Solving the feng shui puzzle
Are you confused by feng shui?
If you haven’t been confused by some feng shui claims or suggestions, you haven’t been around feng shui for long. I’ve been studying and practising feng shui for almost 35 years and I’ve been puzzled by many contradictory statements from different feng shui schools. That’s why early on I’ve decided to figure it all out using logic, science, intuition, instinct and commons sense, as well as practical observation. And to date, I’ve done over 10 000 feng shui consultations onsite and remotely, for homes and workplaces. I’ve studied Environmental Psychology, psychology, NLP, ergonomics, priming, placebo effect, cognitive sciences and more to give me a good framework and background to think clearly and systematically about feng shui. My approach to researching and using feng shui is to be open-minded and sceptical at the same time. Otherwise, one can be easily duped by all kinds of false problems, half-truths and superstitions.
If your premises are false – your conclusions are likely to be false too
Many schools – many perspectives and approaches
Classical and modern feng shui
There are two main feng shui approaches or schools: classical and modern feng shui. They agree and disagree on many aspects of feng shui. That is expected when old traditional and new, modern, progressive approaches clash. Read about the difference between classical and modern feng shui schools
Evidence-based vs non-evidence based feng shui
From an evidence-based perspective, there are only two types of feng shui: evidence-based and non-evidence based. A lot of feng shui is in the second category ie non-evidence based. The evidence-based aspects of feng shui come from environmental psychology, neuroscience, preconscious processing, ergonomics, and priming among many.
What is science for?
Science gets updated on regular bases (even on science), so don’t quote me in one year from now. The function of science is to inform us how feng shui might be working (although some people don’t like the answers – read my blog on how feng shui works). In many ways, science is universal knowledge and wisdom. Science creates facts and it’s evidence-based. Science works everywhere, every time, for everyone – it’s universal. Electricity works in the same way everywhere – it might have a different voltage in different countries but it works the same way. Science is constantly updated to keep it honest and it has self-correction build in. In can be said that wisdom is timeless but knowledge can have an expiration date. So science is not one thing but a set of related disciplines.
Science is impersonal, value-free and the moral status of scientists is irrelevant. Even, if Copernicus was a bad person, the Earth would still orbit around the Sun, and he could and should be able to claim total impersonality for his work. When it comes to art, artists don’t have the pleasure of this get-out clause. Art is about value, aesthetic, social, political and moral as opposed to science which is about facts, truth and data. Caravaggio’s art shines with beauty and truth, although he was a hoodlum and murderer. Elevating feng shui into the domain of science will require a lot decluttering it from superstitious and personal preferences that cloud the subject and cause unnecessary false problems.
How to prove if feng shui actually works – by falsification
Science is all about falsification, not confirmation. It’s a series of conjectures and refutations. It looks at bold hypotheses that can be falsified by evidence. By eliminating all other factors and the one which remains must be the truth. In other words, you cannot prove whether a theory or hypothesis is true. You can prove that it is false with a process called falsification. Falsification is a scientific tool that distinguishes scientific social psychology from folk social psychology, which does not use this process of falsification.
An example of this train of thought would be starting with a hypothesis that “All swans are white…” But instead of looking for evidence of white swans out there in the world, a more efficient, scientific way would be to find a way to refute this hypothesis, and go and look for ‘black swans’ out there and testing it to destruction.
A quick test to falsify feng shui principles would be to do feng shui intervention without any feng shui principles. Can feng shui work without chi/qi, without yin and yang, without bagua model and cosmological astrological models? Going beyond feng shui and looking from other perspectives will help you understand how feng shui actually works.
How else feng shui can be explained
Classically minded feng shui authors explain feng shui in terms of basic principles such as chi/qi, yin and yang, five elements, etc, etc but environmental psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience have other explanations for how feng shui might be working. In short, the working of feng shui can be explained by the placebo effect, priming effect, unconscious biases such as recognition bias and anchoring effect among others.
Evidence-based feng shui
From an evidence-based perspective, there are two types of feng shui: evidence-based feng shui and non-evidence-based feng shui. Evidence-based feng shui relies on scientific research to form evidence for guidance and decision-making in feng shui. At present, there is very little research on feng shui, if it works, how it might work, and why it might work. Any insights on how feng shui might work come from environmental psychology, neuroscience, pre-conscious processing, cognitive sciences, semiotics, priming and placebo studies. The aims of evidence-based feng shui are to establish the efficacy, validity and relevance of feng shui for homes and workplaces by using scientific research methods and distinguish it from non-evidence-based feng shui so the feng shui practitioners and the public can make informed choices.
