2021/06/16 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1

The philosophy of science underlying Classical Chinese Medicine, in this lecture by Keekok Lee, provides insights into ways in which systems change may be approached, in a process ontology in contrast to the thing ontology underlying Western BioMedicine. This online web video lecture is a complement (and update) to two prior books:

Highlights from the transcript from the Youtube recording are provided below, in the interest of scholarship.

20210616 SSFS8 LEE Kee Kok – Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1 | Global University for Sustanability

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[0:40] Now, what I’m going to talk about basically is, as [Kho] Tong Yi has introduced me, from this vantage point of a philosopher trained in the analytical school of philosophy, but who has taken an interest, first of all in the philosophy of biology, then in the philosophy of genetics, in the philosophy in ecological studies, etc.

[1:10] And so, with that background, I then turned my attention, naturally, to the philosophy of of medicine.

[1:20] Now, for the purpose of, I mean, as you know, the subject is immensely complex and immensely large, so to narrow down somewhat, what I propose to do in these two days exploration with you, is first is really to concentrate on the philosophical framework in which the medicine is embedded.

[1:48] And having excavated the philosophical framework some of the major concepts in which the philosophy in which the medicine is embedded, then I will, later on, probably tomorrow, in the second exploration to talk about the methodological implications of such a body of philosophical medicine.

[2:24] So, basically, that’s the rough outline of what I’m going to do.

[2:30] Now, first of all, too, let me, as a philosopher it’s in my DNA to start everything off by defining my terms.

[2:40] So, I better get it off my chest before I say anything else.

[2:45] And now, how do I use the term Chinese medicine in these two explorations I hope to do with you, to share with you?

[2:58] First of all I am simply referring to that system of medicine which is, in the sense you can say, is by large indigenous to china and the chinese culture and civilization, as far as I know that is.

[3:19] Obviously, I don’t know everything about this subject, because as subject is very vast and very complicated and very large, and historically it has lasted I think probably more than 2,000 years.

[3:32] So, obviously there’ll be large gaps in my own knowledge.


[5:33] Now, the next big point I want to draw your attention to, is that in my understanding of philosophy, and its implications for other disciplines and domains of intellectual activity, it is this, I am what may be called a practical philosopher.

[5:54] I don’t know whether other people have ever called themselves a practical philosopher. I know that some people have called themselves an applied philosopher, but I’ve not an applied philosopher. I am, I think, a practical philosopher, in the sense I take an activity such as medicine or such as ecology or whatever it is that one is looking on, and then as a philosopher having been trained in analytical school or philosophy, I then use certain methods of understanding the subject.

[6:32] So I use a set of methodological tools if you like, upon the first order activity with which I am commenting on, so in that sense then I call myself a a practical philosopher and not an applied philosopher.


[7:56] Now, I would like to introduce it by, as I say, relating it to a general philosophical framework, so that philosophical framework will then lead me into talking about certain major texts in Chinese philosophy, in order to show in what way Chinese medicine is embedded in such a larger philosophical context.

[8:26] So now then the characterization, in a nutshell that I would give, if you press me at this moment in time, is to say that I would characterize chinese philosopher medicine as “yi dao yi”.

[8:46] Now the first yi is the yi of the YiJing.

[8:52] Dao is the dao of Laozi.

[8:59] And yi, the third syllable, as they were, the third character of the “yi dao yi” is medicine.

[9:10] So in other words, yi dao yi, which the chinese call << ko yi?> bai, themselves call it bai, is therefore embedded in the central philosophical concepts of the heating, of of the DaoDeJing or Laozi.

[9:33] And the ancient chinese have, I suppose if you like, combine these ideas into a systematic whole, if you like, so that in the end you’ll have a system of medicine which we today call chinese medicine and which they themselves call yi dao yi.


Take Aristotelian science, which is medieval western science. Because, to remind you audience very quickly, first of all, in the western tradition you have the ancient Greek philosophers.


[13:17] Now then, if you want to understand Aristotelians, Aristotle, science, particularly science of biology, you’ve got to understand Aristotle’s four main causes. The four main causes are being: material, formal, efficient and final.

[13:40] Now take a statue. Say we have a statue. of … Alexander the Great perhaps, riding on his horse Bucephalus.

[13:56] Now, the material course is quite clear. It’s probably made of bronze or stone or whatever fancy material people might like to make a statue of.

[14:07] The efficient cause are the sculptors themselves, or a sculptor who done it.

[14:11] Then, the formal cause is, he must carry in his head and blueprint, if not actually on a bit of paper in front of him, he carries in his head, of what Alexander he thinks might look like, what his horses might look like, what someone riding our horse might look like, the posture of the horse, and so on. So that is the of formal cause.

[14:36] And then the final cause is the reason why he’s sculpturing it, why he was doing the sculpture. And it could be because his society, of which he’s a part, has commissioned him to do it, because his community likes the idea of Alexander the Great being a cultural hero. And to celebrate a cultural hero, you’ve got to put up a statue in your town square or plaza or something.

[15:01] So, you have four main causes, right?

[15:05] Now, come after the enlightenment, come modern western science, and modern western philosophy, to back up the modern science, Aristotle’s four causes were pared down to two. We got rid of two of them. The two of them which were not acceptable — they were considered to be metaphysical in the abusive sense of the word metaphysics — because they intervened a philosophy called positivism.

[15:36] And positivism does not like metaphysics in the abusive sense, because they equate it with unintelligibility, with absurdity, with nonsense.

