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Leibniz And The I-Ching

February 14, 2015

Gottfried Leibniz
When I was a teen I was fascinated by the I-Ching. It seemed mystical and important to me. A few years ago I found my old copy of “The Book of Change” in a dusty box along with my copy of the Zohar and similar books. At that moment I dismissed it as another silly mythology. Something that was probably useful thousands of years ago for imparting sage lessons or for Shaman to hold power over their flock.

As it turns out, the I-Ching is far more important than I thought it to be even as a naive and impressionable kid with a penchant for Asian philosophy and religion. Today while re-reading “You’re It” by Alan Watts I learned, Leibniz refined and popularized the binary number system because he was inspired by the I-Ching. I’m not sure how I missed this on my last reading ten+ years ago. This means that the yin and yang is at the very heart of the digital computer. I’ve always thought this about binary–the yin and yang as bits–but I did not know there is a literal connection.

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In case you don’t idolize certain mathematicians like I do, allow me to make clear Leibniz sits on a very tall tower in the world of mathematics. As it turns out, Leibniz was a Sinophile and in his papers he makes reference to the I-Ching.

Leibniz > Boole > Shannon > Stibitz

This reminds me of something one of my college math professors said to me: “everything the white man thinks he invented was invented by the Chinese 2,000 years earlier.”

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