Sunday, January 31, 2016

Re: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fwd: Metaphysical Mapping with Ifa asCognitive Matrix: What is Philosophy and What is its Significance 3?

Brother Oluwatoyin Adepoju,

Thank you for this pertinent and deep analysis of the possible uses of Ifa as a mathematical system,  system of claims about human nature and a magico-religious matrix.  As one interested in African Metaphysics, I am fascinated by these possibilities, while I also accept your caution that Ifa contains, like most magico-religious, internal contradictions.  Since you see it as a possible mathematical system may I posit the following suggestions:

1. How does a religious matrix based on revelation and symbolic classification transform into an empirically validatable and refutable source of knowledge that will not depend on dogma and persecution to justify and corroborate its views as valid?

2.  Since Mathematics is the language of science because it is logic in symbols, in order to make anything scientific, it must be mathematically replicatable, refutable, and verifiable.  When will Yoruba Renaissance occur that will move claims of Ifa from the realm of belief to the realm of fact as Lock - Facta non Verba noted there must be a move from words and to facts?  

3.  I am fascinated by your mapping.  When and what can we do to move Yoruba metaphysics to the point when it can provide mathematical knowledge for the laws of gravity .

When Galileo provoked a movement to the nature of science as the defining matrix for understanding the relationship between heavenly bodies in the universe when he propounded the theory of heliocentrism - the sun, not the earth as the center of the universe, he dealth a blow to magico-religious epistemologies of human experience and debunked the idea of heaven the earth hell or Gehenna-hell below the earth.  All the powers of the The Catholic Church, even the Medici Royal line abandoned him.  He came close to losing his life but for the support of Jesuits illuminati who confirmed the veracity of his views.  Happily enough, the globe has moved away from that pernicious history of that imposed knowledge.  What do we need to do to build valid mathematics on Odu Ifa besides its binary permutations etc.

Dr. Olugbemiga Ekundayo and Dr. Nana Aponsah and Walimu Bangura put up a session in the African Studies Presentation a couple of years ago.  I am trying to invite deep things like you and them to a weekend at Lincoln University in the near future.  Please can you identify about people you think can be invited to this special forum.Dr. Michael Afolayan is one scholar that Iknow

Oluwatoyin, Ki Ifa kogbe ise re;
Ki awon Alajobi fibukun si orii re. Ase! AseO!! Aseso!!!  

On Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 3:39 PM, Oluwatoyin Adepoju <> wrote:
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                                                                                                                                                                                             Metaphysical Mapping with Ifa as Cognitive Matrix

                                                                                                                                                                                               What is Philosophy and What is its Significance 3?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
                                                                                                                                                                                                     Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
                                                                                                                                                                                            "Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge"


Parts 1-3 of this essay series are in preparation.

What is a cognitive matrix?

In this context, a cognitive matrix is a body of ideas and/or practices from which various ways of cultivating knowledge can be developed.

Can the Yoruba origin Ifa system be called philosophy, as some have done, perhaps quoting ideas about the meaning of life and how to live it from ese ifa, Ifa literature?

I wonder, because ese ifa is so varied, playful and even anarchic in its orientation, taking together the various published texts I am acquainted with, these being the Abimbola, Ibie and Bascom translations in particular, along with other translations and renditions, I would be hesitant to describe such a semantically contradictory and complex playground of ideas and imagination an effort to project what one can identify as a unified world view or even a consistent effort to present wisdom.

Is Ifa a spirituality?

It is a spirituality in the sense that it is used as a divinatory and magical system.

Divinatory, in the sense of efforts to gain access to knowledge not otherwise accessible through methods that cannot not be fully accounted for in terms of physical reality.

In the case of Ifa, these methods may be understood in terms of dialogue with the ori or inner self of the client and the odu ifa understood as both organizational forms of Ifa and its active agents..

Ifa is magical, in the sense that it is applied to achieving effects in the world through means that cannot be fully explained in terms of laws of cause and effect that can be traced through logical analysis.

This magical dimension is evident in the prescriptions made after divination and in the use of Ifa incantations along with plants in Pierrer Verger's monumental collection of Ifa herbalogy, such methods Ewe : The Uses of Plants in Yoruba Society.

Ifa might be challenging to describe as philosophy, but the literary and imaginative character of its verbal texts is evident.

