AN EAST MEETS WEST TRILOGY
These three short books deal with spiritual futurism, art, and science. Their common thread is the interaction between East and West. When India Eclipses China is a guide Lawrence Taub’s spiritual futurism that links the Indian theory of Caste Cycles to actual history. The Chinese Roots of the Modernist Revolution shows how a Chinese projection system is a key to understanding the Modernist Revolution in Europe between the 1860s and 1920s, and Leibniz, Einstein, and China looks at the history of science while giving pride of place to the natural philosophy of China. Over the years I have often written about these topics for various media, but this Trilogy is the distillation of my findings.
This book is a tribute to Lawrence “Larry” Taub (1936–2018), author of The Spiritual Imperative: Sex, Age, and Caste are Moving the Future. Taub, an American macrohistorian and futurist, lived much of his life in Japan. In 1975 he developed three models that enabled him to make seemingly improbable forecasts. Among others, he predicted a religious revolution in a Middle Eastern country (which turned out to be Iran in 1979), the collapse of the Soviet Union (which happened in 1989), and the reversal of globalization, which had barely started at the time.
The centerpiece of Taub’s macrohistory is based on an unlikely source: the ancient Indian theory of caste cycles recorded in the Vedas. Indian sages, relying on an early form of type-castings, argued that societies evolve on the basis of four caste types — spiritual, warrior, merchant, and worker — each of which was indispensable to a developing civilization. Taub called these four generic caste types “probably the deepest psychological profile of the human race.”
In the Hindu prophecy, the four caste types take turns in “ruling the world” (being the most prominent caste of a given age). Each subsequent caste age moves humanity forward toward a spiritual age, after which the cycle starts again. In Taub’s Caste Model, there is only one such cycle. It began with a spiritual age, proceeds through the caste cycle and returns to a new spiritual age (see the diagram below).
Taub concluded that the ancient Hindu prophecy of caste cycles is more than an abstract religious prophecy. He argued the caste cycle can be mapped to actual history — to specific cultural regions and specific historical periods. He wrote: “When we look carefully at the psychological characteristics of each of the four castes — their world views, value systems, main activities, means of earning a living, and main life goals — we find that humanity shifted its world views, main activities and jobs, and life goals from one period of history to the next, exactly in the order of caste ages that the original Hindu idea envisioned. Put simply, each caste age in the Hindu philosophy of history can be matched to more or less clear historical periods…”
In Taub’s macrohistory, the transition from the Merchant to the Worker Age and the gradual emergence of the new religious-spiritual age explains much of the turmoil of our current age, as well as the current shift of the world’s economic and cultural center of gravity from West to East. The Merchant Caste had its center of power in the West (the region that most closely matched the Merchant Caste profile), the Worker Caste will have its center of power in East Asia (the region that most closely matched the Worker Caste profile), and the Religious-Spiritual Caste will have its center of power on the Indian subcontinent. India has the world’s deepest reservoir of spiritual knowledge and techniques. Together with the rest of the “religious belt”, it most closely matched the Religious-Spiritual Caste profile.
Taub pointed out that the Hindu prophecy — the coming of a new spiritual age — has its counterpart in Western monotheistic traditions. Christians anticipate the Second Coming of the Messiah, Jews have their kibbutz galuyot, or Ingathering of the Exiles, and the Islamic prophecy speaks of the dawn of a new age centered around the coming of the Mahdi (the “divinely guided one”).
Taub’s Caste Model is not based on a grand ideological or religious belief system but on human characteristics. His macrohistory is not only valuable for its predictive powers, but it also invites us to look at ourselves and at the world without a cultural or ideological filter.
It was only after Taub passed away in 2018 that I fully grasped the width and depth of his work. His macrohistory is a framework that explains otherwise inexplicable developments in the world today: the simultaneous growth of religious fundamentalism and spirituality, the eclipse of individual capitalism by teamwork capitalism — — as well as the eclipse of masculinity. Taub, a “feminist” futurist, showed that the world is moving into a modality that is more aligned with the female rather than the male principle.
I was fortunate to get Michel Bauwens to agree to write a foreword to the book on Larry Taub. Michel is the co-founder of the P2P Foundation and one of the world’s leading authorities on P2P theories and practices and the Commons. The global P2P community integrates economics with ecology and spirituality. Taub, whose Caste Model foresees the spiritualization of the economy, was a frequent visitor to Michel’s home in northern Thailand.
I was equally fortunate to have the assistance of Bill Kelly. Bill, founder of Flux Magazine in Japan and retired lecturer in communication studies at UCLA, wrote the foreword to the second edition of Taub’s book and facilitated the first lectures Taub gave on his work in Tokyo. Bill has a unique mastery of the history of Eastern and Western philosophy. His input enabled me to situate Taub in the history of thought.
