Friday, April 07, 2006

Scholar's Paper Example: Steve-Ingvar Olson 6/10/2004

Pleneurethics and Traditional Chinese Medicine

6/10/04 - Final Copy

Steve-Ingvar Olson


A Comparison of the Two Systems

Richard Bangs Collier was an original and intuitive thinker. His philosophy of Pleneurethics, which he began to record in 1963, is an inclusive system with a strong emphasis on ethics, responsible behavior and self-healing. In his idiosyncratic treatment of the origin of disease processes, and his emphasis on the importance of a holistic positive lifestyle for health maintenance and emotional balance, Collier anticipated much of the current trend in the alternative medical field. In Pleneurethics Volume I, he writes:

Pleneurethic advocates the creation of substantial and sustained well-being by fostering effective operation of the neurological system in the human body…Pleneurethic recognizes the human neural system as the axial agency in our human organism. It is the immediate controller and regulator of the development, operation, and maintenance of the human body…Where neural energy sufficiency exists, chronic illness cannot persist. (1)

Of course, Collier recognizes that the causal factors for some physical disorders can be pathogenic influences or physical injury. In these sorts of cases the emphasis shifts to the degree of resistance a particular individual's body might demonstrate and the speed of their healing processes. In the cases where the individual has "neural sufficiency", they will tend to be more resistant (have a stronger immune system) and heal more quickly and easily after any type of sickness or injury. Clearly recognizing the fundamental importance of neural sufficiency even in cases of infection, Collier points out that many types of pathogenic microorganisms are present in our bodies at all times. Properly functioning control processes (neural sufficiency) keep them suppressed most of the time. In medical terms, this translates into a properly functioning immune system. When pathogenic influences do get out of control and cause inflammation or other symptoms of viral, bacterial or parasitic infection, the underlying causal principle for Collier is always the failure of the body's control processes. This invariably involves some form of specific, local neural insufficiency. (Pleneurethic Vol I 30, 32, 33)

Dinah Heide Dring, a Pleneurethics scholarship recipient from The Evergreen State College, captured the essence of Collier's system in her article: "Pleneurethics: A Way of Life":

Pleneurethics teaches a balanced view of the whole person through an understanding of the several environments that encompass that person. Pleneurethics, as a system, operates on three levels…The first level is the physical…The second level of malady is the psychological one…The third and last level is the chemical level…In all of these instances, a chain of events can be seen. It begins with an imbalance on some level in the body. This impairment diminishes health potential, resulting in illness. (252, 253)

Collier created Pleneurethics out of his need to provide an inclusive modern philosophy which was scientific, pragmatic, and yet spiritually satisfying. The foundation of his therapeutics is an emphasis on body energetics. Health for him consisted of the proper flow of bioductory energy in the body, which he also termed neural sufficiency.

Unbeknownst to Western science, there already existed a system in China with roots going back thousands of years, with a similar emphasis on body energetics as the basis of health, happiness and holistic balance. This is the system, which has come to be known in the West as Traditional Chinese Medicine or 'TCM'. Collier's bioductory system is a functional system based in the physiological dynamics of the nervous system. Therefore the understanding and practice of Pleneurethics does not require the understanding of human anatomy. Similarly, TCM emphasizes the functional energetics of the human body. The ancient Chinese did not share the Western fascination with the minute anatomical details revealed by cadaver dissection. Their collective genius lay in their intuitive interpretation of observable superficial signs which reflect and reveal the ongoing deeper internal processes of the living body.

The story of Traditional Chinese Medicine is a long and intricate one. There are three primary threads from which modern TCM derives. The first is the medicine of the people. This consists of the collective local folk medicine traditions that have flourished in China's many ethnic subcultures across the vast expanse of Chinese history and geography. The second is Temple medicine. This is a generic term for the healing techniques developed and preserved among the various monastic and priestly traditions of China. The third is Court medicine, which served the Emperor, royal family and the courtiers and bureaucrats of the capitol.

