Night and Day — Episode 7

Night

I am in a small room, writing, and I have visitors. The woman I do volunteer work with at Reading Partners is there. She has the same first name that I do. She is smiling and interested in hearing about my book, but we are not alone. In the far corner of the room is a long table, the kind that you see in the conference rooms of corporate America. Seated at the table is an unknown cast of characters, but I know that the reason they are there is to judge my work.

Day

I am commuting again, this time to downtown San Francisco. Compared to my days in New York, this is a short train ride. The train station here is small too, and unlike Penn Station, it is all above ground and outdoors; at street level on the corner of 4th and King.

Caltrain1There is a small, glass-enclosed lobby with side-by-side doors that open directly onto the train platforms. Simple wooden signs announce when the train on that track will depart. Even though I consider San Francisco a big city, the size of the train station here reminds me of the city’s true scale.

It is a short 10- or 15-minute walk to the building on Brannan Street where I am doing consulting work these days. Built in 1935, the remodeled office is housed in the old Gallo Salame building, a connection I was able to make because of the iconic factory artwork that remains on the side of the old brick building.

This SOMA neighborhood is mostly quiet in the morning and the street views of the buildings in this area belie the innovation that is taking place indoors. Business signs for the tech startups here are either small and discreet or nonexistent. It is not unusual to see the employees standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to open the doors in the morning, or chatting while sharing a cigarette on an impromptu break. They are mostly young, dressed in the hip San Francisco style that favors grungy jeans, the color black, and for footwear, boots, sneakers, or flip-flops.

vespaBut the streets are generally quiet in the hours before 10:00 a.m. It is not until lunchtime that things start to pick up around here. It is a short walk past Delancey Street to the Embarcadero and the new Brannan Street Wharf. In the afternoon, I spot commuters on bicycles, Vespas, and Razor scooters. I think the Vespas are cool—they remind me of Italy. I wish I had the nerve to ride one in the city.

 — DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.

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The Meaning of Inflation

When we hear about inflation, we naturally assume it means that prices are going up. Because that’s what economists have taught us to think. But talk to a physicist, and you will soon learn that inflation has an entirely different meaning.

Inflation, for physicists, is an extension of the Big Bang theory. And the reason it is important is that it helps answer some of the difficult questions the theory raises, like how is it possible that the Universe has an even temperature?

If you’re like me, you probably learned about the Big Bang theory in school. And if you asked me what it meant just a few weeks ago, I would have confidently told you that it is the scientific explanation for how the Universe began.

But if you asked me today, I would start by telling you that the Big Bang theory is still a theory. And as Stephen Hawking puts it, a theory is just a model of the universe.

“Any physical theory is only provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it.” – Stephen Hawking

So when astronomers at the South Pole discovered faint spiral patterns from the polarization of microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang, it generated a lot of excitement in the scientific community.

In Ripples From the Big Bang, Dennis Overbye explains how the team, led by John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, found evidence to support the theory of inflation, which explains how the universe expanded so uniformly and so quickly in the instant after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

Overbye says that if the chain of evidence and reasoning holds up, it could lend support to the fervently hoped-for unification theory of Einstein’s gravity, which shapes the universe, and quantum theory, which governs the behavior of atoms inside it. And, he says, the discovery suggests that gravity, too, might ultimately be described by the same weird quantum rules as those that describe the other forces.

Photo credit: NASA

Photo credit: NASA

Don’t miss the graphic in this article that really helps explain it all.

[UPDATE: In a remarkable coincidence (spooky entanglement?) I just read an article in LiveScience that said three physicists were awarded the prestigious Kavli Prize in Astrophysics today (May 29) for their work on cosmic inflation. Congratulations to Alan Guth of MIT, Andrei Linde of Stanford University, and Alexei Starobinsky of the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Russia.]

–DJ

What’s the Future of Journalism?

It wasn’t that long ago that I knew exactly where to go for reliable information about the world, and how to stay in touch with my friends. At least I felt like I had a good system in place to help me keep up with things.

If I wanted great reporting and a healthy dose of world news, my go-to was, and often still is, The New York Times. For business news, I usually read BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Forbes. For tech it was usually C/Net, Fast Company, WIRED, and The Register, plus any number of online sites returned after a simple Google search. If I needed information about a company and wanted “the unvarnished truth,” I would go search the company’s SEC filings in the EDGAR online database.

