ICM Final: The I Ching Machine

Link to final here:

After struggling with the Hero’s Journey YouTube Video Program as detailed in this past blog post, I was making process with the YouTube API, however I was not spending enough time on the creation of the video art work itself. Because the program was meant to be video art and not a design-led thing, it’s exact form would be determined as I completed it.

However, when user testing rolled around and one week till the end of finals, I decided that such a video art project was too ambitious despite the progress I had made with the API.

I then decided to pivot to a project that I had wanted to make for a while, which had a defined structure, and would be relatively do-able. This was the I Ching Machine.

The Concept

I’ve studied the I Ching, aka the Book of Changes, for several years. I have found, regardless of how it “works”, it has been helpful to me. The most mature human wisdom is found in the I Ching, whose images predate written history. The “modern” version of the I Ching is two thousand years old, and it boasts several thousands years worth of Confucian scholarship and commentary on the meaning of the images.

A while ago, I started to realize that the wisdom of the I Ching was not obscure knowledge contained in a book but rather it was wisdom assessable to us in every day life. The I Ching is not “Chinese” wisdom, it is human wisdom, and it variations can be seen in all time and all cultures. In the same way Joseph Campbell describes a singular, universal plot structure for all religious and folk myths of all human cultures of all times in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, so too the wisdom of the I Ching can be seen in our contemporary culture. The archetypes operate everywhere, always, under the veil of cultural specificity.

I therefore created an I Ching program in P5JS that used my prior work with YouTube to linked the fortunes given by the I Ching to specific YouTube clips that I hand-picked and believed to express the message of the hexagram.

Programming The Oracle

I programmed the P5JS I Ching program with the same instructions as one would consult the I Ching with coins. The steps are:

  1. Toss three coins and see if they land heads or tails (I used random(0,1) for this).
  2. Depending on how they land they are one of four possibility: broken-changing, unbroken-changing, unbroken-unchanging, broken-unchanging. These were represented either by a broken on broken rect drawn and a dot on the side if the lines were changing.
  3. The changing of the lines are a specific pattern of heads and tails that point of dynamic aspects of one’s situation. These in turn, change to their opposite to form a second hexagram. It is the interplay between the messages of the first and second hexagram, taken together, that generate the specific message to the user. I generated the second hexagram by storing the first hexagram in a lines[] array and the lines2[] array. I used the same drawing function for the second hexagram with a different x-value in order to position them beside each other.

When the hexagrams were stored in the lines[] arrays, I ran them through a function I created to name the hexagram based on the lines.x and lines.y object values. The values were x = b(broken) or ub(unbroken) and y = c(changing) or uc(unchanging). By the specific configuration of the array elements ,it corresponded to one of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching (each hexagram is a chapter of commentary of a specific situation of change.

How I matched the YouTube Clips with I Ching

For instance, hexagram 51 is named The Arousing (Thunder). The message of the hexagram is:

“The shock that comes from the manifestation of God within the depths of the earth makes man afraid, but this fear of God is good, for joy and merriment can follow upon it. When a man has learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences. Let the thunder roll and spread terror a hundred miles around: he remains so composed and reverent in spirit that the sacrificial rite is not interrupted. This is the spirit that must animate leaders and rulers of men-a profound inner seriousness from which all terrors glance off harmlessly.” http://ichingfortune.com/hexagrams/51.php

Pulp Fiction is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I reflected a lot of why this is. I believe the narrative of divine intervention that stopped Jules and Vincent from being killed in the first scene is what tied the entire movie together. Without it, I believe the movie would have been entertaining but lacking in depth.

It was the tale of change in a man’s outlook after experiencing the touch of God that led Jules to change his ways. It perfected described the essence of the hexagram’s philosophy above. As such, I chose it as suiting this I Ching passage.

It was only possible for me to choose all these youtube clips because I’ve had this idea kicking in my head for a while, and I am always on the looking for “archetypal movie scenes”. As such the I Ching machine in it’s current form is a patchwork of action movies, kung fu clips and music clips. The I Ching machine is a window into my own psyche, and another person’s I Ching machine will be completely different.

Technically, implementing the video was quite easy. I simply used an iFrame (which is much simpler than the YouTube API) and I destroyed the iFrame when the Second Hexagram video was pressed.

Conclusion and Next Steps. 

I am very happy with how the I Ching program turned out and I want to keep moving forward with it.

-I want this thing to show publicly at some point, and I want to link it to actually flipping coins in real life with the videos being shown by projector.

-I might explore putting it up in a webpage form on some subdomain of my website. Maybe ichingmachine.jasonyung.ca or something.

-I might even open it up to I Ching forums to get the wider community to “make your own I Ching”

That’s about concludes it. Thanks for a great semester, Dano.