The Book of Changes
The I Ching is an ancient and mysterious Chinese text. It acts as a sort of "synchronicity generator" — with profound implications about the interconnectedness of the universe & the nature of change.
"The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results, it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach, like a part of nature it waits until it's discovered, he who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true, so let it go forth into the world for the benefit of those who can discern its meaning."
— Carl Gustav Jung.
The I Ching — AKA the "Book of Changes" — is a 3000-year-old Chinese philosophical text based around the use of 64 unique symbols, called hexagrams. Each hexagram provides insight into the dynamics of change and the nature of reality. Its inner workings have baffled philosophers for over 2 millennia.
The I Ching should not exist today. It's survived several notable historical purges of knowledge — the most significant of which was the burning of the books and live burial of Confucian scholars during the Qin Dynasty under the rule of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. At the time, the I Ching was considered a book of divination and knowledge rather than a philosophical text. This subtle distinction allowed it to be spared by the emperor's edicts.
The I Ching is primarily used for divination — but that's not all it's good for. This book contains thousands of years of accumulated wisdom. Regardless of why one uses this book, its value as a philosophical text is immeasurable.
The entire book and its wisdom are centered around the metaphysical theory of dualism.
The idea is that everything is in constant flux — flowing from one state to another. Nothing can exist without its opposite; thus, nothing is inherently good or bad. This is symbolized by the fluctuating combinations of broken and unbroken lines that make up the 64 hexagrams.
At its heart, the I Ching is a guide. It's used to provide broad advice for all aspects of life — business, family life, health, and more. To use the I Ching in this way, one simply has to formulate a question or pose a problem. Then, 3 coins are tossed a total of 6 times to generate one of 64 hexagrams randomly. Each hexagram represents a unique combination of wisdom and insight derived from ancient Chinese philosophy and cosmology.
The guidance offered by the book is stunningly relevant and insightful to the question or problem you bring to it. The sheer quality of the wisdom inside and its relevance to one's personal situation is baffling.
Reading this, you might be thinking I'm describing the I Ching as some kind of mystical artifact. The idea that tossing some coins and reading from a book can tell the future or solve your problems is absurd. This is akin to those magic 8-balls you might find at a toy store.
But that's not what this book is about — in fact — it's probably much more significant than that.
How The I Ching Unlocks Our Intuition
The late psychologist Carl Jung was a huge proponent of the I Ching. He wrote extensively on its symbolism and relevance in our metaphysical understanding of the nature of mind and reality. He even provided the forward for the Willhelm translation of the I Ching — which is the most popular translation today.
Jung once stated that "meaningful answers are the rule with the I Ching, and that it has some form of remarkable intelligence on its own."
He suggested the I Ching is some sort of “synchronicity machine.”
Carl Jung describes synchronicity as the seemingly non-causal connections or coincidences between two or more related events. These events appear to be unrelated in terms of conventional cause-and-effect relationships but have significant meaning to the individual.
When a participant of the I Ching casts their coins to define a hexagram and read its contents, her mind intuitively finds the coincidences relevant to her situation (synchronicities). Through this process, she is able to create meaning in a way that helps clarify the present and provide insight into a possible future.
Critics of the I Ching argue that anybody looking for answers in this book is simply projecting their own thoughts and desires into its results.
But this is precisely the point.
This projection of mind is what gives the I Ching its power.
Our natural tendency to assign meaning to the text within the I Ching helps us unlock hidden intuition. The divination aspect is merely a byproduct of this. By tapping into this unconscious field of awareness, we're better able to make decisions that lead to a favorable outcome.
How the I Ching Helps Us Navigate the Boundaries of Human Understanding
Jung's view of the I Ching emphasizes the interconnectedness of the human psyche with the external world. Our brains are essentially meaning-making machines, and our entire experience is limited by what we can perceive rather than how things actually are in objective reality.
The I Ching serves as a tool to peer beyond these limitations because it isn’t trapped by the confines of human perception.
When we cast the coins to define a hexagram, we're tapping into a realm of possibility and interpretation, transcending our usual causal thought processes.
We're escaping our enclosed "one thought to the next" thought process by grabbing something external to seed new ideas — which we unconsciously force to be relevant in the present moment.
This idea can be explained by Immanuel Kant's idea of "transcendental idealism."
Kant's transcendental idealism suggests that human knowledge is limited by phenomena (how things appear to us) rather than noumena (how things actually are in themselves).
The I Ching recognizes the boundaries of nature and human understanding and emphasizes the active role of the mind in shaping and structuring our experiences and perceptions.
The guidance offered by the Book of Changes is not absolute knowledge but a way to navigate the inherent uncertainties of life. The answers provided are cryptic and require interpretation. They don't offer clear-cut, deterministic predictions but rather nuanced insights that vary based on the perspective of the reader.
You can find many parallels with Kant's idea of transcendental idealism, the I Ching, and the non-boolean logic modern physics uses to describe quantum theory:
(Keep in mind these are merely analogies — quantum mechanics and the I Ching operate on different premises, and one doesn't directly explain the other.)
1. Projective Measurement
In quantum mechanics, a projective measurement assesses collapses of a quantum state into one of the possible eigenstates. This means that after a measurement is taken, the state of the system becomes a definite, known state corresponding to the outcome of the measurement — rather than a superposition of many states.
When we consult the I Ching, there are myriad possible responses it might offer, reflecting the vast potentialities of a situation. Before the coins are cast, all potential answers exist in a kind of "superposition" of possibilities. Once the casting is done, a specific hexagram, or "state," is realized.
