Feng Shui Intelligence (Part 1)

Why start with feng shui intelligence?
Over the past 30 years of training and teaching feng shui, I’ve realised that the best way is to start with feng shui intelligence – as opposed to teaching feng shui principles and techniques. Starting with feng shui tools is like putting a cart in front of the horse. A quick look online and you’ll discover a massive amount of feng shui nonsense – myths, superstitions and false problems being propagated by so-called feng shui ‘consultants and experts’.

Feng shui ideology and dogma
Ideology does not necessarily refer to a particular political belief like communism or capitalism, but rather to the general use of the word, whereas ideology is a series of discourses that give people false ideas about the nature of reality, providing them with a ‘false consciousness’, how it works, and their place in it. In this manner, ideology is like the way most people see the world in the film They Live, unaware that they are being brainwashed by an infinitude of subliminal messages. Unfortunately, feng shui ideology or dogma has developed over the years starting with classical feng shui and been propagated by ill-informed people.

One in five women says that they believe in astrology, compared to one in ten men, according to a survey by BMG Research. Today, a Google search for ‘astrology’ brings up more than 211 million results. Studies suggest that astrology works because of the self-fulfilling prophecy (placebo effect). For example, in one study, a hundred people with a hundred different astrological charts were given the same word for word reading, and all said that it was accurate. They just read what they wanted to hear and they fall for the obvious recognition and confirmation biases (read below about feng shui biases). They also might experience apophenia – which is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena. The term was coined by German neurologist and psychiatrist Klaus Conrad (1905-1961). Conrad focused on the finding of abnormal meaning or significance in random experiences by psychotic people.

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. “  Donald Rumsfeld , United States Secretary of Defense 

What is feng shui intelligence?
At first, feng shui intelligence may sound like a bit of a contradiction. After all, intelligence is something which, once applied, tends to dispel the old myths, superstitions and pre-rational beliefs. There is even an organisation, The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University (https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/) which has set itself a task of saving human intelligence which means that the biggest tragedy today/future would be if we have lost intelligence.

Howard Earl Gardner, an American developmental psychologist who proposed the theory of multiple intelligences in his work Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) listed eight criteria for intelligence. One is that “an intelligence should show a developmental history with a definable set of expert and state performances.” Over the years I’ve identified over 25 skills, mindsets and values that comprise feng shui intelligence and in doing so, teaches my students the steps to begin developing their own feng shui intelligence. For example, spatial intelligence and an ability to visualise, analyse, synthesise and see difference and repetition as well as think systemically and see patterns is part of feng shui intelligence. Another essential part is self-reflective intelligence and mapping ideas into some external formal system of representation. Asking key questions and being able to listen compassionately, non-judgmentally and without projecting one’s models of the world is another fundamental aspect of feng shui intelligence.

Everything you’ve learnt about feng shui might be wrong!

Feng shui intelligence is especially crucial for those in positions of leadership or training since they help us to make decisions on a higher level while in the midst of stress, complexity, uncertainty and high rates of environmental change that can trigger pre-rational beliefs and practices as well as magic thinking. People who, for example, consult astrologers do so in times of anxiety, high uncertainty and under conditions of high stress as a coping device suggests psychologist Graham Tyson in 1980 study on the subject. Many people now are disillusioned with religions and political structures as well as job insecurities, housing crises and ecological systems on the brink of collapse. People have always been looking for some reassurance from something bigger than themselves, that life is governed by something more intelligent than just humans and that there is a higher purpose for life in general and their lives in particular.

Core aspects of feng shui intelligence

Occam’s razor & the law of parsimony
When trying to decide between hypotheses, scientists often invoke an ancient principle known as ‘Occam’s razor’, attributed to a fourteenth-century Franciscan friar called William of Ockham. Essentially this states that they should plump for the simplest idea – the one that makes the fewest assumptions. My favourite formulation of Occam’s razor is: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.’ Say you were somewhere in Surrey (where William of Ockham was born) when you heard the thunder of hooves, you’d be a fool to infer that a herd of zebras had escaped from a local zoo and were galloping your way – even if there was a minuscule possibility this might actually be true.

