It is possible to divide up the world of human activity, history, and culture in countless ways, but a couple stand out in terms of how commonly they are proposed as being satisfying. Probably the single most popular way of splitting the continuous world of humanity up into chunks has been that which identifies basically "Western" and "Eastern" ways of being, attributing to each some general, fundamental characterizes that distinguish it from the other.

While this kind of thinking is inherently dangerous and prone to producing misguidance, the distinction between East and West has a longstanding allure, even to the point that many today would suggest it can be a valuable one. Breaking things up in this way is likely not a useful policy in general, but it might be that schema of this sort can become helpful for studying more particular phenomena in the human world.

Some have suggested, for example, that looking at east west healing arts as markedly distinct things is the best way of understanding them in their historical and cultural contexts. While medicine in the West was, up until very recently, a field of great brutality and frequent barbarism, today's science-based medicine builds on that heritage in undeniably productive ways.

At the same time, the East has had a broad, distinctive medical tradition of its own. Away from Europe, Africa, and the Americas, people have for a long time sought answers to health-related issues not in the body itself but in subtler, less overt places. For thousands of years and more, those interested in tackling health problems in Asia have often looked to what some claim are the energetic flows that govern the fortunes of human beings.

That has been true even as Western, science-based medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds. For example, the twentieth century itself saw the birth of a wholly new alternative medical tradition in the form of Reiki, the brainchild of a Japanese monk. For practitioners of reiki meaning and results are not to be found in the tissues and bones of the human body, but in a world of energy that somehow underlies that of daily life.