[15:46] So what are the two causes that they found metaphysical and therefore offensive and acts from aristotle’s schema of explanation? And that is: the final cause, and the formal cause, they say no good, we don’t want to investigate into people’s thoughts you know, subjective stuff, not objective. Modern science, you must remember is very objective and quantitative, so no, no, no good.

[16:15] So formal causes, axed. Final cause, also. We don’t care, you know, natural phenomena has no final cause anyway.

[16:28] So, what we are left with is the material cause, and the efficient cause. So, that is how we understand modern science, how we understand natural phenomena today following this kind of philosophical framework.

[16;50] Now, so that is so to give you just one example ,…

[16:58] Now, in Aristotelian science, particularly during the medieval period of european science and philosophy and history, how do you explain the law of accelerating, or of acceleration? If you would throw a stone on the top of the tower of Pisa, let us say you’ll find that the object falls faster and faster, as it reaches the ground.

[17:24] Now, an Aristotelian physicist then explains this in this way. You see every object has its own natural home.


[18:07] Now then, so a stone is a heavy object, so if you throw a stone from the Tower of Pisa, let us imagine, that heavy object falls to the ground, because the home is the ground. So Aristotelian physicists tend to interpret the speed of acceleration in the following manner. They say: imagine yourself, you’ve been a long way visiting, as a tourist going around the world, and you’re now finally at the end of your trip, and you’re coming home to see your family, your loved ones. So as you got out of the plane your heart thumps, you walk a bit faster ….


[19:20] So finally, when we get out of the taxi in front of our home, and the door opens, that is when we get really the most excited. And so that is why you walk faster and faster. You run faster and faster as you reach home. So it’s the same with the stone. The ground is its home. So it’s joyful, and as it is because it’s joyous, and a joyful thing to do, it goes faster and faster so that is how Aristotelian medieval physics explain itself.

[19:58] Now, to a modern physicist,. that is a piece of nonsense, because a natural phenomena has no feelings. It has no thought. Nothing like that. It’s all objective quantitative science that we are doing.

[20:15] So therefore, we don’t need the formal cause. We don’t need the final cause.

[20:22] All that we need is the material cause. So the material cause, in this case, is the stone, right? And it has certain characteristics, as I say. It’s heavy. It has a certain mass. It has a certain density, etc. etc. If the stone is not of that character, then, but it’s more like a feather, then it wouldn’t fall faster and faster as it reaches the ground, right?

[20:53] And the efficient cause, the efficient cause has nothing to do with mental characteristics which the investigator have. It is to do with what we will say you know the the atmospheric pressure, the signs of friction. All these things are signs of aerodynamics.

[21:17] All these factors will then, you know, influence or impact upon the way that the stone falls to the ground, or a feather floats in the air, or whatever it is we are trying to explain. So, that is it.

[21:34] Now then, so this is modern science, and modern, embedded in modern philosophy.

[21:41] Now if you look at Chinese medicine which is the science — as at least I claim it is a science — if you look at it, it has nothing to do, you know, with our understanding of modern physics or modern biomedicine. So how would we understand what the chinese themselves call yi dao yi. So to understand yi dao yi, I have very quickly then to tell you what the basic philosophical texts are in which the medicine derives itself from.

[22:24] So the yi of the YiJing, let’s start with that now. For the English speakers maybe I should also call it the I Ching.


[23:10] I prefer to talk of the I Ching, for the simple reason that, in the history of of the YiJing as a text in chinese understanding, there are various versions of it because, come the Zhou, from the Han dynasty, the Han people, the Han scholars, added a part to it called the Ten Wings, or whatever it’s called, and then it became it came to be called the ZhouYi, right?

[23:41] So I’m not talking about the ZhouYi, because the ZhouYi has a modern part to it.

[23:45] For my purpose, the Han yi is already too recent. You’re going to go back to the really old parts of the YiJing. So that’s, I think, the oldest part of the YiJing, you know. It’s the YiJing, not the ZhouYi.

[24:01] That’s why I call it the YiJing.

[24:05] Now, if you ask me how I get the YiJing, again, you know, I don’t want to go into a long history about the history, the historiography, because we are not here to talk about historiography, but i’ll simply say that Chinese scholars themselves, probably, would put it somewhere during the warring states period which will mean that it is, at least, as a mature text, as a mature text, you know, something like, over 2000 years ago. So let’s be as vague as that, so no need to be more precise.

[24:49] Now, I’ll come back to this point in a minute, but let’s move on a little. So what is peculiar about the YiJing, now? To those of us who already know something about the YiJing, the teaching is commonly understood as a divination text. Now, it’s very strange to think that a divination text could possibly have anything to do with a thing called Chinese medicine, which I claim to be a science. So, a mystery about that.

[25:27] So let me quickly explain away some of the puzzling features of this, of this plan.

[25:35] Now, although it began as a divination text — filled out it was — it began its life as a divination text, I think Chinese scholars are, on the whole, convinced that very soon it was not simply a mere divination text in the normal understanding of the term, because officials and scholars worked upon the text to turn it into a set of as a set of diagnostic and predictive tools if you like, and prognostic tools, diagnostic and prognostic.

[26:17] A set of tools, analytical tools, which can then be used to explain various domains of phenomena. Of course, one domain of phenomena the Chinese people were very interested in, was in the art of ruling. So as you can say, then it is used in political discourse.

[24:40] Another area is is in medicine, because we need help to know how to diagnose and prognosticate, you know, the trajectory of an illness etc., etc.

[26:53] So, it is in this context, then, that I say that it is a set of diagnostic tools, analytical and diagnostic tools, to understand phenomena, medical phenomena, as well as enable us to prognosticate.

