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How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture utilizes the capacity of the mind to sense and respond to combinatorial patterns. Neurons recognize and transmit functional messages. Their signals selectively signify smells, heat, light, sounds, touch, pain and much more. Those signals also tense muscles and trigger the production of neurohormones.  This website holds that all neurons recognize combinations of incoming signals to fire, or to become inhibited.  

The localized acupuncture pain signals are recognized by cells in other regions, which respond by inhibiting pain signals, or relaxing muscles. Since combinatorial codes work in a massively linked network, the application of a needle in one location generates responses in distant regions of the body.

  • Successfully practiced worldwide, science has not been able to explain how acupuncture treatment works.
  • WHO has acknowledged the beneficial effects of acupuncture.
  • Traditional Chinese medical theory suggests that a “vital energy” links the external surface of the body to internal systems through broad and mysterious pathways. This is not a satisfactory scientific explanation.
  • The diagnosis of illness for acupuncture treatment is highly individualized and seeks to identify “patterns of disharmony.” Diagnosis depends on individual philosophical theories and intuitive impressions.
  • All the peripheral pathways treated in acupuncture are wholly traversed by pain and touch sensory nerve cells.
  • Combinatorial coding has been acknowledged by science. The phenomenon can explain how a touch can relieve pain.
  • A combinatorial coding intelligence, which links the pain and sensory pathways to the motor systems provides the obvious explanation for acupuncture.

An Astonishing Link Between AI And The Fascinating Nature Of Your Mind
This hypothesis
is unique
in accounting for the striking speed of human intuition; 
in offering simple new routines to control the mind; in revealing insights into the future of AI.  Where does the mind store its treasure trove of knowledge?  How does it retrieve solutions to topical problems from this almost infinite store?  These proposed explanations have been gathering millions of page views from around the world.  The 1989 beginning of this exciting mission was a revealing insight from a Prolog AI Expert System.  The Expert System could diagnose one out of 8 diseases hinged on the user entering answers to a long string of questions.  In contrast, a doctor could identify a disease out of 8000, without questions, with just a glance.  This is an unconventional hypothesis.  The idea stems from a single "Aha!" moment. That happened when the Expert System flashed its light on a single brilliant algorithm, which could be the secret behind the ability of the mind to recognize and act on a perceived pattern in milliseconds.

The Prolog Expert System could diagnose 8 diseases, which shared 13 symptoms. It used an algorithm, a step by step procedure, for the diagnosis. Out of curiosity, I began testing an alternate algorithm in a spreadsheet.  Its first step was to SELECT all diseases WITH a particular symptom. Contrary to my plan, the algorithm would DELETE all diseases WITHOUT the symptom. That reverse was caused by a chance double twist in its "if/then" logic.

So, when I clicked "Yes" for one particular symptom to test the first step, the spreadsheet DELETED 7 out of the 8 diseases, leaving behind just one disease.  Surprise!  That disease was indicated by that symptom.  In just one leap, it had proffered the correct diagnosis. As with the doctor, it was a split second verdict!  The algorithm had ELIMINATED all diseases without the symptom.  Was selective elimination from a known list the trick used by nature for its intuitions?

Could elimination provide a faster search strategy?  Since elimination shortened the steps, a programmer coded for me a new, more ambitious Expert System.  Instead of 8 diseases, it dealt with 225 eye diseases.  Its algorithm eliminated both irrelevant diseases and their connected questions, for each answer.  The Expert System was presented to a panel of doctors. "It identified Angular Conjunctivitis, without asking a single stupid question," said a doctor. The Expert System was satisfactorily diagnosing all the eye diseases in the textbook!  The algorithm was an impressive AI tool!  The year 1989 catalogued the premises, set out in these pages, explaining how the algorithm could be enabling the mind of a doctor to achieve split second diagnosis.

Could An Amazing Algorithm Have Stunning Control Over Your Mind?
This is what happens when an engineer researches the mind. Way back in 1989, the writer, an engineer, catalogued how the ELIMINATION approach of an AI Expert System could reveal a way by which the nervous system could store and retrieve astronomically large memories.  That historic insight is central to the six irresistible premises presented in this website. 

Behind the scenes, these premises conceal an eye-opening revelation.  About the incredible speed of intuition.  A physician is aware of thousands of diseases and their related symptoms.  How does he note a symptom and focus on a single disease in less than half a second?  How could he identify Disease X out of 8000 diseases with just a glance?  

First, the total born and learned knowledge available to the doctor could not exist anywhere other than as the stored/retrieved data within the 100 billion neurons in his brain.  The perceptions, sensations, feelings and physical activities of the doctor could only be enabled by the electrical impulses flowing through the axons of those neurons.  The data enabling that process could be stored as digital combinations.

