Feng shui means wind-water, NOT wind AND water. Here’s why.

Feng shui

The term feng shui means, literally, “windwater”. Not “wind AND water” as many feng shui consultants, teachers and even authors of books translate. (This raises the question: if reputable book authors can’t translate just two words accurately, what else can be inaccurate in their books?) There are several problems with such incorrect and misleading translations.

Feng shui, often referred to as “wind-water,” is a fascinating and ancient Chinese practice that delves into the harmonious relationship between our environment and our well-being. The term “wind-water” encapsulates the essence of this practice, emphasizing the interconnectedness and oneness of these two fundamental elements of nature. Contrary to the commonly used translation of “wind AND water,” this distinction is far from arbitrary and holds profound significance within the realm of feng shui.

1. Deep Understanding of Feng Shui
The first issue with the incorrect translation of feng shui as “wind and water” is that it betrays a lack of true comprehension of the concept. Feng shui is not merely about acknowledging the presence of wind and water; it’s about recognizing their dynamic interaction and influence on the energy, or “qi,” of a space. In feng shui, wind represents the movement of energy, while water symbolizes its accumulation and retention. Understanding feng shui as “wind-water” underscores the importance of these elements working in harmony to shape the quality of energy within a given environment.

2. False Separation of Elements
The second issue arises from the erroneous translation’s implications. By using “and” between wind and water, it falsely suggests that these two elements are distinct and separate, whereas in feng shui, they are intrinsically interconnected. Wind carries energy, and water stores it; they are two facets of the same environmental energy flow. When perceived as separate entities, the profound unity and balance they represent within feng shui are lost.

3. The Unity of Heaven and Earth
The term “windwater” or “wind-water” as a single word, as suggested by some experts, beautifully captures the essence of feng shui. It underscores the idea that wind and water are not separate but integral components of a unified force that governs our surroundings. This unity aligns with the ancient Chinese philosophy of seeing Heaven and Earth as interconnected, where feng shui serves as a bridge between the celestial and terrestrial realms.

4. Triple Luck and Oneness
Feng shui practitioners understand the concept of Triple Luck, which encompasses Heaven, Human, and Earth luck. Windwater, as a single concept, mirrors this idea of unity and oneness, emphasizing that feng shui is a practice that seeks to harmonize the energies of these three realms. It recognizes that our environment is not just a collection of separate elements but a holistic system where the balance of wind and water plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being.

In conclusion, feng shui, or “wind-water,” represents a profound understanding of the interplay between environmental factors and human existence. It’s a practice that embodies the unity of Heaven and Earth, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things. Therefore, translating it as “wind and water” not only misses the essence of this ancient practice but also obscures the deeper wisdom it offers in cultivating harmony and balance in our lives. Ideally, feng shui needs to be written as one word i.e. fengshui as many scientific papers do and as Derek Walters once suggested. Wikipedia translates feng shui as “wind-water”. To truly grasp the essence of feng shui, one must embrace the concept of “windwater” or “wind-water” as a single, unified force that shapes our world.

Yin and Yang

Yin AND yang or Yin-Yang is the question

Yin AND yang or Yin-Yang is the question.

The translation of “yin and yang” or “yin-yang” holds similar significance and nuances to that of feng shui’s “wind-water.” Just as “wind-water” emphasizes the unity and interconnectedness of two elements, the concept of “yin and yang” encapsulates a profound understanding of duality and balance in the natural world and human existence.

1. Unity in Duality
“Yin and yang” is a foundational concept in Chinese philosophy, representing the idea that seemingly opposing forces are interconnected and interdependent. “Yin” symbolizes qualities that are passive, receptive, and cool, while “yang” represents qualities that are active, assertive, and warm. These forces are not in opposition but rather exist in a harmonious relationship, creating a complete whole. Translating it as “yin and yang” acknowledges the dual nature of these forces while emphasizing their unity and the continuous cycle of change between them.