[27:15] Now, why is the YiJing so helpful? To understand that, you’ll have to say, in that sense too, I’ll have to break in at this at this moment in time, a point made implicitly by the DaoDeJing, by Laozi, because Laozi, the texts go out, didn’t actually use the term yinyang, as far as I know. But you can never, you would never, understand the text itself, without having the concept of yinyang, so when all is said and done, the YiJing and the DaoDeJing are really talking about the basic metaphysics of Chinese thinking, Chinese culture, and Chinese civilization, and that is yinyang.

[28:14] And because we are talking about yinyang, now, and I would be emphasizing this you are really talking about, you know, wholism in what sense then is this committed to wholism and therefore never to reductionism as a methodological postulate.

[28:44] So, now let’s just go back to the YiJing. The YiJing, as we all know has got the bagua. The bagua is normally translated as the eight trigrams, right? And if you have eight trigrams, if you were to do a quick permutation of the eight trigrams, I think mathematically — I am no good at maths, but I trust other people’s calculations — the permutation will turn out to be 64 hexagrams. So you have eight trigrams and 64 hexagrams.

[24:29] Now, if you look at a trigram, a trigram is, what in Chinese, what in English I would say have three components parts. That’s why it’s called tri, it is three parts. And in Chinese terminology, they’re called the three yao [lines]. So one yao, two yao, three yao.

[29:52] Now, a yao is — consists of — two possible types of constructions. One is what may be called an unbroken line. The unbroken line stands for yang, and the broken line stands for yin,. So that is why yinyang.

[30:21] So now, I think at this stage I may have to go into a diagram.



[31:26] If you concentrate on this, this is one yao [line], two yao, three yao, Usually we start from the bottom, but it doesn’t matter for my purpose where we start from. So this unbroken [line] is a yang yao. This broken one [line] is the ying yao. So it forms, later on we shall see, it forms the whole, right?

[31:49] So, that is, simplistically, what it is when the Chinese talk of yinyang. They’re actually, I think, talking about yin qi and yang qi.

[32:09] Now, how do we understand yin qi and yang qi? And this takes us into the cosmology and therefore the philosophy of Chinese medicine, behind Chinese medicine. Noow to understand this let me go further, further down.

[32:31] Now, this is the famous iconic figure, right? I don’t need to say any more about this.


[32:37] But if you look at this picture you will find that …

[32:45] Oh, let me go to this one first.


[32:47] You will find that this one is really an attempt to show people about the yin qi and the yang qi.

[32:57] So, start with winter. Now winter is the time where the yang qi stays in the water, according to the Chinese cosmologists, goes into the ocean. Now there’s some empirical evidence for this.

[33:12] I believe, according to oceanographers, actually water retains heat much more than the surface area of earth.

[33:26] So, in that sense, it’s quite correct to say that, you know, the yang qi stays in water, whereas on the surface it evaporates, it vanishes once winter has come.

[33:40] Now if you look at this gua, what you say, it stands for winter.

[33:57] This trigram stands for winter, and so you can see just as winter ends the yang chi starts to rise. So I say ascending spring establishes.

[34:13] So, this is spring and then the yang qi floats up to this gua, which stands for summer so you can see that this gua [trigram] that stands for summer has two yang yao [unbroken lines]. This gua [trigram] which stands for winter has two yin yao [broken lines], so it expresses the difference between the two. And then in the autumn the yang qi starts to descend.

[34:43] In other words you lose the yang qi and the ying qi starts to rise. and then the yang qi sinks and finally sinks back into winter.

[34:53] So it is, in other words then, I would like to draw your attention, to some ears it might sound, it might just feel very strange, that I will refer to Laws of Nature in Chinese science and Chinese cosmology for the simple reason, because normally when people talk about Laws of Nature, they have Newton’s laws of nature in mind, which are quantitative laws, objective quantitative laws.

[35:26] But yet I don’t see why I shouldn’t borrow this use, the same concept about the laws of nature. But this time, in writing, I would put them in an italicized mode. So but when speaking, I will just qualify by saying, bear in mind that I’m talking about Chinese Laws of Nature, which are not quantitative, at all, although I think they are objective but they are not quantitative, whereas the Western laws of nature are quantitative.

[36:00] Right, so I’ll keep on using the Chinese Laws of Nature. Now, the Chinese Laws of Nature basically, some people say, are two. But I think that actually they can be reduced even to one. So whether you’re talking about one or two, it doesn’t matter, because the concept is the same. Now take one of the Chinese Laws of Nature which are commonly called the zhou ye xie lu which translated roughly, would be the daily, the days sequence of, the daily sequence of night following, following day, and day giving way to night again, you know.

[35:58] And if you’re talking about this si shi jie lv, then you are talking about the four seasons in the annual cycle

[37:12] Spring followed, is followed by summer. Summer is followed by autumn. Autumn is followed by winter and then the cycle really could uh continues a deux with spring, blah blah blah blah blah.

[37:30] Now that is why, in the end, there is also another law, which the Chinese seem to have a law of nature which is called zhou er fu shi, which I would translate as cyclic reversion. And this is precisely what I have just said.

[37:52] So when winter arrives, you can expect next year spring will occur, and spring will be followed by summer, summer will be followed by autumn, autumn will be followed by winter. So it’s cyclic reversion, the cycle starts all over again. And that is why it is sustainable. It is sustainable because it’s cyclic reversion, right?

[38:22] It’s the same with daylight, as opposed to night time. The daily sequence starts up all over again. So that is why I think … I’ll mind you …. Before I go on, let me just quickly add the thought which has just occurred to me now in this cyclic reversion.

