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The Spark in the Machine - How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

The Spark in the Machine - How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine

Why can salamanders grow new legs, and young children grow new finger tips, but adult humans can't regenerate? What is the electricity that flows through the human body? Is it the same thing that the Chinese call Qi? If so, what does Chinese medicine know, that western medicine ignores?

Dan Keown's highly accessible, witty, and original book shows how western medicine validates the theories of Chinese medicine, and how Chinese medicine explains the mysteries of the body that western medicine largely ignores. He explains the generative force of embryology, how the hearts of two people in love (or in scientific terms `quantum entanglement') truly beat as one, how a cheating heart is also an ill heart (which is why men are twice as likely to die of a sudden heart attack with their mistress than with their wife), how neural crest cells determine our lifespan, and why Proust's madeleines evoked the memories they did.

The book shows how the theories of western and Chinese medicine support each other, and how the integrated theory enlarges our understanding of how bodies work on every level. Full of good stories and surprising details, Dan Keown's book is essential reading for anyone who has ever wanted to know how the body really works.

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JCM Review

The title of Daniel Keown's new book, The Spark in the Machine - How the Science of Acupuncture Explains the Mysteries of Western Medicine is bold, and holds the promise of great revelations within. This book is an important milestone in our understanding of how acupuncture might operate in the body, and the often remarkable correspondences between traditional Chinese and modern medical thinking, but it ultimately falls short of what might be expected from its title. This may be due to the exuberance of its author – Dr Keown’s sheer passion and love for both Western and Chinese medicine shines through on almost every page. Unfortunately this exuberance occasionally leads to speculative or misleading statements on topics that stray away from his expertise (but it is hard not to be swept along with his enthusiasm). Although none of these speculations detract too much from the text overall, and are easily forgiven by a sympathetic reader, a more critical eye will find ammunition to dismiss this as yet another crackpot book from the crazy world of ‘alternative’ medicine. Personally, I respect the fact that Dr Keown has chosen to write in this way. He wears his heart on his sleeve and has given open-minded readers much of value to debate and work with in the future to advance the understanding of our art.

In the first section of the book, Dr Keown wrestles with a number of scientific ideas that could be related to different aspects of the ever-elusive concept of qi. He begins with a discussion of Becker's ground-breaking research on the role of direct current (DC) electricity in bio-regeneration, and introduces the idea of qi as representing intelligent and organised metabolism in the body. Efficient pathways of electrical conduction are to be found in the collagen that makes up the network of fascia that wraps all of our organs and permeates our bodies. These are proposed as pathways for conduction of this intelligent metabolism. He suggests that during embryological development, organising centres emitting morphogens - that help to direct our holistic ordered growth - make natural candidates for acupuncture points, and enquires as to what might regulate these organising centres and the amount of morphogens released. This is indeed a mystery of biomedicine, but unfortunately not one that can be explained by traditional acupuncture theory. In the second section of the book, after a description of the fascinating neural crest cells that have many tantalising connections with the concept of jing-essence, and are shown to be key to the higher stages of our development as a species, he asks how these neural crest cells 'know' where they are going and what they are supposed to be doing when they get there. Again, this is a fascinating biomedical mystery, but unfortunately it is again not answerable by acupuncture theory. If I had to hazard a guess, I would expect answers to these questions will ultimately come from modern evolutionary theory rather than from Chinese medicine. To me, the title of this book is the wrong way round - much of the beauty of the book lies in Keown’s use of modern biomedical concepts to deepen our understanding of the more general theories about the body and its physiology developed by the ancient Chinese. In addition, Dr Keown uses the holistic framework of Chinese Medicine to pull modern concepts together to give an inkling of what a true integrated medicine of the future might look like.

