The order that is appreciated after life or in the universe can be expressed from numbers. They not only define quantities; they also embody qualities of reality.
Since the beginning of time, the human being has looked for the light in the middle of the darkness, the order in the apparent chaos, the certainty in the face of chance. That is why all civilizations have cultivated mathematics to a greater or lesser extent and not only in terms of its practical or technological applications, but as a science that reflects in its operations the spiritual or metaphysical principles that sustain reality. Space is measured with a tape measure or by kilometers, while the clock and calendar keep track of time: the minutes, hours, days and years elapsed. So that figures as peculiar as 60, 24 or 365 mark us decisively.
Even part of our identity is based on certain digits: age, height, weight, ID. Likewise, everything related to money and the economy is expressed through figures the value of work through a salary, what is spent or saved, stock fluctuations.
But also, within us certain biorhythms govern the functioning of the body heart or respiratory rate, blood pressure, release of hormonal secretions, phases of the nervous system (sleep-wake).
The molecules of life, which support the body building and its functions (including emotions), are not at the microscopic level but geometric structures capable of interacting with each other, attracting or repellent.
THE SYMBOLIC VALUE OF NUMBERS
It is true that mathematics – through physical and chemical phenomena – is present both outside and within us.
Apparently, the essence of life requires certain delimited forms to express itself. It could also be said that pure light is divided or fragmented to create colors.
All that we perceive and the matter itself are vibrations of certain wavelengths, faster for example in the case of violet and slower in red.
And musical notes correspond to frequencies based on numerical relationships, as musicians well know.
However, we should not see those numbers that we use so much as mere figures. They are also, as the ancient philosophers considered, living entities, symbols that come to us from the world of archetypes.
There are therefore two possible readings: an external, quantitative one, which allows calculations and logic to be used; another interior, qualitative, properly symbolic, in which each number represents an idea or power.
“Everything is ordered according to number,” said Pythagoras and from there derive the notions of proportion, balance and harmony. This sage studied sacred mathematics in the temples of Egypt and Chaldea.
Even today we are amazed by Egyptian architecture, with which they tried to capture celestial harmonies on earth. It can be said that the Egyptians were the inventors of geometry (etymologically the science of “measuring the earth”), which served them both to anticipate the floods of the Nile and to build the pyramids or even accurately calculate the circumference of the planet.
There were also great mathematicians and astronomers in the East (India and China, with the I Ching or “Book of Mutations”) and pre-Columbian America (highly accurate calendars between the Incas and the Mayans).
WHAT SEPARATES ONE FROM ZERO?
If a differentiation can be made between East and West with respect to mathematics, it would be that Western philosophy and religion have tended to especially value the One (the “Being”) while the Eastern sages have emphasized the Zero (the “Supra-being”).
Let us not forget that the number zero is of Indian origin (Sunya’s arithmetic expression: emptiness-spiritual fullness), a finding that is both simple and of enormous importance, since it allows changing the value of a figure according to the place it occupies (it is not the same 20 as 2,000, even though zero has no value in itself).
ONE TWO THREE…
We often experience numerical symbolism without even realizing it. You just have to see the respect you have for someone who is considered number one in any facet of life.
And it is still curious that when we want to start an activity, be it taking a photograph or starting a career, it is usually said out loud: at one, two and three. They are also popular expressions “to the third one the charm” or “there are not two without three”. This is so because of the qualitative value of the number three, which in its “instability” expresses the realization, a dynamism that follows the inapparent activity of the two and precedes the achievement or “stability” of the four.
The Pythagoreans believed that the vertical line is odd and masculine, while the horizontal is even and feminine.
Also, that all things are synthesized in the first nine numbers, and these in the first three, which in turn are contained in the one.
WHAT DOES EACH NUMBER SYMBOLIZE?
The natural numbers as a set represent the eternal circle, but they also have separate symbolism:
- The One, or Monad, represents unity, the unmanifested principle. The geometric point, the origin, the essence, the light, the indivisible and immutable. Aspects that can also be sought within oneself.
- The Two, or Dyad, expresses polarity, the generative faculty of one through the pairs of complementary opposites: masculine / feminine, activity / rest, heat / cold, etc. Geometrically it is the straight line.
- The Three, or Triad, supposes the dynamic structure of the manifestation, the synthesis or the unity in the plurality. Reconciliation of opposites. It symbolizes the Trinity: three primary colors (blue, yellow and red), three musical notes of the perfect chord (do-mi-sol), three times (past, present and future). Geometrically it is represented by the equilateral triangle.
- The Four symbolizes the manifestation of the material order (first even number divisible by 2, apart from 2), the world as delimited space and time (the universal quaternary: 4 cardinal points, 4 seasons of the year, etc.). Its static representation is the square; the dynamic is the cross. It symbolizes cyclical movement and stability at the same time.
