Untangling the Strings of I Ching

 

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全球 is the Cantonese character for ‘global’

I engaged in a legitimate I Ching spiritual reading two weeks ago, in the confines of my bedroom – via app. It didn’t phase me at all. I’m what Mark Prensky would describe as a “digital native“; I circumnavigate the corners of the globe via technology, as effortlessly as I breathe, without conscious consideration.

It’s when I step back, take a deep breathe and consider the implications of my virtual journey, that the epiphanies ignite. The following is an excerpt from my post- an excerpt from my post I Ching for iPhone, featuring two epiphanies which ignited from my experience;

“One voice in my head whispered oh my God it actually worked, over and over again. A second is mindful that this traditional Chinese art has been translated from Mandarin, which has a completely different dialect and alphabet to English. Does this impact on the accuracy of my results?”

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Placing myself inside my field of research allowed epiphanies of that experience to ignite in my mind (Image: Tuning)

The reading was actually pretty accurate, beyond what mathematical reasoning would predict. This was my first epiphany. The theory of synchronicity (suggested by Dr Carl Jung, a philosopher) suggests that the I Ching coins, whether physical or virtual, fall in a pattern consistent with the world’s vibrations. Thus he argues that meaning can be drawn from divination practices like I Ching. This concept can easily be transferred into the digital realm.

My second epiphany rose from my ironic sense of being lost in translation – even though I was reading an English text. In the back of my mind I was uncomfortably aware that the words I read were the derivative of a cultural spiritual practice. It had been pre-translated and digitised from an alphabet script that is completely incompatible with English. The translation of content between two cultures is an intricate procedure, particularly when the product is so strongly embedded in one of those cultures.

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When a traditional patriotic practice goes global via the internet, the reigns of control are stretched (image: favim)

Thus, there is a significant control shift occurring here; as a result of the translations from traditional Chinese I Ching into both the English language and the digital sphere. When I encounter a digital reading via an app, I retain some control. I can exit the app at any time and I am free to interpret the result as I wish, based on my own experiences and beliefs. This is simply because there’s nobody to interpret the meaning of the patterns except for me. More control lies in the creators of the app, Deepware Changes. They determine the user interface; the end product and overall experience for those exploring I Ching from outside a physical service. A third piece of control lies with those who pre-translated each potential ‘result’ of the readings. Unwittingly, these translations determine the overall experience of the end user. If the translations are off the mark, it’s likely that user will consider the practice of I Ching and/or the app to be bogus. This would compromise – globally – the prestige of divination in Chinese society.

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Image: Katie De Sousa

We can clumsily imagine this phenomenon as a marionette puppet, with the world as its theatre. Picture a traditional doll; hand-crafted and painted, all in one sovereign state. Its strings are held by one person. That person controls how the puppet moves and becomes its voice. Thus it controls how a specific audience experiences the performance of that puppet. As globalisation and digitalisation invade cultural traditions, more and more strings are added to this puppet. New controllers begin to invade the theatre. Some are people, attaching new strings to its body. Others use technology to hack into the stage lights and background music, also eager to experiment with and control this rich slice of Chinese culture.

Now the puppet’s arms, legs, fingers, toes, neck, eyes, eyebrows; every single muscle and joint in its body, are controlled by different people. Every person has control of at least one string and the puppet, whilst still an ‘authentic’ puppet, begins to move differently. Its voice is different too; even though each person is reading the same script, they’re translating it into different languages for their own audience, so some amount of meaning is lost – or unwittingly adjusted, at the least.

The physical divination industry, one which traditionally commands respect in society and which prominently impacts the Chinese – and broader Asian – economy, in China is now faced with a second-hand impact. They’re losing the monopoly on the power of their niche industry. The free digital app market has widened the audience of users, but diminished potential profits. The industry also loses its ability to regulate the art of I Ching. This occurs through the app replicating the service itself, and also the clumsy translation of the content into English; both of which are out of the ‘traditional’ industry’s control.