Its mathematical structure, based on a binary principle and on permutations related to probability is also evident.

This mathematical structure demonstrates some similarity with binary structure in computer science, as Olu Longe seems to have been a pioneer in demonstrating, but that does not make Ifa a science nor identical with computing, but only demonstrates Ifa as sharing aspects of structure and aspiration- organization and application of knowledge- with computing, but both cognitive systems pursuing this goal in a different ways.

Its place in the visual arts is also sure, on account of the centrality to Ifa practice and symbolism of the sculptural forms represented by the opon ifa, the iroke ifa and agere ifa.

Is Ifa therefore limited to its explicit literary, divinatory, artistic and magical values?


The system is too rich for such circumscription.

Its possibilities of adaptation are infinite.

It can be adapted to philosophical purposes, for one, through using Ifa as a mine for central questions about the nature of existence, broadly speaking.

As a divinatory system centred on the intersection between aspects of the self, free will and destiny, it can inspire explorations of the nature of the self, and of relationships between human will and the factors that shape the course of human life.

As a mathematical system, it can be adapted to the use of mathematics as a means of mapping ideas and phenomena, even up to scales as broad and as elaborate as the cosmos, one view represented for me by babalawo-adept of the esoteric knowledge of Ifa- Joseph Ohomina- describing the odu, the organizational categories of Ifa, as expressions of all possibilities of existence.

As a literary system, it can motivate literary study, and inspire the reworking of its literature to create new, hybrid forms or the development of entirely new forms.

As a system making unusual claims about the nature of phenomena, it can act as an inspiration for examining the question of the mode of existence of non- material forms, such as mathematical structures and other ideas.

On account of these adaptive possibilities, I see Ifa as a cognitive matrix in which several discipline constellate and from which they may derive inspiration.

Along those lines, the diagram directly below demonstrates an effort of mine to proceed with such an adaptation using an opon ifa around which orbit images of the odu ifa, the organisational categories and active agents of Ifa.

In the diagram the odu ifa are correlated with various aspects of existence.

This style of adapting Ifa derives from its character as a divinatory system but one which may be adapted for uses beyond that older orientation.


Ohomina, in a conversation we had in Benin-City, described the odu ifa as spirits who represent all possibilities of existence, from the concrete to the abstract, from the temporal to the situational.

One way of adapting this idea is that of correlating the odu with forms one understands as the primary categories of existence.

The collage above does this through adapting the structure of derivations in terms of which the odu are organized.

These derivations operate at various levels based on the expansion of one unit into two units in which the second unit is a variation of the first one.

The original two units then constitute the template in terms of which another two units are generated as variations of the first two.

These four primal units are then used as templates for the creation of another twelve units which are variations of the first four units.

The set of sixteen units thus generated is them employed as a framework for creating another two hundred and forty units, which are variations of the structure of the first sixteen units.

This sequence of derivations may be adapted to the development of an increasing number of ideas or principles from a few constituent ideas or principles.

The underlying ideas could demonstrate what are understood to be the most broadly summative of principles in that system while the other ideas could be derivations from these underlying forms.

Using such a process of derivation, one could adapt Ohomina's description of the odu as demonstrating all possibilities of existence.

One could describe the primary odu in terms of the most fundamental principles of existence and the other odu that derive from the primary odu as the subdivisions of these primary principles.

Using that strategy, the collage above depicts the first odu, Eji Ogbe, as correlative with mind, because consciousness may be seen as the fundamental quality necessary for perceiving existence.

Without consciousness, the cosmos would exist but no entity would register that existence.

The fact of the existence of the cosmos or of any phenomena would be unknown.

The second odu, Oyeku Meji, is linked with matter, because existence, as currently accessible in an uncontroversial sense by human beings, is dependent on matter, be it matter known to be living, this being humans, animals and plants, or matter not conventionally understood as living, such as rocks and air.

The third odu, Iwori Meji, is identified with space because matter necessarily implies space since matter occupies space.

Space is also central to cognition beceause the human being, composed of mind operating in terms of matter, uses space in orienting itself.

The human form is structured in terms of spatial orientation towards the front, two sides- left and right, and the back, this being primary templates for the description of space in terms of east, west, north and south.

The fourth odu, Odi Meji, is depicted in terms of time, since movement in space implies motion in time.

