James L. Oschman Churchill Livingstone, 2000 Paperback, 275 pages, £19.95
(Reviewed by David Mayor, EJOM Vol. 3 No. 4)
This is a book for those who want to step outside traditional ways of thinking about their practice, whether this is acupuncture, homoeopathy, bodywork or healing (it could also profitably be read by some patients who want to ‘understand’). Jim Oschman provides a useful and thought provoking introduction to current scientific thinking (both mainstream and borderline) on the central role played by ‘energy’ in all these forms of energy medicine. It provides a welcome and important bridge between the two worlds of therapy and science.
His own energy and wide knowledge may already be familiar to members of the US Society for Acupuncture Research or readers of Leon Chaitow’s Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. This compendium, based on his journal articles, covers a vast range of subjects, from bioelectricity and the brain to tensegrity structures (see Glossary) and the bioeffects of the electromagnetic environment in which we live. Their application in the different therapies is sketched out in individual chapters.
With a PhD in cellular biology, and sixteen years of multidisciplinary research and experiential teaching on ‘energy’ behind him, Oschman’s expertise and enthusiasm for the subject is impressive. However, the book’s origins in a series of journal articles does cramp his style somewhat. Not only are there unnecessary repetitions (of complete sentences, even of whole page illustrations), but sometimes the coverage of particular subjects is frustratingly superficial, as if there was not time to give it proper attention before having to rush on to the next topic. A four-page chapter on acupuncture, of which barely more than half is text, is just not enough! (thankfully though, Oschman does take care to reference his sources, so opening many avenues to readers who would explore further). Blandly stating that acupuncture meridians ‘are low resistance pathways for the flow of electricity’ needs a lot more support than one dated reference. Inclusion of a pretty 1979 conference logo seems to me an irrelevance and juxtapositions of Edwin Babbitt (one of the pioneers of colour therapy) with von Ziemssen and Duchenne de Boulogne (founding fathers of electrophysiology), or of currents of injury and oscillations of the brain’s DC fields in a mere two-paragraph presentation of all of Robert Becker’s work, are quite simply bewildering.
This feeling of flight, speed and ungroundedness, grew on me as I read. When Oschman does take the time to penetrate the scientific undergrowth, he is fascinating, but often the threads of the broad picture he weaves just do not hold together (despite his own criticism of the reductionist piecemeal approach of science). It is too broad, too vague, too patchwork. His own ‘elegant theory’ (as Candace Pert calls it in her eulogistic ‘Foreword’) is only evident towards the end of the book: an image of the body as a liquid crystalline tensegrity structure capable of resonance in different frequency modes (ideas he had already published in essence in the American Zoologist in 1984). Indeed, in some ways Oschman’s presentation is more iconic and McLuhanist than left brained and literal.
Sometimes he has read too fast and uncritically and is in turn quite frankly misleading. For instance, he follows Barbara Brewitt in stating that Otto Bergsmann and Ann Woolley-Hart, who carried out ground breaking acupuncture research in the early 1970s, were English, whereas they were Austrian (or, in Ann Woolley-Hart’s case, half Austrian!). Claude Bernard is quoted as stating that ‘the genes create structures,’ although Mendel was only 17 when Bernard supposedly wrote this, and never published till nearly thirty years later. Barbara Brewitt is quoted again for her use of Andrew Bassett’s highly biased statement that the ‘method of choice’ for slow healing fractures in the mid 1800s was to pass electricity through needles surgically implanted in the fracture region. MORA and EAV, German methods which grew out of electroacupuncture, are presented as if they are universally accepted, not highly controversial. And so on.
This is very much a ‘big picture’ book. Theories are presented helterskelter, one after another, without sufficient foundation. Generalisations are rampant. For instance, ‘Each molecule, cell, tissue and organ has an ideal resonant frequency that coordinates its activities’ (this is a statement that has often been made, as here, without any clear discussion of what these frequencies might be); ‘It is becoming more and more apparent that the energy systems in the living body being documented in this book are all components of Manaka’s X-signal system’ (to explain one set of ungraspables by invoking another is not, to my mind, helpful); ‘The currents induced in tissues by PEMF [pulsed electromagnetic fields] mimic the natural electrical activities created within bones during movements’ (this may have been the original concept behind applying PEMF to bone healing, but is by no means proven); ‘Vibrating molecules throughout the body may become cooperatively entrained with the brain rhythms’ (this, I believe, misconstrues Becker’s more meticulously presented ideas).