Law of parsimony states the simplest explanation of an observation or event or phenomenon is prefered and the principles are (a) make the smallest set of unsupported assumptions, (b) postulate the existence of the fewest entities or aspects and (c) invoke the fewest unobservable constructs or concepts. Albert Einstein was an advocat of parsimony – he said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” His equation E=mc2 is a good example of that.

A lot of feng shui problems can be explained very simply, without evoking supernatural causes. But people don’t like to hear the truth. They like to believe that their financial problems are caused by a toilet in the wealth corner, or compass directions or some other nonsense, instead of taking full responsibility for the problem.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that some, well studied environmental stressors can’t affect our moods, wellness and decision-making and therefore our personal and professional lives. Electromagnetic pollution, geopathic stress and some aspects of the interior design of the bedroom and other factors can contribute to chronic stress and affect our behaviour.

All models are wrong
“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” said George Box, a British statistician and most science is working hard to prove theories wrong.  “Ignorance is bliss.” said, Thomas Gray (1716-1771) an English poet, classical scholar, professor but here comes the warning: Once you’ve awakened and developed your feng shui intelligence you can’t go back to be ignorant and unthinking about feng shui. And another warning: Everything you’ve learnt about feng shui might be wrong!

How many colours are there in the rainbow?

How many colours are there in the rainbow?

Models, theories, categories, stereotypes, clusters, patterns, paradigms, frameworks, principles, rules of thumb, mindsets and so on are our attempts to generalise and simplify the complexity of the world (through inductive thinking, reasoning). How many colours are in the rainbow? Most people say ‘seven’. In fact, there are millions of colours in any rainbow but we simplify the range of colours to just seven basic colours. And that’s why “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  and the same applies to all feng shui models and principles.

A map is not a territory
Alfred Korzybski, philosopher and semantician famously said: “ The map is not the territory” but feng shui practitioners and enthusiasts make a basic logical error that a map is a territory.  The map of London is not London. A child knows that. And more importantly, the map of London does not create London. But that’s precisely what some of the so-called feng shui experts are telling others, following literally and blindly some feng shui principles. The blind leading the blind! Like in the famous ‘blind men and elephant’ parable where the blind men don’t even realise that they’re blind. To extend it further, people around the blind men who are listening to their accounts, thinking that they’re true, are also blind. And that’s how unconscious bises start (see below).

“The menu is not the meal.” Alan Watts, writer

Causality and chance
Feng shui proposes all kinds of assumptions without any real evidence. For example, causality. Feng shui suggests that having a house facing a fortunate direction can affect one’s fortune. But much bigger minds (read The Oxford Handbook of Causality) suggest that “there is still very little agreement on the most central question concerning causation: what is it? … laws … counterfactual dependence … manipulability … transfer of energy”. Also, Judea Pearl, in his 2018 work The Book of Why – The New Science of Cause and Effect, states: “Any attempt to ‘define’ causation in terms of seemingly simpler, first-rung concepts must fail. That is why I have not attempted to define causation anywhere in this book.”

Another feng shui concept that hasn’t been evaluated or even attempted to be proven is that feng shui can affect chance. David Hume said, “Chance … is a mere negative word, and means not any real power which has anywhere a being in nature.” In his book A Philosophical Guide to Chance: Physical Probability, Toby Handfield says, “I recommend that we take an anti-realist attitude towards chance, even though chances are posited by our most successful physical theory… I reach this conclusion reluctantly, but no better opinion is available.”

So a very important part of feng shui intelligence is the comprehension that correlation does not imply causation, which most superstitious people are completely bereft of that understanding.