[38:48] One is not saying that the next winter, which comes, is going to be identical to the last winter, which has just passed. It’s not to say that because there are differences in winter, differences in summer, every year, especially if we live in this island called the UK, which I do.

[39:09] You can begin to see some winters, you know, coming dreadfully cold with frozen ground, thick ice and so on, and another winter that is very mild. So it doesn’t mean that that they are identical. There are tremendous differences, one winter from another winter, but nevertheless there’s continuity as well as change.

[39:35] And so that is why, at this point, you’ve got to go back to the Yijing, because what is the meaning of yi in the Yijing? The term yi in the Yijing means change. Originally, in fact, the Yijing is based on observation of the weather. The weather changes, so the ancient Chinese thinkers build a metaphysics, a cosmology, from their observation of what they see about natural, of natural, phenomena. So the ancient Chinese, after one minute the sun is out, the weather is fine. Another minute, the sun goes behind clouds, it’s no longer fine but dark and gloomy.

[40:28] So when the sun shines and the sky is full of light, well, you call it yang. This is because of the sunlight. The light comes from the sun so it’s yang, taiyang, which means sun. And then yin is the shadow. So where the sun hides behind the cloud or the clouds gets in front of the sun then it’s yin. It’s not fine.


[41:05] .. from before I said I’m constantly amused why it is that the ancient Britons never tumbled to the Eastern concept of change. Because in Britain the weather is even more changeable than it is in a continental climate like China. But yet, for some odd reason, the ancient Chinese tumbled to it, and the ancient Britons didn’t. So, that’s my joke.

[41:32] Right. So if you have so the yi of the Yijing means change. But bear this in mind Chinese thought is what I call dyadic. In other words, it’s the polar contrast between yin and yang, do not conflict and oppose each other. That is western dualistic thought, the Chinese do not have that. The Chinese have dyadism. So with dyadism, the polar contrast of yin and yang of change, with that, the notion of change, therefore also implies the notion of constancy.

[42:21] So, in spite of change there is also constancy. So it’s this very complex relationship between polar contrasts, the Chinese philosophers, and therefore Chinese medicine, I think, are after. That behind yang is therefore yin. Behind yin is yang. And the two do not clash and conflict following Aristotle’s. Why is it in the west that polar contrasts are treated as [diagonally opposing] diametrically opposing, and conflicting?

[43:02] I think we have to go back to our Aristotle. My famous example is Aristotle’s principle of excluded middle. Aristotle’s principle of exclusive middle, put simplistically, simply runs like this:

[43:16] P, or not-P. Either P is true, or not-P is true.

[43:29] So when you have this, you have conflict. Because… Let’s take a religious example.

[43:37] If I believe in an Abrahamic god, but your god is not Abrahamic, right, so either I’m right or you are right, but both of us cannot be right, because the principal of excluded middle permits only one of the two sides to be correct. So naturally, especially if I am an important economic military power, Ii would say my version of Abrahamic, of religion, is correct. You not out there, you know, no good, you are wrong, and therefore I impose my view on you in the name of truth and validity. And so that’s how you can get really oppositional, a very, very, conflicting and, diametrically opposed answers, that people take.

[44:39] But it’s chinese philosophy, because it doesn’t believe in the dualistic conflicts of that, and the principle of excluded middle, as shown by these trigrams.


[44:45] If you go back to … the trigram. The eight trigrams, the bagua, you can see that there are eight positions, not two. Now , this is the qian gua [south, top of page]. This this is the kun gua [north, bottom of page]. This [qian gua] is the fully yang. This [kun gua] is the fully yin, right? But there are two extremes. But in between, you have a variety of permutations which, in fact, incorporate the yinyang components polar contrast, in somewhat different ways, in each of the two things.

[45:29] So that is why it’s a subject which I can’t talk to you about in great detail, today. That’s why I think that ancient Chinese philosophy are logic — I mean Chinese philosophy has no formal logic, that is quite correct — but having said that, it had an implicit logic. And the implicit logic isn’t the ancient value logic that we take for granted.

[45:56] And don’t talk about the hexagram, right, over 64 values, I can’t cope, I could barely cope. So it is actually an anticipation, of what today, we call fuzzy logic.

[46:13] If you look at logic textbooks today, since the 20th century the latter part of the 20th century, there’s such a thing called fuzzy logic. And fuzzy logic is, in fact, also both sets of logic, a dualistic logic of qian and kun, and couldn’t exist in computer, and in computer logic technology, because the qian, yang gua, is the three yao, is simply represented by one. And the kun qua, the three yin yao represented by zero. So computer technologies one and zero, so it’s really you know these two extremes that you’re using.

[47:01] But fuzzy logic also today uses the rest of these, as may be represented by the other members of the trigram now.


[47:22] So you see how it is that, therefore necessarily, you have to understand yinyang in terms of this, by now very very familiar iconic symbol of the yinyang. I don’t need to go into it in great detail, but just to point out why it is that they form a whole, because the whole of chinese philosophy, cosmology, and therefore of all its activities, including medicine, is a wholistic one.

[47:59] Now another way of putting the point is to say that in chinese philosophy and cosmology, which underpins Chinese medicine, is what, in Sinological discourse, is commonly called correlative thinking.

[48:20] Qian ren xiang yin or qian ren he yi.

[48:38] Qian ren xiang yin I think is found more in medical texts. And and qian ren he yi is found more in other contexts. But I prefer therefore to use qian ren xiang ying which Sinologists translate as co-relative thinking.

