A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
by Christopher Dow
Excerpted from The Wellspring: An Inquiry into the Nature of Chi
(Phosphene Publishing Co., 2008)
The idea that a master of chi is aware of and can react to and manipulate not only his or her own personal chi field (biofield, bioelectromagnetic field) but also that of others opens a host of possibilities that clamor for attention. After all, it is said that various psychic phenomena become real to the traveler on the road to enlightenment. So, let’s both speculate and have some fun at the same time.
The bioelectromagnetic force we call chi very likely does more than have an affect on the physiological structures and functions of an individual’s body, especially if it is true that the bioelectromagnetic field can be shown to be affected by and have an effect on external magnetic or electromagnetic fields. (For a more complete account of the link between electromagnetism and chi, see my book, The Wellspring: An Inquiry into the Nature of Chi.)
The latter aspect didn’t escape bioelectric researcher Dr. Robert O. Becker, who realized that such interactions must be present. “Elementary physics told me that the currents [associated with nerve impulses] and their associated electromagnetic fields would have to be affected in some way by external fields,” he writes. “In engineering terms, the biomagnetic field would be coupled to the DC currents. Hence changes impressed upon it by external fields would be ‘read out’ through perturbations in the current. Outside fields would also couple directly to the currents themselves, without acting through the biofield as intermediary, especially if the currents were semiconducting. In short, all living things having such a system would share the common experience of being plugged into the electromagnetic fields of earth, which in turn vary in response to the moon and sun.” (1)
Becker wanted to investigate the interactions, but he couldn’t see a way to approach the problem until an opportunity appeared serendipitously. During the International Geophysical Year of 1957–58, he volunteered to collect data for the Aurora Watch Program, which was an effort to find out whether the northern lights appeared simultaneously throughout the north latitudes in response to changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. It turned out they do, but the data also gave Becker the opportunity to explore an entirely different phenomenon. He reviewed the data to see if they showed any correlation between the disturbances in the Earth’s field caused by magnetic storms on the sun and the rate of psychiatric admissions. (2)
To aid in the research, he enlisted Howard Friedman, chief of psychiatry at the VA Hospital in Syracuse, New York, whose credentials and reputation afforded access to the records of state psychiatric hospitals. The researchers matched the admissions of more than twenty-eight thousand patients at eight hospitals against sixty-seven magnetic storms over the previous four years and noted that a statistically significant greater number of people were admitted just after magnetic disturbances than when the field was stable. (3)
Becker and Friedman then looked for the same type of influence in patients already hospitalized, selecting twelve schizophrenics scheduled to remain in the VA hospital for several months with no changes in treatment. They asked the ward nurses to fill out a standard evaluation of the patients’ behavior once every eight-hour shift. Then they compared the results with cosmic ray measurements taken every two hours from government measuring stations in Ontario and Colorado.
Because magnetic storms generally decrease cosmic radiation reaching Earth, the researchers reasoned that they might find changes in the patient’s actions and moods during these declines. They used cosmic ray data instead of direct reports of the magnetic field strength because of technical problems in distinguishing magnetic storms from other variations in the Earth’s field. (4) Sure enough, various behavioral changes were noted in almost all the subjects one or two days after cosmic ray decreases. The delay was interesting because this is the same interval that incoming radiation from low-energy solar flares takes to produce strong disruptions in the Earth’s field. (5)
Encouraged, the researchers went on, in 1967, to confirm that atypical magnetic fields do produce abnormalities in various human and animal responses. They noted slowed reaction times in humans and a generalized stress response in rabbits exposed to fields ten or twenty times the normal strength of the Earth’s field. This led them to speculate that the Earth’s field plays a major role in keeping the DC system’s control of bodily functions within normal bounds. (6) Two other researchers—Frank Brown, at Northwestern University, and Rutger Weaver, at the Max Planck Institute in Munich—soon provided further proof of Becker and Friedman’s assertions. (7) Weaver, in particular, showed that an electric field pulsing at 10 hertz—which is the dominant frequency in the EEG in animals—is the prime timer of biocycles. (8)
These various findings jibe with Harold Saxon Burr and Björn E. Nordenström’s separate observations that there are definite interactions between bioelectromagnetic fields and other magnetic fields, whether they are produced by biological systems or by other means.
A graduate of and lifelong researcher at Yale University, Burr outlined his work with bioelectricity in his book Blueprint for Immortality. His findings encouraged him to postulate the existence of electro-dynamic fields around living things that can be measured and mapped with standard voltmeters. He discovered characteristic patterns in each life form that he tested, and these life-fields—or L-fields—are inherent in all living things and help determine an organism’s particular shape and function. “Every living thing is a storage battery charged with energy we call electricity,” he writes. “All of the seeds, plants, and animals we have tested show a direct relationship between electric potentials and vigor.” (9) In a sense, L-fields are similar to the morphogenic fields advanced by Paul Weiss in the 1930s, developed by H. V. Bronsted in the 1950s (10), and championed more recently by Rupert Sheldrake and others.
Burr reasoned that if there is an L-field, then unusual fluctuations in it might indicate illness or disease. In his book, he details experiments designed to determine the validity of this thesis that were carried out by Louis Langman, MD, of New York University and Bellevue Hospital Gynecological Service. Of more than 1,000 patients examined using electro-metric measurements of the L-field, 90-plus percent of those who showed a marked change in the voltage gradient had malignancies confirmed by biopsy. In subsequent experiments on mice, Burr reported changes in voltages as tumors were initiated and grew, while the control animals showed no changes.
