I have spent a lot of time studying, reading, and deciphering works on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Taoist texts. Through this effort, combined with regular Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong practice, and acupuncture treatment, I have been able to arrive at an experiential and fundamental understanding of the subject. However, I sometimes run into those interested in Internal Chinese arts who do not believe in “Chi”. In many instances there is a complete dismissal of the TCM principles as nonsense. Besides the obvious questions that come to mind such as, why would one be interested in studying something when they do not believe in the foundation of the practice, a challenge arises when trying to convey the value of Chi exercises to those not familiar with the foreign vocabulary and context. On one hand, I think that this complete rejection of, or at a minimum the relegation of TCM principles to the stature of pseudoscience, is naive. Especially, considering it has been in existence and continuously practiced for multiple thousands of years. I can also see how a healthy dose of scepticism is also generally a good thing. After all someone said, “For instant enlightenment question everything.”
This led me to The Spark in the Machine: How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine by Daniel Keown, western physician as well as an acupuncturist. He takes a refreshing route to explaining the identification and functions of the various organ meridians using embryology – the study of the development of the human body from its earliest stages. He does this in painstaking detail while trying to add levity by using modern analogies, puns, and jokes to explain. It should be noted he is British, which explains his humor. There is value in this author’s modern view of acupuncture. Having read a fair amount of books on the subject, most of these books get into the “how and why” from a Chinese terminological perspective, whereas Keown accomplishes this from both Eastern and Western perspectives.
In closing, I was able to to garner some good nuggets of information from this text. Some of which being the definition of Chi as “cellular communication.” Among other things, the realization that the pancreas belongs to the Spleen Meridian (something I probably should have known). I also am now better able to explain in western terms the benefits and intent of Chinese internal practices. Because of this, The Spark in the Machine occupies an interesting space in this genre of books and is equally valuable to sceptics and true believers alike. The subject matter leans to the clinical side. As such, I would say that this is not a starter read. If you are looking for an introduction to the subject I recommend The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted Kaptchuk is a classic and Secrets of Self-Healing by Dr. Maoshing Ni covers some of the basics of TCM while remaining accessible. That said, if you are really interested in the workings of the body, embryology, or if you are either an acupuncturist, western doctor or a Qigong practitioner you will undoubtedly find this to be a valuable work.