[48:59] But that is according to me. I don’t buy the data translation because I think the translation makes it sound like a piece of epistemology, whereas I think it’s a piece of metaphysics. It’s a piece of ontology and that is why I translate it as the macrocosm and the microcosm.

[49:26] There’s a macrocosm out there, in this universe, and there’s a microcosm. But what happens in the macrocosm is in the microcosm, reflected or resides also in the microcosm. So that is why you say, if greater nature of that macrocosm has yin and yang, so in us, the microcosm we must also have yin yang because of qian ren xiang ying.

[50:00] So I call this — this is a mouthful — macro micro cosmic wholism. Macro micro cosmic wholism.

[50:16] Call it what you like. But to grasp what I’m saying, for the moment, for the sake of understanding, what I said you’ve got to work with my understanding that it’s a piece of ontology. It is piece of metaphysics and not correlative thinking. Correlative thinking, I think, don’t capture the the spirits and the essence of of the subject.


[51:20] So you can see yinyang is at the top, and the yinyang is presiding over this via qian ren xiang ying macro micro cosmic wholism

[51:35] Now then, as you can see to understand this, I’m afraid we have now got to mention — only mention because I have no time to go into it in detail — a very important concept and that is wuxing, which is can be translated as five transformational phases.

[51:59] There are other interpreter ways of transliterating it, but I think that comes nearest to it. It’s is a phase. It’s not about entities, although the chinese like to use the words: wood, fire, earth, water, metal, water. But it’s not.

[52:18] It is actually, wood stands for the qi, for rising yang qi because in spring plants as organisms start to grow. And so you use wood to stand for the rising yang qi of spring. Fire, you just use to stand for the even greater amount increasing amount of yang qi of summer.

[52:57] And then you come to metal where the yang qi begins to abate, and the yin qi begins to increase, at the expense of the yang chi in the autumn. And you use water as I said before to stand for the maximum amount the amount of yin qi, come the winter.

[53:28] Now these relationships that you see in the outer diagram here, this is sometimes called, they call it, nourishment, mutual nourishment cycle. Other people call it the another thing but it doesn’t matter.

[53:46] You can say that one promotes the other, right? Now the funny thing is, I can’t explain in detail, because we have no time, but the funny thing is there’s only four seasons as represented by metal, water, wood, and fire. But wuxing has got five phases in it. So where does the fifth phase come from? Now the rich Chinese put in earth because earth is a kind of equilibrating process, if you like. And so, it pulls, you know, the the lot together, in my understanding, that is. Other people may do a different account of the function of, you know, the role of earth played in wuxing.

[54:40] So now then, if you then go back, and these are the antagonistic relationships, so as can be shown by these arrows, so again there’s no time to talk about the details of wuxing, and you’ll probably need at least five hours to sort it out. So we have no time.

[55:00] So having drawn your attention very quickly into it, we now go back to how we understand qian ren xiang ying as, that is, macro microcosmic wholism.

[55:17] When that is imposed upon the macrocosmic map is imposed on the microscopic map, that is so this is an attempt to present the imposition of the one upon the other. So you can see that the liver has been assigned, you know, it’s the wood phase. And then fire is the heart phase. Water is the kidney phase. And metal is the lung phase.


[57:26] Now just to say a quick word. Why is earth necessary? if you look at the spleen, the spleen and the stomach form a zhang fu, right? Now if you think of it, the Chinese are very practical people as some as the westerners like to tell us. We are always thinking of eating. It’s always thinking of food, primarily because if you do not eat you, do not survive.


20210616_3255_SS8_LeeKeekok_PhilChineseMedicine1.png (again)

[59:09] So we must always bear in mind that, what is in the macrocosm, is always is a microcosm in us. Now just to give you one example of all of this. Now as you can see, in the summer, then the li gua [south, at top of page], has two yang yao in it. That means it has got a lot of heat in it. Whereas the kan gua [north, bottom of page] that will be standing for winter and the north, therefore has got two yin yao [broken lines] in it with only one yang yao [unbroken line]. So obviously, the yin yao is on the ascendant and the young dao is a bit subdued.

[1:00:00] So as a result, imagine yourself to be a physician ….

[1:00:15] Imagine that you have been asked to see a patient and you take the mai [meridian], …

[1:00:30] Now in the winter because the macrocosm out there has … maximum amount of yin qi in it, so your mai should not have a predominance of yang qi in it, so to speak.


[1:01:21] This man is storing up trouble, if I don’t do something to intervene. He’s got too much yang qi in him, for the season in the year, because this is winter. He shouldn’t have so much, it should be more a reflection of the macrocosm out there, in his microcosm. But unfortunately it isn’t, it seems to be the other way around.

[1:01:51] So the physician then prognosticates that unless he intervenes, gives a medication to lower the yang qi in the microcosm of the patient, in the summer, come the summer, when the yang qi is at its maximum with two yang yao in the gua, something definitely is going to happen to him. He probably would have a heart attack or something, and he will be dead in no time.

[1:02:10] So okay, this is a a true story which I think I’ve got from Liu Lihong … , and he said that in fact this was a real patient. … The patient was very stubborn. He didn’t believe in in Chinese medicine anyway. He was a top, I think, a top CCP cadre at the time and he didn’t believe in all this. His daughter did, but he didn’t. And so the physician then wrote out a prescription with heat reducing, yang qi reducing, medicinals in it. The daughter persuaded him to take it, the father to take it. The father refused. The daughter couldn’t do anything.

[1:03:13] It was reported promptly the next summer, the coming summer, the father died of a bad heart attack, or something to do with the heart, because he was overwhelmed by yang qi. He was already full too much of yang qi in him in the winter. Come this summer, where the macrocosm has yang qi as maximum, this added up together would do him no good.



