Although it is at least 3000 years old, the I Ching, a Chinese method of divination, employs what we would now call a binary technique. In its simplest form, three coins are tossed six times to create a six-line figure of broken and unbroken lines. This so-called hexagram is then interpreted by consulting the I Ching, or Book of Changes.
This Book is older than the Bible—tradition dates its origin to 1120 B.C., five hundred years before Confucius added his commentaries. Over the centuries the I Ching has been studied as religious text and a philosophical masterpiece. But the I Ching is also unquestionably a method for predicting the future and this aspect has recieved much attention during the twentieth century.
It is fundamental to the I Ching that the future can be understood in perpetually changing patterns of off/on, yes/no, heads/tails, broken/unbroken. This binary aspect suggests the ancient technique is highly appropriate for adaptation to a computer. One might say that the I Ching treats reality the same way a computer does.
This idea may horrify purists. Those who consider the methods of the I Ching sacred–properly conducted only with ritual, incense, meditation and the complex tossing of yarrow sticks–may find a computer a chilling perversion of ancient beliefs.
But in fact there is no agreement on what makes the system work. One modern expert, John Blofeld, while testifying to the power of the I Ching, denies any comprehension of how it works. Thus it is perfectly possible that a computer could cast the I Ching effectively.