Second, combinatorial decisions of neurons cannot be made by any entity other than the axon hillock, which decides the axonal output of each neuron.  The hillock receives hundreds of inputs from other neurons.  Each hillock makes the pivotal neuronal decision about received inputs within 5 milliseconds.  A
xon hillocks could be storing digital combinations.  It could be adding each new incoming digital combination to its memory store.  The hillock could fire impulses, if it matched a stored combination. If not, it could inhibit further impulses.  Using stored digital data to make decisions about incoming messages could make the axon hillocks intelligent.

Third, combinations are reported to enable a powerful coding mode for axon hillocks.  Olfactory combinatorial data is known (Nobel Prize 2004) to store memories for millions of smells.  Each one of 100 billion axon hillocks have around a 1000 links  to other neurons.  The hillocks can mathematically store more combinations than there are stars in the sky. Each new digital combination could be adding a new relationship link.  In this infinite store, specific axon hillocks could be storing all the symptom = disease (S=D) links known to the doctor as digital combinations.

Fourth, instant communication is possible in the nervous system.  Within five steps, information in one hillock can reach all other relevant neurons.  Just 20 Ms for global awareness.  Within the instant the doctor observes a symptom, 
feedback and feed forward links could inform every S=D link of the presence of the symptom. Only the S=D link of Disease X could be recalling the combination and recognizing the symptom.

Fifth, on not recognizing the symptom, all other S=D hillocks could be instantly inhibiting their impulses. The S=D links of Disease X could be continuing to fire. Those firing S=D link would be recalling past complaints, treatments and signs of Disease X, confirming the diagnosis.  This could be enabling axon hillocks to identify Disease X out of 8000 in milliseconds.  Eliminating improbable (unrecognized) prospects to arrive at a possible (recognized in the past) solution powers the powerful inductive logic of the mind!

Worldwide interest in this website acknowledges its rationale. Not metaphysical theories, but processing of digital memories in axon hillocks could be explaining innumerable mysteries of the mind.  Over three decades, this website has been assembling more and more evidence of the manipulation of emotional and physical behaviors by narrowly focused digital pattern recognition.  It has also received over 2 million page views from over 150 countries.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The History Of Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is not voodoo. It is a technique of inserting and manipulating fine needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes. A legend claims that acupuncture started in China when some soldiers experimented with arrows (later needles) as therapy, after experiencing relief from pain in other parts of the body, after being wounded by arrows in battle.

Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Korean forms of acupuncture are practiced and taught throughout the world. The beneficial effects of the treatment indicate a real life phenomenon. The impact of acupuncture can be explained from known scientific facts.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Is Acupuncture Effective?

An effective therapy implies real physical responses within the system. The WHO endorses acupuncture for approximately two dozen conditions, and says evidence is suggestive but inconclusive for several dozen more. George A. Ulett at the University of Missouri School of Medicine reports that the stimulation of about 80 acupuncture points has proved to be useful for pain control. A review for the American Pain Society/American College of Physicians found evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain. Another 2008 review suggests that combining acupuncture with conventional infertility treatments such as IVF significantly improves success rates.

The Cochrane review suggested that stimulation of the P6 acupoint can reduce the risk of postoperative nausea and vomiting with minimal side effects. Several trials have indicated that migraine patients benefit from acupuncture. There is also general agreement that acupuncture is safe when administered by well-trained practitioners using sterile needles. While acupuncture cannot replace Western medicine, it is regarded to be an effective complementary therapy. These benefits of acupuncture can only be produced by real life nervous system events.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The Traditional Chinese Theory?

Traditional Chinese medical theory gave practitioners an abstract framework for the identification of acupuncture points. According to them, disease is caused by a loss of balance of Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood within the body. Qi is an immaterial “vital energy” and Blood (capitalized to distinguish it from physiological blood) is material. Qi is believed to move through twelve internal and an external pathways.

The internal pathways enter the body cavities and related Zang Fu organs - functional systems, named after anatomical organs. Zang is translated as "viscera" or solid organs and Fu is translated as "bowels" or hollow organs. Zang Fu are capitalized in English - Lung, Heart, Kidney, etc. Treatment modifies the activity of one or more organs through the application of needles, pressure, heat, etc. on sensitive acupuncture points. The traditional theory suggested links from the peripheral nervous system through broad pathways to the internal systems. But this explanation does not practically answer the question "How Does Acupuncture Work?"

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Is The Method Of Diagnosis?

Acupuncture results cannot be indexed precisely, because neural links vary widely. Neuron growth differs widely for individuals and combinatorial codes can be both acquired and inherited. So, acupuncture treatment is highly individualized. Each practitioner bases it on philosophical theories and subjective and intuitive impressions. Inspection focuses on the face and tongue, including analysis of the tongue size, shape, tension, color and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge.

