If one avoids the usual New Age trap of wishful thinking and engages in genuine traditional internal practice, the existence or non-existence of qi quickly becomes a moot point in the light of intimate personal experience. If we substitute terms like "bio-magnetism" or "bio-electrical impulses" for "qi", all we are doing is substituting one jargon for another. Western Scientism adherents ask how we can speak intelligibly about something we do not understand? But that's OK because fundamentally we do not understand magnetism either. The universe in tems of its most basic elements is still pretty much a mystery to us.
It's pretty neat having an outfit like the Perimeter Institute in one's backyard! Cosmology is really about how everything works, and these people are at the cutting edge. My awareness of their work is strictly amateur and is persuant to my becoming aware of the contemporary Oxford community of thinkers who stand behind the modern secular spiritualism movement.
One of these is David Deutsch whose book, The Fabric of Reality, is fascinating. Another is Sir Roger Penrose who has delivered talks at the Perimeter. They are part of a movement which includes people like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, the actor Stephen Fry and the writer Phillip Pullman whose His Dark Materials trilogy I love.
I became aware of Deutsch through Lynn Shwadchuck and my Buddhist involvement. But what made me more aware of these people as an intellectual movement was a rather wonderful CBC documentary called "Living on Oxford Time". It had a big emotional impact on me in the aftermath of my younger son's death.
The "awareness" of sub-atomic particles was first posited by the ancient Greeks and was explored 300 years ago by Leibnitz in his Monadology. It is now a staple of quantum theory and is used extensively by Pullman in his fantasies. It's how I interpret qi.
In Tai Chi we can come up with various explanations for qi that make superficial sense. We can experience qi as sensations of hot and cold, tingling, impulses moving through specific pathways and meridians, etc. We also can relate these sensations to differentials in weighting, to specific postures, and to certain physical actions such as releasing the mid-body and sinking into our hips etc. These all seem mechanistic and not too far off the western materialist model of physics.
But what then screws everything up is the fact that qi is psychoreactive and can be directed mentally or by using the breath as a focusing device. It can be directed by mental action alone. With correct instruction one can subtly change the shape of the hands, load one hand or the other, or express qi so as to influence the neural conduction of others; one of my teachers, Dr. Shen Zaiwen, was trained in no-touch acupuncture in his residency at the Shanghai College of Traditional Chinese Medicine; he was trained to anaesthetize patients using qi alone. For him, using qi in this way was just another technology.
In the early 1700's Leibnitz posited that sub-atomic particles or "monads" had a quality of awareness. Since such particles are now demonstrated in laboratory settings to respond to being observed, the question as to whether they possess some kind of low-grade sentience is again being raised.
Might this relate to "qi"?