Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Qigong and Ultrasonic Levitation

In Asian films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon martial artists can do all sort of incredible things. One of the most amazing of these feats is to fly through the air while fighting and somehow become almost weightless. Levitation has a long history in the Eastern mystical schools and, in theory, is accomplished by the manipulation of the human body's natural qi or internal energy. Could such a thing actually be possible?

In China scientific studies have been made of Qigong, which has a long history as a traditional medical practice in that country. Most research suggests that the main medical benefits of Qigong are healthier breathing and greater joint flexibility in addition to the usual benefits of increased physical activity. However, some study has also been made of Qigong masters to see if there is any validity to claims that qi can be "emitted" from one person to another. These studies have found that Qigong masters emit infrasonic waves. Infrasonic waves are sound vibrations that are below the frequency level normally perceived by the human ear. In effect, when a Qigong master "infuses" a patient with qi, what appears to be happening is that the master is causing the patient's body to vibrate at these infrasonic frequencies.

So what does this have to do with levitation? Well, it turns out that small animals can be levitated using sound waves. Scientists have developed a way of suspending objects in the air using ultrasonic waves. Ultrasonic waves are sound waves that are above the frequency level that human ear can normally hear. The system used in these experiments used 20 millimeter wavelength sounds and was thus limited to objects of that size or smaller.

The infrasound waves generated by Qigong masters peaked at between 8 and 12.5 hertz, which means that the wavelength is about 30 meters. That value is obtained by dividing the speed of sound at sea level, 334 meters/second, by the frequency of the waves. If a 20 millimeter wavelength sound can levite objects 20 millimeters across or less, could a 30 meter wavelength be used to levitate objects 30 meters across or less? It probably could if enough energy could be imparted to the wave.

It does not seem likely that the human body could produce enough energy to enable a Qigong master to levitate. However, it is an interesting coincidence that Chinese folklore teaches that qi can be used to levitate, that Qigong masters emit infrasonic waves, and that sound waves can in fact be used to levitate small objects and animals.

Perhaps this bit of folklore is based on a kernal of truth after all.

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