January 15, 2010

The Wisdom of the Ancients

As far as I understood it in “The Secret Life of Chaos” (previous post), a simple mathematical theory explains the simplicity of the order of the universe. The universe may start out as dust but it is the external influences on all things that make them different. The external influences feed back on the order of things and brings about change. This is what makes chaos out of order, what makes one thing different from another. It seems to me that chaos and order are one and the same thing operating in a cycle.

We humans are here for the same reason a zebra has its stripes. It is the external influences on the order of all things that brought about the formation of our individual cells, our flesh and blood, our ancestors, our world, our universe, in the way we exist in it now.

Not for the first time I began to wonder if I was listening to something from the philosophy of the ancient Chinese rather than to modern science. I got the same feeling when learning something, in my own humble way, about quantum physics.

I was compelled to look through the I Ching (Book of Changes) and I came up with the following extract:

“There are conditions of equilibrium, in which a certain harmony prevails, and conditions of disturbed equilibrium, in which confusion prevails. The reason is that there is a system of order pervading the entire world. When, in accordance with this order, each thing is in its appropriate place, harmony is established. Such a tendency towards order can be observed in nature. The places attract related elements, as it were, so that harmony may come about. However, a parallel tendency is also at work. Not only are things determined by their tendency toward order: they move also by virtue of forces imparted to them, so to speak, mechanically from the outside. Hence it is not possible for equilibrium to be attained under all circumstances, for deviations may occur, bringing with them confusion and disharmony.”

Taken from the Richard Wilhelm translation, Book II, Part I, Chapter 1, p.282

The passage seems to me to explain the science behind chaos and order in a parallel way. The chapter begins by saying,

the Book of Changes makes a distinction between three kinds of change: nonchange, cyclic change, and sequent change. Nonchange is the background against which change is made possible. For in regard to any change there must be some fixed point to which the change can be referred; otherwise there can be no definite order and everything is dissolved in chaotic movement”.

So are we here because of an ordered chaos underlying and forming the universe?

To take the ancient wisdom further, there also seems to be a relationship between the formation of the eight trigrams in the Book of Changes, which form the 64 hexagrams, and the DNA sequence (see here on Wikipedia).

Don’t ask me what it means but,

the codons of a gene are copied into messenger RNA by RNA polymerase. This RNA copy is then decoded by a ribosome that reads the RNA sequence by base-pairing the messenger RNA to transfer RNA, which carries amino acids. Since there are 4 bases in 3-letter combinations, there are 64 possible codons (43 combinations)”.

This is where it starts to go a bit beyond my comprehension.

What I can see, though, is the parallel between this and the explanation of the formation of the trigrams and hexagrams of the I Ching:

From the doubling of the two polar primary forces (yin and yang), there arise four images corresponding with the four seasons. Through the addition of another line, there arise the eight trigrams. This in turn gives us the 64 hexagrams”!

The Chinese aren’t the only people who seem to have had knowledge of things only now being realised in Western science. In ancient India they had knowledge of Fibonacci numbers, which underlie the Golden Ratio (see here on Wikipedia) . . . but that’s another subject matter.

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