The fabric of modern 'Traditional' Chinese Medicine was woven rather recently from these three ancient threads. Because of their defeats in various conflicts with Western powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the last of the Chinese emperors decided on a policy of isolation, and exclusion of foreigners. The Chinese learned well the lesson that Western technology gave the colonialists a decided advantage in armed conflicts. From these painful lessons they derived an uncritical respect for all of modern Western technologies, including medicine. An institution of Western medicine, "the Peking Union Medical College, built and paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1916" (Eckman xviii) was established in China prior to the existence of any similar modern teaching institutions of Chinese medicine.

As late as 1941, a prominent Marxist, T'an Chuang, could still call Chinese medicine, the "collected garbage of several thousand years." However, the realities of the health needs of the Chinese people dictated that traditional medicine be allowed a place, and as early as 1928, Mao Ze-dong had advocated the use of "both Chinese and Western treatment,"…It was only in 1958, based on the prestige associated with the development of acupuncture "anesthesia," a feat which finally impressed even the Western world, that Mao made his famous remark, "Chinese medicine is a great treasure house! We must make all efforts to uncover it and raise its' standards."…Two institutions seem to have exercised predominant control over this process: the Experimental Institute of Acupuncture…set up in 1955 under the Ministry of Public Health, and the Institute of Acupuncture…set up in 1955 under the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. (Eckman 86, 87)

One must however consider that regardless of the changing attitudes of the ruling Chinese governments over time, the three ancient threads of Chinese medicine have continued to weave their way through the Chinese culture as they always have. The lines of transmission continued within families, within the monastic and priestly lines, and from master to apprentice in the time honored fashions. And in spite of the incredible diversity and extent of the tradition, a few basic principles pervade Chinese medicine, the importance of which were recognized by almost all of the practitioners of the art and science of Chinese medicine. As mentioned earlier:

The tendency of Chinese thought is to seek out dynamic functional activity rather than to look for the fixed somatic structures that perform the activities. Because of this, the Chinese have no system of anatomy comparable to that of the West…In the Chinese system, the Organs are discussed always with reference to their functions and to their relationships with the Fundamental Substances, other Organs, and other parts of the body. Indeed, it is only through these relationships that an organ can be defined.

(Kaptchuk 51, 53)

The most fundamental relationship in all of Chinese cosmology, energetics, and medicine, is the dynamic between yin and yang. To understand the concepts of Chinese medicine the way the Chinese do may be impossible for a Westerner. Because of the indeterminacy of their language (the lack of direct correspondence between spoken and written languages, and the vast number of multiple meanings, connotations and associations between all of their words and concepts) understanding anything in Chinese requires the exercise of the intuition to a much greater degree than any Western language. Keeping this in mind, anything translated into a Western language from Chinese will fail to convey the network of associations which a native would almost instinctively comprehend. But understanding the concepts of yin and yang is essential to even beginning to attempt to understand Chinese medical energetics.

Realizing the existence of human energy, the ancients were immediately confronted with perplexing questions: Why the alternations of sleeping and waking: Why hot and cold? What difference between physical strength and mental or moral strength?...The ancient Chinese were confronted by the same dichotomy of spirit and matter as Europeans…They concluded that there is a universal unity wherein matter is only concentrated, solidified energy, and spirit only vaporized matter returning to its immaterial form, both in a state of movement and perpetual becoming, without any unchangeable, permanent state…Yin and yang in humans is relativity and alternation in constant movement, not a fixed condition. (Morant 50,5l)

Originally the idea of yin referred to the shady side of a mountain, and yang referred to the sunny side. In human anatomy, yin refers to substance and yang to functionality or dynamic process. "The correspondences of Yin - Yang" from Beinfield and Korngold are:

Yin… (is)…substantive, contracting, descending, cold, watery, forming, heavy, hidden, interior…

Yang…(is)…active, expanding, ascending, hot, dry, transforming, light,

revealed, exterior…


(Yin is)…generation of: blood, lymph, hormones, mucus, urine, perspiration, nutrient substances, collagen, fat…

(Yang is)…process of: circulation, secretion, discharge, peristalsis, pulsation, metabolism, respiration…

When making a diagnosis, a Chinese medical practitioner observes certain visible signs of 'constitutional patterns.' When there are extreme tendencies of any kind, these may indicate the presence of imbalance or disharmony. Because of individual differences and variations, what is extreme in one individual may be normal for another. Here again, a holistic sense of the interplay of all levels of the human constitution, and an intuitive sensitivity come into play. Some common constitutional patterns are:

