Using the I Ching

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book whose purpose is to aid an individual in making a decision, by estimating the best attitudes to adopt and actions to take in order to fare best given the nature of present personal circumstances, and their potential for improving if one adopted the attitudes and actions recommended.

This essay will briefly describe the Wilhelm-Baynes-Jung edition of the I Ching, which is in English, then why it can be useful to help guide personal action (without mumbo-jumbo), and finally the mechanics of actually using the book.


I Ching: The Book of Changes

The I Ching is a Chinese book of divination, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE (most likely), whose interpretation was expanded philosophically during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to describe the dynamic balance of opposites and the inevitability of change in the phenomenal realm. Perhaps the most compelling translation of the I Ching into English appeared in print in 1950. This particular version began as a translation from the ancient Chinese into German by Richard Wilhelm guided by the Chinese scholar Lao Nai-hsüan, and was made during the years of World War I. In about 1927, Wilhelm’s friend the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung asked one of his American students, Cary F. Baynes (the former wife of Jaime de Angulo) who worked as a translator of Jung’s books into English, to translate the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching from German to English. This effort was slowed by the death of Richard Wilhelm in 1930, the death of Cary’s husband Helton Godwin Baynes in 1943, and dislocations resulting from the social turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s. The English translation was completed in 1949, and the book included an extensive forward by C. G. Jung explaining how to use the I Ching for divining the right course of action on a question of serious personal interest to the seeker.

The philosophy of the I Ching is of the organic unity and intrinsic appropriateness of the unforced unresisted phenomenal realm, or Nature, called the Tao; and the dynamic balance of opposites of every type, the ying and yang, whose ceaseless interplay give an illusion of duality, yet which dance is really just an alternation of images of the underlying eternal monism, the Tao.

The purpose of the I Ching is to guide the seeker toward a proper psychological balance for the circumstances of the moment. Such balance is essential when making the significant decisions of a lifetime. The propriety of that balance is defined by a moral code that can be characterized as Confucian combined with Taoist flexibility. The I Ching was already ancient by the time of Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu, 551-479 BCE) and the coalescing of formalized Taoism (traditionally 6th century BCE, more likely 5th-4th century BCE), which movement identified its founding text as the Tao Te Ching, a masterful collection of poetic logically ambiguous yet conceptually clear aphorisms ascribed to legendary author Lao Tzu. Modern scholarship is uncertain about the historical authenticity of Lao Tzu, and some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching is a collective work by now unknown authors. Regardless, the Tao Te Ching is one of the finest gems of world literature, philosophy and psychology. The Confucian school of thought is one of building up systems of social organization from simple elements and rules. Taoists see society as immersed in the organic whole of a phenomenal existence of infinite fractal complexity, hence impossible to systematize by reductionism. So, the interpretative commentaries that became attached to the I Ching during the Warring States Period were primarily written by Confucians, which infused the I Ching that has come down to us, with sensible and honorable Confucian morality.

For the man or woman of today’s modern Westernized culture, more interested in utility that in airy metaphysical prattle, the I Ching can be used for practical divination by means of intuitive fuzzy logic: a way to reshuffle the imagination to see present circumstances from a fresh perspective, and then to visualize how these circumstances could change into a specifically different situation as a result of adopting a particular attitude or performing a recommended action. The answer is in the question, and both — an illusory duality — come out of you.

The section above was excerpted from a large article on Asian philosophy, see


How To Use The I Ching

The I Ching characterizes an individual’s present circumstances — specific to the question burning in the seeker’s mind — with an image made of six stacked horizontal lines: the hexagram. The lines can be of two types: “strong” (solid) or “weak” (broken), a line with a break (blank space) in the middle. Given these two types of line, it is possible to form 64 different hexagrams.

The hexagram is an image that appears “naturally” and “spontaneously” out of the the same present reality that is expressing you along with the particular quandary that is occupying your mind. Hence, by analyzing that hexagram as a generalized abstraction of your present, you might find a helpful change of perspective that could lead you to adopt new attitudes and take new actions, which would resolve the concern in your mind.

So, that is the essential value of the I Ching: it can surprise you with a shift of perspective that comes out of your own mind as it ponders the dynamics of your own living. No mumbo-jumbo is required, the modern person can use the I Ching without skepticism, as a technique of “spinning the arrow” and “throwing the dice” in your own mind to get a fresh view of your own reality.

How do you determine your hexagram of the moment? In ancient times, hexagrams might be seen to appear accidentally, such as by a bundle of straw falling at your feet and six or more pieces of straw forming a haphazard hexagram; or the cracking of a tortoise shell, from being roasted over a fire, forming the illuminated image of a hexagram. The appearance of these accidental hexagrams would occur while you were deep in thought about some personal question. Later, methods based on randomness for the intentional determination of the moment’s hexagram were developed. I will describe the three-coin method.