However, some of the arguments in the book seem to contradict this forward-looking view. In chapter 7, the author states that 'science balks at the idea of qi as a vague invisible force but is quite happy to believe in the vague invisible force of electricity'. This both misleads people who are not trained in science and puts off those who are. In its most advanced form, QED, the most modern theory of electromagnetism, has been shown to be accurate to 10 parts in a billion. In no sense could this be called vague. Acupuncturists like Dr Keown who have a training in scientific method should really know better. Similarly, I felt there was no need for his wild mathematical speculations that a made-up equation relating DNA to qi somehow relates to the Mandelbrot set. Making the observation that many structures in the body are self-similar or fractal in nature, he suggests that the action of a needle could elicit a healing effect similar to the butterfly effect. If this were true, there would be no way to ever reproduce anything in acupuncture, as the nature of such a chaotic system would mean that different results would happen every time. And with a throwaway statement such as 'even many scientists accept that our brains are “quantum computers”’, one could be forgiven for wondering whether the difficult problem of the nature of consciousness had finally been solved (it hasn't, in case you were wondering). But these examples all come from areas outside Dr Keown's primary expertise. I would have preferred if he had spent more time on his real strengths in the book – the engaging and lively discussion of 56 Reviews Journal of Chinese Medicine • Number 106 • October 2014 anatomy, fascial pathways and organ physiology.

Time and again, Dr Keown makes fascinating connections between traditional functions of the organs and modern biomedicine. For the yin organs, he shows how the Shaoyin, Taiyin and Jueyin channel pairings are naturally expressed through the language of modern embryology. Often, the seemingly disparate functional behaviour of the Chinese organs are shown to make perfect sense when one considers the effects of hormones related to the physical organ itself. This is demonstrated when considering the many functions of the kidney, where adrenaline, cortisol, erythropoetin, vitamin D, dopamine and renin are respectively shown to be connected to Kidney yang, yin, marrow, bones, willpower and the ability of fire in the Kidney to affect the Heart. This is impressive stuff, but even more elegant is his discussion of the functions of the spleen and pancreas and how many of the Spleen's traditional functions (i.e. transformation/transportation, holding blood in the blood vessels and clear thinking) can be related to serotonin regulation and insulin release. He finds connections between the right kidney and the duodenum, which he suggests is the true location of mingmen, and even finds an anatomical connection between the small intestine and the heart.

As my anatomy is not as sharp as it could be, I sometimes struggled to visualise some of his anatomical descriptions. The text includes some lovely hand-drawn figures, but in some parts of the book I would have liked to have seen more. A few more references would also have been useful. For instance, a paper by Charles Shang is mentioned as being very important and having strongly influenced his work, but there is no reference to this paper, or any deeper discussion of the theory it espouses.

Back on the positive side, the author makes visually appealing comparisons, such as between the physical structure of the lung and an inverted tree, enhanced by an interesting connection based on the similar structures of haemoglobin and chlorophyll molecules. The writing style is creative and often humourous, so if you have ever wondered what kind of connection could possibly exist between the liver and Bobby Charlton you will not be disappointed. I enjoyed reading about the embryology of the kidney, and how a whole line of 'middle kidneys' that precede our final kidneys appear to align perfectly with the Bladder channel, making connections to each of the internal organs just like the back-shu points. I also relished learning about neural crest cells and their connections to jing - they can be found in strong teeth and jaws, pigment cells, the bones of our ear, the pituitary gland, our fascia and the connective tissue of the heart (which determines our lifespan). You will also learn other interesting facts - for example about why the fascia is important in robotic thyroid surgery, why Scaramanga's extra nipple is obviously fake (for James Bond fans) and how peoples' personality changes after heart transplant surgery.