(Yin)…low energy, lethargic - sallow, pasty, pale complexion - small, soft, flaccid body - delicate features - weak soft voice - hypotensive - tends to feel cold - tends toward damp…

(Yang)…high energy, hyperactive - ruddy, swarthy, flushed complexion - large, firm, fleshy, body - coarse features - projecting loud voice - hypertensive - tends to feel warm - tends toward dry…(Beinfield and Korngold 59)

When a constitutional sign of disharmony is observed, the appropriate therapeutic course in Chinese medicine is energetic in approach. If an individual is too yin, the treatment needs to make them more yang. If they are too yang in some respect, the appropriate treatment will be designed to move that sign in a more yin direction. In addition to the overall categories of yin and yang, there are eight diagnostic parameters in Chinese medicine that further refine the categories of observable signs for diagnostic purposes. These parameters are themselves paired into four yin/yang pairs: internal / external, cold / hot, deficiency / excess, and chronic / acute. (Beinfield and Korngold 59)

The Chinese materia medica, consisting of thousands of plant, animal and mineral substances, has been categorized over millennia in such a way that their energetic influences in terms of these parameters are known. Each of the items in the materia medica will move energy in certain known directions: upward or downward, inward or outward. Similarly they will warm or cool, and supplement (for deficiency) or help clear excess. All of Chinese medicine reduces to observation of the energy flow in the body followed by the therapeutic response which is designed to assist the restoration of harmony through correction of imbalance. The acupuncture branch of TCM deals with the patterns of energy flows, excesses and deficiencies, and blockages to normal flow. The patterns of needle placement in acupuncture are designed to redirect the flow of energy in the body in a more harmonious way.

The causal influences of disharmony, according to TCM, are extreme environmental influences (which include pathogenic influences) and excessively intense emotional experiences.

TCM recognizes, similarly to Pleneurethics, that some persons will be more easily thrown out of balance than others, due to individual differences in innate energetic strength. This is very similar to Pleneurethic's concept of neural sufficiency. The significant difference between the two systems is that Chinese medicine has existed and proven itself through practical application over several thousand years.

Renee Stocks summarizes the Pleneurethic attitude toward harmony in this way:

An individual who lives in harmony with his or her environment as well as in a state of ethical conformity creates minimal brain exhaustion. Conversely, conflict between the individual and his environment depletes energy and leads to what Collier refers to as brain exhaustion. To simplify a complex physiological idea central to Pleneurethics, I will refer to brain exhaustion as stress. An ethical mind in balance is more methodical in the utilization of energy than an unethical mind. Therefore, it is logical to deduce that stress on the mind can alter the way the brain regulates the body which in turn can lead to an imbalance that impairs the body's ability to function. (Stocks 43)

I believe this brief comparison shows the similarity between Richard Bangs Collier's Pleneurethics and Traditional Chinese Medicine as energetic systems. Both emphasize that health and harmony are due to the interplay of energy flows on several levels. Both recognize that preserving or restoring harmony is central to both normal functioning and the fullest realization of human potential.

Steve-Ingvar Olson, 6/10/2004


Beinfield, Harriet, L.Ac., and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D. Between Heaven and Earth -

A Guide to Chinese Medicine. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991

Collier, Richard Bangs. Pleneurethics Volume I. Bangkok, Thailand: R.B.Collier, 1969

Dring, Dinah Heide. "Pleneurethics: A Way of Life." Essential Pleneurethic 3rd Ed. Tacoma: Pleneurethics Society, 1989

Eckman, Peter, M.D., Ph.D. In the Footsteps of the Yellow Emperor. San Francisco: Cypress Book Company, 1996

Kaptchuk, Ted J. The Web That Has No Weaver - Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York: Congdon & Weed, 1983

Morant, George Soulie de. Chinese Acupuncture. Brookline, Mass.: Paradigm Publications, 1994

Stocks, Renee. "Reconciliation and the Imbalance of the Body: A Pleneurethic Perspective on the Writings of Elie Wiesel." Journal of Pleneurethics. Vol 1 Number 1, 1993


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