Some Speculative Thoughts on Qigong

We offer some speculative thoughts on the scientific basis of Qigong. This speculation borrows and extends on the field concept of physics that started in the 19th century with the work of Faraday and Maxwell related to the electromagnetic force, and is now the fundamental concept underlying all modern physics covering all types of interactions, including gravitation, electromagnetism, strong force, and weak force.

Gravitational Field:

Before I discuss the electromagnetic force, let me first discuss the gravitational force which is more familiar to everyone. Two objects are always attracted to each other by a gravitational force that is proportional to the masses of the two objects and is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is how we now understand planetary motions and sending satellites into orbits around the earth. [1]

At the beginning, people thought that there is action at a distance, i.e., as soon as object B is in the vicinity of object A, then there is a force that A instantaneously exerts on B (and vice versa, a force that B instantaneously exerts on A). No matter what is the distance between the two objects, the force is transmitted instantaneously (this is where the term action at a distance comes from). To some people, this explanation is not acceptable because it raises the question how does the force get transmitted so quickly. If the distance is large, then it is not only action at a distance, but instant action at a distance.

This is why people started to think that an object changes the space around it. For example, an object bends the space around it, so that object A bends the space around it from a flat space to a curve space. When object B is in the vicinity of A, it is on a curved space that is sloping from B to A. Another way of saying this is that any object with mass sets up a gravitational field around it (or changes the geometry of the space around it), and that field will affect any object that is in it. Once the concept of field is introduced, then there is no longer any need for action at a distance, because the field permeates all of space, although the strength of the field decreases with distance.

Electromagnetic Field:

Similarly, any object A with electric charge sets up an electric field around it, and any object B with electric charge also sets up an electric field around it. When A and B are in the vicinity of each other, they feel each other’s electric field, or equivalently, there is an electric force between them. The electric force does not act at a distance, because the electric field permeates all of space, although the strength of the field decreases with distance.

We also know from doing experiments that a moving electric charge produces a magnetic force around it (i.e., unlike a stationary electric charge, a moving electric charge can affect magnets around it). Therefore, a moving electric charge or electric current sets up an electric field and a magnetic field around it and creates an electric force and a magnetic force, or an electromagnetic force, that affects other charges and currents around it. Again without requiring action at a distance, we say that a moving electric charge or electric current sets up an electromagnetic field around it. This electromagnetic field changes the space around it, although unlike gravitation it does not change the geometry of the space. This is the great contribution of the British physicist Michael Faraday and the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell when Faraday first introduced the field concept which was then developed by Maxwell in 1865 in his fundamental theory of the electromagnetic field that unified electricity, magnetism, and light.

Extension of the Field Concept to Other Forces of Nature:

Once the field concept was introduced for the electromagnetic force, then it was quickly applied to the gravitational force, and in the 20th century its application was extended to the other two known forces of nature: the “strong” force and the “weak” force. The strong force is the force that bounds subatomic particles together and governs the structure of the nuclei and atoms of matter. The weak” force is the force that governs radioactive nuclear decays and nuclear fusions that power the sun. So now we have the electromagnetic field, the gravitational field, the strong field, and the weak field. In each case, a physical object affects the space around it, and it exerts forces on other objects around it. With the field concept, we no longer have to talk about an object exerting a force on another object via action at a distance since the field permeates all of space. In general, the strength of these forces diminishes with distance, although in the case of the strong force, the strength of the force also diminishes when the distance is very small, a property known as “asymptotic freedom” that was discovered in 1973.

Speculative Thoughts on Qigong:

In Qigong, the fundamental concept is that some sort of bio-electric energy or life-force called Qi (氣) that is vital to the health of an individual, is circulating throughout the human body. Illnesses are due to insufficient or excess Qi or blockages of Qi, and illnesses can be cured by helping the body to generate more Qi when there is a deficiency, or to get rid of some Qi when there is an excess, or to remove the blockages so that Qi can flow freely and thus getting rid of the problem of excessive or insufficient amount of Qi.

Although it is not clear what is this life-force Qi and what is the scientific basis of Qi, modern scientific and medical research during the last 20-30 years [2, 3, 4] provide many indications that there are many health benefits to practicing Qigong and Taiji, although many more such studies are still needed, involving larger sample sizes and duplication of results by other groups.

We don’t have yet a good scientific definition of Qi that is generally accepted by scientists, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that Qi doesn’t exist.  To the many people who have practiced Qigong for an extended period and on a regular basis, Qi is very real to them.  They can feel Qi in their body, and some can guide Qi to circulate to different parts of their body, or even externally to other people around them.

If Qi, or some sort of bio-electric energy or life-force, is circulating in the body, let’s call these circulation channels “Qi-vessels”, which could be our arteries and veins that circulate our blood, and/or the nerves in our nervous system that exchange neurons or information between different parts of the nervous system. Then just like what we observe in nature that each of the forces of nature sets up a field that permeates all of space, let’s speculate that a Qi-field may be associated with Qi, so that the circulation of Qi will set up a Qi-field around it, both inside and outside the body.

Doing exercises that can affect the amount of Qi generated or govern how the Qi is circulated could affect the health of that individual. It could also affect the strength of the muscles of that person, or the ability to absorb the amount of forces that hits that part of the body, as evident in all types of martial arts feats demonstrated by various Qigong practitioners.

Now, the Qi-field is not necessarily restricted to just inside the Qigong practitioner’s own body. Therefore, his Qi-field can affect other people around him, and thus an expert Qigong practitioner can use his Qigong to help improve other people’s health, which has also been observed. [5]


We have utilized the fundamental concept of a field that is used so successfully in physics to explain all kinds of physical phenomena, and applied it in some speculative thoughts on Qigong. This provides a framework that perhaps can understand some of the demonstrations by martial arts Qigong practitioners and also by Qigong health practitioners.

These speculative thoughts have also raised many questions. What is this bio-electric or life force Qi? How is it generated, and how does it get circulated? What are the effects of the Qi-field on the space around it? What is the range of the Qi-field, or how does it vary with distance? Can the Qi-field be blocked or diminished by a barrier? And perhaps many other questions. These questions pose difficult challenges, but they are extremely important questions in our understanding of our health and our scientific world.

[1] The reason that the earth doesn’t just fall to the sun is because the earth also has a velocity moving in a direction that is tangential to the earth’s orbit around the sun (or in the case of satellites, why the satellite doesn’t fall to the earth is because the satellite also has a velocity moving in a direction that is tangential to the satellite’s orbit around the earth.

[2] Chinese Medical Qigong, Editor in Chief:  Tianjun Liu, O.M.D., and Associate Editor in Chief:  Kevin W. Chen, Ph.D., published by Singing Dragon, United Kingdom, 2010, 653 pages.  This book is the first English translation of the only official textbook of medical Qigong, now in its third edition, used in colleges and universities of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in China.  This book is the result of more than 30 faculty members in a dozen colleges and universities of  TCM in China.

[3] See, e.g., “A Comprehensive Review of the Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi,” R. Jahnke, L. Larkey, C. Rogers, J. Etnier, and F. Lin, American Journal of Health Promotion, 2010 July/August;  24(6), e1-e25.  A copy of this paper can also be found at:  More information about the work of R. Jahnke and his collaborators can be found in the following links:,,

[4] See also the article “A Comprehensive Review of the Health Benefits of Qigong and Tai Chi”:

[5] See, e.g., the discussion reported in the last part of the article “Myth or Reality”:

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