2. Balance and Harmony
The essence of “yin-yang” lies in the pursuit of balance and harmony. It recognizes that in all aspects of life, including nature, health, and spirituality, equilibrium between yin and yang is essential. This balance is not static but dynamic, as the dominance of one aspect naturally gives way to the other in an eternal dance of opposites. Translating it as “yin and yang” underscores the importance of maintaining this delicate equilibrium.

3. Complementary Forces
“Yin and yang” also reflects the complementary nature of opposites. Within this concept, there is an understanding that each force contains a seed of the other. For instance, within the depths of darkness (yin), there is a spark of light (yang), and within the brightest light (yang), there is a hint of darkness (yin). This recognition of the interplay and interpenetration of opposites enriches the meaning of “yin and yang.”

4. Holistic View of Existence
The translation as “yin and yang” emphasizes the holistic view of existence that this concept embodies. It extends beyond mere dualism and embraces the idea that everything in the universe is interconnected and part of a larger whole. This perspective has far-reaching implications in various fields, including traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, and cosmology.

In summary, “yin and yang” or “yin-yang” serves as a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy, mirroring the holistic and interconnected worldview of feng shui’s “wind-water.” The translation as “yin and yang” aptly captures the essence of this concept, highlighting the unity within duality, the pursuit of balance and harmony, the interdependence of opposites, and the holistic perspective on existence. Like “wind-water,” “yin and yang” transcends a simple binary opposition and reveals a deeper understanding of the complex interplay of forces in the universe.

Yin AND yang or Yin-Yang is the question

The choice between “yin and yang” or “yin-yang” depends on the context, perspective and the emphasis you want to convey. Both wordings are valid, but they slightly emphasize different aspects of the concept:

1. “Yin and Yang”
This wording tends to emphasize the duality and interplay between yin and yang forces. It highlights the idea that these are two distinct but interconnected aspects of existence. If you want to underscore the dualistic nature of yin and yang and their role in creating balance and harmony through their interaction, “yin and yang” is a suitable choice for a distinction of difference in kind.

2. “Yin-Yang”
Writing “yin-yang” as a single term places greater emphasis on the unity and inseparability of these opposing forces. It suggests that yin and yang are not isolated entities but rather part of a continuous process, the spectrum of the harmonious whole. Using “yin-yang” can be particularly effective when you want to convey the idea of balance and the cyclical nature of their relationship.

In many cases, both wordings can be used interchangeably, and the choice depends on your preference and the specific message you wish to convey. It’s important to consider the context, distinction of difference and the audience when deciding which wording to use, as well as whether you want to emphasize the unity or duality of yin and yang in that particular context.

Is there an inconsistency or contradiction between the terms wind-water and yin-yang or yin and yang?

There is no inherent inconsistency or contradiction between using “wind-water” for feng shui and “yin-yang” or “yin and yang” in their respective contexts. These terms belong to different aspects of Chinese philosophy and traditional wisdom, and they each serve to convey specific concepts and ideas. Here’s why there isn’t a contradiction:

1. Different Concepts: “Wind-water” in feng shui pertains to the balance and flow of energy in the environment, emphasizing the unity of these two elements. On the other hand, “yin-yang” or “yin and yang” represent the dualistic yet interconnected nature of opposing forces and how they interact to create balance and harmony. These are distinct concepts with different meanings and applications.

2. Context Matters: The use of these terms depends on the context in which they are employed. “Wind-water” is specific to feng shui, and its translation as “windwater” or “wind-water” aligns with the holistic nature of this practice. “Yin-yang” or “yin and yang,” on the other hand, have a broader application across various aspects of Chinese philosophy, traditional Chinese medicine, and other disciplines.

3. Emphasis on Unity and Balance: Both “wind-water” and “yin-yang” or “yin and yang” ultimately emphasize the importance of unity and balance, albeit in different ways. “wind-water” emphasizes the unity of these two elements in the context of feng shui, while “yin-yang” underscores the interplay and complementary nature of opposing forces to achieve equilibrium.

