It is interesting to see how hypertext has gone from being a grand possibility to a never-finished chore. --Ted Nelson
The "I Ching" looks like a book but isn't really.
from his column The Sources of the Nile which appeared in Crawdaddy!
magazine (April 1973, page 10)
The nature of the future is that there isn't any. It's January as I write this, and by the time you read it there still won't be any future, only the same old present with its endless implications, possibilities, and unperceived realities. I suppose when we talk about the future we are really talking about the unperceived realities of right now.
Scumpy told me that the theme of this issue of Crawdaddy would be, loosely speaking, the future and how to prepare for it. As far as I've been able to figure out, the best and probably the only preparation for what is to come is awareness of what's going on today. There is a device, an ancient variation of a [digital] computer, that I have found to be extremely helpful in this kind of work. It's called the I Ching.
The I Ching looks like a book, but it isn't really. It's a geometrical structure, with texts attached. The structure might be described as an inverted polygon (I mean, you look at it from the inside, like the universe) with 64 faces. Each of these faces has six sides (not in space but in time-space, if we can make that distinction), and is called a hexagram.
This 64-faced representation of the world we live in can be entered and studied for clues as to what's going on in "reality", and for this reason is called an oracle. An oracle is something that can be consulted. The simplest method of consulting the I Ching is to throw three coins six times. Assign an arbitrary value of "2" to heads and "3" to tails.
[Editor's note: Some folks arbitrarily, or otherwise, make the opposite designation and assign a value of "3" (yang) to heads and "2" (yin) to tails. You should decide which designation makes sense to you before you begin. If you find the choice too confusing you might consider using the yarrowstalk method which is a bit more complicated. Instructions for the yarrow stalk method can be found on pages 721-723 in the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching. End of editor's note; back to Paul's article.]
So when you toss the coins you get a total of 6, 7, 8, or 9. Seven is represented by a solid straight line. Eight is a broken line. On or off: yin or yang. (Six is a broken line that has the inherent tendency to change to a solid line; nine is a solid line that changes to a broken.)
You toss the coins six times, drawing a solid line the first time if you got a 7 or 9, a broken line if you got 6 or 8, then drawing the next line above the first, continuing up till you have a stack of six. This is called a hexagram. There's a chart in the back of the book that tells you which of the 64 hexagrams you got.
. . .Uh, I can't go on with this rap. Actually in my first draft I did go on with it, on and on, telling you what you already know if you're into the I Ching and probably couldn't care less about if you're not. I started consulting the I Ching (the Whilhelm/Baynes translation, published by the Princeton University Press) almost five years ago. Since then the book has influenced my life to an immeasurable degree, both directly by giving specific advice at critical moments, and indirectly by giving me continuous instruction in a philosophy of living, a way of seeing the world and a way of acting that has become inseparable from by own way. My character seems to have fused to some real extent with this ancient book. Feels good.
The most remarkable thing about the I Ching is ability to speak directly to the person consulting it, to go right to the heart of your immediate personal and private problem and give sound and appropriate advice...often describing the situation with an accuracy that takes your breath away. How does the book do this? It doesn't. It merely allows itself to be approached correctly. By throwing the coins six times (or going through a complex but equivalent process involving yarrow stalks) and concentrating on a particular question (bearing in mind what it is you wish to know), the supplicant somehow crosses the line between probability and synchronicity, removes himself from a physics in which as Einstein pointed out, there is no way of proving that two things actually happen at the same time, and moves into a realm (far more sophisticated, more "scientifically" advanced I think) in which it is understood that there is a simultaneity to events, and a lot can be learned from coincidence (divine footprints everywhere). Jung knew this, priests and politicians have always understood and made use of it, and evidently the Chinese built this awareness into their Bible (or Book, or Encyclopedia) five thousand years ago.
I Ching, by the way, is Chinese for "Book of Changes." Except there aren't any literal equivalences between the Chinese and English languages--a fact which makes the present work less a good translation than an out and out miracle, or at least a heavy Heavenly hint as to what's going on, I mean what time it is.
The I Ching I'm talking about, I must repeat, is the one that's available only in hardcover, translated from Chinese into German by a man named Richard Wilhelm, and from German into English by a woman named Cary Baynes. Accept no substitutes.[Ed. note: There are many more English language versions these days than there were in 1973. Although the Wilhelm/Baynes edition is still the standard, you might find one or more you like better.]
I'd really like to tell you how this book has changed my life. There was a year when I consulted it every morning, keeping track in a little notebook, to get a reading for the day (which I would meditate on, or anyway think about, as things happened to me). There has been many a time when I found myself turning to the book many times a week for critical advice, like a sailor consulting his sextant: Where am I? There have been times when the book told me to leave it alone for awhile, and I tried to obey. Nowadays I don't consult it more than once a week, if that. But I think about it every day, and I know very often what the book would tell me now if I asked, which means I don't need to ask. But I do need to pay attention. There never comes a time when you don't need to be told, just maybe a time when you can tell yourself instead of making others do it for you.
Some people think the I Ching will tell you about the future. But there isn't any future. There's only the present and what it's threatening to become. If you're interested in what Chester Anderson
calls "the news before it happens," look into your local book of changes. ("Take tea and see.") It's later than you think.
This article has been placed on the web with the permission of the author.