Select three coins; I prefer three different types of coin (e.g., US quarter, dime and nickel). Hold them in a closed hand while you think clearly about a specific personal question or decision you want guidance about. Be serious, the exercise is a pointless waste of time otherwise. In ancient times they would have said, poetically, that the “energy” (chi) and “vibrations” (tao) expressing you while you hold this clearly focused question in mind would infuse themselves into the coins warming in you fist, so they would naturally express “you” when forming the hexagram.

Now, shake the coins in your hand, and toss them in front of you (gently so they land close by and don’t fly away). For each coin that lands “heads” assign a value of 3. For each coin that lands “tails” assign a value of 2. Add these three values to determine the numerical value (or strength) of the first line. For example: three heads has the value 9, three tails has the value 6, two heads and one tail yields the value 8, one head and two tails yields 7.

Begin drawing your hexagram, this first line is at the bottom. The line is solid if it has an odd numerical value (7 or 9). The line is broken if it has a even numerical value (6 or 8). It is useful to mark the numerical value next to the line. Repeat this coin-toss process to form the second line, which is drawn above the previous line. Continue until you have a stack of six lines (the sixth line being the top line found with the sixth three-coin toss).

Now you have your hexagram. Consult the book’s interpretation of that hexagram (and the interpretations of each line in the hexagram), and think about how the images presented could be analogies of aspects of your personal situation: THINK!

From the above, you have gained an interpretation of “you now.” What about “the future”? In the conceptions systematized as the I Ching, any solid line with numerical value 9, and any broken line with numerical value 6 were considered so charged that they could spontaneously change into their opposites: solid to broken, and broken to solid. Form a second hexagram from the first, by changing solid lines of value 9 into broken lines, and changing broken lines of value 6 into solid lines, and leaving lines of values 7 or 8 as they were.

This second hexagram represents a future set of personal circumstances that is expected to evolve out of your present, particularly if you follow the recommendations described by the I Ching in its interpretations of each line in the hexagrams as well as the I Ching’s interpretation of the hexagrams as a whole. Again, the personal specifics come out of YOUR THINKING about how the poetic imagery by the I Ching would be analogous to your situation. If you do draw a hexagram that can transform into a second one, then this “change” is the kind of future-casting that the I Ching can provide.

If you treat the I Ching as a technique (something serious) rather than a game (something trivial), you will find it helpful in many instances when you want to clear your mind of confusion, and arrive at useful conclusions. The fundamental point about use of the I Ching is not “how accurate is it?” as if the I Ching were a mysterious external agency or “black box” telling your fortune, but that the I Ching is a random-process moralistic-poetic thought-triggering technique for you to apply to yourself to aid in your own self-analytical thinking.

Try it. If it helps and you like it, then you’ve gained a new tool. If you don’t find it useful, no blame, forget about it and move on.


The Bayesian Sandernista

The best thing that could happen to the U.S.A. this year would be for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency, and then for Sanders to win the general election in November. The Republican Party’s nominee will most certainly be Donald Trump. However, the possibility exists that due to means mostly foul that Bernie Sanders would not be the Democratic Party nominee. If this disappointment materializes in July, then you may find yourself harangued by rabidly passionate partisans telling you how to vote based on their preferences. So, in this essay I present a tool — Bayesian analysis — that can help you to clarify your own thoughts about how to proceed in a period of uncertainty, and to strengthen your convictions in a logical manner. This will be easy reading, stick with it.

The purpose of Bayesian analysis is to logically select the best course of action from a set of available options, despite uncertainties about the probabilities of the outcomes that may occur, and where the decision-making process takes into account your own personal preferences regarding those outcomes. You can easily learn the mechanics of basic Bayesian analysis by looking up articles on the Prisoner’s Paradox. I will proceed directly to our model “general election” problem:

Should “I” (a given Sandernista and/or Democratic Party voter) vote for Hillary Clinton, or not-vote for Hillary Clinton, if the general election is a Clinton versus Trump race?

A “not vote” means to instead vote for a third party candidate, or write in a candidate on your ballot, or abstain from voting for the presidency.

We identify two mutually exclusive actions: vote for Hillary Clinton (vote-H), and not-vote for Hillary Clinton (vote-not-H).

There are two mutually exclusive general (national) outcomes: Hillary wins (H-win) or Trump wins (T-win).

The probability of an H-win is designated by the letter p. The quantity p is an as yet uncertain number whose magnitude lies between zero (a certainty of a T-win) and one (a certainty of an H-win).

