Subject: Qi Gong talk in Boulder (long) Last night I had the pleasure to attend a talk spo

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From: Alex Matthews Subject: Qi Gong talk in Boulder (long) Last night I had the pleasure to attend a talk sponsored by the local skeptics group, and I thought I'd share the experience with you. The flyer for the event depicted a robed, monkish character using a torch labeled "reason" to illuminate the words "magic", "Yi Jing", and "Qi Gong". The text read: "Explore the world of Chinese mystical culture, with visiting members of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology; Guo Zheng-yi, Shen Zhen-yu, Dong Guang-bi, Zhang Hong-lin and Yu Li." The advertised speakers are active in exposing and debunking faith healers and similar con artists in China. Two of them failed to obtain visas to visit the US, and the other three them spoke last night (I'm sorry, I didn't write down the names of the speakers). The talk focused on certain charlatans who earn large sums of money by duping people into believing that they have great (paranormal) powers whose source is Qi (roughly equivalent to "life energy"). The evening began with a short introduction to the skeptics group (for any nonmembers), and then the podium was turned over to the speakers and their interpreter (a well-humored physics student from CU). The first speaker gave us a background in Chinese mysticism, describing the Yi Jing (I Ching) method of fortunetelling. This was not the main topic, but served as an example of an ancient mystical tradition to which the Chinese people are in general receptive and approving. The second speaker (a physicist) gave us details about present-day mysticism and what the skeptics were doing to counteract it. He gave as an example of the rise of mysticism the fact that in the last 2000 or so years books on Yi Jing were written at the rate of about 1 per year; but in the last decade alone, over 2000 books on Yi Jing have been published. The third speaker gave a description of Qi and the possible uses of Qi Gong (a sort of meditation) to induce changes in the body's metabolism and maybe even it's chemical balance. She emphasized that some evidence exists for simple things like regulating heartbeats and other things similar to biofeedback, but the jury was still out on whether Qi Gong was effective against disease and injury. Serious research continues in China, mainly driven by a curiosity about how far Western medicine can penetrate into traditional Eastern medicine. The first speaker then returned and acted out a typical Qi Gong faith healer routine. He ran through many amusing and (to a skeptical eye) easy-to-spot tricks, each preceded by him grimacing, contorting his body, and claiming to have focused Qi energy into some body part or inanimate object. He started by "heating" a rock with Qi energy, and passed it around the audience for verification. Of course, the audience failed to follow his instructions -- close the eyes, hold a hand over the rock, and concentrate -- and so missed the joy of "feeling" the rock's warmth; but the point was made. The crowd began to loosen up when he pretended to cut a banana in three parts with the banana still sealed in its peel, and pulses quickened when he infused his finger with Qi and thrust it into a spinning fan blade, stopping it with no harm to himself. We got a good laugh when he "zapped" a cup of water, had the interpreter drink it, informed the audience that the interpreter's tongue was now special ("I do feel as though I speak better now," quipped the interpreter), and extinguished a lit cigarette on the "special" tongue. We then watched the video they brought, of a Qi Gong huckster performing his tricks. The trick where he restrains a motorcycle with a rope held in his teeth did not impress (especially since I had been to the circus on Friday and saw a man hold a spinning woman aloft in similar manner!), and the other tricks were standard crowd-reading things like identifying which object on the table a woman touched, or physics things like having someone break a stone on his chest with a sledgehammer, or breaking a brick with a glass. In the discussion that followed the video, a woman stood up and said something like, "I'm insulted that we have to listen to this. I have studied Qi Gong for seven years and know of people who have cured themselves of disease through Qi Gong, how can you insult our intelligence with these circus acts?" It turned out that she had misunderstood the focus of the talk, which was on the specific people who made unsubstantiated claims, and who made a good living off of duping others. She then asked about the serious research going on, and though her tone and manner were still a bit ruffled, the speakers did a fine job of summarizing the scientific research. The woman was still bothered about something, and another audience member finally put a finger on it. "Are you trying to ask if they believe in Qi and Qi Gong personally?" Yes, she said, and the question was posed to the speakers. They all replied that there was no believeable evidence. The woman's response to this was, "I can't believe I'm hearing this from Chinese! You, of all people, should know these things." She didn't seem to be angry, but she was visibly surprised. Many of us in the audience spent the next 10 minutes trying to think of something that a Chinese would expect an American to know about, and drew a blank because we weren't sure what mystic beliefs we can lay claim to. Satanism? Astrology? Ouija boards? Finally, someone asked the speakers what has been exported to China, and they replied "extraterrestrials". It's nice to know that there's no trade imbalance where stories are concerned. :-) I left before the audience settled down to watch the rest of the video, but I had a lot of fun and learned some things. I was impressed with how the audience helped that one woman get her bearings. She was obviously convinced of the medical effectiveness of Qi Gong, and I for one thought her comments were outrageous and stereotyped, but the discussion remained on the known facts, and this patience paid off in our all learning about details of Qi Gong that might not have come up otherwise. All in all, a good experience.


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