[1:04:15] I would then end up by talking about Chinese medicine as ecosystem thinking or ecosystem science, right. So very quickly, I would say look at this system, I put up here. That’s the host, which may be called ecosystem 1. There’s the agent, ecosystem 2. And there is the environment, ecosystem 3.

[1:04:50] Now imagine that the host, since we are living still in the pandemic of Covid 19, ecosystem 1, let us say, is that naughty virus, the difficult virus called SARS-COV-2 sitting there. And the agent, that’s ecosystem 2, is the poor victim who is harboring the thing, and which may either be asymptomatic, or symptomatic, if you are unlucky. It might be symptomatic but whatever it is. Imagine the symptomatic case rather than asymptomatic case, the agent carrying the SARS-COV-2 virus. That person is living in environment, in the outer environment called ecosystem 3.

[1:05:48] Imagine that person, unfortunately, to be a front line, public, worker in the public building, either as a health care worker or as a security officer. I believe that they’re very exposed. Or as a nurse, someone working in a care home, or whatever. You are in the front line because you see a lot of people who are victims of SARS-COV-2, right. So your environment is not very good. So your macrocosm is not helpful. But if you have a concentric circle, then the one affects the other. so ultimately whether you are going to get it or not depends on the interaction between all these ecosystems.

[1:06:54] And so, in other words, then unlike modern Western BioMedicine the causal relationship is what I call a monogenic causal relationship — that is the cause here, there’s the effect here, one cause one effect — this kind of medicine, which is yidaoyi type of medicine, we are talking about ecosystem nesting. One ecosystem within, embedded within another ecosystem, which in turn is embedded in yet another ecosystem.

20210616_4720_SS8_LeeKeekok_PhilChineseMedicine1.png (again)

[1:07:38] So you’re talking of a multi-factorial causal framework and a multi-factorial causal framework, if you recall the yinyang, the wuxing diagram up here, that are very complicated relationships between all these things.

20210616_6430_SS8_LeeKeekok_PhilChineseMedicine1.png return

[1:08:00] So, one way, very quickly of understanding ecosystem thinking, and therefore also of wuxing, is to say that ecosystem thinking that wuxing is really talking about an ecosystem and the relationship between the components of an ecosystem.

[1:08:29] Because in ecosystem thinking you have what I call both negative feedback loops and positive feedback loops. So you’re talking about positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops.

[1:08:45] Now, negative feedback loops are easier to understand than positive feedback loops. The standard example of a negative feedback loop is to use your air conditioning system, right? You set the temperature on your machine at x. Now, if the outside temperature is higher than x, then your machine will start releasing cold air until the set temperature is reached.

[1:09:23] So, it always brings you back to the starting point, in other words. So that is a negative feedback system in our body. The famous example would, of course be, how we control the heat inside our body in the wind, when it’s very cold outside. Our body, our physiology, is primed or evolved in such a way, as an organism — we are evolved with an ecosystem with a system, physiological system, in such a way — that it gets very cold, our pores close up.

[1:10:00] When our pores caught up, less heat, is less out of our body, so we retain the heat and we maintain homeostasis. And when it’s very hot, our pores open up to let out the yang qi, so to speak, and then we cool ourselves down by the sweat.

[1:10:18] So, that is a negative feedback system;

[1:10:24] A positive feedback system is when several factors act together in a synergistic manner, so that — let’s put it this way.

[1:10:40] If you are talking of a simple-minded causal relationship, if I have three things contributing, three variables contributing, to the effect simple-mindedly, I can work out what the effect of this first variable is, what the effect of the second variable is, and what the effect of the third variable is. Then I add them all up, and I say that is the causal outcome. That is totality of effect. If I have three variables each contributing to the outcome.

[1:11:24] Now, under multifactorial ecosystemic relationship, it’s not like that at all. If I’ve got three factors one contributing, the second also contributing, the thirds contributing, but they act synergistically — that is they act together, they are not separate things they act together — my three fingers are therefore together — and when these are three [fingers] together, then you’ll find that in a synergistic outcome that effect is greater — that the first outcome where you are measuring this separately from that [finger], from that [finger], and just adding up the three effects. So that is why it’s very powerful.

[1:12:15] So with synergistic effects, you can flip very quickly, from one system to another system. So that is why some people think that, why is it that suddenly we flip so quickly?

[1:12:27] We don’t actually flip very simply. It looks as if we flip, the system flips, simply, because you’re using the wrong causal model. But if you have the right causal model, you can explain how it flips. And you can predict, even. So anyway, that is ecosystem thinking.

[1:12:46] Now I have two diagrams, two figures, here in terms of ecosystem nesting, using concentric circles.



— end paste for digression —

David Ing’s note: In Keekok Lee’s 2018 book, is Figure 4.1 with 10 concentric circles.

Figure 4.1: Ecosystem-nesting in terms of concentric circle

  • 1 Cell;
  • 2 Tissue;
  • 3 Organ-system, such as the Spleen-stomach/㝮㛳 organ-system;
  • 4 All visceral organ-systems (Wuzang-liufu/ӄ㜿ޝ㞁);
  • 5 Entire material parts and total functioning of the person including emotions;
  • 6 Qi in yuzhou (Macrocosm) as well as the Jingmai via the Jingluo network of the person-body (Microcosm);
  • 7 Immediate external environment, in which a person lives (air, water, food, shelter, climate….);
  • 8 Social/cultural environment (tribes/ethnic groups/polity);
  • 9 Larger physical/social environment, in which a person lives (plants/animals/rivers);
  • 10 Cosmological environment, in which a person lives (Sun/Moon/Earth….).

