The purpose of the symbolism of the Elements is that not only to be able to associate and classify the material phenomena in the world, but also the immaterial ones. After all, the terms 'Sheng' and 'Po' represent the production and the destruction of either the material (reference time) or the immaterial (reference space). You can even turn it around: Destruction of the material is after all production of the immaterial (see the Ri-image below).

Sheng&Po for materiel (L) and immateriel structures

Note 7 Immaterial structures are e.g. sound waves, light and other EM waves.

In trying to understand this, Daoist scholars interpreted the Theory of the Elements in terms of Qi (energy = Qi), which can be either visible or invisible. Or, with the words of Zhang Zai (张 载, 1020-1077):

"When the Qi is densified, its visibility entails, so that there are forms (of individual things). When the Qi scatters, its visibility is no longer in appearance, and there are no shapes. Can it be said at the time of its compaction that it is only temporary. Likewise, at the time of its scattering, it is quick to say that it is non-existent."*

Note 8 This obviously concerns the potential creation and destruction of all natural units and is reminiscent of a well-known phenomenon from Western quantum mechanics, the so-called wave-particle duality, but on a cosmic level.


The Sheng&Po Cycle can therefore be construed as a symbolic abstraction of all of reality. Accordingly, it can be called a true 'formula for the universe'.
This implies, for example, that in traditional sciences, including TCM, one can use the Sheng&Po Cycle in two ways: as a formula for the universe and as a cybernetic mechanism.

  • According to the formula for the universe, humans and animals are controlled from the inside and influenced from the outside according to the same laws. In TCM this implies the main use of generalizations of the associative links. Because of this, medical herbs, diets and even external conditions such as climatic, social and astrological ones, can be arranged in the same way as in the structural table above for humans and animals.
  • According to the cybernetic mechanism, one uses the cyclic-causal relations in the Sheng&Po Cycle (all arrows in the cycle). This allows one to determine the right acupuncture points, herbs, exercises and diets for every disease and condition. This is exactly how it was done in ancient times. Creating treatments in this way, TCM becomes testable on both the positive and the negative results.

Judging by the testability principle of TCM, the ancient theory of the universe could very well be a scientific theory, if you can comprehend it.

Note 9 In science, a theory must be verifiable. Or reversed: If a theory allows you to make verifiable predictions, it is scientific, until proven otherwise.

Continue to: Despite all a superstition?