In the West, people are most familiar with the aspect of Chinese cosmology that involves the twelve animals and that is commonly referred to as astrology. For example, 2022 is the year of the Tiger.
Animal astrology is only one part of Chinese astrology, which itself is one application of the system of Stems and Branches that is part of the larger system of correlative cosmology. This aspect of Chinese astrology is similar in ways to Western astrology, though Chinese astrology is concerned with “lunar signs” while Western astrology focuses on “sun signs”. Chinese astrology is complex and a full discussion is beyond the scope and purpose of this article.
Chinese medicine is primarily concerned with correlative cosmology. Correlative cosmology is the study of movements and patterns in the universe as they are reflected in and relate to both the local environment and human life. Cosmology is the study of the nature and origins of the universe, and is a branch of astronomy which studies the movements of celestial bodies. Astrology is the application of astronomical principles to human life. Correlative cosmology utilizes aspects of each of these, with particular consideration to the Chinese concepts of resonance and causality.
Chinese medicine considers the body and its systems to exist in holographic correspondence with the environment. That is to say, we are a microcosm of the environment, and are affected by its changing dynamics. We are not isolated from nature, its patterns and its cycles. By studying and understanding them, we can more precisely understand the arising of symptoms, causes of disease, and methods of treatment. A simple example would be the correlation between winter, cold, the kidneys, low back pain, and relevant therapies utilizing acupuncture, herbs, dietary changes and lifestyle modifications.
The purpose of correlative cosmology is not to make predictions regarding fate, work, romance, etc., as astrology is often used for, but to understand the interrelationship, interdependence, and mutual causality of all phenomena. Applied to medicine, the purpose is to achieve greater understanding of the causes of disease and their treatment.