Some of the most important work on the bioelectric system itself was done by Björn E. Nordenström, professor of diagnostic radiology at the Karolinska Institute and Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, and published in his book Biologically Closed Electrical Circuits: Clinical, Experimental, and Theoretical Evidence for an Additional Circulatory System. (11) His research was sparked by a curious pattern in a chest x-ray he observed in the 1950s. What he saw was a corona-like emanation surrounding a primary lung tumor, and for the next thirty years, he delved into the implications of this corona, observing it in benign as well as malignant tumors. This led to experiments on electrical potentials in various tissues, the effects of electrical energy on healing, electroosmosis (the movement of liquid out of or through a porous material or biological membrane under the influence of an electrical field), and the effects of molecular and electric field forces on tissue.
Finally, Nordenström postulated the existence of a hitherto unknown circulatory system based on spontaneously occurring electrical potentials that drive electric currents through the body, which he called biologically closed electric circuits. This electrical circulatory system, he said, does not consist of its own set of tubes, as with the blood and lymph systems, or of fibers as with nerves. Instead, he believed that the currents flow through tissues that surround the nervous system. Hence, this system does not have independent physiological structures that can be distinguished from structures whose functions already are surmised to be known.
Nordenström’s work not only demonstrates how circulating currents influence the structure and function of organs, but the electrical circulatory system he discovered may help explain many poorly understood physiological phenomena and processes such as diurnal cycles, embryogenesis, the spontaneous remission of cancer, and—not coincidentally to the premise of this book—the efficacy of prayer, meditation, and chi-enhancing exercises.
A number of other fascinating correlations exist between bioelectromagnetic fields and geomagnetism, such as the fact that dozens of species of animals—including bacteria, bees, newts, turtles, sharks, whales, homing pigeons, and migrating birds—have been found to have magnetic sensors. Research on the mystery of how bats navigate while hunting in the dark was solved by a team of scientists who reported their findings in Nature. The researchers showed that, while bats use echolocation at short ranges, they rely on the Earth’s magnetic field to keep their bearings over long distances. The scientists also discovered that bats “calibrate” their internal compasses each day at sunset, though the exact nature of the internal compass remains unknown. (12)
There also seems to be a definite historical correspondence between increases or changes in the Earth’s geomagnetic field and evolutionary bursts in human brain size. (13) But more to the point are speculations into the effects of one biofield on another. Such interactions might help explain extrasensory perception. Telling in this aspect is research into the pineal gland, which is equivalent to the head chakra. (Figure 1) “This tiny organ in the center of the cranium has turned out to be more than the vaguely defined ‘third eye’ of the mystic,” Becker writes. “It produces melatonin and serotonin, two neurohormones that, among many other functions, directly control all of the biocycles.” (14) It turns out that the pineal gland is influenced by very small magnetic fields, and several research groups have demonstrated that applying a small magnetic field, oriented so as to increase or decrease the Earth’s normal field, increases or decreases the pineal’s production of melatonin and serotonin. (15)
Figure 1: A cross-section of the brain showing the location of the pineal gland.
Interestingly enough, the pineal gland, because of its position in relation to the governing channel, naturally would be suffused with chi energy flowing up the spine and through the head. The increased flow experienced by a master of chi might serve to boost the workings of the pineal gland, not only increasing its secretion of serotonin and melatonin but making it more sensitive to the magnetic flux around it, giving the master, in truth, a sort of alternate view or sense of surrounding reality.
When we meet people, first impressions count a lot. Most of us probably have had the experience of meeting a person we know nothing about and finding ourselves instantly liking and feeling an affinity with them. And there are those we instantly detest. Psychologists might attribute those reactions to subtle body language or verbal cues or associations with past people we love or hate, but an electromagnetic theory of chi provides an alternative explanation.
“Opposites attract,” it is said of romantic relationships, and friends are “on the same wavelength.” These old sayings may have more of a foundation in the physics of bodily energy than we realize. If the particular fields of two individuals have energy frequencies that mesh harmoniously, they are attractive to one another. If they do not, then repulsion results. Most people, of course, fall into some vast midrange where the multifarious and complex magnetic forces of attraction and repulsion cancel out each other or find some median ground.
Although experiments in 1978 by E. Balanovski and J. G. Taylor, who used a variety of antennae, skin electrodes, and magnetometers to monitor a number of people claiming paranormal powers, found no electric or magnetic fields associated with successes in telepathy experiments (16), this does not preclude the possibility that interactions between bioelectromagnetic fields is a valid medium for telepathy—receivers do not produce signals.
There are, however, other problems with identifying bioelectromagnetic fields as the medium for telepathy. One that Becker examines is that the biofields of individuals are embedded in the far stronger magnetic field generated by the Earth, and the latter might overwhelm the former. But this might be overridden, he points out, if the sender and receiver are locked into a common frequency. “Such a lock-in system might explain why spontaneous ESP experiences most often happen between relatives or close friends.” (17)
But there also is the possibility that reception might not be strictly an all-or-nothing proposition. With hearing, for example, individuals unconsciously filter out noise and focus on particular elements of sound, such as a friend’s voice. “Hearing” on a psychic level might be equally selective. And just as some people hear better or are more able to filter extraneous sounds, some individuals might naturally be more sensitive or attuned to electromagnetic signals.
A second problem Becker notes is that psychic transmission doesn’t seem to fade with distance. The electromagnetic field around an animal’s nervous system is miniscule and diminishes rapidly. But he also points out that extremely low frequency transmissions (from 0.1 to 100 cycles per second) interact with the ionosphere in such a way that even weak signals in this frequency range travel completely around the world without dying out. (18) In addition, while electromagnetic influences do fade with distance, electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. Like gravitation, electromagnetic force will diminish over distance, but it will continue to propagate infinitely outward from its source.