Science of Symbols
All levels of scholarly discourse in Chinese medicine are presently saturated with a general confusion about the term “science” and its relationship to the roots of the field. Prof. Deng Zhongjia, former dean of the Foundational Studies Department at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, once aptly summarized this predicament in the following manner: “TCM has made the concept of ‘science’ an equivalent to ‘Western medicine’ while our roots are shoved off into the museum; there they stand on a pedestal gathering dust.”
Prof. Deng’s statement echoes the age-old scholar-physician’s lament over the erosion of the cosmological sources of medical knowledge–the concept of the body as a microcosm, which demands that all bodily micro-sciences remain embedded in a macrocosmic frame of reference. Since the creators of Chinese medicine, now often referred to as Huang-Lao Daoists, took the implications of this maxim further to produce a highly complex system of diagnostics and therapy, physicians of all ages have called for a return to this system’s view of the world. What is remaining unclear, however, is how Chinese master physicians envisioned this return, and what, exactly, they thought was so worth while returning to.
The materials presented in this section introduce the preliminary results of a research project that was conceived to shed light on these questions. Since 1998, Prof. Heiner Fruehauf has directed a detailed investigation of ancient Chinese medical symbolism in cooperation with the CCM Terminology Research Group of the School of Classical Chinese Medicine at National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. The focus of this research was to demonstrate how ancient symbols, such as the names of organ networks or acupuncture points, contain very detailed information spanning from the material layer (this is how it looks) to the functional layer (this is what it does) to the macrocosmic layers of space and time (these are the planets and seasons by which it resonates and is influenced). The results reveal a tightly woven system of symbolic references that spell out in detail the multi-layered qualities of macrocosmic and microcosmic reality, including the “how,” “where,” “when,” and “why” of the connection between the Above and the Below.
For additional material about the science of symbols, please visit the Associates Forum.