I consider myself a feng shui empiricist. I believe that the abstract ideas or concepts such as yin and yang, five elements, bagua, etc – although they refer to or try to map physical reality – do not explain but must themselves be explained. It’s very tempting to invoke some kind of ‘transcendental’ or ‘metaphysical’ explanations to discover the eternal or the universal. As a feng shui empiricist, I’m interested in the conditions under which something new is produced.

Feng shui bias
There are so many biases that feng shui enthusiasts fall for that I wrote a separate blog about it. Read more about feng shui biases. Below is the list of basic biases that feng shui consultants and feng shui enthusiasts need to be aware of as part of their self-reflective intelligence. The most common bias is the confirmation bias where you have a tendency to search for information that corraborates your prior beliefs and pereceptions. Another one is loss aversion where you might have a tendency to prefer avoiding losses to aquireing gains. And there is cogntitive dissonance which is your inner tension associated with holding contradictory beliefs and perceptions.

Unconscious / Implicit / Cognitive Biases
Availability Giving weight to events you can immediately recall
AnchoringFocusing on one factor, often the first encounter, when making a decision
Clustering illusionSeeing phantom patterns in random events
Cognitive dissonanceNew information contradicting our existing perceptions and beliefs
Confirmation biasPreferentially noticing, seeking and recalling information the confirms your mindsets, cognitive models, preconceptions and beliefs
Congruence biasTesting ideas by seeking evidence that supports rather than refutes them
Disconfirmation biasSpending considerable energy in denigrating arguments that run counter to our existing beliefs
Dunning-Kruger biasThinking we know more than we do and underestimating what you don't know
Endowment effectValuing things more highly simply because they belong to you
Fundamental attribution errorAttributing people's behaviours to their personality, not the situation
Gambler's fallacyBelieving that past random events alter the likelihood of future ones
Hyperbolic discounting Overvaluing what's available now relative to what you can have later
Implicit biasUnconsciously hold attitudes towards others or associate stereotypes with them
In-groups biasOverestimating the abilities and values of your own group relative to others
Loss aversion Caring more about a possible loss of something (money, etc) than caring about the possible win or gain
Negativity biasPaying more attention to bad news and feedback than good
Projection biasAssuming that most people think like you and hold the same beliefs
Status quo biasFavouring decisions that will leave things just as they are

What’s next for feng shui?
Science is probably the best way to kill off the bad and inaccurate feng shui stories, myths and constructs so that feng shui can make progress. By careful and precise examination and experimentation feng shui can evolve and be useful for longer. When the Chinese coined the term feng shui, they had no idea about a molecule or quantum physics or the electromagnetic nature of the physical world. Environmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive sciences, semiotics and so on need to be used to further feng shui if it wants to be relevant. Otherwise, it will die a natural death as the beliefs, superstitions and false perceptions such as the earth is flat and that it is the centre of the universe. Because feng shui has been around for over 3000 years or so, doesn’t mean it will survive. Dinosaurs existed for millions of years and where are they now? In museums and books. As the joke goes, “What is the best placement for feng shui books in your home – i.e. in the knowledge area or career area, etc? The answer is: Actually, in the fridge – so they don’t get stale.”

That reminds me of the feng shui conference in Lisbon that I attended this year. I was giving a presentation called “Feng shui for business” to a group of feng shui students which was about how to use feng shui in business and also for their new feng shui consultancies that they were hoping to set up in Portugal. At the very beginning, I asked them a very simple and basic business question: “How many people in Lisbon are looking for your feng shui services a month?” Some suggested thousands as an answer. All of them (about 80) were shocked to discover that only about 10 people a month look for a feng shui consultant in Lisbon, which means that there are far more feng shui consultants than people interested in feng shui. And the population of Portugal is about 10 million.

Evidence-based feng shui is the future of feng shui. It will inform you what works, how and why.

In the next part of this blog, I’ll focus on 25+ essential skills, techniques, strategies and mindsets that constitute feng shui intelligence.


Posted in Feng shui psychology.