And with my own experiences with this sort of technology I am certain that there is very little if any separation between the imagination and qi. So we should all let it flow with the best of intentions, right?

    Best Wishes,
    Tracy

  4. mystic1muse says:

    Perhaps you already know of this link, but there is this that seems to relate to the research aspect:
    http://councilforhealing.org/rsch_wxyz.html

    Also, I will share some personal experiences related to your question set if you would send me a direct email note to which I can respond.

    Best Thoughts,

    James

  5. Dave95694 says:

    Perhaps as in the observer effect, it is one thing when observed in location (particle) or another when observed in action (wave)?

    Then, non dualisticly, it can be both imagination and real, subject and object.

    We know something is there, but the closer to a precise description, the less real it is.

    Makes using it a real zen exercise!

    :)

  6. Ananpatt says:

    Incidentally passing by your knowledgeable blog!
    The energy of chi is long lost treasure since we do not recognize it from childhood. Why do we encourage baby to crawl, stand up and walk…isn’t it imagination or vision for natural human physical development. Likewise, initial imagination to sense chi help make it real existence with growth mindset. Regular practices make perfect chi. Ultimately chi will be aligned with universal magnetic field. That may manipulate chi and healing others.

  7. Sky Hoorne says:

    I am far from an expert (i do practice kiko/qi gong on a regular basis), but from my understanding and intuition i regard ki/qi mostly as “active information” that flows within and without, if that makes any sense?

    The work by the late Japanese philosopher Yasuo Yuasa might interest you, as he also touches upon parapsychology:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yasuo_Yuasa

    • You can think about ki/qi many ways, depending on what you want to do with it. When I was on the mat doing Aikido, I just accepted its “reality” as a way of helping me focus and it helped my process. If I think about it as a scientist, is it more than a useful concept, there are experiments that suggest (but a long way from proving yet) that it might have an independent reality. PK studies, e.g., and psychic healing studies – sometimes something happens….

  8. Nick Mott says:

    I´m a professional riding teacher in Germany. While my work with horses I made the experience, that horses do perceive a lot of information over their own “body-field”.
    Recognizing this, I started to get control over my own “body-field”, first of all defining, what this could be concretely.
    Over trial and error there emerged a picture of that “body-field” as a “simple” electro-magentic field (like the electro-magnetic field of your heart, which is proven by physics).
    So far, so well known.
    But with some training it is possible to “build” specific “field-patterns”, which are perceived by the horse as a clear information and induces correlating reactions and behaviour without moving yourself.
    Two things referring to martial arts:
    1. You can scan your opponent faster and more precisely with such a trained body-field.
    2. You can induce to your opponent predefined actions that you are then prepared for.
    Using Tai Chi or similar techniques you train to calibrate the dipolarity of cells like aligned magnetic particles of magnetic stuff.
    This increases the field.
    Ch´i would be to be understood then as an effect of emergence by a controlled alignment of cellular dipolarity.
    Magnetism is like that:
    There is no one without alignment, but instantly ocurring after an alignment.
    I don´t think, that a pure energy transmission through air is possible like a sparkling Tesla-Generator^^
    The energy-level of human body-cells in tuto is too low for that kind of action.
    But an induced imagination may be possible over the entangled fields of two persons.
    Any perception of energy out of this origin is presumable subconscious.
    Anyway it work´s.

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