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Global flows have created complicated relationships between cultural and social paradigms – which are no longer exclusive to one cultural market (Image: favim.com)

Rockefeller argues that studies of ‘flows’ of globalisation are only focused on meta-social movements. The “significance” of small-scale cultural access points shifting is somewhat overlooked in research, and incidentally human thought itself. The global digital I-Ching experience is a niche, mostly unexplored hole for research. What happens when a cultural product is exported digitally? How does its meaning change? The intersection of the personal experience and the social, political and cultural constructs which influence that, is what makes autoethnography an appropriate and unique method to explore this feat.

References

Fedko, S 2015, “Digital Natives and Immigrants”, University of British Columbia, accessed 7 September 2017, http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/Digital_Natives_and_Immigrants

Ma, A 2002, “Cultural translation from Chinese to English: a case study of the problems in the translation and interpretation of selected contemporary texts“, PhD thesis, Victoria University of Technology, http://vuir.vu.edu.au/15428/

Prensky, M 2001, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants”, MCB University Press, Vol.9 No. 5, accessed 7 September 2017

Rockefeller, S 2011, “Flow”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, No. 4, pp 557 – 578

Wall, S 2008, “Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography”, International Journal of Qualitative Methods Vol. 7, No. 1.

I Ching (我清) for iPhone*

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This might say “I Ching” in Chinese characters (source). I am already lost in translation!

I’ve been searching for meaning for as long as I can remember. Past ventures include experimenting with tarot cards, astrology, palm reading, numerology and visiting a psychic. Given this, it makes perfect sense to me to explore a topic I am passionate about, but in a different culture. For this assessment I will be focusing on I Ching, a Chinese divination practice that dates back thousands of years.

Divination is an attempt to communicate with spirits and the unseen facets of the universe. Modern psychology argues that divination works through accessing the unconscious mind’s wisdom (ibid). I Ching (我清) is a form of divination which dates back thousands of years. It was created in text form around 1000BC, but was developed and practiced much earlier. I Ching is based on cleromancy, which considers seemingly ‘random’ numbers cast by probability – for example rolling a dice – to be decided by supernatural influence.

My fascination lies with how strongly embedded divination is within the Chinese culture. Fortune telling practices command respect in Chinese society and cement business culture. The role of fortune tellers is often similar to that of business consultants and psychotherapists and they are respected as such. Divination is even mentioned in the Chinese constitution.

Brief Methodology of I Ching

After the subject makes an inquiry, three coins are tossed six times to construct hexagrams. The assumption follows that the coins land in a way which reflects the nature of the inquiry, a concept which Carl Jung, a renowned philosopher, dubbed “synchronicity“. At a basic level, this means that ‘random’ events or coincidences are meaningful and worthy of attention.

These hexagrams are drawn up in lines and symbols, representing the energies of yin and yang, before being analysed. There are four possible combinations of each coin toss and 64 of hexagrams. Each has a unique meaning or translation attributed to it.

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Four possible outcomes from the coin toss (image: Exemplore)

My Experience with Deepware Changes

I dove straight into my research. I chose the highest-rated (free) app for I Ching on the Google Play Store, Deepware Changes. I pondered a ‘serious’ question about a friendship I’ve been considering recently; one which I recently made the difficult choice to break away from because there was no moving forward from an issue. The friendship had grown to a state of convenience; it was simpler to ignore disagreements and feeling hurt – but that didn’t make the friendship right.

Using the app, I simulated a coin toss six times. The combination of the different faces (which can be seen as head/tail or yin/yang) created the hexagrams studied. The results were fascinating and certainly accurate more often than not – certainly more than simple probability would allow. It explained each hexagram to me with both a visual depiction and a caption explaining which element of the hexagram I was looking at and which result I had generated. Here’s a combined portion of my result.

“Care for common interests. Any disagreement must be overcome. When there is a climate of mistrust, no common targets can be achieved. Everybody becomes a stranger for the others. Insecurity reigns. Coexistence is established. Every person occupies (their) place in society. However, (it) is not true feeling or love (that) unites people.”

It really fit the question, if I’m being completely honest with myself. One voice in my head whispered oh my God it actually worked, over and over again. A second is mindful that this traditional Chinese art has been translated from Mandarin, which has a completely different dialect and alphabet to English. Does this impact on the accuracy of my results?