Oschman’s optimism is contagious but dangerous. Statements such as ‘we will soon know the electromagnetic language of all of the cells in the body, including those of bacteria and tumor cells’ send shivers through my anarchic soul. It is so easy to be carried along, uncritically, on the oceanic swell of his enthusiastic exposition of coherence, cooperativity, synergism, entrainment ... the electronic ballet, energetic pharmacology, the ordered living crystal, somatic preverbal memory ....
Maybe it is my own fear of the oceanic, but his focus on coherence and minimising of differences makes me uneasy. In a book expounding contemporary scientific views, it is surprising to find so little mention of chaos except as something external and dangerous (very American!), and in a book by an authority on bodywork, shocking to see no mention of Wilhelm Reich, who so powerfully understood the underside of life and its energies.
Perhaps this book will appeal to readers with more fluid boundaries than mine. For someone to write about colourpuncture and, in the next sentence, to gaily state that ‘these energetic approaches are not based on vague or obscure theories’ leaves me flabbergasted. Unfortunately, for all Oschman’s talk of a ‘scientific consensus’ regarding energetic medicine, I sadly doubt that many of ‘those in the biomedical research community who are open-minded enough to consider new possibilities for research and clinical applications’ will take this book seriously. The language is too vague for dedicated scientists, and may fail to bridge the gap between their world and ours.
And yet, for all its faults, this is a useful, readable and important book. Not only does it provide a handy overview of the latest scientific thinking applicable to energy medicine, but Jim Oschman has made a genuine contribution to understanding body energetics with his development of Becker’s ideas into a comprehensive model of a ‘tensegrous’ network for bioelectronic information communication. His account of the electromagnetic environment and its biological effects is clear and succinct. And his hypothesis that entrainment between healer, world and patient may occur during the silent phases of thalamic activity (that normally occur primarily in the early stages of falling asleep) cries out for some experimental verification.
Glossary tensegrity structure: the concept of tensegrity was developed by Buckminster Fuller. A tensegrity system is characterised by a continuous tensional network supported by a discontinuous set of compressive elements. Examples include the musculoskeletal system, bones themselves, and the intra and extra-cellular tissue matrix. tensegrous: a horrible neologism (Oschman's) coined to describe the attribute of tensegrity-ness. McLuhanist: another horrible neologism (mine) to describe presentation that is fast, snapshot, nonlinear, associative, more in line with what Marshall McLuhan considered as haptic or auditory modes of communication than the traditional linear, visual mode developed through dependence on the printed word. MORA: MORA therapy was developed in Germany in the 1970s by Morell, a doctor, and Rasche, an engineer. In principle it used the body's own signals in treatment (amplified, inverted, or otherwise transformed), rather than applying exogenous stimulation as with moxa, acupressure, electroacupuncture and so forth. EAV: Electroacupuncture according to Voll. In some European countries, if you mention 'electroacupuncture' it is immediately assumed that you mean EAV, a very influential system of diagnosis and treatment based on electrical measurements at acupuncture points. Virtually all electronic systems of allergy and medicament testing currently used owe their origins to the pioneering work of Dr Reinhold in Germany. Neo-Reichian bodywork: Willhelm Reich, an Austrian, for a while worked closely with Sigmund Freud. While Freud considered 'libido' to be part of the mental-emotional make-up of a person, Reich explored its energetic aspects, eventually developing a whole method of 'orgonomy', working directly with what he called the 'orgone', or life energy (sometimes equated with qi by acupuncturists and others). Rather than a 'talking therapy', orgonomy is very much a body-centred method. Neo-Reichian bodywork is a whole field of therapy deriving ultimately from Reich's original insights, but often using less invasive methods to unlock the energy blocks tied up in patterns of muscular tension. Its methods can be powerful, and need to be carefully learned and applied.
David Mayor David Mayor has explored much of the same ground as Jim Oschman over the last quarter century and has been an acupuncturist since 1982. Before that he trained in both radionics and the neo-Reichian bodywork methods of Gerda Boyesen. His original degree was in mathematical physics and art history. Currently he is in the throes of preparing a textbook on electroacupuncture for Churchill Livingstone.