Now I get most of my information online, including what my family and friends are up to. I still read the New York Times most days—it’s just that I do it on my Kindle. And I spend a lot of time on Flipboard and Twitter in the morning to catch up on the news and share things that I find interesting.

I think the good news is that I now have access to many more sources of information using just a few very powerful tools. In addition to all the mainstream publications, I can now get first-hand accounts of events from people all over the world, which is truly one of the great triumphs of the internet.

The downside is that much of what I track online can be somewhat predictable and self serving. Because the choices I make when I “follow” an individual or a publication can simply end up validating a point of view that  I already have. I like what they have to say because I agree with them. But let’s face it, you don’t learn a lot if you only hang out with people who agree with you all the time.

That’s why I think one of the biggest misconceptions an online publisher can make about the people I “follow” has to do with the idea that I want to read everything they do or say online. Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t.

Take Flipboard for example. I absolutely love this app. It has enhanced my morning news experience by blending updates from my social media contacts with my favorite mainstream journalism pubs. So I can see Instagram pics and tweets alongside articles from the New York Times or Scientific American. And because Flipboard allows you to create your own custom magazines online using a visually stunning interface, it makes my morning news jog just that much more fun.

But when Flipboard changed its Cover Stories last January to present more content based on what I engaged with (i.e., clicked on) I ended up being a little disappointed with the change. Because when that change happened, I noticed that clicking on a tweet by an individual would cause that person to show up in my news stream every morning in a very prominent way.

I actually preferred the chaotic mix of content they used before. Now it seems like they are lining up more predictable silos of content based on what I’ve clicked on in the past, and that’s turning my newsfeed into more of a narrowband content funnel. And when it comes to news, I actually want to see all the stuff that I wasn’t looking for too.

One Size Does Not Fit All

We have so many choices today in terms of the content we consume. And even if the lines are starting to blur between news, entertainment, and advertising, there is one truth in all of this that I think will stand the test of time–one size does not fit all. People have definite preferences when it comes to how they want to get their information.

Video is by far one of the most engaging and popular mediums out there. You can just sit back and enjoy and learn a lot in the process. I love videos that add to a story, or let you watch an interesting conversation at an event that you missed. But my first choice when it comes to content is almost always to read something. And so as a reader,  I get concerned when I see content reduced to “snackables” and “click-bait.” It’s just not my thing. At least it’s not the way I want to spend my time online.

In the pursuit of traffic, outrageous headlines are starting to invade more mainstream sites too. I think it is all part of a great experiment in which online publishers are trying to figure out how to increase visitors, quantify their reach, and pay for their editorial staffs. But as Jim Bankoff, founder and CEO of Vox Media warned at the recent International Symposium of Online Journalism, “chasing page views is a race to the bottom.”

Still, I am encouraged by the dialog that is beginning to surface with some high-profile bloggers and editors. Just last week, Facebook director of product Mike Hudack stirred the pot with the rant heard ‘round the world.

“Evening newscasts are jokes, and copycat television newsmagazines have turned into tabloids — “OK” rather than Time. 60 Minutes lives on, suffering only the occasional scandal. More young Americans get their news from The Daily Show than from Brokaw’s replacement. Can you even name Brokaw’s replacement? I don’t think I can.” — Mike Hudack

It generated a lot of feedback and started a conversation that needed to happen. The media is changing rapidly as we introduce new technology and tools. And whether that change has a positive or negative affect on journalism and the sharing of information is really up to us.

I guess my love-hate relationship with some of the popular online tools is just a sign of the times. Yes, I want to know what’s going on in the world and with my friends and family. And no, I don’t like the idea of trading my personal information with a business in order to have access to that information.

So while I love the tools, I’m not necessarily happy with the deal. And I am growing increasingly weary of the way businesses think they can just change a popular system without warning, or make their terms so hard to understand that you need to ask a lawyer what it actually means.

On the plus side, I am encouraged to learn about a new tool like Medium, which was just featured in the New York Times. It’s a simple and elegant blogging platform that was started by the serial entrepreneur Evan Williams. The platform is easy to use and it serves up content by famous authors as well as writers like you and me. And in a kind of retro shout-out to Marshall McLuhan, I think Williams is reminding us that the medium is still the message.

We now have a whole new generation of journalists who have either just entered the field, or are gearing up to study and participate in what is one of the most exciting careers I can think of. It’s changing so rapidly that I can’t even imagine what journalism will look like when my nephew graduates from college. But with all the innovation and experimentation going on today, I remain optimistic that it can be better than ever. As long as we don’t become complacent with what we are being served, and as long as we get to choose where and how we get our information. Because it’s really a personal choice.

Like life itself, it’s all a bit messy and wonderful. But you’ve got to pay attention and you’ve got to stay involved.

— DJ

 

Night and Day — Episode 6

Night

It’s morning. The light seems to stream sideways across the never-ending landscape.

No clouds today.

We are flying low. Just above the treetops. Gliding actually. I have a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane, so I have a view of the winding river estuary filled with brackish water and yellow-green treetops as we slip along the interconnected trails of gently flowing waters.

I can see for miles.

Day

The Sun Microsystems reunion is today at the old Mountain View campus. I have only one group photo in my archives from all my years at Sun. This was taken at Sun headquarters in Menlo Park (now Facebook) after the launch of Project Blackbox back in 2006. What made Sun so great? It was the people.

SunMicro

Scott McNealy really cared about the employees, and his farewell message from 2010 captures his thinking as well as his sentiment. I know a lot employees replied to Scott that night after reading his good-bye email, myself included. I am pretty sure that he stayed up all night answering all those employee emails.

His reply, “You’re the best.”

–DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.

Night and Day — Episode 5

Night

“What if it’s all just a hologram?” I ask.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says as she walks away from me.

Day

The controversial notion that our experience of reality is nothing more than a hologram pierced my brain when Brian Greene suggested it in the NOVA series, The Fabric of the Cosmos, back in 2012. And I guess the idea stuck with me because it just popped up in a dream I had.

Brian Greene is a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York City, and when he explains physics on a TV show like NOVA I take it seriously. So I started doing some research to get the backstory on holograms.

In an interview by WIRED magazine, Greene explained that the idea that reality may be akin to a hologram is based on a wonderfully weird collection of ideas and theoretical studies developed over the last 30 years that go under the heading of the “holographic principle.”

What started as an attempt to understand the quantum properties of black holes soon turned into a scientific debate over the fundamental laws of physics as scientists wondered; “what happens to the information that an object contains when it falls into a black hole”?

And this led physicists to come up with the idea that when an object falls into a black hole, a copy of all of its information content gets “smeared out” on the surface or the horizon of the black hole. Flattened out in a sense—like a series of 0′s and 1′s, the way information is stored in a typical computer. And that idea, he said, would suggest that a three-dimensional object inside the black hole could be described by information on a two-dimensional surface that surrounds the black hole.

According to Greene, the reason this is interesting is because the space inside a black hole is governed by the same laws as space outside a black hole, or space anywhere for that matter. The point being, if a 3-D object inside a black hole can be described by 2-D information on a surface that surrounds it, then that lesson could be generalized to include you and me and everything else we consider reality.

“Now, this starts to sound like a hologram,” said Greene. “A hologram is a thin 2-D piece of plastic which, when illuminated correctly, yields a realistic three-dimensional image. The idea is we may be that three-dimensional image of this more fundamental information on the 2-D surface that surrounds us.”

In a related article, Our Universe May Be a Giant Hologram, Greene used an analogy to help explain: “If this line of reasoning is correct, then there are physical processes taking place on some distant surface that, much as a puppeteer pulls strings, are fully linked to the processes taking place in my fingers, arms, and brain as I type these words at my desk. Our experiences here, and that distant reality there, would form the most interlocked of parallel worlds. Phenomena in the two—I’ll call them Holographic Parallel Universes—would be so fully joined that their respective evolutions would be as connected as me and my shadow.”

Greene admits that the holographic principle and some of the ideas explored in The Fabric of the Cosmos represent some of the strangest features of modern science, but he also claims they are well-grounded in mathematical research and observational data.

“Now, let me just point out, this is a hard idea even for physicists who work on it every day to fully grasp,” said Greene. “We’re still trying to really dot the i’s and cross the t’s and understand in detail what this would mean. But there are many who now take this idea very seriously, that we may be a kind of holographic projection.”

I think it’s even harder for the general public to grasp. And if it’s true, I can’t help but wonder, who, or what is behind the projector?

— DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.

Night and Day — Episode 4

Night

I am sitting next to Bill Gates. We are in an auditorium getting ready for a launch presentation when he turns to me and asks, “Do you think writers have a responsibility to tell the whole story?”

I tell him that I think writers have a responsibility to be as honest as possible in their storytelling. But that doesn’t mean that they have to tell the whole story. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. And that sometimes means you need to leave certain things out.

Day

Who are you writing for?

That was the topic of a conversation I had with a friend recently. It’s an interesting question and we both came at it from a different vantage point.

As a fiction writer, he is concerned with the reader. With fiction, you have a lot of latitude when it comes to what you write, even if you are following a tried-and-true method that involves character development, plot, and conflict resolution. After all, you are making stuff up and whether that stuff comes from actual events in your life or your imagination, you can pretty much run with it. The fiction writer needs to be outer-directed, taking care to use his or her creativity to bring the reader along as the story unfolds. I think most writers would agree that is the right approach for fiction.

I mostly write non-fiction, so my writing practice is highly tuned to telling stories about science and technology that strive to make complex and often remote subjects interesting and understandable. It is almost always a learning exercise for me–something of a puzzle to solve. I learn a lot during this process and I usually get to talk to some incredibly smart and interesting people along the way. So clearly non-fiction is outer-directed too, because you are still concerned with keeping the reader with you. You want them to trust what you are saying, so you need to be credible, relevant, and clear. Your currency is the relay of information and facts. This kind of writing is what I call work.

But when I write in my journal the reader is me, which makes my writing there inner-directed and strictly personal. To me, it is an art form. And the kind of honesty that good art requires is hard to do, and even harder to share. Because it exposes you to strangers in a trusting way that says, “this is how I am experiencing the world, can you relate?”

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if it is a poem, a painting, or music. If you are just skimming the surface of an experience in your art it will either come across as phony, or even worse, dull. And if you spend too much time worrying about what other people think about your art, it will force you to change it in ways that will completely mess it up. So all you can really do is make your art and see what happens.

I enjoy many different styles of art and writing. I like seeing the different filters people use to manipulate reality, and I especially like to see how the imagination can soar. It is truly inspiring to me. But I don’t confuse my art with my work. And I usually know exactly whom I am writing for. At least I think I do.

So to answer the original question, I think the reader changes depending on the form the writing takes. What do you think?

–DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.

 

The I Ching, Supercomputers, and C. G. Jung

The I Ching: Then and Now

The I Ching has survived many interpretations and centuries of scholarly debate. Originally written as a book of “oracles,” there was a kind of magic associated with its use for purposes of divination.

In the introduction to his classic translation from 1924, Richard Wilhelm describes how difficult it was to extricate the text from the realm of the supernatural. He says once the Book of Changes became established as a book of divination and magic in the time of Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, the entire school of magicians (fang shih) of the Ch’in and Han dynasties made it their prey. It was not until Wang Pi [A.D. 226-249] wrote about the meaning of the Book of Changes as a book of wisdom, not as a book of divination, that the yin-yang school of magic was displaced.

Writers continue to be intrigued by the I Ching. Damien Walters just wrote an interesting article in The Guardian that makes the case that the I Ching can be tied to the binary code used by supercomputers today. In that piece he explains how Gottfried Wilhem von Liebniz, a philosopher and mathematician from the 1600s, found inspiration for “a new, purer arithmetic than our common decimal system” by reading the I Ching.

Walters claims that Liebniz’s new binary arithmetic was inspired by the binary poles of reality represented as Yin and Yang. He says the ancient text had such an influence on Liebniz, that he wrote an article about the new arithmetic with the title, “Explanation of the binary which uses only the characters 1 and 0, with some remarks on its usefulness, and on the light it throws on the ancient Chinese figures of Fu Xi“.

According to Walters, in the philosophy of the I Ching, reality is not entirely real. It is something more like a dream or an illusion. “This dream of reality arises from the binaries of Yin and Yang, as they play out their infinite combinations. It’s not surprising then, from the I Ching’s perspective, that anything in the dream of reality can be represented as a model of its binary constituents, in a string of 1s and 0s, processed by a computer.”

In closing, Walters asks, “When scientific thinkers ask whether computers can create ‘virtual realities’ or ‘artificial intelligence,’ they are missing the point. Of course we can create ever deeper and more complex layers of the dream of reality to get lost in. The real question is, can we wake up from the dream we’re in already?”

C. G. Jung

I prefer the analysis that C. G. Jung provided in the 1949 forward to the Whilhem/Baynes translation of the I Ching. He explained that the way that the I Ching looks upon reality seems to disfavor our Western “causalistic procedures.” Because when we focus our attention on a moment in time, our observations seem to be more about chance, than about a clearly defined result of concurring causal processes.

Jung said that the while the Western mind carefully sifts, weighs, selects, classifies, and isolates, the Chinese picture of the moment encompasses everything down to the minutest nonsensical detail, because all of the ingredients make up the observed moment.

“So when we throw the three coins, or count the 49 yarrow stalks, these chance details enter into the picture of the moment of observation and form a part of it—a part that is insignificant to us, yet most meaningful to the Chinese mind,” said Jung.

Jung also said that the I Ching is not easy to approach: “Like a part of nature, it waits to be discovered. If offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom—if there be such—it seems to be the right book. To one person, its spirit appears as clear as the day; to another, shadowy as twilight; to a third, dark as night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is against it is not obliged to find it true. Let it go forth into the world for the benefit of those who can discern its meaning.”

Wilhelm’s remarkable life is chronicled in a new documentary film, Wisdom of Changes: Richard Wilhelm & The I Ching. Written and directed by Bettina Wilhelm (his granddaughter), it was screened at a March 2014 conference held at the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.

— DJ

First Lines

I have a story to tell and I am caught in a kind of continuous loop that has the whole thing trapped in my rearview mirror–just sitting there, waiting for the highway to open up. And I don’t feel like I can move forward until I get that first line right.

The first line is the writer’s North Star, guiding the storyline that will follow. For the first line to do its job well, it needs to create the right scenery and lighting for the characters to step onto the stage. It has a lot to do with mood.

First lines can be emotional, or curious, or just plain odd. Enough so that we feel compelled to read on. Some writers use the first line to introduce a story by expressing an obvious truth. Others use the first line to create a mystery. Many writers use the first line to describe a paradox. And while these seem to be popular approaches, there is really no practical limit to the different ways a story can begin.

Great first lines have the ability to evoke a complete story in your head, even before you have a chance to read the next sentence. I think that’s because we humans are natural storytellers. Whether we are relating our own experience through a series of interior thoughts and actions, or listening to someone else’s imaginings, we want to be entertained, surprised, and inspired by our stories. Because stories are one of the primary ways we connect with one another to understand our world.

“As a reader, we join the writer by bringing our own curiosity, imagination, and desires to the words on the page. Writers know this. That’s why they care so much about the first line. Because all it takes is a stunning first line and we are hooked.”

So I decided to turn my mental traffic jam into a learning exercise by studying how great writers start their books. Searching for clues, I started going down a list of great books and recording their first lines.

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. — The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

I recall with utter clarity the first great shock of my life.  — Trinity, by Leon Uris

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…— A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Snowman wakes before dawn. — Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

It was the pivotal teaching of Pluthero Quexos, the most celebrated dramatist of the Second Dominion, that in any fiction, no matter how ambitious its scope or profound its theme, there was ever only room for three players. — Imajica, by Clive Barker

124 was spiteful. — Beloved, by Toni Morrison

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. — A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. — The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It was love at first sight. — Catch 22, by Joseph Heller

I often dream about the Dolphin Hotel. — Dance, Dance, Dance, by Haruki Murakami

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. — The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. — Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard. — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Call me Ishmael. — Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. — Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. — The Trial, by Franz Kafka

While I was thinking about all of this, I had the idea that it would be a fun writing exercise to use one of these first lines to start a new story that goes its own way.

Meanwhile, I need to stop procrastinating and come up with the first line for my story.

