Not even the strangeness of insane delusions or of primotive supersitution has ever shocked me. I have always tried to remain unbiased and curious - rerum novarum cupidus. Why not venture a dialogue with an ancient book that purpotrs to be animated?
C.G. Jung, in his 1949 introduction to the second American edition of the I Ching.
And now, through the wonders of micro-circuitry, the I Ching has been animated! For $29.95, and the mere press of a buton, the I Ching Decision Science Computer offers to put "us in touch with another dimension of ourselves."
For thousand of years, the Chinese have consulted the I Ching - or Book of Changes - for the changing patterns of the world and the self. By throwing 49 yarrow stalks back and forth between the hands, the theory goes, the I Ching can answer any question with 64 hexagrams conjured up through the stalks. Wars, marriages, business deals and psychological problems all have been settled by the book.
The I Ching did - and does - this in the most deft of ways, with poetic explanations of the hexagrams that are ambigious enough to disarm the staunchest skeptic. "Thunder over the lake," "Fire on the mountain," The wind drives over the water." The answers some embellished with enough pleasant imagery to open some new perspectives, however cyclic the questions seem. You can't quarrel with:
21. Sih Ho / Biting Through.
Biting through has success.
It is favorable to let justice be administered.
"There was one drawback to the I Ching system," the ad for the computer explains. "After you determined the exact combination of sticks, you then had to look in a book of 64 formulas and interpret the relationships and their compatibilities to your specific situation. This required the great scholars of China . . ."
And wouldn't you know it: "Recently a group of American scientists took the basic formula relationships expressed in binary code, and devised a computer that selects the correct formula and translates the results."
The instructions are simple. Press the "concentrate-on-question" button on the 2 1/2 by 3 1/2-inch device. This starts the 64 possible hexagrams churning through its memory bank. A second button - pressed "at the exact moment your subconscious tells you to," according to the ad - yields an answers weighing "favorable factors" and "risk of difficulties." The ad suggests possible questions: "Should I invest in the stock market?" "Should I accept the date?"
"I had known about the I Ching for a long time," says Bill Mitchell, marketing director for JS&A National Sales Group (Northbrook, Ill. 60062), the world's largest direct-mail sales firm. "A scientist who developed this thing brought it to us, and we thought it was very intriguing - a unique executive gift item."
Mitchell says the company placed its first test ads for the computer in Electrical Engineering Times and Game magazine, a consumer publication.
"It's been very successful," he says, refusing to say how many available-only-by-mail units the multimillion-dollar corporation has sold so far. "This thing is somewhat similar to the biorhythm calculators, although the philosophy behind it is much more complex: Eastern ideas are just starting to come into the Western consciousness."
The first mention of the I Ching came about 2205 BC, during the Hsia Dynasty, although its finest hour came in 213 B.C. when it survived the infamous burning of the books under the tyrant Ch'in Shih Hugang Ti. Four holy men, including Confucious, are given as its authors, although the present system of 64 hexagrams is linked to King Wen, 1150 B.C. The hexagrams are series of six changing lines (each can be either yes or no) that conjure all that happens in heaven and on earth. Even today in China, fortune tellers can be found on corners throwing the Ching, and diplomats at the U.N. are said to keep copies in their desks.
The psychologist Jung - a great believer in the I Ching - noted in his forward to the definitive Bollingen Foundation edition of the book that "the Western mind carefully sifts, weights, selects, classifies, isolates," while "the Chinese picture of the moment encompasses everything down to the minutest nonsensical detail, because all of the ingredients make up the observed moment."
The answers from the I Ching, Jung noted, "form, as it were, the living soul of the book. As the later is thus a sort of animated being, the tradition assumes that one can put questions to the I Ching and expect to receive intelligent answers."
A panel of experts did just this: threw the Ching manually to ask the ancient book how it felt about integrated circuits replacing the time-honored manual tradition in the I Ching Decision Science Computer.
The result: hexagram 60 - LIMITATION, "the thrift that sets fixed limits upon expenditures. Limitation also means galling limitations must not be perserved in." The hexagram changes into number nine - THE TAMING POWER OF THE SMALL.
"We make no judgements," says Mitchell, "of what this thing is going to do with you life."