Dr Keown also adds his own experience of using acupuncture in the emergency room. The descriptions of using Tongli HE-5 and Yinxi HE-6 for atrial fibrillation, Dazhong KID- 4 for kidney pain, Zusanli ST-36 and Sanyinjiao SP-6 for chronic vaginal bleeding, Chize LU–5 for nosebleeds and Kongzui LU-6 for breathlessness, bring the detailed theoretical discussions back down to earth and clinical practice. Overall this book is a great read, and will certainly be enjoyed by acupuncturists interested in the connections between biomedicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

Michael Cassidy

'I started reading this book and thought “wow!” – I couldn't put it down! Daniel Keown is both a Western medical doctor and an acupuncturist. Using his engaging writing style he makes sense of how the latest scientific understanding of systems theory unites with the holism of our oldest medical tradition. Everyone from the general public to Western and Eastern medical practitioners, in fact anyone who is curious about the remarkable way the human body functions and develops, should read this book.'
— Angela Hicks, Joint Principal of the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, Reading, UK, and author of The Principles of Chinese Medicine

'It is surprising how little research has been done over the years to examine the relationship of acupuncture to Western medicine. Now at last we have Dr Keown's thoughtful and stimulating book to help fill this gap. Dr Keown talks from personal experience of working on both sides of this medical divide. His book is an invaluable contribution to helping practitioners of both disciplines understand how far they speak a common medical language, though they may express themselves in somewhat different terms.'
—     Nora Franglen, Founder of the School of Five Element Acupuncture (SOFEA) and author of The Handbook of Five Element Practice, Keepers of the Soul, Patterns of Practice and The Simple Guide to Five Element Acupuncture

'Unusually for a doctor, Daniel Keown has a deep knowledge of the theories and practice of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. His obvious love and profound understanding of anatomy and physiology means that he is almost uniquely qualified to explain how acupuncture 'works' according to the paradigm of modern science. This is an important book and essential reading for anyone interested in bridging the gap in understanding between Chinese medicine and conventional medical science.'
—     Peter Mole, Dean of the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, Reading, UK and author of Acupuncture for Body, Mind and Spirit

'The eloquent and poetic language of the classics of Chinese medicine has always seemed incommensurable with modern Western scientific medicine. No longer. Dr Keown provides clear and compelling evidence that both systems are describing the same processes in the human body. Some kind of synthesis is now in prospect, and the implications are enormous.'
—     John Hamwee, acupuncturist and author of Acupuncture for New Practitioners



Prologue. Part 1. 1. In the Beginning… 2. The One Cell Universe. 3. 'A Name but no Form…' 4. The Triple Helix. 5. The Spark of Life. 6. What is Qi? 7. Cloning Sheep with Qi. 8. How Qi Folds the Body. 9. Organ Qi. 10. Origini. 11. Tricky Dicky and Little Pricks. 12. Human Fractals. 11. The Leonardoes and the Perfect Man. 12. Evolution at Warp Speed. 13. When Sonic Hedgehog Turns Nasty. 14. What Are Acupuncture Points? 15. Currents of Qi. Part 2. Ming Men: The Embryology of Chinese Medicine. Introduction. 1. 2. 3. 4. Yangmion: Beauty and Brains. 5. The Yolk of our Body. 6. Blood – the Middle Layer. 7. Embryological Surfers. 8. Yin. 9. The Six Yin Organs. 7. The Emperor. 8. Arm Shao Yin Channel. 9. Emergency Case Report. 10. The Stubborn One. 11. The Ad-kidney? Gland 12. The Kidney Makes the Marrow. 13. The Kidney Controls the Bones. 14. Fire at the Gate of Vitality. 15. The Kidney Controls Water. 16. Kidney is the Seat of Fear in our Bodies. 17. The Kidney Jing Fills the Brain. 18. The Kidney Controls the Sex Drive. 19. Leg Shao-Yin. 20. The Inspiring Organ. 21. The Odd Organ. 22. The General. 23. The Emperor's Bodyguard. 24. Yang. 25. The Surfing Channel. 26. The Invisible Channel. 27. The Gut Channel. 28. The Gut Channel… again. 29. The Lymph Channel. 30. God's Channel. Epilogue. Appendix 1. How Cancer Moves. Appendix 2. Yin and Yang.


AuthorDr Daniel Keown
Publication Date01/02/2014
PublisherSinging Dragon
Number Of Pages304
Book FormatPaperback

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