In summary, there is no inherent contradiction between using “wind-water” for feng shui and “yin-yang” or “yin and yang” in their respective contexts. They are distinct terms that serve specific purposes within Chinese philosophy and traditional wisdom, and each one contributes to a deeper understanding of different aspects of the natural world and human existence, depending on the context and distinction of difference.

Difference: “difference in degree” and “difference in kind”

The distinction between “wind-water” and “wind and water” in the context of feng shui illuminates a fundamental concept in translation theory: the difference between “difference in degree” and “difference in kind.” This differentiation has significant implications for how we understand and interpret concepts within this ancient and modern practice.

Most people learn about this simple distinction of difference when learning elementary chemistry (concentration of a solution,  pressure VS chemical bonds and states of matter) and physics (speed, temperature wave-particle duality and forces), and later perhaps when studying philosophy (varying levels of pleasure, degrees of knowledge VS different types of knowledge* – read below…, moral realism vs. moral anti-realism, materialism vs. dualism), but it’s easy to forget to apply it to feng shui concepts. A difference in degree pertains to the variations in magnitude between entities of the same kind. For example, the distinction between a small dog and a large one is a difference in degree, similar to the distinction between a bit of clutter and a lot of clutter. Conversely, a difference in kind relates to a variation in type or category, representing a fundamental disparity between entities. For example, the distinction between a dog and a car illustrates a difference in kind, similar to the distinction between clutter and electro-smog, signifying a foundational divergence in their respective natures.

1. Difference in Degree (Feng Shui as Windwater)

• Unity and Holism: Translating feng shui as “windwater” or “wind-water” emphasizes the concept of “difference in degree.” It suggests that wind and water are not merely separate elements but rather two aspects of a single, unified force. This highlights the holistic nature of feng shui, where the unity of these elements is paramount. In this view, feng shui represents a unique category, distinct from the individual properties of wind and water.

• Interconnectedness: This translation underscores the interconnectedness of environmental and spiritual influences. It emphasizes that the influence of wind and water on a space is not separate but rather intertwined, affecting the overall energy or “qi” of that environment. Feng shui practitioners recognize that the balance and harmony of these forces are essential for well-being.

• Harmonizing Opposites: By treating wind and water as a singular concept, feng shui acknowledges the harmonizing of seemingly opposing forces, much like the concept of “yin-yang.” This harmonization is a central theme in feng shui philosophy, aiming to create equilibrium between various elements on a spectrum of a continuous process.

2. Difference in Kind (Feng Shui as Wind and Water)

• Separation of Elements: Translating feng shui as “wind and water” implies a “difference in kind.” It suggests that feng shui is about recognising the presence of wind and water as distinct elements rather than their unity. This translation may lead to a misunderstanding of feng shui, as it separates what should be seen as a single, interrelated concept.

• Mechanical Interpretation: Viewing feng shui as “wind and water” can reduce it to a more mechanical interpretation. It may imply that feng shui practitioners are concerned with the isolated effects of wind and water, rather than the synergistic relationship between these forces.

• Missed Essence: This translation might overlook the deeper philosophical and spiritual aspects of feng shui, which involve understanding and harnessing the energies that flow through a space. Feng shui, when seen as “wind and water,” might be reduced to mere placement or arrangement of objects without considering the holistic and interconnected nature of environmental energy.

In conclusion, the choice between “wind-water” or “wind and water” as the translation for feng shui reflects the fundamental difference between “difference in degree” and “difference in kind”.  The former highlights the unity and interconnectedness of wind and water, aligning with the holistic philosophy of feng shui. The latter, by contrast, can lead to a more fragmented and mechanical interpretation that misses the essence and depth of this ancient practice. The choice of translation can significantly impact how we perceive and approach feng shui, underscoring the importance of accurate and contextually meaningful translations in understanding complex concepts. And both can be used to elaborate and emphasise different perspectives, respectively.

*What is knowledge? 2 types of knowledge

The difference between factual, propositional knowledge and normative, process knowledge is akin to the difference between knowing about something and knowing something through experience or familiarity.