2. Wave-Particle Duality
All things at the quantum level demonstrate both wave-like and particle-like characteristics — two completely separate phenomena.
This doesn't mean quantum entities are paradoxical; it just means that the true nature of quantum entities (and reality, in general) is what it is and holds no attachment to our classical understanding of the laws of physics. However we can only use the language available in our lexicon to describe it — in this case, by stating that things are wave-like, but also particle-like.
This dichotomy echoes Kant's assertions that our perceptions provide only phenomena (the way things appear to us) and not the noumena (things as they are in objective reality).
In the I Ching, the dual principles of yin and yang offer a framework for understanding the incomprehensible and seemingly contradictory nature of reality.
3. Emergent Properties
In quantum theory, emergent properties describe the phenomenon where a system exhibits behaviors or characteristics that are not easily predictable by studying its individual components.
This introduces a realm of unpredictability, challenging traditional deterministic views of causation.
Similarly, the I Ching embraces the inherent unpredictability and complexity of the universe, suggesting that there's a profound depth to existence that resists simplification. It teaches the acceptance of the fundamental principle: "Things are as they are."
4. Quantum Entanglement
In the realm of quantum mechanics, entanglement is a phenomenon where the states of two or more particles become interconnected. When you change the state of one of the entangled particles, the state of the other particle will instantaneously change to maintain the relationship, irrespective of the distance between them.
This concept mirrors the wisdom within the I Ching — which states that nothing exists in isolation, and everything is part of a larger, coherent web of meaning. This implies that there is a harmonious order or pattern to the universe that can be understood through the use of hexagrams.
"The Chinese, by not having a strong dualism between the internal and external world, were able to create a kind of physics that was also a kind of psychology. The I Ching is the distillation and quintessence of this way of understanding the world."
— Terence McKenna
The I Ching as a Blueprint for Pattern & Process
The late philosopher and psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna, viewed the I Ching as a valuable tool for exploring the nature of reality, consciousness, and time. He believed the power of the I Ching lies in the fact that it offers insight into the true structure of nature. Not the structure of matter, atoms, or molecular systems, but the structure of "process."
Process refers to the patterns and systems that underlie change, transformation, and evolution — both in nature and in consciousness.
The I Ching employs the interplay of opposites (yin and yang) to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all phenomena.
He believed that if time is fractal, there must be patterns that repeat themselves over and over again.
Taoism (the philosophy most closely aligned with the I Ching) is essentially an appreciation of pattern and process.
McKenna points out that Western thinking relies on a 3-element theory of process (start, progression, culmination). The I Ching uses a significantly more complex 64-element theory of process — which is illustrated by the 64 hexagrams. These hexagrams symbolize a constant fluctuation between one another — yang lines change into yin lines and vice versa, representing the dynamic interplay and transformation within the 64 separate hexagrams.
This complex system allows proponents of the I Ching to create an algebra of calculations about the forces impinging on any given event. It allows one to extract a hexagram out of any given moment. These hexagrams are not derived from cause and effect — but instead arise from the harmonious resonance of the moment.
The falling of the coins, the mental state of the asker, and the divinatory wisdom contained within each hexagram synchronously converge together and become a symbolic mirror of the present moment in time.
How to Use the I Ching
Using the I Ching is relatively straightforward. The simplest method employs 3 coins cast randomly. The value of the coins based on either the presentation of heads or tails is added up to derive either a broken line (yin) or a solid line (yang).
Older methods for consulting the I Ching include the casting of 50 yarrow stalks.
The basic premise for using the I Ching (using the coin method) is as follows:
1. Gather The I Ching and Some Coins
To consult the I Ching, you'll need 3 coins. It doesn't matter what coins these are as long as they each have 2 unique sides. It helps if they're the same coin to avoid confusion while casting.
You'll need to assign a "yin" side and a "yang" side for these coins. It doesn't matter which side you choose for which.
I generally associate heads as "yang" and tails as "yin." The reason for this is consistency. Every time I consult the I Ching, I can quickly determine yin or yang, even if the coins I use differ.
2. Cast The Coins & Add Up The Scores
Throw the coins in front of you. Determine which ones show yang and which ones show yin.
Every yang is worth 3, and every yin is worth 2.
Add up the scores:
If the total of the 3 coins is 6, your first line is a changing yin line. (––*)
If the total is 7, you have a yang line. (—)
If the total is 8, you have a yin line. (––)
If the total is 9, you have a changing yang line. (—*)
"Changing lines" suggest a state where the line is in the active process of changing. Add a dot next to these lines as you draw your lines. After the primary description of the hexagram, there are sections that go into further context depending on which lines had "changing lines."
Here’s a chart showing all the possible combinations and their corresponding lines.
Note that 3 of a kind creates a “changing line” — so mark this with a dot beside the line you draw. This will be important later.
3. Continue Building Your Hexagram
I Ching hexagrams are drawn from the bottom up for a total of 6 lines.
Draw the first line depending on the sum of your first cast, and continue throwing the three coins, determining their corresponding line, and building the hexagram until you have a total of 6 lines.
Your hexagram should look something like this:
4. Find the Corresponding Pages in the I Ching
Depending on which copy of the I Ching you're using, you'll find a chart to help you determine the corresponding hexagram.
This chart works by splitting the hexagram in half — into two trigrams.
By aligning the bottom trigram with the upper trigram, you'll land on the specific hexagram.
You can then skim through the book until you find the corresponding pages.
Note on “Changing Lines”
A changing line symbolizes a line that’s in a state of change.
After the main reading in the book, there’s a section adding additional context for the changing lines.