The I Ching: A Well of Quantum Insight?

March 23, 2014
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We’d all like to know the future. To know the lottery numbers, the best stocks to buy, the winning football teams, why not? And on a less monetary level, the answers to questions like does he/she really love me, will I die alone, and in the future, will everybody really be wearing silver? Despite the warning lessons offered by Marty McFly we all think we could handle that knowledge and we still want to know… what happens next?

It’s human nature. Hence the popularity of fortune-telling. We tell ourselves that the cards, the tarot, fortune cookies, pendulums, palm-reading will all give us a glimpse into what will be. And if we don’t really believe it, what the hell, it’s still fun. One of the oldest mechanisms for scrying the future is the ancient Chinese book, the I Ching.

The I Ching

Predating recorded history, the I Ching could be anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 years old. A foundation stone of Chinese and Taoist culture, it began to receive more Western interest in the 20th century when various translations were made. Psychologist Carl Jung saw it as an exemplar of his thoughts on synchronicity (meaningful coincidence) and wrote the introduction to the best-known translation by Richard Wilhelm. Predictably, the book was very popular in the 60s and it’s around this time it was used not just as a hippy bible but also to inform more creative endeavors – Philip K Dick wrote his award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle with it, composer John Cage used an I Ching system to write his chance music.

So… Ask a question, hold it in your mind to the exclusion of all else, don’t think another thought, just the question, forget that you left the gas on, concentrate on the question. Throw the coins or the yarrow stalks a number of times and the random results lead you to one of the book’s 64 chapters, each impenetrably occluded in its own way. The chapter pertains to your question. The challenge is to interpret lines like, “One may use two small bowls for the sacrifice,” or “The spokes burst out of the wagon wheels. Man and wife roll their eyes,” in the light of that question.

So, is it just random hocus and pocus or something more? Well, for decades, quantum physicists have been pointing out that the universe is interconnected (we’re all one, man!) and if you really want to stretch the idea of quantum entanglement, you could say that the I Ching operates on sound scientific principles. In any given moment, everything is connected – so at the moment you toss the coins with the question in your head, the question, the coins, and the chapter of the book to which the coins direct you are all meaningfully connected (synchronicity, remember?). Your job is to find the meaning in the connection…

Obscure? Sure. But if you take it out of its quasi-religious context and simply use it as a way to think about a problem differently, laterally, you might just view your future from a different angle. Fresh perspective is always good, right?

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