This article is the fourth in a series in response to an article by Ted Wade on Medium.com, which claimed that the ‘supernatural’ is a figment of humans’ imagination. I am arguing the contrary. In part 2 I discussed the relevance of quantum physics to this question, and in part 3 Jung’s concept of synchronicity. Here I’ll turn my attention to the ancient Taoist book of wisdom, the I Ching. It is also used as a tool for divination, which is what I’ll focus on here. (For anyone unfamiliar with the practice, the Western method is to toss three coins into the air six times, and the combination of heads and tails enables one to find the relevant passages in the book. This can be in response to a question. I have also found it helpful on occasions when I felt intuitively that it wanted me to consult it, at which times I merely threw the coins without asking a question.)
In his preface to the Richard Wilhelm translation¹, Jung says that meaningful coincidences are the rule and, from my personal experience and what I’ve heard from others, I would have to agree. He believes that such meaningful consultations are examples of synchronicity, a coincidence in time of an external event with a subjective state of mind, in line with his definition given in part 3.
How can that be? Scientists widely believe that everything in the universe obeys the laws of physics, the interplay of the four fundamental forces, which include laws of motion. Is that true here? When consulting the I Ching, we would assume that, if one took into account the precise starting positions of the coins in the hand, and knew the exact force used when throwing them into the air, then one should in theory be able to predict how they will land. Logic suggests that this must be true, even if it might be hard to achieve in practice. That the way they land leads to meaningful readings from an oracle book suggests that some kind of mysterious intelligence is at work, that mind (of some kind) is another type of ‘force’ to be taken into account. In this context, Jung notes, while offering his own alternative explanation based on synchronicity, that the traditional Chinese view is that “spiritual agencies” are at work, “acting in a mysterious way” (Pxxv). He also notes that the book “purports to be animated” (Pxxvi). Whether true or not, that is certainly how it seems.
What are the possible explanations for this phenomenon? The options are more or less the same as for the mysterious coincidences described in part 3. The first is that the individual throwing the coins is responsible for the way they land, albeit unconsciously. Jonathan Black is an important source for this series of articles, as explained earlier. He is not referring to the I Ching specifically here, but what he says is relevant: the laws of probability (e.g. a coin flipped many times landing half heads and half tails) “will remain invariable only in laboratory conditions. In other words, the laws of probability only apply when all human subjectivity has been deliberately excluded. In the normal run of things when human happiness and hopes for self-fulfilment depend on the outcome of the roll of the dice, then the laws of probability are bent. Then deeper laws come into play” (p35, his italics). (On the same theme, the two quotes from Black in part 3 are also relevant here.)
Applying this to an I Ching consultation, since the whole purpose is to seek guidance about one’s life situation, to find answers to difficult questions, this obviously qualifies as “human happiness and hopes for self-fulfilment”, in which case these deeper laws, whatever they are, may come into play. If this is the true explanation, it still suggests a supernatural level of mind, something like one’s Higher Self operating in ways inconceivable by conventional, materialist science.
The second option, which is the one I consider more likely, would be something beyond the individual. There is a growing trend among physicists and philosophers to consider consciousness/mind as more fundamental than matter. Panpsychism or animism would be terms that describe this viewpoint. Relevant recent books are: Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel², and Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, by Philip Goff³. Goff especially, having rejected materialism and dualism, argues that panpsychism is philosophically the most plausible explanation for how the universe works.
According to this viewpoint, which is also the esoteric understanding according to Jonathan Black, everything down to the smallest subatomic particle is conscious and alive to some extent, part of the living organism of the universe. If we pursue that idea logically, the coins being thrown are conscious and alive, and have the potential to land how they wish. Even though in general I subscribe to the panpsychist/animist worldview, I still find this suggestion somewhat far-fetched, and think it more likely that some kind of supernatural, collective mind is influencing the coins. The two quotes at the end of part 3 by Wilhelm von Scholz and Liz Greene would again be relevant. Rather than repeat them, in conclusion I’ll offer two others, which are from the preface and the introduction to an edition of the Bhagavad Gita:
“The Lord reveals His cosmic form: universes upon universes, inconceivably vast, created and sustained by the infinite omnipotence of Spirit which is simultaneously aware of the tiniest particle of subatomic matter and the cosmic movement of the galactic immensities — of every thought, feeling, and action of every being on the material and heavenly planes of existence”.
“The Universal Christ (Krishna) Consciousness… (is the) sole undistorted reflection of God permeating every atom and point of space in the manifested cosmos”⁴.
If this is in any way close to being true, such a Consciousness would be very capable of organising all synchronistic coincidences, including the mysterious phenomenon of the I Ching.
I have written about divination in general in an earlier article, click here. It focuses on the Tarot, but also discusses the I Ching; some of that material is repeated in this current article.
1. Routledge & Kegan Paul edition, 1968, 1978 reprint
2. Oxford University Press, 2012
3. Rider, 2019
4. Paramahansa Yogananda Self-Realization Fellowship, 1999, Pxii, Pxxvii