How is this part of the Hypermediation of Globalisation?

Marshall McLuhan claimed, during the 1960’s, that the medium is the message; the actual content of the prediction is of less importance than the way it is communicated. This is particularly relevant in the case of I Ching; what can its existence in the digital universe tell me, compared to a traditional face-to-face reading? What happens to its authenticity?

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A drawing of an I Ching hexagram (image: Flickr)

Assuming the theory of synchronicity, the accuracy of results should be the same regardless of whether the coins are physically tossed or an online replicator is used. Digital I Ching also holds the benefits of being globally accessible, fast, convenient and low-cost or free (have a go at this quick online I Ching reading).

“Many people’s experience is that computerised I Ching readings are just as valid and useful as those made using more traditional methods” (psychicscience.org)

The internet, via both online readings and apps, has had a huge impact on the practice of I Ching. To reference this week’s seminar discussion, the internet wizards (who pave the paths through which globalisation spills) are dynamically changing the world we live in.

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Source: Twitter @RileJones

The practice of I Ching is a victim of global flow; an ancient practice of fortune telling has effectively spilled over physical and cultural borders to the smartphone screen of an Australian media student in Wollongong. Without the internet, would I be sitting in my bedroom receiving a traditional I Chine reading? I doubt it. What does this mean and what are the implications of such a dynamic feat? It’s my mission to explore these questions over the duration of this research project.

-Claire

*I actually have a Samsung, not an iPhone – but I needed a cool title :/

Autoethnography and the Power of Stories

 

“Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath lived a short life decorated with vibrant but dark emotions, before she succeeded in her second attempt at suicide. Her later pieces, written from a freezing cold flat in London, often between 1am and 4am whilst her young children slept, bring the grim reaper to life cruelly; he swoops about the reader like a cold, eerie chill.

When you finally look away from the page you’re reading off,  Sylvia’s depression takes a few moments to rest off your shoulders. The impact of her words is so heavy. She wrote so that others could understand her. When  I read her work I am whipped into her realm of loneliness and her sphere of pain. Sylvia used words to draw readers into her personal story.

“I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me” Sylvia Plath

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Sylvia Plath was a feminist poet in the 1950s and 60s. Her work grew slowly darker until her suicide at age 30 (image: Flavorwire)

Whilst Sylvia did not produce her work as a means of research, there are some parallels between her storytelling and that of autoethnography.

Autoethnography, a steamy concoction of art, science, research and storytelling, involves a researcher thoroughly immersing themselves into a field before recounting and analysing their experience, often in story form. It sprouted after post-modernism; a “crisis of confidence” in the limitations of ontology, axiology and epistemology of research pushed the need for meaningful stories in research. Cold data and sterile fact don`t always cut it anymore. New age legitimacy comes from sharing  qualitative experiences. This is a powerful paradigm. There is a whole spectrum of autoethnography which ranges from the scientific to the creative. My focus will be on the latter.

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Image: Quotesgram

Here are the questions I pose to myself now, before my research project begins; how will I evoke such a sensation in my own audience as Sylvia Plath did in hers? How can I apply the impact of words, as explored by her, in my own work; the research sphere? How will I make my research real?

It will be fascinating to explore autoethnography as both a formula and a product as I delve into the realms of Digital Asia this semester. This is particularly so in light of recent global events; Brexit and Donald Trump`s immigration ban to name a few. Given my position; 34°25’30.26″S latitude and 150°53’35.34″E longitude in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood and having visited several countries within South-East Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand), how will my story navigate the terrain of Chinese divination? I have many biases but these will help to create my story; this is the point of autoethnography. I’m an avid journal-keeper and thus will record my experiences on paper initially, however at this point I am unsure of the format my final artefact will take.

-Claire

References

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview‘,  Qualitative Social Research, 12:1, viewed 10th August 2017, http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Leong, Susan and Woods, Denise 2017, ‘“I Don’t Care About Asia”: Teaching Asia in Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies, viewed 11th August 2017, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14443058.2017.1344998 

Paulos, J 2010, ‘Stories vs. Statistics’, New York Times, viewed 11th August 2017, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/stories-vs-statistics/