Toward a Unified Metaphysical Understanding: Rationality, Scepticism and the I Ching    
 Rationality, Scepticism and the I Ching
2008-06-23, by John Ringland

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To some people it may seem to be an obvious contradiction to claim to be a rationalist and a sceptic (open minded enquiry without pre-conceptions) and yet to call upon “the wisdom of the I Ching” as I do in various places. But this perception is based on a subtle misconception, which I will endeavour to clear up here.

I will first give some background on the general type of rationalist enquiry used, then on my own enquiry and its results, and finishing with some wisdom from the I Ching.

Consider the case of the Turing test, designed by Alan Turing around 1950. What was at issue was whether an AI program was merely a set of mechanistic responses or whether it was reasonable to accept that it was engaging in conscious thought processes or more generally 'sentience', the “state of elementary or undifferentiated consciousness” *

But these terms were too difficult to quantify. “However, if we consider the more precise—and somehow related—question whether a digital computer can do well in a certain kind of game that Turing describes (“The Imitation Game”), then—at least in Turing's eyes—we do have a question that admits of precise discussion... The phrase “The Turing Test” is sometimes used more generally to refer to some kinds of behavioural tests for the presence of mind, or thought, or intelligence in putatively minded entities. So, for example, it is sometimes suggested that The Turing Test is prefigured in Descartes' Discourse on the Method.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Genuine thought as opposed to mechanistic response is not something that we can just surgically open the brain to distinguish in an objective manner. It is impossible to objectively prove one's own sentience to another, let alone objectively prove the sentience of another. We only ever take these things for granted in each other, but merely assuming this without questioning it is not a sceptical, rationalist position to take. But through constant interactions with others we have in a sense performed an ongoing Turing test of our own in order to come to trust that other human beings are indeed sentient and are not merely inert mechanisms engaging in programmed responses. We directly experience our own sentience (thinking, feeling, perceptual awareness, etc) and we observe from birth that others behave in a manner that is strongly suggestive that they too 'experience' sentience. From this we infer that they too are sentient.

Here I consider a variation of the Turing test, which does not involve an imitation game where the subject under enquiry is required to mimic a typical human being, but rather, the subject (I Ching) is instead required to mimic a wise and perceptive sage, one who can cut through the unessential complications and penetrate to the core of an issue and then provide succinct and holistically appropriate advice and insight into a situation. This will help discern whether it is just a random process that credulous fools are deceived by, or whether there is some measure of intelligent response in the process. Exactly where and how this intelligence operates is not considered here, but merely its presence or absence...

In this sense I have performed an ongoing Turing test of the I Ching and it has undergone continuous Turing tests for over five thousand years. But the subject under enquiry does not speak a prosaic human language, but rather, it synchronistically selects from a range of 3600 possible responses, which are expressed in a deeply metaphorical language. Hence one must gradually learn its symbolic language to be able to properly perform the test. This takes time and a certain kind of mind that is able to hermeneutically penetrate into the richly symbolic and mythological language. The ancients were more familiar with this way of thinking than modern minds, who are trained from an early age to think in a literal, prosaic and dialectic manner. So the responses of the I Ching can at times seem to modern minds like vague gibberish.

This immediate experience of seemingly vague gibberish combines with naïve realist, materialist, dualist pre-conceptions about the likelihood of randomly tossing some coins and synchronistically getting a meaningful result. Together these factors make it difficult for most people to perform such a Turing test in a sceptical manner.

Having seen through dualism and materialism via system theory I persisted with trying to comprehend the apparent gibberish. I asked meaningful questions that were related to myself, my life, the world around me and all manner of things about which a wise sage might give advice. I cast hexagrams and contemplated the responses, comparing my intuitive interpretations with the context of the question. Over several years I did this and gradually came to learn its language and to see deep and profound correlations between its advice and appropriate advice that would have been relevant to the questions.

I have also undertaken mathematical analysis of its structure. It is a six bit binary information space that provides a model of the mapping between the ongoing-process-of-the-real (spirit world) and the space of naïve realist misconceptions that 'embodied' spirit beings form about their sensory experiences (human world), which sheds light on the subtle processes of change and transformation. It has a complex inter-connected inner structure. It forms a unit cube within a six dimensional space, but due to the pairing of hexagrams this cube is folded in on itself in a complex manner, thus creating a kind of hypercube that spans four inter-connected three dimensional spaces. Within each space it appears as a regular cube, but it is one that spans four different spaces. Thus it has some extremely interesting properties. Each hexagram pair form opposites on a cube and by traversing through one face of a cube one passes through to another cube within a different space. But by traversing through in the same direction again one comes back to the original cube from the other side. From any given cube there are three dimensions along which to traverse, each of which leads to a different cube, hence there are four interconnected cubes that span four inter-connected three dimensional spaces.

Just as a baby performs its Turing tests on those around it and gradually arrives at a conviction and trust that is unshakeable, so too I have come to trust the I Ching as a source of wisdom and guidance. It had been for thousands of years the primary source of wisdom and guidance to ancient Chinese civilisation, which grew over time into great eminence, wisdom and power before it eventually faded into oblivion like all systems do eventually, only to arise again in a new form.

So too, the I Ching has become my primary source of external wisdom and guidance. In all matters were I cannot know something for myself or need wise counsel and penetrative insight into something which is beyond me, I call upon the I Ching. I have over the years had thousands of interactions with the I Ching and in every instance it has cut through the unessential complications and penetrated to the core of the issue to provide succinct and holistically appropriate advice and insight into the query.