In this 2021 presentation, the 10 concentric circles are different.


  1. Tissue
  2. Organ-system, such as the Spleen-stomach organ system (㝮㛳 piwei)
  3. All visceral organ-systems (Wuzang-liufu/ӄ㜿ޝ㞁)
  4. Entire material parts and total functioning of the person including emotions
  5. Qi in yuzhou (Macrocosm) as well as the Jingmai via the Jingluo network of the person-body (Microcosm);
  6. Immediate external environment, in which a person lives (air, water, food, shelter, climate….);
  7. Social/cultural environment (tribes/ethnic groups/polity);
  8. Larger physical/social environment, in which a person lives (plants/animals/rivers);
  9. The Cosmological environment, in which a person lives (Sun/Moon/Earth … our Solar System, as shown in the Laws of Nature, such as zhouye jielu, sishi jielu, zhou or fu shi which together focus on Timespace rather than Spacetime)
  10. Process-ontology cum Think-ontology

— resume paste —

[1:13:06] Now, just concentric circles. I have said it. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my diagram very well, because I’ve got to skip that and look at this.


[1:13:27] How biomedicine may be interpreting that circle, that nesting of circles. So circle 1, which is the innermost circle, I would put it down, that they put in DNA, RNA, i.e molecular genetics.

[1:13:52] The next circle is 2. That is 2. They might put genes there so these are genetic sequences. These are the whole genes.


[1:15:11] So the body, the human body, the physical body, is then made out of 1 to 6, in my understanding.

[1:15:20] So the body’s immediate external environment, which is 8, I put down as 8 here, that’s 8. And I just simply put down, we need air to breathe, containing oxygen to survive. We need you know wholesome water to drink, pure water to drink, pure, or purish at least, water to drink, in order to survive. We also need food, nutritious food, to survive.

[1:15:52] So that’s the body’s immediate external environment, what we introduce into our system.

[1:15:58] Now, and then embodied in that, that body, is then in 9, which is understood in biomedical terms — this is knowing there, that the body is machine, not organism.

[1:16:18] So I said it performs an ontological volte-face, because up to the 16th 17th century, even , let’s say 16th century, body is always organism. But now there’s a sudden change in Western philosophy. Body is no longer organism. Body is machine. Now, machine is an artifact. We humans create machines. I know that other animals create, we may not call machines, but they certainly create artifacts. Ants create nests. Bees create beehives. So, they are artifacts. But they are animal artefacts, not human artifacts.

[1:17:13] But we human have a peculiar kind of consciousness which enables us to design things called machines. As the chinese say ren shi wan bu zhi ling, that means we human beings have got a very peculiar, a very peculiar kind of consciousness.

[1:17:39] Our consciousness, unlike other animal consciousness — mammalian consciousness, they too are very clever — but we go one level beyond. And what is that level beyond? That level beyond is that we are capable of having abstract thoughts. Animals, as far as we know, do not have what we call abstract thoughts. We can actually commit our abstract thoughts to a bit of paper, in terms of symbols, when we do maths. An algorithm, you know, that sort of thing. We can have writing, commit our thoughts to writing etc, etc.

[1:18:20] So because we have this peculiar uh type of consciousness that is why the Chinese cosmology called that man is wanwu zhi ling, that it means that it has the most evolved — not advanced, advanced is not right — the evolved kind of consciousness.

[1:18:47] Now, when the Chinese say say ren shi wan bu zhi ling, do not mistake what the ancient Chinese are saying to be an anthropocentrist.

[1:19:00] Anthropocentrism in the west is understood differently. Anthropocentrism in the west has a built-in hierarchy of superiority of inferiority to it. So we humans, according to western anthropocentrism, we are the superior to everybody else.

[1:19:24] And as a result, we look down on animals. The west looks down on animals, they’re not as good as us. They are inferior beasts, they are called, right? And so whereas the Chinese has no built-in inferiority and superiority, it just simply means we are different. We share a lot of things in common with them. For instance, a lion, a cheetah is very smart indeed. We do share things in common with a cheetah, but nevertheless we have a type of consciousness which is also different from that of the cheetah or the lion or or whatever other animal that you care to think of. So every animal has its own peculiar kind of consciousness, but we humans are pretty peculiar, and so in that sense, we are wan wu zhi ling, because we can do abstract thinking. We can have language which is a form of abstraction. Different types of languages mathematical languages the languages we speak in terms of our mother tongues that sort of languages etc etc.

[1:20:49] And we can do metaphysics. We can do philosophy. Et cetera, et cetera.

[1:20:55] So now then, because western thought is based on the body as machine, not an organism, a machine is an artifact. And an artifact is a thing.

[1:21:11] So, ever since Julien Offray de La Mettrie, when he wrote man, L’homme machine, that book which he published I think in the 16th century, you know, it has shifted to thing ontology. No longer an organismic ontology, as Aristotle did, but a thing ontology. A thing ontology as artifacts, thing.

[1:21:44] So a thing occupies space, you see what I mean. And that is why I say it focuses primarily on space. Newtonian science and Newtonian cosmology. Now, of course, I know after Newton came Einstein several centuries late, and Einstein actually added the temporal dimension, so it is space time today. But actually the space time even of Einsteinian relativity physics is very different from what I called a time space in Chinese cosmology.

[1:22:30] Because if you go back to this chart.