Because the probabilities of an H-win and T-win must add up to unity, the uncertain probability of a T-win is the quantity (1-p).

Since we have two actions (vote-H, vote-not-H) and two general outcomes (H-win, T-win) there are four possible specific (or personal) outcomes:
D1: vote-H, and H-win,
D2: vote-H, and T-win,
D3: vote-not-H, and H-win,
D4: vote-not-H, and T-win.

I, the voter, have very personal preferences, or desirabilities (D1, D2, D3, D4) regarding each of these outcomes.

For example, I might decide that voting H and having a T-win would rate on my personal desirability scale at -1000! You can use any numbers (positive or negative) you like for your personal subjective values D1, D2, D3 and D4 for the four objective outcomes.

Recall that specific probabilities for vote-H are: p (for an H-win), and (1-p) (for a T-win).
Recall that specific probabilities for vote-not-H are: p (H-win), and (1-p) (T-win).

My actions in a voting booth will not alter the actions of millions of other voters in their voting booths, so p is independent of what I (or any other single voter) does.

Recall that the desirabilities for the action vote-H are: D1 (H-win), and D2 (T-win).
Recall that the desirabilities for the action vote-not-H are: D3 (H-win), and D4 (T-win).

The expected value to me of any of the four outcomes is the quantity gotten by multiplying the probability of that specific outcome with the desirability I assigned to that outcome. So the four expectation values are:

For the action vote-H expectation values are: p*D1, and (1-p)*D2.
For the action vote-not-H expectation values are: p*D3, and (1-p)*D4.

The best action for me to take (in this model problem there is only a choice between two) is the one which has the highest utility value. The utility for an action is the sum of the expectation values of its consequences.

The utility value for vote-H is UH:

UH = p*D1 + (1-p)*D2.

The utility value for vote-not-H is Unot-H:

Unot-H = p*D3 + (1-p)*D4.

When UH is greater than Unot-H, vote Hillary (hang on, we’re still just talking math).

When UH is less than Unot-H, vote Not-Hillary.

I have taken the definitions and formulas described above, and worked out the general problem for any set of numbers D1, D2, D3, D4, and p (enough has been said that the mathematically inclined can easily duplicate this work). Now, I will lay out the algorithm for decision-making (picking an action) and show specific numerical examples, which you can use as templates to work out your own personal cases.

x = D2 – D4
y = D1 – D3

The extremes of x and y can be characterized as follows:
At large positive y (y >> 0): H-loyalty, happy to vote-H for an H-win.
At large negative y (y << 0): H-antipathy, unhappy to vote-H for an H-win.
At large positive x (x >> 0): H-guilt, at a failure to vote-H given a T-win.
At large negative x (x << 0): H-disgust, at a wasted H-vote with a T-win.

There are four possible classes of voters for this problem:
Between guilt and disgust (over H)
Between anger and happiness (over H).

H-regardless voters are defined by:
x > 0, and y > 0,
and they will be most satisfied to vote-H regardless of any estimate they may make of p (the probability of an H-win). These are the “Hillary or bust” voters.

Example #1 (H-regardless):
D1 = 10 (H-win is good),
D2 = 0 (T-win is not good),
D3 = 0 (I let the H-team down, but at least they didn’t lose),
D4 = -10 (shame! I didn’t support the H-team and result is a T-win).
Thus x = 10, and y = 10.
Analysis indicates they should vote-H regardless of any estimate of p, if they are to be most satisfied.

Bernie-or-Bust voters are defined by:
x < 0, and y < 0,
and they will be most satisfied to vote-not-H regardless of any estimate they may make of p (the probability of an H-win).

Example #2 (Bernie-or-Bust):
D1 = -5 (I hate the idea of vote-H to stop a T-win),
D2 = -10 (damn! I did a vote-H and still got the T-win),
D3 = 5 (an H-win is better than a T-win, and, yea!, I didn’t have to vote-H!),
D4 = 0 (if T-win was destined at least I didn’t waste my vote on the loser H-team).
Thus x = -10, and y = -10.
Analysis indicates they should vote-not-H regardless of any estimate of p, if they are to be most satisfied.

The other two classes require the calculation of the critical probability, q, defined as:
q = -x/(y-x),
which is equivalent to
q = x/(x-y).

Between guilt and disgust voters are defined by:
x > 0, and y < 0,
and they will be most satisfied to:
vote-H if p < q,
vote-not-H if p > q.