We cannot prove our sentience to each other but we come to trust it through constant intelligent interaction and this is no different with the I Ching. I initially kept detailed accounts of the interactions but you would need to know my holistic situation to see that the responses were not only relevant but wise. In recent years it has been an ongoing conversation, which I rarely record. Although I cannot prove it to you, you can prove it to yourself in the same way that I did. It may also be amenable to an organised Turing test with rigorous documentation of circumstances, questions, responses, interpretations and statistical analysis, if anyone is interested in doing such a thing – it could be truly ground-breaking research.

I could not have survived the ordeal of modern life and surmounted the confusion of our collective discourse without the aid of the I Ching. It is a valuable guide to all who seek genuine wisdom and who seek to apply that wisdom to create lasting change that brings us into accord with the natural flow of reality (the Way). It is wise counsel to all revolutionaries of the spirit.

Try it and find out for yourself! It is good to have several translations of the commentary in order to see beyond the artefacts of interpretation and into the wisdom that is common to them all. But I particularly recommend the translation “Total I Ching: Myths for Change”. Whereas the others draw only from the Confucian commentaries, this book is the first to also draw from the neolithic mythologies, which provide profoundly mystic insights into the rich symbolic language of the I Ching.

I will now cast a hexagram, by throwing three coins six times, and we will see what the I Ching has to say to readers of this article...

It is a single hexagram with no changing lines, hence it simply describes a context and gives no specific pronouncement within that context and no peripheral advice about it (see this earlier comment for a an example of a more complex response).

The hexagram is 17, “Following”, (Open over Shake or Mists over Thunder). It is in the pair with 18 “Corruption and Pestilence / Renovating”. I will now quote extracts from the translation of the commentary given in the book mentioned above, giving only the more direct and prosaic statements. This one is quite clear and straight forward given the context, I'll leave the interpretation up to you; there are many subtle levels of interpretation and understanding to explore.

The Pair: Follow the spirit and renovate the Ancestral Images. This pair involves you in an overall model of thought and action elaborated in the interconnected lines of the figures: following the flow of inspiring energy to a source of corruption and renovating the ancestral images. Through this process a child becomes an adult and participates in the great events of the world. Carefully consider your place in and relation to this model. Following means leaving old grounds for dissension behind. Finding Corruption means there will be stability.

Following (Sui): Move with the flow, strong, natural attraction; inevitable, natural and correct; influence, guidance; the spirit joyously moves in the world.

Through Following, your accumulated power and virtue (de) connects with the flow of events in such a way that the spirit moves into the world through you. Through Following, a very basic and much-prized quality, you are in direct touch with the flow of the Way. You insert yourself into the universal flow of events, the river of time, and are thus able to conform effectively and spontaneously to the unfolding of the moment (shi). You are drawn into an ancestral line and the power of its unfolding. The root of the word shows a hill or grave mound and great abundance, growing riches, a spreading multitude. It suggests accepting the spirit's influence gladly, letting yourself be moved and drawn, being connected to the Way.

Following describes your situation in terms of being drawn forward. The way to deal with it is to follow the inevitable course of events. Be guided by the way things are moving. You are involved in a series of events that are firmly connected. Don't fight it, move with it. It opens a whole new cycle of time. This is not a mistake. The situation cannot harm you. This is pleasing to the spirits. Through it they will give you success, effective power and the capacity to bring the situation to maturity.

The hexagram figure shows an outer stimulus rousing inner energy. Proceed step by step. When you have provided for the call, it comes. Let go of what is past, all the old quarrels and sorrows that led up to this situation. Dim your discriminating power so old mental habits can dissolve. A firm new focus is emerging, called up by an outer stimulus. This great new idea is pleasing to the spirits. This is not a mistake. Put it to the trial. The whole human world must follow the times and the seasons. What you are actually following is a righteous idea inherent in the time.

Stimulating words from without that stir up a deep inner impulse to follow. The ideal Realising Person reflects this by turning to his own fertile inner darkness, allowing the old to dissolve so he can follow the new. Work through subtle penetration. This involves fate. If you let yourself be led, you can realise hidden potential.

End of quotes from Following...

The hidden possibility in the situation is determined by extracting the overlapping nuclear trigrams and forming a new hexagram, which is 53 “Gradual Advance / Marrying Woman” from which I'll quote extracts from...

The Pair: The way of marriage as an image of the soul's journey to realization. It contrasts a marriage that proceeds in a recognized manner with one that involves a radical change of state, a quantum change.

Gradual Advance (Jian): A marriage that proceeds in a recognised manner. Smooth, adaptable progress; infiltrate, penetrate like water. Things cannot be stopped without end, this means advancing. It is a formal ritual progression that leads to union and establishment in the symbolic world. This change occurs step by step, through a subtle, gradual and sure advance. It is regular development that proceeds in stages, crossing thresholds in the advance to union and its celebration in dance and festival, its perfection in the symbolic order. It suggests leading water in channels, the course of a river, the watercourse way. We see souls transformed to birds, life as a flight, a migratory journey made in pairs. The name of this figure describes their flight, crossing the water, skimming, gliding and settling at each stage in their journey.

Advance slowly and steadily through subtle penetration. Through infiltrating you find the place where you belong. Depend on your moral and intellectual strength and your power to realise the Way to improve the everyday situation. This will certainly advance you. By moving through yin and the woman you achieve mastery and find a new field of activity. You acquire the place you desire. Pushing on brings real achievement. Correct yourself in order to advance. This lets you correct the way power and responsibility are assigned. Stabilize your desire and be adaptable. Gently penetrate to the core of the situation. Thus the new energy that is stirring will not be exhausted.

The ideal Realising Person reflects this by firmly residing in his innate power to actualize the Way, transforming what is mean-spirited and grasping. Work through joyous words to bring the spirit to expression. Renovate the Ancestral Images.

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