Taub’s macrohistory provided a larger framework for my own study of East Asian history, especially the origin of its art, architecture, and aesthetic sensibility. While working in Japan, it struck me that Japanese traditional aesthetics had a “modern” quality. It inspired me to trace the origins of Japanese aesthetics to its source, which led me to China and ultimately to what turned out to be a long study of dengjiao toushi (an axonometric projection system) that had not be fully explored by art historians.
Axonometry was to Chinese art what linear perspective was to European art. Projection systems played an elusive but pivotal role in the modernization of Western art and architecture between the 1860s and 1920s. (It was only later that I realized that the Modernist Revolution, which coincided with Europe’s socialist revolution, fits into Taub’s Caste Model; the transition from the Merchant Caste Age to the Worker Caste Age.)
As European art moved from an optical to a visual style, artists struggled to find an alternative to linear perspective. The work of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and the Cubists are notable for their “deconstruction” of linear perspective. With Van Gogh as the possible exception, the modernists were unaware that axonometry is the only other projection system that can depict a coherent space on the two-dimensional picture plane.
In the 1920s, modernists in Russia (the Suprematists) and Holland (De Stijl) pioneered modern architecture, which they defined as “the creation of space”. This in contrast to classic European architecture, which has its roots in sculptural traditions and was based on “form”. When modernist architects tried to render their designs on paper, they found that axonometry was the only viable projection system. The modernists, oblivious to the fact that axonometry originated in China, made it an indispensable tool for architects, artists, and designers throughout the world. Today, both linear perspective and axonometry coexist peacefully. The former puts the viewer in front of space, the latter places the viewer in space.
While studying the origin of axonometry, I came across the little-known story of Gottfried Leibniz’s encounter with China. Leibniz, the German philosopher and mathematician who invented calculus independently from Newton, also invented the binary code. Leibniz had an on-going correspondence with Father Joachim Bouvet, a Jesuit priest based in Beijing. Leibniz sent Father Bouvet his paper on the binary code to Father Bouvet, who responded by telling Leibniz that the Chinese had long used the binary code. He included in his letter the diagram of the 64 hexagrams that form the basis of the Book of Changes. Leibniz subsequently wrote a second paper, crediting the Chinese with having first used the binary code. It would take two more geniuses to make sense of Leibniz’s claim.
Leibniz invented the binary as part of his attempt to develop a mechanical calculator. Using only two digits rather than 10, he reasoned the design and construction of such a machine could be simplified. British mathematician George Boole studied Leibniz’s work and invented an algebra of logic, often referred to as the Boolean algebra of classes. Boolean algebra enabled mathematicians for the first time to perform algebraic operations on groups or generic classes of objects that were usually not considered mathematical objects.
A textbook example of Boolean algebra is this: If the symbol x represents the class of all “white objects” and the symbol y the class of all “round objects,” the symbol xy represents the class of objects that are simultaneously white and round. To perform calculations with these classes, Boole invented three basic operators: and, or, and not.
The value of Leibniz’s binary code and Boole’s algebra of classes became apparent at the dawn of the computer age. In the 1930s, the American mathematician Claude Shannon needed a mathematical tool for electric communication systems. In his landmark paper, “A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits,” Shannon showed that the binary code was perfectly suited for the implementation of Boolean logic in electrical circuits. The binary number 1 would denote “true” (yes, inside a class), and 0 would be “false” (no, outside a class). Shannon was primarily concerned with solving mathematical problems to deal with increasingly complex telephone switching circuits that could replace human operators, but his paper provided the basis on which nearly all modern computers are built.
A second point Shannon made earned him the moniker “the father of the information age.” Shannon realized that binary numbers could be given arbitrary attributes to represent letters, sounds, images, and even abstract thought and ideas. If there is acceptance of the attributes, it can become a standard “Punch the letter A on a keyboard and the computer will read 0100001.” It is part of the ASCII code, an international standard for alphanumerical symbols on computer keyboards. While their intent was different, the Chinese used the same concept. They gave the yin-yang code arbitrary attributes that became a standard in the Chinese yin-yang system. Moreover, Boolean classes are conceptually the same as the Chinese trigrams and hexagrams, which “arbitrarily” represent classes of objects and processes according to their “yin-yang content.”
Leibniz’s binary code and Boole’s algebra of logic are part of what is called discrete mathematics, one of two main branches of mathematics. The other is continuous mathematics, of which calculus is a part. The latter is used for exact measurement using decimal points, the former is used to process data and to determine whether a given statement is true or false. The Internet is one large Boolean logic machine.
The distinction between discrete and continuous mathematics explains the difficulties encountered by theoretical quantum physics. Einstein’s relativity theory relies on continuous mathematics, while Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, a key principle in quantum mechanics, relies on discrete mathematics. Heisenberg showed that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. All we can do is calculate probabilities that a particle is in a particular place at a particular moment. While its purpose was different, calculating probabilities (and dealing with uncertainties) is also at the heart of the Book of Changes.