The Cosmic Number
I have deviated somewhat from the prime directive of the last few posts, which was my attempt to demonstrate how any idea, as an energetic entity in its own right, comes to be realised (or manifested) within the physical system — in time and space — by being articulated in the four directions of our reality: past and future times, inner and outer spaces (or, if you prefer, origin and destiny, mind and body, respectively). The perfection of an idea is its epiphany, when it is wholly realised or manifested.
If I have deviated, that’s OK. I’m a deviant kind of guy. My rationale for the interruption is the fortuitousness of events and the excuse that it makes sense to “strike while the iron is hot”, as they say. Besides, this post on “The Cosmic Number” is not even much of a deviation from the prime directive, since number is one aspect or facet of “the whole idea”.
In that respect, I wanted to draw your attention to an interesting article on number by Alex Bellos that appeared in today’s Guardian. It is entitled “Why we all love numbers” and is based upon a book he has written (due out shortly) called Alex Through the Looking-Glass: How Life Reflects Numbers and Numbers Reflect Life. I wanted to highlight his article here because of what it says about number as being not just quantifying sign, but as symbolic form with a profound psychological aspect (which, unfortunately, has also come to be manipulated for purposes of perception management and crass commercialism, as Bellos’ article relates).
I want to emphasise here that number is an aspect of language and grammar, and not something separate and apart or even “purer” than language. I mention this because there is a whole school of thought that complains that speech and grammar are “irrational” because they do not have the precision of number and of mathematical forms and statements. They would like to see our common speech conform to the same purity and precision of expression as contained in mathematical statements.
These are the same deluded mentalities who believe we are infected with irrational, imperfect “junk DNA” and who would like to see our genetic make-up equally rationalised and purified as well so that the human being conforms even more to their ideal and idol — the perfect machine.
(And as I mentioned earlier, a “mentality” is what is left over after soul and spirit have been extinguished, or when other aspects of the fourfold human have been oppressed, suppressed, and repressed. A “mentality” is a pathetic and pathological affair exactly corresponding to William Blake’s deranged Zoa Urizen and Blake’s fear of “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”).
The error of these “mentalities” is quite evident: they confuse what are simply aspects of the total idea with being essences. Number is not the essence of our reality but an aspect of it. And if we are now approaching the lowest nadir of the Kali Yuga — or what we call “nihilism” — it is because these mentalities have confused aspect and essence in exactly the way the wise and instructive Sufi tale of the five blind scholars and the elephant described this confusion (the five blind scholars are, by the way, the five physical senses).
This confusion of aspect and essence is related to the confusion of sign and symbol. The virtue of Bellos’ article (limited although it is in some respects) at least serves to draw attention to this fact. To put this another way, the Logos is not number. Number is an aspect of the Logos.
The other significance of the article is how it pertains to Gebser’s use of number symbolism in The Ever-Present Origin as well as Arthur I. Miller’s notable book Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. Given the psychological significance of number described in Bellos’ article, it’s not strange that Pauli and Jung would become obsessed with the implications of the change in the cosmic number from 3 to 4 with the addition of the fourth “dimension” (time) to the three dimensions of space. Here, the restructuration of the cosmos and the restructuration of consciousness are virtually indistinguishable. This coincident mutation of cosmos and psyche is even dramatically enacted by the “strange” friendship of Pauli, a pioneer of the quantum description of reality, and Jung, a pioneer of depth psychology.
It can be said that, indeed, this shift in the cosmic number from 3 to 4 is “earth-shattering” without being accused of too greatly exaggerating the situation, and it also involves a shift from the structure of perception and consciousness from the pyramid or a triadic logic, to the mandala or a quadratic logic. Blake’s “fourfold vision” is, in effect, the shape of consciousness to come — of what Gebser also calls “the integral consciousness”.
“Numeracy” is, therefore, not simply the technical capacity to add, subtract, divide and multiply number. It’s the ability to perceive number in its full transparency as also symbolic form. Number has simultaneously a “sacred” as well as a “profane” or secular aspect. Numeracy is also one aspect of homo grammaticus, and as part of the eco-dynamics of the psyche. Music and poetry also involve number. But one can’t reduce music and poetry to number alone. That’s absurd.
The “strange” friendship of Jung and Pauli only appears “strange” because the norm to date has been single vision — an aberrant condition reflected in reductionism and fundamentalism and in the normalisation of “mentality” — that the mental-rational, or analytical and perspectivising mode of consciousness, is the only valid mode of perception and consciousness. The “new idea” of a fourfold cosmos is actually a very old one being revisited — the four Ages of Man, the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water, are today once again resurrected in the four cosmic forces of gravity, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, and present us with the same quandary — what unites them all? What is the integrating quintessence or “fifth”?
Again, a confusion of an aspect of the whole with being the essence of it.