Ki and the Theory of Everything
Richard Justice, Shodan grading, 17 March 2012
This essay is about the existence or otherwise of ki, how that fits with some notions of quantum physics, and how at the end of the day, it all doesn’t matter very much, at least in my view.
Two statements to start with;
- A Theory of Everything is a physics model that seeks to unify all the fundamental interactions of nature. These fundamentals exist at an atomic level, and therefore at all higher levels. Gravitation, strong particle interaction, weak particle interaction, and electromagnetism. Don’t ask me what all of these are, it’s been a long time since University! A theory of everything is one of the unsolved mysteries of physics, and some suggest that it cannot ever be solved.
- Gödel’s incompleteness theorem provides a balance for the theory of everything, and in actual fact, for all theories. Informally stated, it asserts that any formal theory meaningful enough for its arithmetical facts to be expressed and strong enough for them to be proved is either inconsistent or incomplete. An interpretation of this could be ‘no theory is truly correct’, which might be more than a little depressing if you are a physicist.
The theory of everything has a parallel for us on Aikido. A fundamental we have is the notion of ‘ki’, in fact, a definition of ‘Aikido’ is: The way and harmony of ki. So then the next obvious question is ‘What is ki?’
It’s not something I’m trying to answer here, but a common response might be that ki refers to a particular mental and physical state that shows as a physical power. Others, and possibly Osensei himself, have thought of ki as a microcosmical matter-energy which is a fundamental in forming and governing the universe. Others believe in ki as a vital force of the body.
In terms of how ki is interpreted relative to Aikido technique, arguably, we get two end points:
The Spiritual End; here Ki is a guiding force of the universe. One’s development in Aikido is through training in the manipulation and control of this force and the essence of every technique can be explained relative to ki – extending, blending, breath, power.
The second end point is the scientific: Ki simply doesn’t exist. Rather, development in Aikido is through ones attitude, intention, and training, leading to psychological and physical conditioning. The essence of every technique in this case can be explained by principals of mechanics : ‘conservation of Angular momentum’, lever arm action, Newton’s Laws of motion for example, and by some understanding of bio-mechanics and physical response (ie the effect a relaxed response has to the reaction of one’s attacker)
There are a million different ideas between these two end points, but there are also very experienced proponents who are firmly at one or the other of the end points and in my mind, can equally demonstrate vast amounts of skill as Aikido practitioners. So the obvious question is ‘How can both end points work equally’? Perhaps this is where the theory of everything comes back into focus….
If we believe spiritually in Ki as the guiding force in the universe, we have essentially come up with a theory of everything. It is Ki that controls and influences particle interactions. But of course there are a few issues with proof here. For example quantum physics hasn’t found anything like a ‘ki’ particle out of several hundred sub-atomic particles.
If we believe a scientific approach which does not allow on ki, then we also have a problem. All mechanics laws we observe must be related back to those fundamental interactions of nature. And we run up against the Theory of Everything again, to which we don’t have an answer.
Throw into this a little bit of Godels incompleteness theorem: If no theory can be totally correct, then perhaps no rational theory can be considered as completely incorrect either.
So where does this leave us? Nowhere and everywhere. Both end points of ‘Ki theory’ are incomplete, and if you believe Gödel, will always be. And actually, I don’t think it really matters. There is a freedom to now form your own personnel view on ki, one that may work for only you.
But I believe also there is a benefit here in acknowledging the range of ideas:
If ki as a spiritual force drives your notion, it doesn’t hurt to understand at some level those fundamental laws of mechanics. An Irimi nage throw, for example doesn’t work when one stands at distance from Uke as the available torque is diminished by having a long lever arm.
But neither should we dismiss ki as a non-entity because we believe in a science based approach. What is that hum, that aliveness that you get when combination of relaxation, breathing, awareness are in harmony, if not ki flowing through you?
Find a groove that works!
Thank you for listening, for being here at grading today and for sharing this journey with me!