We all have an inbuilt, evolutionary, animal-like and almost automatic ability to detect a threat and distinguish between safe and unsafe environments. It has been honed over 200 000 years of human evolution on this planet. Instinct is designed to keep us safe and survive so we can thrive as a human race. When it works well, we feel safe and can flourish personally and professionally. When it doesn’t work well, we feel stressed. And stress is one factor that can affect our ability to notice the danger. An unnecessary stress overdrive can cause anxiety and stop us from noticing the real danger. “Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” said Oprah Winfrey, pointing to the idea of morphic resonance or collective memory which was proposed by Rupert Sheldrake, the author of The Science Delusion.
“There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” Niels Bohr
Intuition is similar to instinct and has bases in instinct. The difference between intuition and instinct is that intuition requires some conscious awareness, feeling or thinking. Gut instincts develop automatically during childhood and intuitive abilities require conscious choice and attention. We need to learn to discern the difference between inner intuitive directives and the automatic instinctual intelligence that responds to life. Psychology suggests that intuition is the subliminal processing of information that is too complex for rational thought, e.g. mate choice. Intuition is learned and not innate as opposed to the instinct that is an innate, ‘hardwired’ or baked into our DNA towards a particular behaviour or response. Instinct and intuition can be described as a spectrum. Instinct on one side of the spectrum is mostly unconscious response and intuition on the other side of the spectrum is conscious reading of energetic downloads. “The only real valuable thing is intuition.” said Albert Einstein who also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
There are many domains that intuition works through and many ways to receive intuition ie through physical, emotional mental, spiritual and environmental cues (although it is believed that the sixth chakra is the seat of intuition or where it manifests or where we download it) and all require practice and development like any other skill. An attachment to past time is an impediment to intuition. Consistency and accuracy of intuition is the result of regular focusing in the present time.
Although we are born to some extent instinctual, our intuitive senses must be trained and finetuned in the same way as our intellect and emotional intelligence are educated and developed. Our intuitive intelligence constantly provides us with data and insights as well as energetic readings about our health and everyday choices – for example, what we should or shouldn’t be eating, nudging us to exercise and meditate or sending us a strong, uneasy gut feeling that we should avoid a particular street or situation.
“We anthropomorphise everything.” says Eleanor Sandry, Curtin University, Perth. Humans project intent, emotions and identities on anything from dolphins to homes to Microsoft’s paper clips to LEGO blocks. We imbue everyday objects with special metaphoric meanings. “The personal mnemonic object becomes as priceless and unique as the memory to which it holds the key.” Cameron (2006). See your situation (home/workplace) in the form of a metaphor which will help you get perspective and clarity on the situation and find the right creative solution. To discover your metaphor, finish this sentence: “My situation/problem/home/workplace/… / is like….” Think about it or reflect on it and see if you can get any extra insights for solutions.
“You don’t see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it.”
Robert Stetson Shaw
Engage your inner ‘detective’ and ‘gambler’ or ‘sage’ archetypes who work closely with intuition. Your inner detective, like Sherlock Holmes, combines great powers of observation with highly evolved intuition. Your inner ‘gambler’ – and it is the positive aspect of your psyche that manifests in the following intuition, even in the face of universal doubt and looks for the ability to follow your intuition in risky situations. Your inner ‘guide’ / ‘sage’ looks for a continuing pattern of devoting yourself to guiding yourself (and others) from your own spiritual and intuitive insights, wisdom and knowledge.
Common sense – ignore the nonsense
Common sense and sometimes called crowd wisdom is a social, shared and group thinking intelligence and sound, practical judgment and culmination of years of observation concerning everyday matters. In short, it is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and use rules of thumb or heuristics. As Voltaire’s saying that “common sense is not so common” suggests that application of common sense is still not very prevailing.
A lot of feng shui advice that you read online is nonsense because it’s mostly out of context and without an understanding of how feng shui works. Stop reading nonsense! Because if you do, you might start believing it and that would be very silly and can cause you lots of false problems.