The ultimate markers of time, the revolutions of the celestial bodies, demonstrate spatial motion at the largest scales.

Other primary markers of time, such as the developmental cycles of terrestrial forms, of which the human body and mind are central but which also includes animals, plants and geological forms, are not dependent on motion in space, but may be described metaphorically in terms of motion purely in time.

The remaining twelve of the foundational set of sixteen odu ifa are then described as derivatives of mind, matter, space and time, demonstrating specificities of these four primal units.

The odu to the left of the opon ifa are linked with aspects of mind.

Those to the right with forms of space.

Those at the bottom with forms of time.

Perhaps the model would be more comprehensive if forms of matter are also explicitly included in the subdivisions, but I am reflecting on that for a possible future development of the model.

Including the subdivisions of matter would be vital because Ifa operates in terms of a cosmology grounded in an understanding of ase, a cosmic force that enables existence and change, being and becoming, as pervading all forms of existence, and enabling mutuality of existence between various forms of being, this mutuality being meditated through, or understood in terms of, the orisa Esu, whose face is an invariable feature of every opon ifa, craved into its border, overlooking the empty space where the dialogue between forms of being takes place within a divinatory session, a symbolic construct that may be adapted to an understanding of Ifa divination as analogous to the emergence of possibilities through the intersection of forms of being from within the interactive space symbolized by the empty centre of the opon ifa.

Could these ideas demonstrate any practical significance?

After all, divination is meant to address practical issues that come up in people's daily lives, issues for which they think their own intelligence or human intelligence as they understand it is too limited to address adequately, so they go to a diviner, a person understood to demonstrate access to supernatural knowledge and power.

So, if one is adapting a divinatory system, should one not also try to see how far one can go with developing that adaptation into a cognitive force which may be applied in daily life?

From my personal experience with access to various kinds of knowledge, I conclude that a cognitive continuum may be demonstrated by human beings, ranging from sense perception to intellectual analysis to imagination , to extra-sensory or expanded sensory perception and even prediction of the future, to intimations of what is described by Maurice Bucke, in his book of the same name, as cosmic consciousness.

This understanding of a cognitive continuum adapts Annenechukwu Umeh's description of Igbo theory of perception in After God is Dibia : Igbo Cosmology, Divination & Sacred Science in Nigeria and Babatunde Lawal's presentation of Yoruba theory of perception in "Àwòrán: Representing the Self and Its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art", The Art Bulletin, Vol. 83, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 498-526.p.516.

My own experience of intimations of cosmic consciousness is as an intuitive integration of knowledge already held by the mind into a cosmic scope, as described by Aleister Crowley in his Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography and as suggested by Steven Katz in his introduction to Comparative Mysticism : An Anthology of Original Sources.

Can Ifa symbolism be useful as a means of exploring the full range of human cognitive possibilities?

I expect so.



The structuring of the opon ifa into unified segments created through the inscribing of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines into its surface in order to commence divination, may be adapted  in relation to Ifa epistemology as grounded in dialogue with the inner self or ori, of the client.

This spatial division and integration is shown in the image directly above from Yoruba: Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought by Henry John Drewal, John Pemberton III and Rowland Abiodun ,

Ifa epistemology as grounded in dialogue with the inner self or ori, of the client was  described to me by Ohomina and is suggested by Wande Abimbola in either Ifa Divination Poetry or An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus in terms of the saying that ori is the ultimate deity with respect to the self and that without ori's consent, no other deity may grant any blessings to the individual.

  A  superb ese ifa  poem
Abimbola includes in Sixteen Great Poems of Ifa also indicates that ori is the only orisa or deity who can follow its devotee through the journey of life and into the ultimate journey represented by death.

This adaptation may be developed in terms of an understanding of the centre of the opon ifa as representing, in Stuart Dino Soto/Awo Fategbe's 's words presented in my Facebook essay "Ifa Cosmology : The Symbolism of Opon Ifa and Igba Odu 2: Stuart Dino Soto, Awo Fategbe":

"The center of the opon not only represents the place where the individual is standing in time and space, but also represents the consciousness of the person in question, as well as the totality of all there is".

To Be Continued

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Emmanuel D. Babatunde, Ph.D (Lon), D.Phil (Oxon)
Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Senior Fulbright Scholar
Lincoln University
Pennsylvania, USA
(484) 365-7545

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