Factual, Propositional Knowledge: facts
This refers to objective, clear-cut, and verifiable information or facts. It is binary in nature, denoting something is either true or false with no middle ground. In different languages, it has different terminologies, like ‘savoir‘ in French and ‘wissen‘ in German, where it typically refers to knowing facts or having knowledge about specific information. For example, knowing Paris is the capital of France (today) is factual, propositional knowledge because it is verifiable and indisputable.

Normative, Process Knowledge: opinions
Contrastingly, normative, process knowledge is more subjective and is based on personal experiences, interpretations, opinions, and learning. It represents a deeper understanding and familiarity with a subject, rather than just knowing facts about it. It’s often not black and white but exists on a spectrum. In French, this is referred to as ‘connaître‘, and in German, it is ‘kennen‘. This kind of knowledge is often open-ended and continually evolving, as seen in the examples of knowing a place like Paris. People might know Paris to varying degrees based on their experiences, interactions, and learnings about the city, and this knowledge is subject to change and growth.

In short, “Paris is the capital of France (today) is a fact but “Paris is a romantic city” is just an opinion. London is NOT the capital of France is a fact and is true. The Bagua model exists, therefore, it is a fact, but it most likely is not true since it’s just an imaginary concept (there is not such a thing as a wealth corner – it’s just a construct to help people focus, prime and anchor certain behaviours in order to accomplish life aspirations). Yin and yang is a concept/representation/map, and there is nothing that is yin or yang in itself as such. In the words of Gregory Bateson, “A map is NOT a territory.” And following this map metaphor, one has to ask, would you use an ancient map of China in the UK? This leads us to evidence-based feng shui (read below).

Integration of Feng Shui Principles
To incorporate feng shui, a balanced and harmonious approach would be ideal in assimilating both kinds of knowledge. For factual, propositional knowledge, one needs to attain clarity, precision, and a structured methodology, similar to the clear and orderly principles of feng shui, ensuring the flow of correct and accurate information. This would be akin to placing objects in a room in a manner that allows positive energy to flow freely, for example.

When it comes to normative, process knowledge, the emphasis would be on open interpretation, personal experience, and continual learning. It is like designing a space in a way that suits one’s personal needs, preferences, and lifestyle, evolving over time, and allowing for personal growth and transformation, similar to how our understanding and relationship with places, people, and concepts deepen and change with time and experience.

This dual approach aligns with the holistic and balanced nature of feng shui, fostering an environment where both forms of knowledge can coexist and complement each other, promoting intellectual and personal development.

In the context of feng shui, factual knowledge refers to the objective and verifiable principles and components of the practice, while process knowledge refers to the experiential understanding and application of these principles based on individual context and need.

Factual Knowledge in Feng Shui

It is a fact that there are different models and concepts that exist in feng shu, BUT the interpretation of these models can differ, therefore, these interpretations are individual opinions. Also, because these models and theories exist as such (fact), it doesn’t mean that they’re true or factual in the true sense of the word. Hence another distinction between evidence-based feng shui (based on facts and evidence) and feng shui based on opinions.

  1. Five Elements Theory: It is a fact in feng shui that there are five elements—wood, fire, earth, metal, and water—that interact in productive and destructive cycles. Interpretation of these five elements and how they can work specifically in a specific setting is an opinion.
  2. Bagua Map: The Bagua map is a fundamental tool in feng shui used to analyse the energy in a space, with each of the eight areas (or guas) representing different life aspects, such as wealth, health, and relationships, etc.
  3. Directional Influence: Each direction in feng shui (North, South, East, West) has associated elements, colours, and influences. For instance, the North is associated with water and the colours black or blue.