Data, facts, truth
“There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” said Niels Bohr, Nobel prize winner in physics, differentiating between Newtonian and Quantum truths. In the age of fake news, the difference between data, facts and truth can be compared metaphorically to the difference in strength of toilet water, cologne water and perfume. Iain McGilchrist, in his forthcoming book ‘There are No Things – There are Patterns” suggests that in order to arrive at the truth we need to use science, reason, intuition and imagination. He also suggests that “To understand something, whether we are aware of it or not, depends on choosing a model. We get to understand what we see by comparing it with something else, something that we think we understand better. But what we compare it with turns out to have a huge influence on the outcome.” In his new book, Iain will attempt to answer the question of what we mean by ‘truth’ and how different hemispheres see the truth. Left brain sees truth as propositional (true or false) and the right brain sees it as dispositional (relationship). In his previous work called “The Master and his Emissary” he writes ‘Truth is a process.’ (McGilchrist, p.154). ‘No single truth does not mean no truth.’ (McGilchrist, p.150). ‘The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’. If we had no concept of truth, we could not state anything at all, and it would even be pointless to act. There would be no purpose, for example, in seeking the advice of doctors, since there would be no point in having their opinion, and no basis for their view that one treatment was better than another. None of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.’ (McGilchrist, p.150)
“It is a mathematical certainty that you can find any pattern you want, as long as you’re prepared to ignore enough data.” says a mathematician Matt Parker and the author of Humble Pi, A Comedy of Maths Errors. For example, Parker has analysed the locations of the 800 Woolworths shops to reveal precise geometric patterns of relationship between them which is similar to those found in location of the sacred sites. When people claim that some data confirms their theory, ask how much data didn’t confirm it. When people are doing good science they should be asking how much are they are ignoring, what your method they’re using and if anyone else has checked the results. It’s very easy to falsify what you believe.
…biggest problem might be that you don’t know what you don’t know
What is logic for?
Logic helps us structure our thoughts. Logic, obviously, by itself, doesn’t guarantee the truth because if your premises are false – your conclusions are likely to be false too. As in this classical example: all yellow things are made of cheese – the moon is yellow – therefore the moon is made of cheese. The other side of logic is those illogical arguments are more effective than logical ones. Aristotle made an assumption that things are either true or not true (“the most certain of principles”) which can make conventional logic blow up on occasions – for example, take this sentence: “this sentence is false”: is that true or false? Also, Donald Rumsfeld reminds us that, “There are known knowns, things we know that we know; and there are known unknowns, things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we do not know we don’t know.” which might be our biggest problem.
Use your own creativity to figure out what works
Any problem has a creative solution. And problems are good because they help us to grow and develop. Claire Colebrook suggests that “A problem is a way of creating a future. When plants grow and evolve they do so by way of problems, developing features to avoid predators, to maximise light or to retain moisture.” There are 356 ways of washing up and that applies to feng shui. There many different and creative ways of employing feng shui to enhance your home and workplace and get more out of life. We’re all creative in different ways and the basic five approaches are: the child-like thinker, the problem-solver, the dreamer, the builder and the imageener. Check below what creative approach is best for you and what questions or words can help you to embody that particular creative approach to solving your problems. Start using the keywords “why not?”, “how to…”, “I wish…”, “yes, and …” and “what if?” in your daily life and notice how they open up and enrich your thinking and life.
|Child-like||Has the curiosity and confidence to explore ideas.||"Why not?"|
|Problem-solver||Regards every setback or block as feedback and a problem to be solved.||"How to...?"|
|Dreamer||Aspires to what might be, rather than what is.||"I wish..."|
|Builder||Supports other people's ideas and know how to build on them.||"Yes, and ..."
|Imagineer||Is ready to think of unthinkable and explore the unknown.||"What if?"|
Why people are superstitious and believe in predictions and conspiracy theories
Philosopher Karl Popper, in his book The Conspiracy Theory of Society, argues that “conspiracy theories are based on the idea that a social outcome is evidence of an intentional order, and that random occurrences are rarely, if ever, relevant.” The psychology behind this is that people discount unintended consequences and prefer to view certain events of being the result of an intended cause. Although Popper was investigating conspiracy theories, we can see how superstitions and predictions fit the same pattern where a divine force is in charge. Michael Shumer offers three basic explanations for the question Why People Believe Weird Things, which is the title of his book.
