Numbers and Reality and Stuff

Photo by agus prianto on Unsplash

Sometimes I tag things I write as [JOURNAL], which means they’re just personal brainstorms or rambles to myself, not outward-focused essays. I post them in case there’s anyone else who might find it interesting, but the readers aren’t really the point. Don’t worry if you don’t follow; just skip it. It’s a brain fart, that’s all.

I think it’s really interesting how existence has a fundamental “oneness” and also a fundamental “twoness,” but also a lot of other fundamental numbered-nesses.

There’s something that just exists, a positive with no negative, an alive awareness that has no negation. It just is. That’s the oneness.

Then, there’s all the things that exist because they also don’t exist, like light and dark, now and then, here and there, yin and yang. The one cannot arise without its opposite, and its existence is defined in contrast to its opposite. That’s the twoness.

Then, there’s all these examples of fundamental “threeness.” In material reality, everything (plants, animals, minerals) can be extracted and reduced into an oil, a salt and an alcohol, and all three of these are “immortal” in the sense that they don’t evaporate, decay, etc. This, of course, forms the basis of how Alchemy conceives of divinity: the Soul (the essential oil), which alchemy calls “sulfur,” the Mind (the spirit), which alchemy calls “Mercury,” and the Body (the salt) which is, well, Salt.

That threeness also exists in all kinds of other religious and spiritual cosmologies, like the Christian Trinity, the Neo-Pagan Tripartite Goddess and the Hindu Trimurti. Ayurveda also conceives of the body as having a basic “threeness” in the three doshas (constitutions): vata, pitta and kapha. And, of course, water takes three forms: solid, liquid and gas.

In Western cosmologies, we have this idea of a fundamental “fourness” too: the four elements and the four seasons. All physical things in nature are made up of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), and they flow through temporal cycles of four seasons.

In Chinese cosmology, there are five elements (earth, wood, metal, water, fire), and there’s a fundamental “fiveness” to the make-up of nature and the body. Wicca and Neo-Paganism too point to that “fiveness” as they add “ether” or “spirit” as a fifth element in addition to earth, wind, fire and air. Ayurveda’s doshas also take on this elemental “fiveness,” with vata being the energy of air or ether, pitta beind fire, and kapha being earth and water.

Then in yoga traditions, we have this fundamental “sevenness” to the body and the spiritual path as well, as evidenced in the seven chakras. In Hellenistic Alchemy and medical astrology, the seven planets used in Hellenistic astrology (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) also represent certain dominant archetypes and map onto organs and systems in the body.

There’s also this “twelveness” to astrological archetypes in Chinese, Western and Vedic astrology. (Side note, while astrology is typically seen as a light-hearted pop-culture fad in the contemporary West, that is definitely not how our ancestors saw it, nor is that how our contemporaries in India and China treat it today.) While I’m less familiar with Chinese astrology, I know that the twelve archetypes in Western and Vedic astrology also break down along other fundamental numbers. Each astrological sign has one of four elements (fire, earth, water or air) as its type of energy, it plays one of three roles in the passing of time (cardinal, fixed or mutable) as its approach to life, and it has one of two gendered energies (masculine for air and fire signs, feminine for earth and water signs).

It’s not that I think there’s one correct number of essences. Clearly, all of these traditions have good reasons for valuing the numbers they use in the ways they use them. The universe is made up of all kinds of different systems. I don’t think one of them needs to be “correct,” or even that they need to be combined. They can just all exist, offering deeper and more nuanced texture to an infinitely deep and textured pattern.

Because there’s this fundamental infinitude of material reality too — what the Tao Te Ching calls “the ten thousand things.” There’s this infinite refraction, combination and transformation of all the fundamentals. There’s the multitude of ways all the layers of fundamental essences appear, the continued variation and evolution of their mixing and infinite possibility that arises from there.

And that infinite variation exists both in harmony with, and in contrast to, the fundamental oneness of everything: the fact that all demarcations are perspectives, all forms are temporary and changing, and the only true essence is singular and universal.

And that contrast, between infinite variation and unified singularity, gets back to the fundamental twoness of everything: we come to know everything by its opposite, and so we experience union through disunity and contrast.

I don’t really have a point here. I just had a lot more fun thinking about this than worrying about the future.



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