Mapping the topography... what is Qi?

This old chestnut.
Qi or Ki is generally translated or discussed in common parlance as ‘energy’ or life force, but what does this really mean?
Energy can mean anything from oil to sunlight, sugar to being a sweetie (depending on how we might be using that word and what context we're talking). So in a way any kind of translation is going to miss or lose something vital to our understanding of what it is.

The term ‘qi’ is used in the classical literature of japanese acupuncture in a way that in many respects is identical to the use of the term ‘information’.
So instead of thinking about qi as energy, we might be better to think of qi as 'information'.  General systems theory and informational theory provide a new way of getting into the heart of the nature of qi…

It has been noted that organisms constantly exchange energy with the environment. This is part of life’s adaptive processes; however, it is the informational exchange that is more significant in this adaptive process.
The energy is of course important but change results from the information content of the energy.
The ingestion of food, fluids, air, the reception of sense data and behavioural stimuli all represent informational input.
The excretion of waste (gaseous, fluid, solid), the expenditure of energy through work; behavior, all represent informational output.
Living organisms are open systems, meaning that their information is both input and output. In the systems model, what passes back and forth between each interacting system or level is information…
— Chasing the Dragon’s Tail, Dr Yoshio Manaka, 1995, Paradigm Publications
mapping the body

When we think of 'qi' as information, it then has flow on effects on our understanding of acupuncture and meridians and what we are affecting when we place an acupuncture pin at a point on the body. We begin to appreciate that the meridians are a physiological process. [Applied Channel Theory in Chinese Medicine, J. Roberstson, Ju-Yi Wang,2008, Eastland Press] We begin to understand that the meridians are one of the living body's many ways of generating, arranging, organizing and distributing information. A system of many cellular interconnections that in activity and engagement are life.

Therapies like acupuncture and moxibustion are best applied within a diagnostic framework that has a profound knowledge and respect for the meridians, the natural cycles of change and adaptation and the deep inner traditions of Spirit.
It is the diagnostic framework which incorporates the meridians and channel theory; the 5 Elements; the 10 stems and 5 branches; the complementary nature of yin and yang and a subtle understanding of polarities; the awareness of the inner alchemy of physiological mechanisms, that enables the practitioner to access and engage the flow of qi/ information in therapeutically positive ways for the patient's benefit. The diagnostic framework acts as guide and map through the complex informational systems that comprise the body, from the cellular level to the level of the actualised 'self'.