Numbers

A while ago I attended a conference on “Esoteric Runology”. I signed up for the conference ages ago, when a group of my friends all decided to attend together. As it happened, the others all changed their minds before the conference itself but I decided to go along anyway.

The content of the conference varied between the genuinely interesting (such as a talk on the character of the hero in Germanic literature) and the rather inane (such as a talk on numerological correspondences within Wulfila’s Gothic translation of the Bible) with plenty of New Age occult nonsense thrown in for bad measure. All in all, I came away entertained rather than enlightened, and the highlight was certainly my conversation in the pub afterwards. I have discovered elberry‘s kryptonite and feel safer for it.

One thing that struck me about many of the more dubiously New Age lecturers was their fascination with numerical order and patterns. One man seemed positively delighted when he revealed that multiplying two sets of numbers by the same number maintains the ratio between the original sets. He was fascinated by the numerical correspondence he found between the orbit of the moon around the Earth and the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. (He seemed particularly excited by the fact that both could be represented as circles divided into equal arcs, which rather bemused me.) I kept thinking of Monty Python’s Sir Bedevere.

Nevertheless, although his theories were meaningless and he wouldn’t know the scientific method if it bit him, there was no doubting his enthusiasm. He did seem to get genuine delight from discovering patterns and relationships. The title of his talk was “Germanic Esoteric Astronomy” and I couldn’t help wondering why, if basic astronomy and primary school arithmetic fascinate him so much, he didn’t just study real astronomy. If he gets so much pleasure from adding and multiplying a few numbers, he ought to dissolve in an ecstatic fit if he ever encounters the Lorentz tranformations. Or maybe just this.

What is it that drives people to waste their time with Gematria and numerology when they could be studying real mathematics and physics? Why does one seem real and important to them while the other seems stale and dry? Although the former has no practical use and the latter has proved to be of immense use, both for pragmatic engineering and for exploring the mysteries of the universe, people still devote their time and energy to the former and disdain the latter.

Is it just the allure of esoterica? Theoretical physics can be pretty esoteric but I admit that a scientific conference does not have the same atmosphere as a secret conclave of mystics and magicians. The lack of melodrama in science probably does have something to do with it, although I bet academics have just as many petty rivalries and over-inflated egos as esotericists do, but there is something else as well.

Modern science seems to lack spirit. People dislike it because they feel it reduces the world to a dull machine. They feel it reduces people to dull machines. I suppose this is just Newton versus Blake again but I can’t help thinking that this is a false dichotomy.

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Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm  Comments (8)  

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  1. “Modern science seems to lack spirit. People dislike it because they feel it reduces the world to a dull machine. They feel it reduces people to dull machines. I suppose this is just Newton versus Blake again but I can’t help thinking that this is a false dichotomy.”

    I think you’re dead right here. The dichotomy is false: but to a large degree it is the claims of ultra-rationalist scientists who try to break existence, man and nature down to their component parts in order to explain them that are to blame for that.

    A fantastic machine or organism is not the same when it is stripped down to its bare parts, or carved up for meat, leather or glue, as it is when it is whole and animated and fulfilling its functional purpose. Stripping things down to their bones provides the enquirer with a lot of raw, factual data (which may or may not be actually useful) about each individual component but far less about the holistic reality of things.

    A joke is no longer funny when it is broken down to an analysis of what made it funny, why we laughed and how the correct sequence of words made it produce a specific emotional response. Likewise, a house stripped down to a pile of bricks is no longer a home and a family stripped down to its individuals does not explain the phenomenon of kinship. It is the way these things are in their wholeness – body, soul and spirit – that makes them what they are.

    The same principals apply to life, nature, man and the universe. Over-analysing things and deconstructing them, ironically (because it is meant to do the very opposite), strips them of their reality.

  2. “A joke is no longer funny when it is broken down to an analysis of what made it funny…”

    Indeed, but numerology is a form of reductionism itself. Why do (some) people think that reducing everything to arithmetical combinations of Hebrew letters is spiritual but reducing everything to the mathematical formulae of theoretical physics is not?

    Also, we should not confuse science with reductionism. (We also shouldn’t confuse reductionism with reductionism, or indeed reductionism, which is the sort of thing that happens when we use the same word to refer to at least three different but similar things.)

  3. ” Why do (some) people think that reducing everything to arithmetical combinations of Hebrew letters is spiritual but reducing everything to the mathematical formulae of theoretical physics is not?”

    I suppose that’s because one form of arithmetical reduction is perceived as having its root in the quest for God while the other is seen as having its roots in the quest for science. The perception – mostly, but not entirely, at the instigation of scientists – that science is purely rational (and therefore aspiritual), probably accounts for the difference.

    “Also, we should not confuse science with reductionism.”

    I agree. But who is most guilty of this? Those who see science as lacking spirit because they perceive that it ‘reduces people to dull machines’, or the ultra rationalist Scientists who, by removing any semblance of spirit and soul from scientific enquiry, are guilty of making people think that about modern science in the first place.

  4. i have kryptonite?

    During the estoric astronomy lecture i found myself thinking “God, I’m so thick! This just sounds like crazy talk!”

  5. “i have kryptonite?”

    Indeed. It makes you sound like that fat bloke with the monkey.

  6. ??? bear in mind i haven’t owned a TV since 2004

  7. You surely don’t expect me to reveal such a valuable secret in a public forum? I will save it for our inevitable show-down when we battle for control of the remnants of post-Blair society.

  8. i’ll defeat you yet, General Zod.


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