But you and Panda are discussing whether ki is something real. Abstract concepts are not real but are merely constructs of the mind with no more reality than dragons and unicorns. Believing that a thing called ki helps one in martial arts is no different than believing that a thing called God helps one in life.
Though you do bring up an interesting question. Both Ki and God can be used by people to explain things that they cannot explain and to provide a paradigm to accomplish things. One difference is that Ki is considered to be a natural part of us and available for our use, whereas God is an external power that acts independently of us and may or may not side with us. Another difference is that Ki techniques still work whether Ki actually exists or not; it really doesn't matter that much to a Ki practitioner. But the question of whether God actually exists is of paramount importance to a God practitioner.
I don't think the details of what people imagine are important, except perhaps to their psychiatrists. It's what can be measured that counts.
Re: Seeing how different the life energy is from a chemical one
The appropriate means by which life energy can be observed is the quickening and trepidation which occurs by pressing the palms of both hands together. The procedure begins by keeping the palms of both hands together up high, pressed to each other, for approximately 17 minutes. The quickening will occur spontaneously.
I'm pretty sure the only effects of pressing my hands together over my head for 17 minutes will be muscle fatigue and impaired circulation. What else is there that should happen that represents observational evidence of "quickening"?