Process Knowledge in Feng Shui

  1. Personal Application of Principles: Knowing how to apply feng shui principles in a specific home or office space is process knowledge, such as determining the optimal placement of furniture for positive energy flow based on the unique layout and needs of the space and specific interpretations or opinions.
  2. Adjusting to Changes: Understanding how to adapt feng shui principles to accommodate changes in the living or workspace, such as new additions to the family or changes in professional circumstances, involves a deep, evolving understanding of the practice.
  3. Intuitive Interpretation: Developing a feel for which colours, elements, and arrangements harmonise best within a specific space, and how these might impact the well-being and fortunes of the inhabitants, is also a form of process knowledge in feng shui.

Example Scenario:

  • Factual Knowledge: A practitioner knows that according to feng shui principles, placing a water element in the northern part of a space can enhance career prospects due to the association of North with water and the career life aspect.
  • Process Knowledge: The same practitioner, after evaluating a specific space and considering the inhabitant’s lifestyle and preferences, decides how to incorporate this water element harmoniously, perhaps choosing a specific kind of water feature, its size, and its exact placement, ensuring it complements the overall décor and energy of the space.

In conclusion, while factual knowledge provides the foundational principles of feng shui, process knowledge enables the nuanced, individualised application of these principles, allowing for a balanced and harmonious living or working environment.

Evidence-based feng shui

Evidence-based feng shui combines the traditional principles of feng shui with modern scientific research, particularly from fields like environmental psychology, to create spaces that promote well-being and harmony. Environmental psychology studies the interaction between people and their environments, examining how environments affect individuals and how individuals perceive and modify their environments. Here are some examples…

1. Impact on mood and well-being:

Environmental psychology suggests that the arrangement, colours, and lighting of a space can significantly impact the mood and well-being of the inhabitants. For example, spaces with ample natural light and views of nature are associated with reduced stress and increased feelings of well-being. This aligns with feng shui principles advocating for clutter-free, well-lit spaces with a balance of the five elements to promote positive energy flow (qi).

Example: placement of plants

Evidence-based: Research in environmental psychology has shown that the presence of plants can reduce stress and improve concentration and productivity.
Feng shui application: Placing plants in specific areas of a home or office, according to the Bagua map, to enhance areas of life such as wealth, health, and relationships.

2. Space layout and furniture arrangement:

The arrangement of furniture and the overall layout of a space can influence how comfortable and relaxed we feel in that environment. Feng shui provides specific guidelines on furniture placement to promote positive energy flow and balance within a space.

Example: desk/bed positioning

Evidence-based: Studies (prospect and refuge theory) indicate that positioning desks/beds to see the entrance, a position known as the “command position”, can reduce stress and create a sense of security and control.
Feng shui application: Placing the desk/bed in the command position can promote feelings of stability and reduce anxiety, aligning with feng shui principles to enhance focus and productivity.

3. Colour psychology:

Environmental psychology recognises the significant impact of colour on human psychology and behaviour, and this is a key component in feng shui as well.

Example: use of colour

Evidence-based: Research shows that colours can evoke specific emotions and behaviours; for example, blue is calming, red is stimulating, and green promotes balance and growth.
Feng shui application: Using specific colours in different areas of the home to balance the energy and enhance the corresponding life aspect, such as using green in the family area to promote harmony and growth.

4. Noise and acoustics:

Environmental psychology also considers the impact of noise and acoustics on well-being. Similarly, feng shui considers the flow of sound energy and emphasises the importance of a quiet, peaceful environment.

Example: reduction of noise pollution

Evidence-based: Studies suggest that noise pollution can negatively impact stress levels, sleep quality, and cognitive function.
Feng shui application: Utilising soft furnishings, rugs, and wall hangings to absorb sound and reduce noise pollution, creating a more peaceful and harmonious living space.


By incorporating evidence from environmental psychology, feng shui practitioners can refine and substantiate their recommendations, making them more accessible and acceptable to a wider, scientifically oriented audience. This amalgamation of traditional wisdom and modern research fosters the creation of environments that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also psychologically supportive and conducive to well-being and balance.

Watch my talk Feng Shui Meets Environmental Psychology below


What is feng shui? What is feng shui for? Short definitions of feng shui.

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