Are scientists basically hippies? (And what it has to do with health)

The first time I remember seeing the yin-yang sign, it was on a T-shirt in an interesting little shop, surrounded by crystals and the best of 80’s tie dyed fashion. I thought it was a logo for a line in hippy style clothing. I never imagined it would turn out to be the most enduring medical symbol on earth, or that it had so much to do with scientific theory.

The symbol is a succinct statement of a natural law: Everything comprises relative opposites that give rise to, consume and transform into one another. Nothing is added or lost, only transformed in an infinitely repeating loop, the whole always comprising opposites. The video below explains it well.

Did Newton buy the T-shirt?

Despite the joss sticks around that T-shirt, the yin-yang principle pops up in scientific theories all over the place, like the conservation laws (e.g. energy can neither be created nor destroyed, rather it transforms from one form to another), Newton’s third law (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), and even quantum mechanics’ wave-particle duality (subatomic particles sometimes act like a wave (yang) and sometimes like a particle (yin) depending on the experiment).


While I love a bit of quantum thingy, yin and yang in medicine really has me hooked. For you to stay alive, the conditions in your body must remain pretty much constant. Not too hot (yang) nor too cold (yin). Not too acidic (yang) nor alkaline (yin). In other words, homeostasis – the relative balance of yin and yang in your body – must be maintained. The word ‘homeostasis’ was birthed by Western medicine, but the concept is so central to Chinese medicine that its emblem is the yin-yang symbol itself. (Qi is the other biggie in Chinese medicine.)

Getting enough yang for your yin

The more constant your homeostasis – the better the balance of yin and yang in your body – the healthier you are. While degrees in Western and Chinese medicine are useful for doctors and acupuncturists, you don’t need to go to these lengths to maintain your own yin-yang balance. You just need to keep the word ‘balance’ in mind:

  • balance sitting (yin) with its opposite – exercise (yang);

  • balance a cold environment (yin) with a warm scarf (yang);

  • balance being awake (yang) with getting enough sleep (yin);

  • balance carbohydrates (yang) with protein (yin);

  • balance stress (yang) with relaxation (yin)

The list is endless. So, whenever you feel out of sorts, ask yourself if you’re getting enough yang to balance your yin, and enough yin to balance your yang. If you find that you can’t balance your yins and yangs yourself, it’s time to make that appointment with one of those scientist-hippy types.


Head scratcher: Yin-yang within yin-yang

The Uncertainty Principle, which is central to quantum mechanics, states that two complementary parameters such as position (yin) and momentum (yang), or energy (yang) and time (yin), can’t both be accurately known. The more you know about one, the less you know about the other.

Could this be an example of the yin-yang duality of knowledge and mystery?

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