Breathing sounds and body odor are considered. Chills and fever; perspiration; appetite, thirst and taste; defecation and urination; pain; sleep; and menses are questioned. The body is felt for tender "ashi" points. Practitioners link "patterns of disharmony," to biomedical conditions. As an example, for the pattern called Deficiency of Spleen, Qi may be manifested as as chronic fatigue, diarrhea or uterine prolapse. Tradition suggests "One disease, many patterns; one pattern, many diseases."

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Are Acupuncture Points Linked?

The practitioners realized that specific acupuncture points had links to particular biological systems. Specific pain signals were recognized by these systems, which responded by relaxing local muscles, or by triggering beneficial neurohormonal responses. The early practitioners linked these identified cause and effect relationships to imagine a comprehensible system.

Qi and Blood flow through "fourteen channels" - "twelve main meridians" and two of the "eight extra meridians" (Du Mai and Ren Mai). The twelve primary pathways run vertically, bilaterally, and symmetrically and every channel corresponds to and connects internally with one of the twelve Zang Fu organs. All acupuncture points of a channel lie on its external pathway. In reality, this entire external pathway is wholly traversed by pain and touch sensory nerve cells.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Does The Process Have A Combinatorial Logic?

Among many neural functions, combinatorial coding powers the variations in human response to pain. Pain sensory neurons report pain to the cortex. Acupuncture is known to trigger inhibitory action in the pain pathways of the cerebral cortex. It was also was shown to increase the nitric oxide levels in treated regions, resulting in increased local blood circulation.

Pain blockade is also mediated by neurohormones. Let us assume that a reporting pain sensory neuron has three inputs - P, SP and T. P reports actual pain caused by damage to skin cells. SP reports pain signals from neighboring pain reporting cells. T reports touch signals from surrounding cells, or from linked accupressure points. Consider the possible interpretations of pain sent by the reporting system to the cortex:

1. P - Fire to report pain.
2. SP - Fire to report sympathetic pain.
3. P + T - Fire to ignore touch and report pain.
4. SP + T - Inhibit - suppress sympathetic pain to report touch.

Based on its evaluation of its combinatorial inputs, the pain reporting neuron can substantially vary its interpretation of pain. Pain can be directly reported. By responding with sympathetic pain messages, or remembered pain messages, the neuron can exaggerate effect of injury. Touch signals can suppress sympathetic and recalled pain messages. Combinatorial codes can enable neurons to enable the seemingly mysterious responses of the body to accupuncture and accupressure.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
What Are Blockage Points?

The ancient practitioners discovered tender “ashi points,” which indicated “blockages.” Touch sensory signals in these points generated pain signals in the system. Essentially, specific groups of neurons responded to neighborhood neural activity by triggering remembered pain signals, or by tensing muscles. Palpation of these tender points triggered pain signals.

Acupressure (repeated touch), or ongoing acupuncture stilled pain, or relaxed muscles in the linked regions. The “removal of blockages” and “the free flow of Qi and Blood” were the combinatorial responses of an intelligent neural network. They responded to acupressure, or acupuncture by “tonifying where there is deficiency, draining where there is excess, and promoting free flow where there is stagnation.” The guiding principle of acupuncture was "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain."

How Does Acupuncture Work?
How Is The Typical Treatment Done?

Since acupuncture acts on the system through a widely distributed nervous system, acupuncture points are quite remote from the problem regions. Typically, a common treatment for headaches is to stimulate the sensitive points in the centers of the webs between the thumbs and the palms of the patient's hands.

The patient reclines, and the points on each hand are first sterilized with alcohol, and then thin, disposable needles are inserted until a characteristic "twinge" is felt by the patient, often accompanied by a slight twitching of the area between the thumb and hand. Most patients report a pleasurable "tingling" sensation and feeling of relaxation while the needles are in place. Others may experience extreme sensitivity to pain at the sensitive points and even a feeling of nausea, before getting relief.

How Does Acupuncture Work?
Has Science Solved The Mystery?

Modern science has still not acknowledged the impact of combinatorial coding in the nervous system. Without such an understanding, science has expended massive efforts to discover either anatomical, or physiological links to acupuncture points. They could find no evidence of the flow of Qi or Blood along the fourteen channels. There was no known anatomical or histological basis for the existence of acupuncture points or meridians.

According to the NIH consensus statement on acupuncture, these traditional Chinese medical concepts "are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture.” A combinatorial coding intelligence, which links the pain and sensory pathways to the motor systems provides the obvious links for acupuncture. This explanation grants a "scientific basis" for the treatment.

This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013.

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