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易經 (I-Ching : Book of Changes)

I-Ching, Authors 64 Trigrams 易經 (I-Ching or Book of Changes) is an ancient scripture about natural phenomena and subsequently used for divination. It is now shrouded in mystery mainly because most people pay attention only to those part involving supernatural believe, which helps them to seek fortune and to avoid mis-fortune by randomly picking some sticks and attaching them to some meanings. The followings is an attempt to re-introduce the aspect on the philosophical thinking. It is a good example of the holistic approach to understand the nature and things - the opposition to reductionism so predominant in modern science.

Figure 01 I-Ching, Authors [view large image]

Figure 02 The 64 Trigrams
[view large image]


Similar to all academic endeavors, The content in I-Ching is the collective wisdom over many years by many individuals. It is usually only a few or just one of them who would organize all the knowledge into one whole piece. I-Ching is no different in this respect. There are three main contributors quoted up and down the Chinese history.

  1. The Legendary Fu Xi (伏羲 , ~ 3000 BCE) - He is reputed to be the very original ancestor of all Chinese, who not only introduced fire, tools and hunting, ... etc but also retained a serpent tail in the lower half of his body. I-Ching is just one of his inventions based on the desire to understand the natural environment. He envisioned an empty cosmos in the very beginning (can be considered as 20 in binary), the sky and earth emerged from this nothingness forming the Ying/Yang (陰/陽) and the opposition of everything (hence 21, the middle circle inside the big circle in Figure 01). With the four seasons in mind, he further expanded the idea to 4 symbols (the binary now becomes 22, as shown by the second ring in Figure 01). It was not too difficult to encompass the eight directions as well (which are represented by the first ring in Figure 01, and the binary number is just 23). It is clear from the above scenario that I-Ching was conceived purely by observation of the nature.
  2. Emperor Zhou-Man (周文王 , ~ 1300 BCE) - He further developed the number of symbols to 64 = 26 and added meaning to each symbols. That was when divination was introduced into the I-Ching. These symbols are shown in Figure 02 in a tablet form (the numerals denote the actual sequence). He invented this system while being locked up in jail for eight years by a wicked king.
  3. Confucius (孔子, ~ 500 BCE) - He made further interpretation into the symbols with his own brand of moral values. Another sage in the same period actually had the wisdom to observe that "Those who know I-Ching would not do divination" (荀子:『善易者不卜』).
Event/System Category Pattern High Level Time Scale
Four Seasons Nature Regular cycles Summer 1 year cycle
Stock Exchange Financial Irregular cycles Tops of bull market Years
Global Climate Geology Irregular cycles Warming periods Millions of years
Stellar Evolution Astronomy 1 cycle Main sequence phase Billions of years
Life Span (Human) Biology 1 cycle ~ 25 years old Tens of years
Dynasty History 1 cycle Zenith of prosperity Hundreds of years
Scientific Theories Physics Almost constant, subjected to modification N/A Close to eternity
I-Ching Philosophy Near constant, subjected to interpretations N/A Eternity in some aspects
Pythagorean Theroem Mathematics Constant N/A Eternity

Table 01 I-Ching Patterns

World Model DNA Sequencing Table 01 shows that I-Ching covers a variety fields in a few patterns. While its applicability seems to be unlimited, it fails to provide further detail or insight into the events or systems. Modern holistic method uses non-linear equations to link together many parts such as in the world model (Figure 04), in which many causes (constructive as well as destructive) are considered together via the logistic equations to predict the state of world in the next 200 years. The picture derived from this way is still very general providing only a rough estimate. The methods of reductionism have to be employed to look into the components inside the crude perception in our daily experience. For example, the DNA sequence can be derived only by combining the knowledge from chemistry, biology, and physics (Figure 05). This elaborate way is very

Figure 04 World Model [view large image]

Figure 05 DNA Sequencing [view large image]

different from the general view of I-Ching. It is not a matter of better or worse - it is just different ways of thinking in different circumstances.

See a different perspective from "Wiki-I-Ching" in Chinese.

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