Thursday, March 6, 2014

Prisoners of the Real

An intellectual odyssey – from Pythagoras to planetary consciousness – and a new vision of 
freedom and cooperation

One: The Creative Also Destroys 

Ye instruments, forsooth, but jeer at me,
your wheels and cogs mere things of wonder;
when at the door, you were my keys to be,
yet, deftly wrought, your bits can move no wards asunder.

-- Goethe's Faust

In the alternative universe where fact and fantasy fuse – that intergalactic space of science and speculative fiction – super-heroes, alchemists and misguided or "mad" inventors search for occult formulae through which the secrets of matter and spirit can be unveiled. Faith and reason meet within a cosmic flash and, for a moment, they see a source of limitless power.

Long before paperback novels and films turned this universe into an industry, magicians of an earlier age attempted to unravel the mysteries of space and time through number systems, using experience and experiment to juxtapose "sacred" numbers with chemical and material correlates. Number theory also fascinated many founders of modern science; for Descartes there was "universal mathematics," for Liebnitz the key was "universal calculus."

More than two thousand years before that, however, Pythagorean philosophy launched this quest by synthesizing the use of numbers in several religious traditions. The Babylonians had based their system on the number 60, with a god for each number. In the Old Testament 40 was a holy cipher. In Jericho the number seven was powerful, referring both to the seven deadly sins and the seven spirits of God. In Chinese mythology odd numbers represented white, day, sun and fire, while even numbers signified black, night, earth and water.

With such precedents, in about 550 BCE Pythagoras used his knowledge of numbers, along with related beliefs about music, magic and astrology, to construct a knowledge system that eventually served as the basis for "solar" systems of thought. With his discourses, numbers began to expand humanity's grasp of the actual, imposing order on matter.

According to legend, the "first philosopher" had noticed a relationship between the sizes of four anvils and the notes they produced when struck. From this revelation he developed a philosophy based on the numbers one through four. Creation begins with the One – pure unity, he concluded, and then expands to the holy four. In turn, they beget the sacred number ten. For Pythagoras, all life sprang from this formula. Using the four basic numbers he proceeded to build his great triangle:

* *
* * *
* * * *

During the renaissance rational scientists finally made the Pythagorean system accessible to reason. The number one, they argued, represented the source of all numbers -- pure reason; two was man and three was woman. Four, the product of equals (2 + 2) was justice and cosmic creation, leading to the "mother of all" -- ten (1 + 2 + 3 + 4). Elements of Pythagoras' theory can be traced to Plato, and from there to Descartes. Subsequent practitioners further concretized the mystical basis of the system; Copernicus' correction of Ptolemy's mistake, about 2000 years after the formation of Pythagoras' "secret brotherhood," committed Western civilization to a one-sided expansion of "solar" knowledge in which the cosmos was given over to rational explanation.

Despite the trend a few mathematicians did manage to maintain their belief in the mystical basis of number theory. Liebnitz, for example, accepted the universe as an expression of perfect reason and proposed the "universal calculus" that eventually developed into symbolic logic. His intention was to replace the decimal system's repeating sequences of one through ten with a binary system in which only one and two were used. Yet this notion, which ultimately led to the 20th century's computer revolution, was linked to his recognition that the binary system reflected another form of knowledge, a "lunar" system known as the I Ching. Although Liebnitz' attempt to express all knowledge through mathematical symbolism might well be classified as a simplistic error of rationalism, his insight into the revelatory power of the I Ching was nothing less than inspired.

A series of 64 oracles, the I Ching is said to have been written by King Wen about a millennium before Christ. Its subconscious, or lunar insights – sometimes used as a spur for meditation or a form of fortune telling – are derived from a dialectic of light and darkness, the primal thesis and antithesis known as Yin and Yang. Yin is the dark, night side of mind, the opposite of the bright, white and orderly Yang. The 64 oracles have a simple mathematical basis, the total number of possible combinations of Yang (represented by unbroken lines) and Yin (broken lines). The symbols of the hexagrams are paired opposites: heaven and earth, thunder and wind, water and fire, mountain and lake.

When I began this project many years ago I consulted the oracle in a moment of intuitive expectation. The idea was that the answer to any question is – and has always been – known to the asker. The coincidence of thrown coins, or even a page randomly opened, records this subconscious knowledge, and can eventually be understood through meditation. Jung called this principle synchronicity, the meaningful coincidence of two or more events:

"Synchronicity designates the parallelism of time and meaning between psychic and psychophysical events, which scientific knowledge has so far been unable to reduce to a common principle."
In this case, the Wilhelm-Baynes translation of the I Ching fell open at the commentary on the first hexagram, six unbroken lines called Ch'ien, or The Creative. This hexagram represents primal power, light-giving and strong, the power of time and duration, motion with time as its basis.

In the human world, The Creative represents the action of the leader, the ruler or manager, who awakens and develops the higher nature of his or her fellows. The Creative "sees with great clarity causes and effects" and attempts "conservation," which the translators define as the continuous actualization and differentiation of form. The qualities of such leaders are potentiality of success, power to further, perseverance, and sublimity; in this context "sublime" means "head" and success implies that the Creative lends "form" to archetypes of ideas.

According to the oracle, The Creative brings peace and security to the world by creating order: "The course of The Creative alters and shapes beings until each attains its true, specific nature, then keeps them in conformity with the Great Harmony." The leader is personified by the dragon, Chinese symbol of the electrically charged, dynamic, arousing force, a thunderstorm which is active in summer and withdraws into earth in winter. The oracle explains that the leader chooses a specialty and exerts influence on his environment without conscious effort.

Ch'ien seemed an ideal definition of the manager, bringing order to the environment, shaping the actions of others through creative activity that can lead to harmony. The Creative strives upward – toward heaven, giving support to the idea that managers and other leaders are natural ascensionists. Psychically oriented toward brightness, flying, climbing, pointing and moving upward, ascensionists are also often particularly concerned with hierarchic order. In sum, the I Ching defines the creative nature of humanity, organizing the universe of ideas.

My reading, however, wasn’t complete; there were also the "lines" which reflect the changes in individual situations. Lines that "move" reveal the direction of subsequent events, and sometimes offer warnings. Reading the lines related to The Creative, "nine at the top" caught my attention. In any hexagram, this line concerns the effect produced by the beginning line; in this case, it provides the warning that the "arrogant dragon will have cause to repent."

Several interpretations are possible. When a person attempts to move too high he or she loses touch with humanity and becomes isolated. Extremes also lead to confusion. Arrogance leads one to press forward, moving outward and upward without understanding how to draw back – inward and downward.

Put another way, an "arrogant dragon" knows existence but not annihilation; such a leader "meets with misfortune." Although the hexagram deals with creative powers, suggesting that an excess of strength isn’t necessarily harmful, this line illustrates the final effect of the leader's situation. If one's character is strong and inner preparations have been made, the end may simply be a transition. Yet the line also implies remorse, "since there is no possible way out."

"Nine at the top" is a succinct description of leaders in a world of manipulative tools that they create to order reality, a world of efficient production that culminates in techniques of death, a world of predictability, assimilation, and alienation. Over the last century, The Creative has certainly become a destroyer. More than once, order had led humanity to the brink of annihilation in a cycle suggested by the lunar system.
Next:Deconstructing Leadership
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