Example #3 (Between guilt and disgust):
D1 = -5 (H-win is better than a T-win, but I didn’t want to vote-H),
D2 = 0 (no guilt for the T-win, I did a vote-H),
D3 = 5 (H-win, which I didn’t have to vote for),
D4 = -10 (guilt over the T-win since I didn’t do a vote-H).
Thus x = 10, and y = -10, and q = 50%.
These people will be most satisfied if they:
vote-H if p < q = 50%
vote-not-H if p > q = 50%.

In the above example the voter only feels safe to vote their preference of vote-not-H (and avoid feeling guilt if the result is a T-win) if H is more than q = 50% likely to win the election.

Between anger and happiness voters are defined by:
x < 0, and y > 0,
and they will be most satisfied to:
vote-H if p > q,
vote-not-H if p < q.

Example #4 (Between anger and happiness):
D1 = 10 (happy to vote for an H-win),
D2 = -10 (unhappy with a T-win since I did a vote-H),
D3 = 0 (I didn’t vote-H, it doesn’t much matter),
D4 = 0 (I didn’t vote-H, it doesn’t much matter).
Thus x = -10, and y = 10, and q = 50%.
These people will be most satisfied if they:
vote-H if p > q = 50%
vote-not-H if p < q = 50%.

In the above example the voter only feels satisfied voting for the H-team if it is a sure winner, so they should vote-H only if they estimate that the probability of H-team success, p, is greater than the q (critical probability based on desirabilities) for this case, which is 50%.

Two more examples follow.

Example #5 (Between disgust and guilt, with a lot of guilt-fear):
D1 = 100 (H-win, okay I guess),
D2 = -100 (sad if a T-win, but no guilt as I did a vote-H),
D3 = 200 (I’d rather vote Bernie or Jill Stein if H-win is destined),
D4 = -1100 (lots of guilt over my vote-not-H with a T-win).
Thus x = 1000, and y = -100, q = 0.90909.
This guilt-fearing voter should only vote their not-H preference if they believe an H-win is over 91% likely! Specifically:
vote-H if p < q = 90.909%
vote-not-H if p > q = 90.909%

It would be so much better to jettison the guilt.

Example #6 (Between anger and happiness, with a lot of anger):
D1 = 10 (guess I had to vote-H to prevent a T-win),
D2 = -1100 (damn!, I vote-H and get a T-win),
D3 = 0 (H-win, and I didn’t have to use up my vote for it),
D4 = -100 (T-win anyway, glad mine wasn’t a loser vote-H).
Thus x = -1000, and y = 10, q = 0.99009.
This person is angry about the idea of “having to” vote-H to prevent a T-win, and then that vote-H being for a loser. They should:
vote-H if p > q = 99.009%
vote-not-H if p < q = 99.9909%

In the above example the voter only feels satisfied voting for the H-team if it is a sure winner. If T-team is destined to win, then they want to use their vote elsewhere instead of on vote-H.

Why don’t you try making up some examples by choosing D1, D2, D3, D4 and p? The value in actually working out numerical examples based on your own preferences (desirabilities) is that it helps to clarify your mind about all the possible choices and outcomes you may be faced with. That can improve your self-confidence and sense of calmness about the whole electoral spectacle. Also, it may give you ideas about other types of choices to play Bayesian games with. Enjoy.

The Economic Function Of Energy

Consciousness and personality can be seen as individualized expressions of energy coursing through metabolic forms we call human life. Similarly, civilization and culture and economics can be seen as social expressions of energy coursing through the web of interpersonal relationships we call humanity.

The nature of the forms of energy used by a society (a nation, a region, an economic class) are an integral part of its identity. So, to answer “what is the right kind of energy to power society X?” requires first determining what kind of society X is intended to be.

This means that all discussions about “energy policy” are disguised arguments about the structure (or restructuring) of one’s society; politics at its deepest. Nature itself voices an opinion in this argument in the form of climate change, its response to humanity’s century-long ringing endorsement of fossil fuels, expressed as global warming.

Using technical results I arrived at some years ago (, I explore this theme in some detail in the following article.

The Economic Function Of Energy
27 February 2012

The best economic function of energy is to improve living conditions in harmony with nature.

I try to show the types of futures we could have, both desirable and undesirable, based on the choices we make as a society about energy technologies to power our industrialized way of life. You will not find another article like this. Enjoy.

Bayesian Bargains

We are often caught in dilemmas, uncertain about choosing between two courses of action, and sometimes suspicious that “the game is rigged” so that whatever choice we make will benefit a behind-the-scenes controller. One interesting way of exploring this question is to formulate simple idealized situations, which can be taken as analogies to some of the real-world complexities in our lives, and analyze them with the Bayesian model of deliberation. Here is my article about “not missing out.”

Bayesian Bargains: Jail, Shopping, Debt, And Voting