Microsystems and Metasystems

This one's pretty heady, a little more technical, and not as poetic. I decided to share it, anyhow. Enjoy! 


“Meta-” means, “above.” A “metasystem” is therefore an “above-system” of organizing information. It can be layered above any other system. It condenses large volumes of information into functional systems of relationship and transformation. Some common metasystems include Yin Yang theory (陰陽), Five Phase theory (五行), the Three Realms/ Treasures (三寶), the Eight Trigrams (八卦), and the Ten Heavenly Stems and Twelve Earthly Branches (天干地支).

A metasystem defines what’s in each category via descriptive categories. The relationships between the component parts remain fixed, regardless of whatever other system they are placed over. It creates symbolic relationships based on patterns between relationships that can be applied as a lens to view life in its different forms, from very large to very small. For example, Yin Yang theory can be applied to us on a cellular level: every second, upwards of two million cells are birthing and dying in our bodies. Cell death is more yin than cell birth. Birth is active and expanding; it is yang in energy, compared to dying and resting, which is more yin in energy. We can zoom outwards and apply that to the birth and death of a human being, too.

We can overlay Yin Yang theory and all of the various metasystems onto the Organ Manifestation theory (五臟六腑). The Zang () organs are more yin than the Fu () organs. They are solid and hidden, whereas the more yang Fu organs are hollow and actively getting filled and emptied. Five Phase theory has its metasystem correspondences with Organ Manifestation theory, with each Phase being connected to a Zang and Fu organ: Water governs Kidney and Urinary Bladder; Wood governs Liver and Gall Bladder; Fire governs Heart and Small Intestine; Earth governs Spleen and Stomach; Metal governs Lung and Large Intestine. Yin Yang relationships are within and around each of these relationships. Metasystems are useful in their ability to flexibly overlay onto a variety of situations, with infinite possibilities of deeper levels of understanding, therein.


“Micro-” means, “small.” A “microsystem” is therefore a “small system,” or a map of a larger whole projected onto a smaller part of that same whole, also known as a “holographic correspondence.” A holograph is like a three dimensional mirror that contains all of the information inside of it. When shattered into a million pieces, each shard of the holographic mirror still contains all of the information in the original whole.

Microsystems sometimes use metasystems on different body parts. Whereas metasystems can be layered atop most anything else like interchangeable lenses, microsystems are specific lens maps that can only be applied to certain parts.

There are different microsystems for viewing the human body. Tongue diagnosis integrates Organ Manifestation theory and Five Phase theory metasystems as a microsystem map of the tongue. Different areas on the tongue represent different Phases and their associated Organs and systems, which reflects the state of the entire body. Pulse diagnosis and Eye diagnosis also utilize Organ Manifestation theory and Five Phase theory metasystems in their microsystems map of the entire body onto the pulses and eyes. Chinese medicine diagnosis involves four primary diagnostic tools (四診): visual observation, hearing/ smell, asking, and palpation (望聞問切). Observing the face, eyes, and tongue, the Chinese Medicine Physician utilizes the microsystems in each of these places to observe the entire person. Diagnosis is deepened and refined by hearing and smelling, which again utilize the Organ Manifestation and Five Phase metasystems to better understand the patient and their condition(s). Besides pulse diagnosis, the Physician can also palpate and observe the entire body, using different microsystems lenses to inform diagnosis, and the resulting treatment.

Five Phase Theory

The Five Phase theory is a beautiful example of a metasystem that can expand like a net of stars and constellations to cover various possibilities of understanding the Organ Manifestation theory, human life-cycle, directions, pulse diagnosis, seasons, tongue diagnosis, eye diagnosis, herbal energetics, constitutional types, and so much more! Five Phase theory is also used as a microsystem: the Five Phases manifesting in the tongue, pulse, eyes, and face reflect the entire human body-mind-spirit being. Thus, we can utilize our overlapping understandings of the Five Phases as both microsystems and metasystems, to accurately diagnosis and elegantly treat different people and conditions.

Brenda Hood, Meta-Systems
Brenda Hood, Microsystems: Holographic Correspondence
Ted Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver
Maoshing Ni, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine