Whitehead and the Book of Changes

Shih-chuan Chen

Editor’s Note: This paper was written in 1973 when the author was serving as Professor of Humanities and Oriental Civilizations at Capitol Campus, State University of Pennsylvania. Never published before, it was first delivered at the "First International Conference on Whitehead and China," Bejing, June 18, 2002, with endnotes provided by his able pupil, the Columbia educated Professor Yih-hsien Yu.  Dr. Shih-chuan Chen was regarded as one of the three great erst disciples of Master Thomé H. Fang in the 30s, the other two being the late Professor Ludwig C. H. Chen, the well known world authority on Aristotle, and the late Professor T’ang Chun-I, a towering leading figure of Contemporary Neo-Confucianism of the 20th Century. After his graduation from the National Central University before World War II, he pursued advanced studies in philosophy, first, at University of London and, later, at University of Washington, Seattle, WA, where he obtained his Ph. D. degree. He has taught at Pennsylvania State, National Taiwan University, National Taiwan Normal University and served as Director, Graduate Institute of Philosophy, Tung-Hai University. He has devoted to a lifetime study of the Philosophy of Creativity, the outcome of which is titled The Book of Changes: A New Enquiry, in three volumes.



Alfred N. Whitehead’s conception of ‘creativity’ is deficient from the standpoint of the Book of Changes or I Ching (c. 1000 B.C.) that takes ‘creativity’ as the fundamental function of the universe. Whitehead classifies ‘creativity’ together with the notions of ‘many’ and ‘one’ to the Category of the Ultimate. It is the ultimate truth behind individual facts of all creatures, while all creatures remain with it.[1] In the creative advance creativity is a synthesis of many into one, by which the diverse many coalesce into a novel unity, as Whitehead says, ‘The many become one, and increased by one.’[2] ‘Creativity’ is the principle of novelty, and the ‘objective immortality’ of the actual world is its shifting character. Accidental novelties always presuppose ‘objective immortality’ and vice versa. However, when comes to the idea of God, ‘creativity’ is virtually not the ultimate notion. In Whitehead’s metaphysical system God assumes the highest position as ‘the unconditioned conceptual valuation of eternal objects’ and the introducer of order and novelty. God is not only the provider of the initial aims from which an actual occasion starts its self-creation, but also the aboriginal condition of creativity. ‘Creativity’ as ‘the universal of universals’ eventually does not create at all. [3]

It may be argued that Whitehead needs God to complete his metaphysical speculations on two counts. 1. If there is no God, there will be no ordering of the eternal objects that provide permanence in the creative process. For Whitehead the eternal objects must be in the divine ordering of God to acquire their general relevance with each other and their graded relevance to the actual occasions. If the eternal objects are logical entities, they must be in a logical order ensured by God and thereby acquire their logical relevance, likewise the mathematical entities, theoretical entities, etc. [4] Since eternal objects are pure potentials, they are not stored in our memory, but in God’s ‘memory.’ While to the authors of the Book of Change who appealed directly to things, images, and symbolism as the elements of reality, the eternal objects seem to be some dispensable device.[5] 2. In the creative process how can an actual occasion conceptually ‘prehend’ certain eternal objects and how can certain eternal objects ‘ingress’ into an actual occasion cannot be explained unless and until with God’s help. According to Whitehead it is by God’s primordial nature that the multiplicity of eternal objects obtains its graded relevance, which turns to be a reservoir of objects for the subjective forms and subjective aims of actual occasions. Though God is deflected neither by love, nor by hate, for what in fact comes to pass, His unconditioned conceptual valuation provides the realization of the eternal object at each instance of the creative process.[6]

However, Whitehead has not made clear about how God acts in the synthesis of the eternal objects with the subjective aims of actual occasions. He suggests that God provides the initial aim to the actual occasion for its self-creation, and the eternal objects ingress into the occasion which prehends them. The eternal objects determine how the actual occasions feel, and in the becoming of the occasions, by the conceptual prehension of the occasions, they turn to be the objects of their subjective aims that condition the process. And the subjective aim is of a vector character, it directs the way to the satisfaction of an actual occasion. It seems that at each stage of concrescence a double-purpose is served; actual occasions find their direction for striving in eternal objects, whereas eternal objects become realized in actual entities. However, the eternal objects are pure potentials, indifferent to actuality, and unchangeable in the creative process, how can they be effective in the process of concrescence? For Whitehead this can be done only through the selection of God, God as the principle of limitation,[7] and through the envisagement of God, God the primordial ground for potentiality.[8] Though he did not assign any special ontological status to the eternal objects, he sees that they are determinative in the thinking process of a conscious being. If this is so, the eternal objects can become effective when they are entertained by a human mind. This means that they can become actualized in our experience. But how can what is merely potential have any effect upon what is actual? Whitehead knows that the eternal objects as pure potentials lack of any actual determinations until and unless they become fused with the actualities. The fusion cannot take place at the level lower than the conceptual valuation of an occasion in the process of actualization. In order to avoid the fallacy of Absolute Idealism, which deprives of the independent reality of nature, he uses the term ‘envisagement’ as a device to accommodate the eternal objects in the primordial nature of God.[9] Nevertheless, it may well be argued that Whitehead has only evaded the whole question by recourse to God. He has followed the tradition of western philosophers who dumped whatever unexplainable to God.

When Whitehead speaks of creativity as ‘the pure notion of activity conditioned by objective immortality’ and God as ‘the non-temporal act of all-inclusive unfettered valuation,’ he seems to disregard the importance of time, especially the importance of endurance.[10] Here temporality is nothing more than the succession of infinite instances, i.e. actual occasions, in the divine nature. He seems to adopt the same mode of thinking as that of the scientific materialists, against which he has protested, taking time as the succession of infinitely divided epochs. It may occur to Whitehead, if time can be reduced to infinitely divisible instances or units, how can the actual entities or actual occasions acquire their identities? Therefore, Whitehead needs a divine time to offset the everlasting loss in the temporal world. In God there is no loss. Whatever actual is preserved in God; in the temporal world there is no completeness of an actuality because it submits to the everlasting tyranny of time. In a sense the temporal world is a succession of perishing after perishing. Only God is everlasting. By His consequent nature, God can objectify the temporal world that reacts on Him. The actuality in the temporal world is to be saved at the mercy of the judgment of God’s tenderness.[11]

In his philosophy of nature Whitehead has repudiated the common sense view of time-series and Newtonian view of absolute time. Following the development of modern physics he conceives time as temporal extension, space as spatial extension, and the time-space continuum as extensive continuum. However, with the epochal nature of time, the actual occasions atomize the continuum, they are the final units as well as the building blocks of the universe. The process of atomization must go infinitely; otherwise the universe would not be a continuum, but a discontinuum. Yet Whitehead is hesitate to admit it, for "the actual entity is divisible; but is in fact undivided.’[12]

In our everyday experience, there are many enduring objects or things demanding our recognition. Perception in the mode of presentational immediacy gives us the first impressions of enduring objects. Only when we make a ‘scientific’ investigation, we interpret things in terms of sensa, and of all kinds of eternal object. Actual occasions being the building blocks of the universe must have their completeness in the creative process at any time and every time. If in the process of becoming and of perishing, they never really are, then our self-knowledge and knowledge of external world would be absolutely impossible. Whitehead may have admitted that in the temporal world every actual entity or actual occasion must be credited with a spatial volume for its perspective standpoint, and in terms of the temporal extension it must be given a duration in order to fulfill its appetition. The function of time allows it to enjoy its satisfaction. Nevertheless by following the Platonic tradition, he suggests that the ingression of eternal objects gives the definiteness to the occasions, and thereby assigns too much a role to the eternal objects in a process with spatio-temporal continuum.

In discussion of the consequent nature of God, Whitehead says that God is conscious. As Charles Hartshorne has explained, that means "God knows the world to be such and such (although it might be otherwise) and knows that he knows this." [13] In other places Whitehead conceives God to be a creature in the creative process and an actual entity in the actual world that somehow manages to provide all the standards of value. This sounds like that God is a person, as Whitehead has well phrased that God is ‘a fellow-sufferer’ and ‘an ideal companion’ to the world. Though Whitehead has shown in many places his little sympathy with the conception of a personal God in the context of Christian theology, John Cobb, Jr. believes that when speaking of the consequent nature of God he did have the concept of a personal God in his mind. [14] Supposing Cobb is right, Whitehead’s personal God would be, at most, a passionless, rational being who has no love but persuasive power. He would only show his tender care for whatever happened in the world, but could do nothing about the imperfections, disvalues and even evils, "when there can be no better choice." Nonetheless, how can we accept that God would choose evils because they are necessary for testing human valor, courage and heroism as some philosophers have suggested?[15] On the one hand, Whitehead seems to repudiate the traditional theistic concept of God, while on the other hand, he still postulates a God to complete his metaphysical system. Evidently the Whitehead’s God is a God of theoretical necessity, not of reality.

From the standpoint of the Book of Change a philosophy of organism (or a philosophy of creativity as suggested by Hartshorne) could have a metaphysical system without appealing for God’s help. In other words, if ‘creativity’ is the ultimate notion, it will be rich enough to support an all embracing ontology and a process cosmology. Perhaps the divinity can be directly recognized and appreciated through our sensation, perception and intuition in each act of creativity, which may evoke a religious sentiment instead of worshipping of a supernatural God. Pantheism, instead of monotheism, should be natural and reasonable to that sentiment. If a natural theology is to be based upon a philosophy of creativity in which creativity is the ultimate notion, it should provide the best description of the mysterious mystery of the universe. In the Book of Change the philosophy of creativity is well presented in the manner of dynamic ontology, of harmonious cosmology and of hierarchical axiology, which does not appeal to any supernatural or timeless beings.



In his later writings Whitehead has suggested that language is the very factor that determines human civilization, "human civilization is an outgrowth of language, and language is the product of advancing civilization."[16] He has also mentioned that the difference between human beings and animals is marked by the fact that the former employ language. He finds that language has at least three functions: 1. to express emotions; 2. to refer to objects and facts, mental and physical, also to record, to organize and in general to facilitate communication between men; and 3. to influence purposeful actions of man.[17] However, he recognizes that "language is incomplete and fragmentary, and merely registers a stage in the average advance beyond ape-mentality," and that "our understanding out-runs the ordinary usage of words."[18]

Whitehead is right that ordinary language is deficient in describing the abstract relations of logical entities, and in expressing our wanton imagination and deep emotions. The abstract relations of logical entities open up a world of Possibility with infinite alternatives beyond ordinary imagination, though the possibilities strictly follow the logical necessity. And when our imagination is winged and always on a trip of happy excursion in the never-never land, the panorama it has been through is hardly describable in ordinary language. While the fluctuation of our emotion is so intricate that the ordinary language often fails to tell its complexity. The conventional meanings of words or phrases and the written grammar of a language often blockade our logical reasoning and poetic imaginations. We must stretch the meanings of "words and phrases toward a generality foreign to their ordinary usage; and however such elements of language be stabilized as technicalities, they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap."[19]

Whitehead has once said that "imagination is not to be divorced from the facts: it is a way to illuminating the facts."[20] In regard to the facts that the scientists search after, they discover the facts either by their observations or by their experiments after having set up some working hypotheses and operational rules for the experiments. Basically they describe the facts in mathematical language. However when they come to the interpretations of the facts with concepts and ideas, they cannot help but use the inadequate, ordinary language, which unavoidably causes confusions, ambiguities and inconsistencies to the common readers and among scientists themselves.

Modern logicians have once taken over the task of cleaning the confusions, ambiguities and inconsistencies by using a most powerful and highly rationalized tool, symbolic logic. Their contributions to modern sciences are remarkable in defining the scope and nature of the problems of scientific inquiry, in clarifying the meanings of the words employed by the scientists, and in checking and rechecking their reasoning and arguments to see whether there is anything defective. However, modern logicians deny metaphysics of any importance and take logical reasoning as the major source of human knowledge. They only deal with one criterion of truth-- logical necessity. Their interest is limited to the exploration of the world of possibility and to the discovery of the beauty of a logical order. Their achievement is one of the highest of human rationalization. They live, however, in a Platonic world, remote from world of actuality.

Language is a living organism that grows through times. It has served as the most important tool for communication among people. It is consisted of evident common sense and hidden convictions. Its richness is inexhaustible, and can exemplify the accumulated experience and collective wisdom of the nation that employs it. Though it is deficient, it is the vehicle to convey our emotion and thought. Prepositional function is not complete and it only deals with abstract relations. Unfortunately many modern logicians stick to the formal and yet superficial definitions of words and phrases and they prefer ‘artificial language’ to the language of common sense. A language without common sense as its backbone would be a system of arbitrary symbols, lacking of significance and richness.

Speculative philosophy stems from well-guided imaginations. Metaphysical principles are intuitive knowledge. They can be but necessarily verified by our experience, experience in its broadest sense. They appeal to both human reason and human conscience, they are good for heart and for mind. Intuitive knowledge is necessarily anthropocentric because it stems from our commitment to humanity ever since the immemorial past (we do not know when human beings became aware of their being human). We can be sure that if an ape had its philosophy, its outlook of life and its world would be quite ape-like. Intuitive knowledge cannot be proved nor disproved merely by logical reasoning because its validity does not solely depend on empty arguments. It appeals directly to the very ground of being and to the intuition of the world as a whole. Metaphysical principles should be verified by our experience. They could be based upon one or several special sciences but they are not the summary of those sciences. They are not too abstruse to the innocent people from all walks of life. They would never, however, betray our conviction in humanity. They may include what is beyond humanity but they must have relevance to human value.

The metaphysical principles recorded in the Book of Changes were, at first, conveyed by a system of diagrams[21] that were appended in later years with a language full of metaphors and of cosmological and axiological significance. Basically the words or the combinations of words in Chinese language are ideographical. A word is either a picture, or an idea, or a combination of the two. An ideological language functions well in poetic or aesthetic expressions and its essence is its suggestiveness. To the ancient Chinese, ideas were images or metaphorical symbols, their function was to suggest or give some hints to what the author intended to tell the reader.

In the Chinese mode of thought ideas do not enjoy any special privilege of being pre-existent archetypes with sensible things as their poor copies, nor do they need God to arrange them into any logical order or to preserve them for the definiteness of actual occasions. They are empirical, communal and historical. According to the ‘Conspectus’ ("Hsi Tz’u Chuan," c. 250 B.C.) of the Book of Change, it is said that the diagrammatic portion of the book had been completed even earlier than the written language of Chinese ever appeared. The diagrams form a morphological system of symbols that represents the images either of things or of situations perceived by its authors. As it is said,

When Fu Hsi (the Animal Domesticator, c. 8000 B.C.) drew the eight diagrams to represent natural images, he referred to his sensory observations of the brilliant forms exhibited by the heavenly bodies, of the laws ruled on the earth, of the patterns and the structures of the plants, of the ornamental appearances of the birds and the beasts and of the suitableness for the soil to be worked on.[22]

In his mind, the images of eight diagrams, Heaven, Earth, Thunder, Wind, Fire, Water, Mountain and River, were the most significant representations of the natural world. It seemed that the ancient Chinese were confronted with everything in the natural world that were necessary for their daily lives. They were interested in the miraculous functions of those things that were real, actual, and effective. They named them in terms of their functions and not in terms of what they were made of. They drew images either in the fashion of diagrams or of symbols to suggest the functions of things. The images could never be the exact pictures of things or situations, since both the percipients and the things perceived are submitted to ceaseless change in the creative passage. However, the images could adequately suggest their existences and their works. As if the mind of a percipient were a mirror, it reflects the characteristics of the things as its images.

Chinese language is an audio-visual device and its essential function is to make suggestions. It may be deficient according to the Cartesian standard of ‘clearness and distinctness,’ but it may have enjoyed an advantage over the phonetic languages in expressing intuitive knowledge. In the Chinese way of thinking, there is no difference between the things we conceive and the things themselves. Consequently the separation between the world of ideas and the sensible world seems to be not rewarding to a Chinese mind. Furthermore, because the Chinese sees the world in terms of its functions and not in terms of its compositions he has never fallen victim to various forms of dualism that have rampaged in the western philosophy. Chinese view is inherently organic, perhaps due to the uniqueness of Chinese language, a language without the subject-predicate form as its basic expression. How true it is that the language may have determined the development of a civilization!

From the Chinese point of view, as long as the language can show one’s understanding of the miraculous works incessantly exhibited in the universe, it makes little difference whether it is to be expressed in the form of prose, of stanzas or of arguments. As long as characters and the combinations of characters are suggestive they are alive, and the users keep their language alive by making it suggestive. ‘Suggestion’ has played a key role in our communication with others and with nature. What we could have from the past is not the exact knowledge of the past because our memory cannot provide us with a complete and exact description of the happening of an event even within very recent time. What we know of the past is through those thematic suggestions that our memory has provided. The capacity of grasping the intended suggestions from a word or a sentence is sometimes unique and can be found only in a few people, and in Chinese tradition they were Sages. And due to the suggestiveness of an object, of an image, of a symbol or of an idea, one could come to have unexpected insights. A poet may thereby compose poems which bring his readers in some unexpected ecstasy, a painter may draw paintings on a new theme in a new style, a craftsman may design new tools for new jobs, and a statesman may set up new institutions for some new political purposes. The suggestions can also be given by a natural object (such as a falling apple from the tree), by human relationship (such as the relation between father and son or between husband and wife) or by a historical event (such as the self-enlightenment of Gautama), it covers every range of human activities. As it is said in the Book of Change,

The purpose of the authors of I Ching is to communicate with the cosmic will, to help the determination of human deeds and to solve the problems confronting all mankind.

The sage (the philosopher) is he who can foresee, predict, regulate and keep the human world always in the creative process.

The sage who participates in the creative process can guide it, promote it and apply it for the benefits of the people that result in human deeds.

The sages made the emblematic symbols to explore fully the significance of the universe, and they set up diagrams to indicate the truth and falsehood of things. By supplementing explanations, they tried to give a full account of the original texts. By applying the measure of divination they could make changes in order to create the greatest benefits for the people. And in order to exhaust the significance of Divinity they advocated noble ideals to inspire the people to upgrade themselves spiritually.[23]



The Book of Change or the so-called I Ching or Chou I literally means "the Classic on Creativity." According to Ch’ien Tso Tu (c. 150 B.C.), a book of late West-Han Dynasty,[24] the term ‘I’ (which literally means ‘changes’) can be defined as follows:

The meanings of the term ‘I’ are three in number, namely, creativity, transformation, and changelessness.

The book however did not give detail explanations of these concepts. It was until the East-Han Dynasty the famous scholar Cheng Kang-cheng (127-200 A.D.) tried to provide some commentaries. He says,

There are three meanings implied in the term ‘I’, namely, time-space, transformation, and changelessness. As it was told in the ‘Conspectus,’ "The function of the creativity prevails time and space; doesn’t it take the heaven and the earth as its residenceAnd isn’t it the very key for us to understand the essence of changeIt is evident that the heaven Ch’ien firmly indicates the existence of time; and the earth Kun with its open field and boundless resources shows the existence of space. ‘Time’ is known through the changing position of the heavenly bodies and ‘space’ is known by following the time. Time and space are inseparable, which is the basic principle of time-space." And it also said, "The metaphysical principle Tao is constantly changing, it is always in alternation and movement without taking any rest. It is symbolized by the six strokes—yaos without fixed laws, as the hard force (signified by Yang-yao) and the tender force (signified by Yin-yao) mutually exchange their positions all the time, there is no definite principle to be followed except the principle of change itself." This is to say with the flux of time all changes emerge, all movements become evident, and transformations are taking place. Again, it is said, "Heaven is high and Earth is low; thus Ch’ien and K’un are fixed. In correspondence with this difference between low and high, a hierarchical system of value from the lowest to the highest, from the meanest to the noblest is established. Motion and rest have their regular way, which determine the appearance of the hard force and tender force respectively." This refers to the value-system exhibited in the cosmos being changeless. [25]

Later in the T’ang Dynasty, another well-known scholar Kung Ying-ta (574-648 A.D.) gave further explanations with respect to the concept of ‘I,’ as he said,

The term ‘I’ should be understood through its functions and virtues that are bright and simple. The virtue of ‘I,’ i.e. ‘creativity’ is shown in the sun, moon, stars and constellations shining luminously and scattering orderly on the heaven. It penetrates everywhere without demanding an opening, and anything spiritual hides in it without a definite place. It is imperturbable and uninterruptible. Also it is selfless and impartial, and yet has nothing to lose. Transformation is the material mode (Chi) of creativity. If there were no change in the heaven or on the earth, there would be no materials. The alternations of Five Agents (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth) and the circulations of four seasons are due to the function of transformation. If the established dynasty were the only dynasty everlasting, there would have never been revolutions in history. The decrease presupposes the increase; the most powerful power presupposes its own defeat. All these changes are due to the function of transformation. Furthermore, the changelessness refers to positions. [Positions mean ‘relevance.’ A person’s position shows his relevance to each of the others.] The heaven is high up while the earth is down below. The ruler turns southward while his subjects turn northward. The father sits while his sons bow.[26]

Here Kung only applied the notion of hierarchical system of value to the narrow sphere of ethical relations between a ruler and his subject or father and sons, he seemed to fail to grasp the more comprehensive sense of ‘changelessness.’ However he had made some compensation by offering another supplement to the explanations of ‘I,’ as he said,

The ‘I’ is a general name for all modes of change and transformation. It is also a particular name for all kinds of alternation and replacement. Since in the beginning of this cosmic epoch all creatures are generated form the Yang [the creative, the masculine principle] and the Yin [the procreative, the feminine principle]. The succession of sun and moon, the circulation of four seasons, the generation of new patterns of things and the emergence of new species are all stemming from the creative power of change, transformation, alternation and replacement. The basic feature of cosmic process is novelty. All creation is sustained by the principles of Yin and Yang. The ancient sage drew the line ‘––’ for Yin and the line ‘’ for Yang. And by the composition of Yin and Yang he then drew the diagrams to symbolize the Three Primacies, namely Heaven, Earth, and Man, Man is in the middle of Heaven and Earth. He called all this ‘creativity’ and used the term ‘I’ to imply all the modes of change and to reveal the essence of change.[27]

In sum, the ancient Chinese thought of the universe in terms of its power of generation and its function of creativity, which was regarded as a result of the ‘conjugation’ of the masculine principle (Yang) and the feminine principle (Yin). In their mind the universe is of androgynous nature. The inner urges of these two principles and the mutual attractions between the two make the creativity function spontaneously and sporadically, and there is no other agent to initiate all the changes. The three meanings of ‘I’ have encompassed the most general features of the universe and human world. The creativity exhibits its functions throughout time-space, or heaven and earth, it is the essence of change. Transformation in the modes of alternation, movement, circulation, replacement, emergence, and continuous reproduction reveals the essence of temporality, i.e. novelty. Things are always changing and ever new in the temporal flux. Lastly, an axiological system of hierarchical nature is the changeless aspect of the universe. It confirms that the factual universe is a universe of value---in this respect the authors of the Book of Changes and Whitehead share the same view. All this, however, should not be taken literally, the changelessness is not anything with ontological status like that of eternal objects, it is only one of the functions of the creativity.[28]

According to Whitehead the building blocks of the universe are actual occasions; they are "the final real things of which the world is made up." [29] A substantial portion of his Process and Reality is devoted to describing the self-creating process of actual occasions or actual entities, how they as emergent superjects achieve their objective immortality through subjective immediacy. However, the superject is an atomic creature, "we must identify the atomized quantum of extension correlative to an actual entity, with Newton’s absolute place and absolute duration."[30] And an actual entity as temporal atom, it "never moves: it is where it is and what it is." In this case, Whitehead seems to be more interested in the atomic nature of the universe than what he has claimed in its creative advance. Accordingly, the extensive continuum of space-time atomized by the actual entities eventually turns to be a static frame, showing no function of time and of space.

In the Book of Changes the universe is described as a system of cosmic function for creativity. Primarily the masculine principle and feminine principle, two opposite forces or aspects of the universe, interact with each other, exercise their life-producing function, and cause all the changes. In the creative passage the Ch’ien (the first hexagram of the sixty four hexagrams, composed of six Yang-yao), which signifies the Heaven, and K’un (the second hexagrams of the sixty four hexagrams, composed of six Yin-yao), which signifies the Earth, provide a concrete spatio-temporal field where allows the acts of creativity taking place. It is said in the compendium ‘T’uan Chuan,’

Great indeed is the sublimity of the [protoplasmic] Ch’ien, the Creative, to which all beings owe their beginning and which permeates all heavens. Because of it the cloud floats and the rain falls, and all kinds of things flow into their forms. The Ch’ien represented by the sun, glows all the times. It fills up the six empty lines [of a hexagram] in its own time. It mounts on them ‘traveling’ over the heaven as though riding on six dragons. The virtue of the Ch’ien initiates creativity and enables all things to complete their own perfection and to fulfill their own destiny. All things are sustained by it and come into permanent accord with the Grand Harmony. It is what presides all things and rules over all the lands in peace and tranquility.[31]

The significance of the Ch’ien was further elaborated in the corollaries "Wen Yen Chuan," as it is said,

The Ch’ien is unprecedentedly beautiful. Being beneficent and productive, only the Ch’ien can benefit and beautify the world and yet it does not make any claim on anything. How great is its beneficence. The great Ch’ien (signifying the sun) is absolutely positive and the most masculine and immaculate force of nature, it sits right in the center of the universe. The six monograms or Yang-yaos [of the Ch’ien] seek the extensive connections with other hexagrams by their natural feeling for the Yin-yaos, they are six dragons mounted by the Ch’ien, which thereby regulates the movement of heavenly bodies.[32]

The above quotations show the Ch’ien, signifying either the sun or the heaven and representing either the hard force or the masculine principle of nature, closely associated with the concept of time. The authors of the Book of Change were so impressed by the phenomena of sunrise and sunset and the movements of heavenly bodies, they conceived the idea of time through these natural phenomena, which is signified by the term ‘Ch’ien.’ They believed that it is by the function of time, "All things complete their own perfections and fulfill their own destiny." ‘Time’ is ‘the source of all beings’ and ‘the function of the heaven.’ The function of time must be manifested in duration. It takes time to accomplish a work or to live a life, without duration nothing can exist. Even if an electron requires for a micro-second in order to shot off its orbit. The time-spans of things may vary: the evolution of the universe may take eons of years, the elevation of mountains may require millions of years; a gradual change of climate may require five hundred years; the life of a virus may last only for a few minutes; the electrical wave may endure only one-hundredth of a second, but all durations show the function of time. Obviously Whitehead has also noticed the temporal endurance of physical objects, he calls them ‘enduring objects.’ In respect to the concept of duration, the authors of the Book of Change shared the same view with Whitehead.

However, in discussion of the diversity of an actual occasion Whitehead says it is analyzable and thereby divisible in an indefinite number of ways. When he analyzes it in terms of its becoming in the creative process, he mentioned about its ‘earlier’ and ‘later’ phases. Yet if a temporal atom can be ‘divided’ indefinitely, how can there be any duration of the ‘earlier’ or the ‘later’? Without temporal endurance nothing can be identified. Whitehead also argues that time does not perish, but the actual occasions perish. The actual occasions never move or change, "they are where they are and what they are." [33] In his view only the actual occasions are the final real things, and if things in ordinary experience have any sense of existence, they are derived by abstraction from actual occasions. [34] The same with ‘time,’ it cannot exist apart from actual occasions or events. Yet if it did not have its own existence, how could it exercise any function? The distinction between the present and the past in the becoming of an actual entity is undeniable, which suggests in the temporal process something has perished and the other persists. ‘Perishing’ and ‘persisting’ are the function of time; the one shows the causal past of the actual entity and the other shows its subjective immediacy. The temporal extension is the essential constituent of an actual occasion, which cannot be abstracted from it. Otherwise the universe would be consisted of timeless bits, distributed deadly in the empty space. There could be no generation nor perishing. Just as Whitehead has once said, "how an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is," in perishing it loses ‘subjective immediacy’ and acquires ‘objective immortality.’ [35] In addition, an actual entity also has a character qualified by the future that is largely dominated by the goad of its subjective aim, and only endurance can bring about its satisfaction. Above all, Whitehead has suggested that the actual entities are atomic as well as with temporal endurance, but he seems to ignore the fact that the ideas of atomicity and of endurance are almost incompatible.

In regard to ‘space,’ the authors of the Book of Change elaborated it under the hexagram K’un. It is said in the compendium ‘T’uan Chuan,’

Perfect indeed is the sublimity of the [protoplasmic] K’un. All beings owe their birth to it, because it complies with the heavenly functions. The K’un, signifying the Mother Earth, is massive and loaded with all beings. Its function is manifested in the boundless terra firma. It embraces everything in its breadth and illumines everything in its greatness. All beings are under its nursing care. By its power things achieve their individualities and become prosperous.[36]

The significance of K’un is further elaborated in the corollaries:

The K’un is the most feminine and yet it acts decisively. Its nature is spatial extension and it is the most static. It functions after the Ch’ien and manifests the hardness of the masculine principle. It preserves all things and nurses them indiscriminately. The K’un always follows the Ch’ien and acts timely. Its characteristics are straight, square and massive.[37]

Here the description of the K’un amounts to the description of the Mother Earth. It is a maternal principle whence things are produced and generated.

According to the authors of the Book of Change, the Grand Virtue (or Function) of the universe, i.e. the reproduction of life from generation to generation, stems from the conjugation of the masculine and feminine principles, the urge within each of the principles is not for domination over the other but rather for mutual satisfaction and mutual complement. It is a very unfortunate development that some of the modern psychologists and philosophers of religion have adopted the concept of ‘Oedipus complex’ to interpret symbolically and mystically the so-called ‘cosmic struggle’ between the two principles. Apparently they overlook the fact that only through cooperation and mutual attractions the Grand Virtue of the universe can be fulfilled.

In respect to the concept of space, Whitehead receives the Leibnizian idea of space and denied the absolute existence of space. According to the ‘principle of relativity’ the concept of ‘space’ is merely a way of expressing the relative positions between things. However, in his nature philosophy Whitehead fuses together time and space into a spatio-temporal continuum. In terms of events both space and time are the essential constituents. As a great mathematician he treats spatial or geometrical entities, such as points, straight lines, planes and volumes, as the objects of pure geometry, which have nothing to do with the actual world.[38] While in the Book of Changes the Ch’ien (time), and K’un (space) are concrete existence of heaven and earth, and they are the manifestations of the function of creativity as well. As it is said in the book,

The Ch’ien and K’un are the essences of creativity. Whenever and wherever there are the Ch’ien and K’un, there is creativity. If the Ch’ien or K’un were destroyed, creativity would come to its end. If creativity were ended, the Ch’ien and K’un would have no ground to continue their existence."[39]

For the authors of the Book of Change creativity is identical with the function of the Ch’ien and K’un. ‘Time’ means the cosmic time; ‘space’ means the cosmic space. Without space-time continuum there will be no creativity; without creativity there will be no space-time continuum. With respect to the concrete existence and the inseparability of space-time, the views of the authors of the Book of Change and Whitehead are in common.

In refutation of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness committed by the modern scientific materialist, Whitehead proposes the theory of actual occasions that takes actual occasions as the most concrete facts of the universe. In the process of becoming of an actual occasion eternal objects ingress into it and enact on its subjective forms to bring about definiteness to the occasion whereas the subjective aim of the occasion finds its satisfaction through its feeling (or prehension). However the fusion of the eternal object with the actual occasion shows no function of space or of time. According to the Book of Change the eternal object, whether a sensum, a form, a modulation, a species, a style, a pattern, or any logical entity, is integral with creativity. Since the eternal objects in the Chinese mode of thought do not enjoy a special privilege of being pure potentialities, they come with the creativity. In other words, eternal objects emerge with the generation of things that fall into all kinds of pattern. The continuity of the patterns bestows on the creativity a limitation of choice, however, they are nothing different from the things in creative process.

In addition to the fact that things in creative process fall into patterns, according to the authors of the Book of Change, the creativity brings about novelties. Novelty can be classified at least into two categories: the novelty by individualization: each logical entity inheres with its relevance to the others; different shapes of the parts of a crystal make it unique; each note with its volume and stress contributes itself to a harmonic; each individual of a species enjoys its individuality by distinguishing itself from all the others; each member of a society must have his own role to play. Secondly, there is novelty by ideation, which is the result of human participation in the creative process. As a spiritual being, man participates in the creative course as a co-creator who creates the eternal objects: ideas, meanings, patterns, styles, values and purposes, etc., by his act of ideation. The act of ideation is the act of observation, of intuition, and of discovering the general conditions. It is also the acts of generalization, of abstraction and of formulating one’s knowledge as if it were a priori. And in turn the ‘a priori knowledge’ serves as archetypal ideas for the further acts taken by man. Man not only can change his environment but also bring about novelties at each stage of creative process. Only through persistent efforts the self-cultivation of a civilized mind becomes possible and the development of human civilization may follow the cause of cosmic purpose, which opens up the possibility for the achievement of comprehensive harmony of man and nature.

In the comprehensive harmony of the universe, man’s place in nature as a co-creator and participant in the cosmic process becomes evident. He should not only abstain from undermining the harmony but also attune with it, because the Grand Virtue of heaven and earth is life-procuring activity, i.e. creativity. Man as a participant should not only fulfill his own destiny but also should help other beings to fulfill their destiny. This is not a categorical imperative, nor the will of God, but the inborn nature of each individual who may recognize the significance of creativity. From barbarity to humanity, the self-awareness of being human was a long road of ascendance. Genuine humanity is the quality by which man can exalt himself higher and higher beyond the finite, actual, and petty selfhood such as to achieve immortality by his own deeds. If a man were able to upgrade himself to the extent of being equal to the primordial Being, would he be deified? Such a personality would have, I believe, inexhaustible love and universal compassion for others. Yet his love is perhaps only a small share of the cosmic love that initiates the whole creative process.



In the Book of Change Creativity is not ‘a universal of universals,’ but the real reality. Creativity as cosmic function, it not only demonstrates itself in three modes, i,e. the mode of time-space, of transformation and of changelessness, but also expresses various cosmic feelings through the symbolism of sixty-four hexagrams. Whitehead has once said, "The universe is an ocean of feelings." This is exactly what the Book of Change tried to tell us.

In some of the texts of the sixty-four hexagrams, the same statement "this shows the feelings of heaven and earth" appears many a time. Those hexagrams can be listed as follows: the third hexagram T’un (Difficulty at the Beginning), the eleventh hexagram Tai (Peace), the twelfth hexagram P’i (Standstill), the fifteenth hexagram Ch’ien (Modesty), the twenty-fourth hexagram Fu (Recurrence), the thirty-first hexagram Hsien (Influence), the thirty-second hexagram Heng (Duration), the thirty-fourth hexagram Ta-chuang (The Power of the Great), the thirty-seventh hexagram Chia-jen (The Family), the forty-fifth hexagram Ts’ui (Togetherness), the fifty-four hexagram Kuei-mei (The Marrying Maiden), the sixthy-third hexagram Chi-chi (After Completion), and the last hexagram Wei-chi (Uncompleted). For the authors of the Book of Changes all these hexagrams have revealed the intricacy and profoundness of cosmic feeling.

There are also hexagrams explicitly referring to the significance of the function of time, they can be listed as follows: the sixteenth hexagram (Enthusiasm), the seventeenth hexagram Sui (Following), the twenty-seventh hexagram I (Substenance), the twenty-eighth hexagram Ta-Kuo (Preponderance of the Great), the twenty-ninth hexagram K’an (The Abysmal), the thirty-third hexagram Tun (Retreat), the thirty-eighth hexagram K’uei (Attracted by Diversity), the thirty-ninth hexagram Chien (Frustration), the fortieth hexagram Hsieh (Deliverance), the forty-fourth hexagram Kou (Coming to Meet), the forty-ninth hexagram Ko (Revolution), and the fifty-sixth hexagram (Expedition).

The sixty-four hexagrams were used as the vehicle to demonstrate the extensive connections of two principles, Yin and Yang, which represent all kinds of opposite factors of the universe, such as light and dark, hardness and tenderness, motion and rest, sun and moon, day and night, heaven (time) and earth (space), male and female, positive and negative, fatherhood and motherhood, creative and procreative, etc. The reason why the above-mentioned hexagrams were so named is perhaps, to our knowledge, that the extensive connections of each hexagram with any one of the sixty-three hexagrams indicate different situations in which the Three Primacies, Heaven, Earth, and Man, may act and interact with one another, and thereby different cosmic and human feelings may be aroused.[40] The extensive connection is not an external relation, but a relation of interpenetration and of interchange. As the opposite forces of the universe, Yin and Yang, lure to each other, their mutual attractions presuppose extensive connections and creativity. Therefore the mutual lure of Yin and Yang becomes the sufficient reason for creation, transformation and changelessness.

The major underlying principle of scientific investigation is causality, whereas the underlying principle for the Book of Changes, a book of divination in its use, is what Jung calls ‘an acausal connecting principle of synchronicity,’ and ‘chance’ is its catchword. The law of chance is by nature synchronous.[41] ‘Synchronicity’ (the meaningful co-incidences) may be arbitrary, but it may reveal the unity of man and nature in a more authentic sense. Through ‘synchronicity’ we may be in a better position to understand the solidarity of the universe. All the members of the universe are interrelated and interdependent. No single item, no matter how trivial it may be, can be isolated and excluded from the totality of the universe. Each item is sustained by the rest of the universe and carries with it its personal history and memory. In the ideal case, the Three Primacies, Heaven, Earth, and Man are coworkers in the creative process, by cooperation with one another they bring about life and promote the well-being of life. The heaven as the primordial creative power initiates life; the earth as the procreative power sustains life; the man as the co-creative agent promotes the well-being of life. So that creativity is not a blind purpose given by God and nor is it a mechanical movements without a purpose. Life and the continuity of life are the purpose of creativity itself. This is the Grand Virtue of the universe.

The authors of the Book of Changes had been repeatedly elucidated the Supreme Good which prevails the perpetual confluence of all kinds of life shared by all the ontic beings. Metaphysically the Supreme Good is shown in the comprehensive harmony of the universe in which discord, disharmony, contrast and etc. are but the ripples on a calm sea. Though the ancient Chinese did not have the modern scientific knowledge, they saw the comprehensive harmony of the universe by their crude observations and eminent intuitions, and they were so convinced. Their conviction had provided an impetus for the Chinese to create their unique civilization. Just as Karl Jaspers has said:

No such tragic outlook develops wherever man succeeds both achieving a interpretation harmonious of the universe and in actually living in accord with it. That is to a great extent what happened in ancient, especially in pre-Buddhist China. In such a civilization, all misery, unhappiness and evil are merely temporary disturbances, which never need occur. There is no horror, rejection, or justification of the ways of this world --- no indictment, only lament. Man is not torn in desperation: suffers he even and dies with composure. There are no hopeless entanglements, no dark frustrations; all is basically clear, beautiful, and true. To be sure, terror and horror are part of experience and are as familiar to this civilization as to those civilizations awakened to an awareness of the tragic, yet serenity remains the dominant mood of life; there is no struggle, no defiance. A deep awareness of the past connects man with the ancient foundation of all things. What man seeks here is not any kind of historical movement, but rather the ever-new re-establishment of an actual reality that is both orderly and good. Wherever the tragic sense appears, something extraordinary is lost: the feeling of security without the shadow of tragedy, a natural sublime humanity, a sense of being at home in this world, and a wealth of concrete insights --- all of which were real for the Chinese at one time.[42]

As a Chinese who have committed himself to the study of the Book of Change for more than seventy years, I take Jaspers’ words as the words of a great Westerner and of a great Chinese friend. What he has said must owe its origin to the Book of Change. The harmonious interpretation of the universe is the keynote in the Book of Change whose authors were thrilled by the mysterious harmony exhibited in miraculous works performed in the universe. They appreciated the miraculous miracles and even saw the potency of some mythical being. They set up rituals and invocated the presence of the mythical being for edifying purpose. However they did not advocate the belief in a personal God or in a God of logical necessity. In their view a Supreme Being only makes sense if it can serve a good cause, that is to elevate the life quality of man to such a height that the fundamental values of mankind, truth, goodness, beauty and divinity may become one with him.

In contrast with Whitehead’s speculative cosmology, the Book of Change provides a creative cosmology with both the anthropomorphic flavor and the naturalistic temper. If logical consistency is not the sole criterion for the soundness of a metaphysical system---admittedly in many places the Book of Changes is beyond reason and logic, the cosmology of the book is not only functional and organismic, but also humanistic.





[1] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: The Free Press, 1978), p.20.

[2] Ibid., p.21.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., pp.31-32.

[5] The Book of Changes, translated by James Legge, entitled The Yi King in The Sacred Books of the East series Vol. XVI (London: Oxford University Press, 1899); translated by Richard Wilhelm into German and rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, entitled The I Ching, Bollingen Series XIX (New York: Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1950).

[6] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp.31-33, p.87, pp.244-245.

[7] Ibid., p.164, p.244.

[8] Ibid., p.34, p.44, p.189.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., pp.31-34.

[11] Ibid., pp.31-33, p.211.

[12] Ibid., p.19, p. 35, p.73.

[13] Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead and Contemporary Philosophy," in Ivor Leclerc (ed.), The Relevance of Whitehead (New York: George Allen Unwin, 1961), p.24.

[14] John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology, Based on The Thought of Alfred N. Whitehead (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), pp.135-175.

[15] Charles Hartshorne, "Metaphysics and the Morality of Existential Judgment," in The Relevance in Whitehead, p.114

[16] A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Macmillan Company, 1938), p.35.

[17] A. N. Whitehead, Symbolism Its Meaning and Effect (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1927), p.68, p.73.

[18] A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p.291; Modes of Thought, p.68.

[19] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p.4

[20] A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p.139

[21] The eight diagrams are Ch’ien (The Creative, signifying Heaven),

K’un (The Procreative, signifying Earth),

K’an (The Abysmal, signifying Water),

Li (The Clinging, signifying Fire),

Chen (The Arousing, signifying Thunder),

Ken (Keeping Still, signifying Mountain),

Sun (The Gentle, signifying Wind),

and Tui (The Joyous, signifying Lake).

[22] The I Ching, vol. 1, Book II, Part 11, p.353, with author’s variation.

[23] The I Ching, vol. 1, Book II, p.1, p.340, p.341, pp.342-348, with author’s variations.

[24] Anonymous, Ch’ien Tso Tu [Digging into the Meaning of Ch’ien] is one of the apocryphal writings on I Ching, and it might be written around late West-Han Dynasty (c. 100 A. D.).

[25] The I Ching, vol. 1, Book II, p.1, p.340, p.341, pp.342-348, with author’s variations; see also Shih-chuan Chen, I-Hsueh Hsin-T’an [New Investigations of the Book of Changes] (Taipei: Wen Ching Bookstore, 1997).

[26] Quoted from K’ung Ying-Ta, Chou-I Cheng-I [A Standard Interpretation of the Book of Changes in Chou Dynasty] in Ting Shou-cháng, Tu I Hui T’ung [Reading the Book of Changes with Extensive Understanding], (Shanghai: The Commercial Press, 1935), p.7; see also, Shih-chuan Chen, I-Tzu Hsin-Chuan [A New Commentary on the Hexagrammatics and Mongrammatices of the Book of Changes], including I-Hsueh Hsin-Lun [New Essays concerning the Philosophy of the Book of Changes] (Shanghai: Shanghai Ku-chi Press, 2000).

[27] Ibid.

[28] Cf. Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), pp.61-63.

[29] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, p.18.

[30] Ibid., p.73.

[31] The I Ching, vol. 2, Book III Part 1, pp.2-4, with author’s variations.

[32] Ibid, vol. 2, Book III, Part 1, pp.8-11, with author’s variations.

[33] Process and Reality, p.35.

[34] Ibid., p.73.

[35] Ibid., p.29.

[36] The I Ching, vol. 2, Book III, Part 1, pp.19-20, with author’s variations.

[37] Ibid, Vol. 2, Book III, Part 1, pp.25-26, with author’s variations.

[38] Cf "On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World," in Alfred North Whitehead: An Anthology, ed. F.S.C. Northrop and Mason W. Gross (New York: Macmillan Co., 1953).

[39] The I. Ching, Vol. 2, Book II, p.347, with author’s variations.

[40] Cf. Shih-Chuan Chen, "How to Form A Hexagram and Consult the I Ching," Journal of American Oriental Society, Vol. 92, No.2, (April-June, 1972), pp.237-249.

[41] C. G. Jung, "Foreword," in The I Ching, the Richard Wilhelm Translation; C.G. Jung, Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle, tr. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1969), pp.5-26.

[42] Karl Jaspers, Tragedy Is Not Enough (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1952), pp.32-33.