An interpretation of the I Ching hexagram #23, Splitting Apart, changing to hexagram #4, Youthful Folly,  as commentary on the relationship between climate change and the future of mankind.

Brittany Griffiths | 15 January 2018

photo by Brittany Griffiths



      To negate the cycles that govern all of nature is to turn a blind eye to the reality of the world. For nature is a perpetual motion machine, constantly spurring new life from the decomposed remains of past organisms. Mankind, too, is a gear in this machine. Thus our actions, as a species, have an effect on nature as well. The Yi-Jing comment on the relationship between climate change and the future of mankind reflects this inevitable cycle of creation and destruction, supporting the argument that the two are mutually dependent. The juxtaposition of the two elements mirrors that of the yin and yang, for the two require one another to exist. The initial hexagram, number twenty-three, expounds upon the essence of decay, for “when one goes too far in adornment, success exhausts itself” (Yi-Jing, pg. 500). The splitting apart, or ruin, indicated by hexagram twenty-three can be related to the hexagram spawned by the changing lines – hexagram four – through cause and effect. The "youthful folly” of man is quite evident even if placed alone outside of the context of the Yi-Jing, however its correspondence to the decay of nature is especially unique. Hope for learning and change lies “with success by acting at the right time” (Yi-Jing, pg. 406). The two hexagrams, when considered together, provide a surprisingly realistic interpretation of the comment put forth, namely that though change over time is inevitable, man as a conscious being, still has a choice. The decision to alter our actions for better or for worse is entirely in our hands.

      The force of nature on climate processes portrays the underlying “connection between decay and resurrection” posed by hexagram twenty-three (Yi-Jing, pg. 500). The Earth has undergone drastic cyclical changes in global climate since its birth, 4.6 billion years ago. Ice ages have come and gone and the magnetic poles have shifted a countless number of times. However, one thing can be said about the Earth, it seems to have an almost preternatural ability to heal itself in the face of danger – continuously proving its resilience. This resilience represents “the light principle [that] cannot be wholly split apart; [which] therefore is the ruler of the hexagram” (Yi-Jing, pg. 500). Although “the sinking tendency of the hexagram is very strong,” the earth is capable of correcting and maintaining a stable climate in order to preserve itself. This accurately depicts “the fundamental trend of the Book of Changes… the light principle is represented as invincible because in its sinking it create new life” (Yi-Jing, pg. 500). Thus, we have fittingly come full circle.

Though nature possesses a self-generating ability, mankind nevertheless has a large impact on the environment as does every living creature on the planet. The phrase “mankind is in its infancy” or the idea that we are greenhorns on Earth is by no means a new concept, which makes the changing lines, hexagram four, especially relevant. As a species, we have only been present on Earth for about two hundred thousand years; which on a geologic timescale is not long. Perhaps this is more easily visualized on the timescale of a year: if January 1st were to represent the formation of Earth, mankind does not arise until December 31st around 11:59 p.m. When taking this perspective into consideration, it becomes increasingly apparent where the relationship between the hexagram and reality can be drawn. Time has repeatedly shown that our natural inclination is to act first and deal with the consequences later, perpetuating that old idiom “history repeats itself." We tend to remain ignorant of the effect of human activites on the environment until it's too late, when we have created a seemingly unsolvable problem. Such is the case with the rampant burning of fossil fuels or with CFCs and the devastating impact they have on the ozone layer. Our human footprint has led to the rise of the global sea-level and the surface temperature of Earth. Glaciers have been receding at accelerated rates, as the system continues to feed back into itself. This all suggests that our actions play a vital role in how nature governs itself. Although the hexagram shines light on the follies of humanity, it does however suggest the possibility for improvement and learning because “through education everything is differentiated, and clarity takes place” (Yi-Jing, pg. 406).

      The hexagram makes specific mention, rather warning, against the dangers of gluttony. “To strengthen what is right in a fool is a holy task,” and requires, “keeping within definite bounds of moderation” (Yi-Jing, pg. 406). “But if these bounds are overstepped… the teacher in turn becomes disagreeable” (Yi-Jing, pg. 406). The teacher, in this case, metaphorically symbolizes nature. Through the studies of Malthus, we have learned of a particular event observed on occasion in nature: when a population viz. species outstrips its resources, nature steps in to check said species. In other words, solving the problem itself. In this particular comment on climate change, we – mankind – submit to the role of the pupil and are presented with a choice: to learn from our mistakes or suffer the wrath of nature. At times, man has been known to place himself on a pedestal allowing himself to be fooled by delusions of unlimited power, convinced he invincibile. However, referring back to the initial hexagram, number twenty-three, in the chaos of destruction and splitting apart, “the superior man takes heed of the alternation of increase and decrease” (Yi-Jing, pg. 500). However, this “heeding” is not something that can be altered overnight, nor can it occur on a singular occasion with one person submitting to reason. “The yielding element changes the strong by imperceptible gradual influence” (Yi-Jing, pg. 500).

      Essentially, if mankind wants to preserve itself, the choice is ours and ours alone. However, in doing so, we must submit to the unchangeable fact that our presence on Earth is negligible in the long run, for nature will find a way to continue on with or without us.


Brittany Griffiths is a writer from Dallas, Texas. She is the founder and editor of Spontaneous Afflatus, an independent publishing house that specializes in poetry and short story collections. She is also the editor of Wavelength Magazine. Last year she released her debut poetry collection titled, Ebb & Flow.

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