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"Why does anyone care whether Chinese anatomy and physiology are explained as energy flowing through meridians, or by the circulation of blood, nutrients, other vital substances, and vital air (qi) through the vascular system? The answer to that lies in the moral obligation of every practitioner to provide each patient with the latest medical understanding available. The need to continually search for the truth is the most fundamental principle of science and medicine... Research so far shows that the true concepts of Chinese Medicine operate under known physiological principles, involving the complex organization of the neural, vascular, endocrine, and somatic systems, sustained by the circulation of nutrients, vital substances, and oxygen from vital air."
- Donald E, Kendall, "Dao of Chinese Medicine" (2002).
Kendall makes excellent points, but I just want to clarify a few things.
I think people care about using "energy" concepts as opposed to anatomy/physiology, apart from the mere functional clinical usefulness of using the "energy" model as generally understood in Western TCM, because the idea of Qi and Yin and Yang helps to connect us with some sort of universal Spirit and sense of belonging. But we must distinguish very carefully between the type of "scientism" that explains something in material and physical terms and attempts to reduce it to merely that and denies any reality to anything else, and the type of science that looks for the mechanisms for exactly how Spirit is allowed to operate in the manifest realm.
Let us imagine a hypothetical situation in the future (or near-future, if Kendall is to be believed) where biomedical science had advanced to the point where everything in TCM physiology was explained in biomedical terms, in a non-reductionist way that took the big picture and Bian Zheng into full account. The process would have meant, inevitably, that some things TCM held to be true are thrown out, and some things are added.
The point is, if a great majority of what the ancient Chinese discovered so long ago, through their own senses and their understandings of the relatedness of things on the micro and the macro levels, is confirmed in physical mechanistic terms by the very latest in scientific understanding, this actually has the effect of elevating the Spirit rather than dragging it down. How could anyone continue to believe in an uncaring world of dead particles bumping randomly into each other, when the said dead particles accidentally reflect the principles of Yin/Yang in the body/mind and its relationship to its environment? Instead of, as we might have feared, science having the effect of flattening everything into existential meaninglessness, it would instead illuminate how all (even when modelled with precise mathematical equations) is actually alive with the numinous!
At the present moment clearly, the predominant belief system in the scientific community is not yet ready to encompass and be able to accept such a reality. That itself is a very good reason to hold on to the classical Qi physiological concepts, because they are the best models we have to repeat the empirical experience of the Zhongyi that precede us in treating those that seek our aid now. Since the classics are written in pre-modern language, learning Qi physiology properly on its own terms is also vital to get access to this wealth of knowledge and experience. Also the fact is that Qi/Yin/Yang will always be more accessible to the individual than the minutiae of endocrine, neurological, connective tissue and vascular response mechanisms, and therefore 1) always a useful lens with which to translate clinical reality, 2) more understandable to the average patient that wants to regulate their own life and 3) good news for the aspiring practitioner that simply does not have the intellectual/rational capacity to think in biomedical terms, but have talents elsewhere that more than make up for it.
But holding onto classical Qi physiology does not and should not mean turning a blind eye to the latest discoveries in science, and not encouraging further understanding in this area. Also in my opinion, only science has the power to translate the important insights of Chinese Medicine into changing the way medicine is practiced on a societal or even world scale - quasi-mystical and ethnocentric concepts, however functional and "real", do not.
TCM and modern biomedical science have great potential to extend and improve each other, working side by side for the benefit of all. But for integration to happen whilst fully honouring the truths each has to offer requires a new outlook transcending both existing Western and Eastern epistemology. If you want to have some sort of idea of what the kind of rigorous science that has the capacity to fit Spirit, Qi, Yin/Yang and consciousness into its framework could look like, I highly recommend reading "Marriage of Sense and Soul" by Ken Wilber, and looking into [...] .