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Feng Shui

September 21, 2010

The Claims

Feng Shui, literally “wind-water”, is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics, used in architecture and interior design to optimize the flow of “chi” or “qi”, a supposed vital force emanating throughout the universe.

The Evidence

Chi is frequently translated as “energy flow” and is often compared to Western meanings for air, breath, or spirit. Practitioners of Feng Shui believe that chi flows through everything, and that “positive” chi can benefit the people who receive it (physical and emotional well-being, wealth, etc). Alleged masters of Feng Shui can supposedly detect metaphysical energies and give directions for their optimal flow.

There is some common sense to the notion that living with – rather than against – nature benefits people as well as our environment. It is equally sensible to believe that our lives can be affected by our physical and emotional environment. Consider the difference between spending time in a jail cell and the lobby of the Ritz Carlton.

Feng Shui is pseudoscience. Evidence for its effectiveness is based solely on anecdotes. There is also a lack of a plausible method of action, which leads to conflicting advice from different practitioners. Adherents try to explain this by arguing that there are different schools of thought; critics use it as evidence of the fact that Feng Shui is based on mere guesswork.

The magicians Penn & Teller produced an episode of their television show Bullshit! that featured several Feng Shui practitioners in the US giving inconsistent, contradictory and often strange advice on how best to design a home. The show argues that if Feng Shui was a science (as the American Institute of Feng Shui claims), it would feature a consistent method.


There is no evidence to support the existence of “chi”. There is no evidence to support the idea that a particular design of one’s home is superior to any other (aside from good/bad taste of course), or that it has any effect on a person’s health or well-being.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Garry permalink
    August 10, 2015 11:59 PM

    So if you take the assumption in the Penn and Teller episode and go to three different architects to design your house.

    The show would argue that if Architecture was a science (as the American Institute of Architects claims), all 3 architects would design the same house.

    Good luck with that.

  2. onecae permalink
    April 3, 2011 10:10 AM

    Chi is like noticing how attention wanders. Some office set-ups required people to have backs to the door and faces to the wall. Some people won’t even try the suggestion to have their face to the door and back to the wall – they are skeptics, I suppose.

    Here’s an experiment: For the next few hours, glance back over your shoulder and notice how it makes you feel and think. Then: Imagine working in an environment where all of your co-workers have to glance over their shoulders every few minutes. Nervous. Suspicious. Jumpy. – Paranoia. Confusion. Denial.

  3. Dan permalink
    January 29, 2011 1:10 PM

    @Matthew Chapman

    Observational science is entirely valid. If there are generations of consistently gathered and contrastable data sets where are they? Can you provide a link?

    If generations of experts have correlated this data to establish observational trends, who are they? Are they peer reviewed?

    It’s all good an well to CLAIM Feng Shui is empirical but if you do not cite your sources you appear to be propagating hearsay.

    Can you do better than that?

  4. Brian Ritter permalink
    December 12, 2010 2:31 PM

    Of cause the envirenment you live in will influence you in some way – that’s common sence. But form that and then to conclude that metaphysical energies are involved is taking it a bit to far.

  5. December 7, 2010 2:36 PM

    I’m… not even sure where to start.

    Quantum physics has been tested, and its predictions are unerringly accurate – frighteningly accurate, in fact. For proof, I invite you to use any electronic device (like the computer you used to impugn the validity of quantum theory) – if quantum physics didn’t work, neither would the internet. In fact, after you’re done, I can use the same device to prove gravity – by dropping it off a high building.

    I respectfully decline your invitation to live in my bathroom. If the knowledge of Feng Shui comes from spending multiple hours in the bathroom, then my body has undoubtedly produced many pounds of it over the years.

    Classical Fengu Shui is based on the “science of empirical evidence” only if you completely re-define those words to mean something that nobody would recognize. We are lucky that our cars, airplanes, food and medicines are not based on the same “science of empirical evidence” that you use, or we’d all be in far more trouble than simply having our couches in the wrong part of the room.

  6. December 1, 2010 11:15 PM

    I agree with your argument, but as a practitioner and teacher of Feng Shui, I offer you the same questions about quantum physics. Anecdotal maybe not, but there is no proof that this is the condition of the universe. Prove gravity. Disprove it. All of these questions are silly. Look at our conditions and see how a certain situation seems to have a more beneficial affect on people than others. Is it no wonder that poor people have poor lives? More problems? Look at their environment. Go and spend the next 3 days living in your bathroom, and you will understand Feng Shui better than most practitioners. It is not a verb, but a noun, and affects us all. It can’t help you or harm you, but simply is. What you make of your environment is the art of the practitioner, and the science of the practitioner is to look at results from the past (anecdotal as you say, but empirical as we say) and model changes based upon principles to get the same results. This is the old rat in the maze, or drop of iodine in bleach test. You will get different results based upon the situation. Please remember that most Feng Shui consultants are not highly trained, and so, worthy of your comments. But classical Feng Shui is based upon the science of empirical evidence. Test that!

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