Further Musings

Randomness and Wisdom

This chapter contains some musings about oracles in general, about the I Ching, and its relevance to mathematics. I speculate on why the use of the I Ching might be more than just a random numbers game.

In this time of scientific study and advanced technology it is somewhat surprising that the old oracles and fortune telling methods still exist and thrive. One wonders how this can be when analysis appears to have proven such things to be bunk. How can educated people study such things as Tarot cards, Ouija boards, Runes, and the I Ching? Are these not merely old parlor games which are no longer relevant?

One striking characteristic of all the old oracles is their use of random numbers in generating fortunes. One is required to toss coins, pull out straws, look at tea leaves, and other random events to "see the future". This is true also of the I Ching. If a random number draw is used to consult the wisdom of the I Ching, how can it possibly be relevant to a real situation for the seeker?

Early in his career, Marcel Duchamp dipped three strings in paint and dropped them onto the floor. As they fell, they produced random shapes, preserved by the paint. During the remainder of his career, Duchamp used those three shapes in many works of art. He based his career on the use of those random shapes. Is the artistry in the random shapes? No. The artistry is in the use he made of the shapes to produce the art.

Leonardo DaVinci wrote that he would seek inspiration by staring at random stains on walls. In the random stains he would see images to inspire his creativity. Is the artistry in the random stains on the walls? No. The artistry is in the patterns and images seen by the artist in the stains. It is in the mind of the artist. The stains are just a catalyst for the creativity of the artist.

It is common in art to bring in a "fresh set of eyes" when a problem becomes intractable. A child or a non artist can often see glaring errors in a work of art which have escaped the notice of the artist for hours. Many artists have been embarrassed when a child asks why the head is too big or why the buildings all lean to the left. Beautiful details and highlights are often painted on a vase which could not possibly stand up, much less hold water. This is not because the child is smarter than the artist. The effect occurs because we lose our ability to see the overall image as we deal with the details of the work. The foundation which we laid down becomes correct by assumption, and we no longer possess the ability to question that foundation.

Another technique used by an artist to gain a fresh set of eyes is by turning a work upside down or looking at it in a mirror. This serves to scramble our assumptions about the work so that we can see what is really there. Basically, we become our own fresh set of eyes.

Is it not possible then, to see wisdom in a hexagram called up at random? Perhaps, in the case of the I Ching, the purpose of the random draw of the hexagram is to break the mind of the seeker out of a rut, to scramble the assumptions about the situation being addressed. To give the seeker a fresh set of eyes. To quote from the Richard Wilhelm translation of the eighth wing, "Discussion of the Trigrams":

..."the very absence of an immediate meaning in chance permitted a deeper meaning to come to expression in it".

Once the assumptions about our situation have been turned over, perhaps we can see the situation more clearly.

Relevance to Reality

The hexagrams of the I Ching are purported to provide a representation of all the times and situations in the universe. How can this be when they are really nothing but six lines written on paper?

The hexagrams are arranged in a sequence in the I Ching. Hexagram 2, the Receptive, always follows hexagram 1, the Creative. The sequence was created from observation of the natural sequence of events in the universe. These observations have evolved over many years. Thus, night follows day, which in turn is followed by night again. To say that the sun will rise tomorrow is not simply words on a page. It contains information for people which can influence their lives and behavior. The hexagrams contain natural sequences which are much more complex than merely night and day. They subsume social and biological sequences of a complex nature. Perhaps the study of the hexagrams is more a study of natural philosophy rather than a study of magic. The hexagrams can be likened to physics equations. For example, the equation:

V = A x T (velocity equals acceleration times time)

describes the motion of a body under the influence of an accelerating force. It, like the hexagrams, is merely symbols on a page. However, when used by a knowledgeable individual it can predict where a body will fall given certain initial conditions. While they are only symbols on a page, it is equations like this that allowed us to land on the moon, a very real physical event. Without the predictive power of the physics equations, the trip to the moon would have been nearly impossible to accomplish.

So, perhaps the power of the hexagrams is similar to that of the physics equations, but applied to natural philosophy. In the hands of a knowledgeable individual perhaps they can predict the direction of a social or political situation. The sequence and judgments applied to the hexagram may be a valuable catalyst to extract the wisdom from contemporary minds. The way to find out is to study them with an open mind.

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