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?