1) Credo consolans – people believe in superstitions because they want to.
2) Superstitions offer immediate gratification and simplicity because simple explanations are immediately gratifying while reality is often complex and challenging.
3) Morality and meaning – predictions provide proof of eschatological meaning and morality from a higher power and absolve one from choice and responsibility.
It’s always easier to find blame in the outside circumstances and external forces (stars, destiny, fate, God, karma, government, luck, feng shui, etc) that one’s choices and take responsibility for them. The humans that believe in superstitions just needs to wake up and grow up (hello!, there is no Santa or off-the-planet god that is waiting for your requests). Read Why People are Attracted to Astrology, Divination or Want to Know the Future?
“A problem is a way of creating a future. When plants grow and evolve they do so by way of problems, developing features to avoid predators, to maximise light or to retain moisture.” Claire Colebrook, philosopher and cultural theorist
Top pointers to how to understand and decode feng shui
1) Use your common sense. If it doesn’t make sense or is too good to be true – it probably is. Does it sound like a myth or superstition or is fear-based?
2) Use logic and your logic intelligence.
3) Employ your intuition and instinct – does it feel safe? What are your hunches about the situation?
4) Ask simple questions such as ‘how does it work?’ Educate yourself about the subject. As a beginner, your biggest problem might be that you don’t know what you don’t know.
5) Ask for evidence and research – don’t fall for confirmation bias (watch the TED talk about it below).
6) Experiment and do one feng shui intervention at a time to see how it works in your particular context.
7) Read my blog about the feng shui algorithm and how feng shui works
8) Still confused – call your feng shui expert and make sure that s/he doesn’t practice fear-based feng shui.
“To understand something, whether we are aware of it or not, depends on choosing a model. We get to understand what we see by comparing it with something else, something that we think we understand better. But what we compare it with turns out to have a huge influence on the outcome.” Iain McGilchrist
Watch this TED talk about the confirmation bias so you don’t make the same mistakes
Bibliography for developing your intuition
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Bastick, Tony. Intuition: How We Think and Act. John Wiley & Sons: New York, 1982.
Cappon, Or. Daniel. Intuition: Harnessing the Hidden Power of the Mind. Bedford House Publishing: Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1989.
Cayce, Edgar. “Intuition, Visions, and Dreams,” Commentary: A New Look at the Edgar Cayce Readings, vol. 2, no. 6 (December 1987).
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Coman-Johnson, Carol. ” Intuition: A Bona Fide Occupational Requirement in the Management Consulting Profession?” Consultation (Fall 1985 ): 189- 198.
Emery, Marcia. [muitioll Workbook: An Expert’s Guide to Unlocking the Wisdom of Your Unconscious Mind. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994.
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Hudson, Thomas Jay. The Law of Psychic Phenomena. Salinas, CA: Hudson-Cohan Publishing, 1977.
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Kaiser, M.K., D. R. Profit!, and M. McCloskey. “Development of Intuitive Theories of Motion: Curvilinear Motion in the Absence of External Forces.” Development”/ Psychology, vol. 22, no. I (1966): 67-71.
Kieren, T.E. and T. O. Alton. “Imagination, Intuition, and Computing in School Algebra.” Mathematics Teacher (January 1989): 14-17.
Myss, Caroline. Advanced Energy Anatomy. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2001.
– Anatomy of the Spirit. New York: Harmony Books, 1996.
– Energy Anatomy. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1996.
– Sacred Contracts. New York: Harmony Books, 2002. Audio: Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2001.
– Why People Don‘t Heal and How They Call. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997.
Nadal, Laurie, Judy Haims, and Robert Stempson. Sixth Sense: The Whole Brain Book of Intuition, Gut Feelings, and Their Place in Your Everyday Life. New York: Prentice Hall, 1990.
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Page, Irvine H. “Science, Intuition, and Medical Practice.” Post-Graduate Medicine, vol. 64, no. 5 (November 1978): 217-22 1.
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Saraydarian, T. Irritation – The Destructive Fire (reprinted from Chapter 27, “The Psyche and Psychism”). Sedona, AZ: Aquarian Educational Group, 1983.
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Shealy, C. Norman. 90 Days to Stress –Free Living. London: Sterling Publications, 2002.
Shealy, C. Norman and Caroline Myss. The Creation of Health. Walpole, NH: Stillpoint International, Inc., 1988