- The Five represents the monad Quaternary (1 + 4), adding to the material qualities spiritual, the man in the center of creation. It represents life, love, and the “quintessence” that originates the four elements: earth, water, air and fire. It is geometrically symbolized by the pentagram or the pentagon.
- The Six is symbolized with the seal of Solomon or six-pointed star (intertwining of two equilateral triangles) and expresses the total unfolding of the manifestation (the 6 days of creation). In geometry it corresponds to the cube with six faces (symbolism of the dice).
- The Seven is the union of the triad (subtle manifestation) with quaternary (material manifestation), Solomon’s Seal with the center point. It represents wisdom, the reconciliation of spirit and matter; also, the order.
- The Eight (first cube of 2) represents “regeneration”: the material quaternary is reproduced in the 8 for life to continue. The octagon represents the union of Heaven (circle) and Earth (square). It symbolizes the passage between two worlds (that is why the baptismal fonts used to be octagonal, as was the division of the domes).
- The Nine (first square 3) was taken for perfect (loop number symbolized by the circle) or indestructible because multiplied by any number is always equal to itself (example: 9×46 = 414; 4 + 1 + 4 = 9). It symbolizes the sacredness for what was spoken of 9 celestial spheres, as well as 9 are the Muses and the choirs of angelic beings.
- The Ten or Decade expresses the totality (the circumference with its center), closing the cycle of natural numbers. It supposes the return to the unit or the beginning of a new series.
THE MATHEMATICAL BEAUTY
All the arts have a mathematical basis. In the lines and volumes of architecture this is evident, but we also find numerical sequences in the musical notes or in the rhythms of poetry. The painting, with its shapes and colors, is not alien to the mathematical codes.
In this context, it is worth highlighting the number Fi (1.61803), which, together with the famous Pi (3.14159), forms part of the so-called irrational numbers, since they have infinite decimal figures that are never repeated cyclically.
Fi expresses the so-called golden section. This “divine proportion” has been used since ancient times in architecture (Egyptian pyramids, Parthenon), sculpture (used by the Greek Phidias, whose name gives rise to the letter Fi that designates this number) and was also used by Leonardo da Vinci in some of his best-known works.
Today, Fi determines the proportions of the credit card box or the UN building.
The so-called “Fibonacci sequence” is related to the golden number. It starts with 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 so that each number is obtained by adding the previous two. Continue, then, with 8, 13, 21, 34. The curious thing is that if we divide the successive numbers (always the largest by the smallest), their quotient gets closer and closer to the golden number (thus 89/55 = 1.61818).
The shell of the nautilus mollusk responds to the progression of this logarithmic spiral formed by golden rectangles. We also find it in the harmonic spiral growth of many vegetables (distribution of flowers on a stem, shape of flowers and fruits).
In the human body, dividing the height by the distance from the navel to the feet usually gives the golden number. Likewise, if the length of the head and its width are related, the phalanges and the length of the fingers, etc.
In the field of dentistry, it has been discovered that teeth grow following golden proportions, which are also found in teeth. And it is no coincidence that the faces of many actors famous for their attractiveness present golden proportions.
FIVE: SYMBOL OF BALANCE AND UNITY
It seems that the symbolic number of our species is 5. It is enough to appreciate the human figure upright: the four extremities plus the head, the five fingers and toes. We also have five senses.
There are also five levels of our being physical, energetic, emotional, mental, spiritual. According to Buddhism we are the union of five components or “aggregates” (skandhas) body form, sensations-feelings, perception-memory, mental formations and consciousness.
Five also lists the “five poisons” or negative emotions that darken the mind (desire, hatred, ignorance, pride, envy), as well as the five wisdoms.
THE SPIRITUAL SCIENCE OF THE PYTHAGOREANS
The well-known Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (582 BC-507 BC) was born on the island of Samos, was a disciple of the first and great Ionian philosophers (Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes) and traveled in his youth to Egypt and Mesopotamia.
He later settled in Crotona, a Greek colony in southern Italy, where he founded a school dedicated to the study of mathematics and spiritual development.
He argued that the universe could be deciphered through numbers and that music reflected the harmony of the celestial spheres, as well as that, together with silence, it was capable of purifying the soul.
He followed a vegetarian diet and believed in metempsychosis or transmigration of souls. His famous theorem is one of his greatest legacies.
As a summary of these reflections on numbers, it is worth making two considerations, both aesthetic and ethical, so as not to forget that good and beauty are basically the same thing as the ancient Greeks believed.
The contemplation of the wonders of nature, from a flower to the brightest star, should make us feel the innate harmony of things and also their beauty. Indeed, the world is made – in the words of Frithjof Schuon – of “music and geometry”.
On the other hand, the mathematical rigor and the symbolism of the numbers invite us to consider things from a perspective of balance and serenity.
Also, cultivate a balance between reason and emotion. The psychologist and philosopher William James wrote “The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor and moderation, passion and correctness, is surely the ideal.”
Wisdom indeed supposes that love and knowledge are united, just as heat and light are inseparable in flame.