20210616_3255_SS8_LeeKeekok_PhilChineseMedicine1.png (again)

[1:22:44] You’re talking of the sun up there, in the summer. The sun up there, in the summer, at its height of yang qi, maximum yang qi, is actually casting its rays down on earth.

[1:23:03] But the relationship for the Chinese is not so much the emphasis on space, of what is happening on earth, but of the relationship of the seasons of time, because summer winter autumn spring or whatever is actually referring to time, the passage of time. So its emphasis is on time rather than on space. And of course, it has to shine on the earth. The earth is space. So that is that is why I put the difference as time space. Because time …. It’s a focus more on time than space, whereas in this system, the western system, the emphasis is more on space rather than than time, because you’re talking about thing ontology. So anyway so that is why I say that, you know, it focuses primarily on space.

20210616_7325_SS8_LeeKeekok_PhilChineseMedicine1.png (again)

[1:24:05] Now if you look at this nesting of ecosystems, under Chinese medicine, we don’t talk about the 1, 2 and the 3 under the BM system here.

[1:24:26] The 1 for chinese medicine is a tissue. That’s the lowest level of reductionism, if you like. I don’t think it’s good to tolerate, but the lowest level of understanding is the tissue.

[1:24:41] Then after this tissue, you have an organ system. The Chinese do not understand every organ individually. It passes up, as the zangfu. So you if you were talking about the spleen, then you’re talking the spleen-stomach organ system, the piwei system.

[1:25:04] And all these systems constitute the wuzang-liufu. And so we are talking about entire material parts, and total functioning of the person.

[1:25:21] And the person includes the emotions.


[1:25:38] Now [CCM] 4, when you are talking about the human person, which possesses all these things, you are really talking about a human person with emotions.

[1:25:53] Whereas the body down here [BM 7], you’re talking about has no emotions. You’re not concerned with emotions. So that is why BM has great difficulty about the placebo effect and considered it is so anathema versus chinese — well it’s part of natural, of phenomena, if we are humans we have emotions.

[1:26:18] So in emotions, wrestling beliefs, depending on your belief, you believe that what you are swallowing is poison, it can have an effect on you. If you believe that what you are swallowing, just because it also has an infection. One is called the placebo effect. The other is called the nocebo effect, if you want to put it in modern tone. But we are essentially beings with emotions. So emotions are not taboo subject. Emotions are part of the individual person,

[1:26:51] So when the Chinese talk of shenti, it is not the body of BM here [BM 7]. It’s not this body you’re talking about. It is why I put it as a person-body [CCM 4]. It is the whole person where the body is. But today, I don’t have time to go into any great detail.

[1:27:15] So let’s look at qi [CCM 5]. Now this is the tianren-xiangying. So the qi in yuzhou — yuzhou is the universe — the macrocosm, as well as the jingmai, via the jingluo network of the person-body, which is a macrocosm.

[1:27:36] So when a Chinese physician ascertains << nuo? >> mai, he’s actually ascertaining this << nuo? >> mai jingluo yingyang profile in the person-body. That is what he’s doing. And when he ascertains that, the yinyang profile in your person-body, then he knows how to diagnose what’s wrong with you. And because he knows how to diagnose what is wrong, and he can also prescribe you with the medicinals to help you get over the hump that you are confronting, and which leads to your illness, right?

[1:28:12] So then [CCM] 6 is your immediate external environment, in which you live, << true? >>. Like BM, it recognizes air, water, food, shelter, climate, all these are important.

[1:28:28] But it [CCM 7] also specifically recognizes a social cultural environment in which the person-body, the person is embedded in. So you can talk of tribes, groups, ethnic groups, poverty or whatever.

[1:28:47] Then [CCM] 8, you have a larger physical and social environment in which the person lives, which includes the plants, the animals, the rivers, the air, around you, etc.

[1:28:57] And the biggest of all [CCM 9], the cosmological environment, in which the person lives. Then you have at least to talk about the heavenly bodies and their relationship to each other, at least within our own solar system.

[1:29:18] I know that there are plenty of solar systems today, out in the world, in this universe, but the ancient Chinese only knew about our own solar system, they didn’t know so many others. But minimally, you must at least know about your own solar system. So our solar system.

[1:29:38] So it it is then captured by the Chinese laws of nature such as the zhouye jielu, the sishi jielu, the zhou or fu shi which together, as I say, focus on Timespace rather than Spacetime.

[1:29:56] And standing behind all this, is then what I call Process Ontology cum Thing Ontology. In BM, as you can say the emphasis is on space. It focuses or highlights thing ontology. But because the Chinese way of looking is dyadic and so, process ontology can coexist with thing ontology, these polar contrast can coexist, as as a whole. like linjiang itself.

[1:30:40] So our physiological understanding — when we talk about physiology how a person functions — you’re talking about process. When you’re talking about whether a person is thin or fat, and you’re talking about the thing, the figure that you see as the person enters the room. But the Chinese thought the two are linked, because then particularly in chinese medicine, the two are linked.

[1:31:13] So you have process ontology and thing ontology. You cannot understand the thing without understanding the process behind this thing, and you cannot understand the process of course without the thing, right?

[1:31:32] So I think that more or less sums up what I really want to say.

— end paste —

A second day of lecture follows, as 2021/06/17 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 2


David Ing blogs at coevolving.com , photoblogs at daviding.com , and microblogs at http://ingbrief.wordpress.com . A profile appears at , and an independent description is on .

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2 comments on “2021/06/16 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1
  1. […] 2021/06/16 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1 | Media Queue –> Coevolving Innovation… […]

  2. […] the first day lecture on Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1 for the Global University for Sustainability, Keekok Lee continued on a second day on some […]

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