–DJ

Night and Day – Episode 3

Night

This is a very strange elevator. It doesn’t go up and down, it spins. Fast. It reminds me of the old Equinox lounge at the top of the Hyatt Regency — a glass-enclosed bar in the Embarcadero that rotated very slowly to provide stunning 360-degree views of San Francisco.

Except that this circular elevator is moving at warp speed.

Larry is looking at some new technology on his laptop. One of the engineers just showed this thing to him and he is pretty excited about it. Before you know it, there is a salesman in the room. They move to a small conference room while they talk excitedly.

Alone, I start looking around the room and notice a really cool gym bag. It is light and practical and perfect for the Y, so I check to see how many inner pockets it has. (Because that’s what girls do!)

It is orange and yellow and white. Nice! But it looks expensive so I put it back down.

When Larry returns, he picks up something for himself in the shop, and he also buys the gym bag. “You should have this,” he says as he hands me the gym bag.

It symbolizes freedom to me.

Day

I quit my job.

FelixBaumgartner

If you want to know what that feels like,  watch this clip of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic leap from the edge of space.

My parachute has opened.

— DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.

Night and Day – Episode 2

Night

Leaving the kingdom is hard. Just getting a sense of direction is tricky when you are surrounded by circular glass walls. You can get so turned around. Amidst a sea of empty desks my focus settles on a pencil holder and I think to myself, does anyone use pencils anymore? No, not here.

Out in the daylight is a giant green field, and what looks like a castle or large house sitting at the top of the hill. What a view! It looks so vibrant, but I am not sure how to get there. So I just start walking. The hill is a challenge, but I notice I am moving forward anyway.

Suddenly we are at a lunch party, having a good time, chatting and eating sandwiches. But I want to go home now, and I don’t have my car. So I borrow a bicycle and start riding along what I thought was a familiar trail, only to realize that I am lost.

Still, I continue. Now the trail is narrow and foggy with a steep incline and I start to feel concerned. It is beginning to get dark.  A man appears. He is an older man, somewhat professorial, and he has a warning for me.

“This is a dangerous trail,” he says. “You should go back.”

But I know I can’t.  I just need a different set of wheels. So I retreat temporarily on my bicycle and go back to look for my car.

Day

Fu XiIt is unclear when the I Ching, or Book of Changes was actually written, but some accounts trace its origins back to the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE.  Richard Wilhelm, who translated the I Ching from Chinese into German in 1924, said that in Chinese literature, four holy men are cited as the book’s authors: Fu His, King Wen, the Duke of Chou, and Confucius. Regarded by many as one of the most treasured parts of the Chinese tradition, the wisdom of the I Ching provides the foundation for both Confucianism and Taoist philosophy.

I am explaining all of this to a friend of mine, because I think the I Ching is a fascinating and rich text. Not only because of the ancient language it uses, but because it helps focus your attention on a problem by offering uncommon insights along with some very practical advice about conduct. It helps me by providing some timeless wisdom and philosophy to ponder as I contemplate the here and now. And I like the transformative nature of the wisdom contained in this book because when you are trying to solve a problem, Yin and Yang principals can trade places in a heartbeat. And so it is in life.

The challenge for me always has to do with how to interpret the advice that the I Ching provides, because it is bound to a culture, place, and time so remote from the world I live in today. Still, I find that it gives me something new to think about, and when I am working on a problem, I like that. One of my favorite expressions from the I Ching is “perseverance furthers.”

The text is arranged into 64 hexagrams that are composed of two trigrams each. When consulting the I Ching with a question, the ancient practice sought divination through the use of yarrow stalks (who has those?). The alternative, modern method is to toss three coins, six times. The coins must be of the same type, like nickels, and have clearly identifiable marks to indicate heads and tails.

Heads and tails are assigned different numbers (heads=2, tails=3) so that each toss of the coins can add up to a combination of 6, 7, 8, or 9. These numbers correspond to Yin and Yang lines, and it is the number and sequence of the coin tosses that creates the hexagram in response to the question that was posed.

This morning I threw the coins.  Hexagram 61 is Inner Truth.

That was my answer. I can’t tell you the question however. That would be just too personal.

– DJ

[For more on the I Ching, read my related essay.]

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.