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 Related Terms
• ch'i
• yin and yang


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical technique involving the use of needles to manipulate a person's ch'i for the purpose of reestablishing balance between the opposing force of yin and yang in them. Evidence of the use of acupuncture goes back at least 4,000 years in China, although the oldest surviving texts date only to round the 2nd century BCE.

Legend has it that acupuncture was introduced to the Chinese by Huang-ti, known as the Yellow Emperor, who might have lived some time around the 28th century BCE. According to popular myth, he brought the knowledge of things like bows & arrows, writing, the calendar, and more - including a medical text called Nei Jing which is still in use today. This book introduces the idea of ch'i and it's importance to a person's mental and physical health.

How Does It Work?
The basic principle which lies behind the use of acupuncture is the belief that illness is caused by a failure of a person's ch'i to move properly along internal "power lines," called meridians. Needles are inserted at specific points along these meridians in order to release blockages and restore balance.

Much of the reported efficacy of acupuncture can be attributed to the placebo effect. When a person visits an acupuncturist, they are greeted by a person in a white coat who seems to magically insert needles under the skin without pain. The walls are typically filled with charts of the human body covered with various lines and Chinese symbols. All of this - the setting, the demeanor of the acupuncturist, and the actions involved - will quite naturally lead a person to the strong belief that what is occurring will help cure them. As a consequence, that person is much more likely to get better, even if acupuncture is meaningless.

Often unrecognized is the importance of numerology as one of the fundamental principles behind acupuncture. Numbers are believed to have magical meaning - and the most magical is the number 5. In Chinese mythology there are five basic elements, each of which corresponds to five parts of the body, five odors, five tissues, etc. Thus, basic principles of numerology are used to regulate the practice of acupuncture

Acupuncture and Harm
Relatively unknown is the fact that it is possible for acupuncture to do harm. Patients have had damage done to them when the needles have been inserted too close to vital organs or nerves. In 1988, the Toronto Star reported that inadequately sterilized needles could become vectors for transmitting AIDS or other infectious diseases.

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What is Alternative Medicine?
There's an awful lot in the news and in society about "alternative medicines" these days. By some estimates, it's an industry doing between $15 and $20 billion annually - and growing! But what is alternative medicine - how does it differ from scientific medicine and why do people use it?

Skepticism & Critical Thinking
This is the main index for issues dealing with skepticism, critical thinking, logic and arguments. The first section is Critical Thinking itself - how to think about claims and arguments you hear, how to critique arguments, and how to formulate your own arguments such that they are more likely to be sound and valid. The second section is about Skeptical Investigations - the practical application of the critical thinking skills covered in the first section. Here you will find critiques of things like astrology, alternative medicine, parapsychology, the New Age and more.

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