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The Philosophy of Numbers and Meanings

Updated: Feb 21

A beautiful lady.

Technically, numbers are everywhere, within and outside of human perception. We can assume that they can exist independently of us, even though we were the ones who gave them their meaning, and purpose. However, even if we as a species didn't exist, there would still be numbers. This is a paradox, because on the one hand, we gave numbers their meanings, but on the other hand, even if we hadn't come into being, different objects in the universe could still be measured, valued, have their different characteristics calculated, and so on.

Thus, the following question should come to mind: who came first, humans, or numbers? Of course, we can measure things that existed long before our own species, and yet, their numerical measurements could still have been taken even if there were no sentient beings in the known universe and beyond.

The fact that something can be measured, doesn't mean there is currently the ability for it to undergo that action. If I go to a restaurant and no one takes my order, my order can still be taken, but only in theory. Possibility does not indicate the existence of the one initiating said possibility into actuality.

Therefore, some numbers, so one can claim, have no dependence on us even though we gave them the term, "numbers". We gave terms to numbers, but numbers existed long before us; it was just that there was no one around -- yet -- to give them a term and a meaning.

What is a number? We shouldn't fall into the fallacy that numbers have only one aspect -- their mathematical one. Numbers exist everywhere, whether or not they are measured or even regarded as numbers. Why? Because even if there is a planet out there, that we have yet to discover, whose size is also unknown to us, that planet, along with its specific measurement, still exists out there. Numbers are divided into two categories: those we are aware of and those we are not aware of, but exist. There are also incorrect numbers, but that is only due to miscalculations.

There is also a third meaning to numbers, and that is the meaning we give to them, which is either intersubjective or subjective to the perceiver. What do I mean by that? Before the Holocaust, 6 million was just another number to Jews, but after the events of WWII, it became a symbol of sorrow and grief. Likewise, I used to dislike the hour of 3 p.m. as a kid because it was the time when I was alone and had to occupy myself until one of my parents finished their afternoon rest. However, these meanings, while existent, are not inherent to the numbers themselves, which can exist outside of our perception.

It is thanks to these numbers that we can even exist. The beat of our hearts, the flow of our blood, the constant birth and death of our various cells -- it is all in accordance with mathematics. When we drink our coffee in the morning, it has to be at a specific temperature, even if we are completely unaware of the number necessary for us to enjoy it. Everything and everyone can be measured and even "valued" by numbers, for they are the most basic unit in existence -- even more than words.

Why are they more important than words? Because words are exclusive to communication -- talking, discussing, arguing, singing, and so on. Even though we can put words on art and other types of media -- by doing so we render these objects as symbols of our communication, whether it is understood or not by the perceiver.

The ultimate connector between numbers and words/letters is numerology, or at least in theory, as it aims to make the universe understandable on a deeper level using the meanings it has assigned to numbers. The problem I find with numerology is so essential, that I am surprised that I have yet to encounter it beyond my realm of thought: who said that a certain number must have a certain meaning, and that this number and this meaning are mutually exclusive?

How can a human do so objectively, if meanings are, by their very existence, subjective? What makes a certain assigned meaning "more real" than another meaning that just about any human can fit into?

Numerology lacks the philosophical "behavior" -- of suspecting the things one sees to be the truth. This is why philosophers cannot agree on everything, no matter how good they are at philosophizing and/or debating -- it is so diverse that universal agreement is not possible. Why then, should we agree that certain numbers have universal meanings, that are beyond our reach?

And it goes even more complex than that. 1 isn't 1 because that is the "objective" letter of the number. It is that way because we chose it, and gradually accepted the letter "1" as the representative of a singular thing or being. However, in a parallel universe, if we were to consider "5" as the embodiment of a singular being, then in that universe, "5" will be, technically, "1", and our own universe's "1" might be, in their universe, something completely different, like "8", and the list goes on.

Thus, it is a fact that my height is 190cm, but in a parallel universe, that height could mean something completely different, like 140cm. And yet, both would be applicable, simply because they both symbolize the same thing, even though they are, objectively, different numbers.

To compare, there are the same words in different languages that mean completely different things. In Hebrew, for example, the term "pill" actually means elephant (פיל), and not medication. Likewise, the Slavic name "Nikita" means in Hebrew "Did you clean?" in male form. (ניקית?) It can also mean "you cleaned".

We can learn from this that numbers and the meanings we assign to them, are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It could be said that, because we are bound to communicate, we need to come up with different terms for different things in order to know what we're talking about. However, not every meaning we assign to each object is necessarily true to that object or being, if at all, simply because we are also bound to be incorrect. In fact, we can be completely wrong, if not delusional, about our estimations of the world around us, and of the things that we believe actually exist, in our recognition of reality.

This is why, as I dabbled in the arcane, I found out that there is a wide acceptance of what things are and what they symbolize, but I still have to ask myself, are these meanings actually true just because someone made them, long before you and me? Tarot cards, for example, used to just be a game. It was only later that they became an imperative part of the occult. That means, therefore, that it was only at some level, that these random playthings were assigned a higher role, and even later, when it was introduced to us, these objects had said roles, "embedded" into them (or rather, into our consciousness).

Unlike a physical object, which has objective measurements, "spiritual" or abstract concepts such as language and other symbolic items, are not necessarily as objective as a chair or table. When I measure a table, I inform myself of its length, width, and so on -- but when I read that 9 is the number of the hermit, how can I be equally sure? Is it 9 because 9 is, by itself, something with mutually-exclusive meaning, or because that meaning has been subjectively assigned by someone or by a group of people, who "just decided" that it is like that?

Mystics are not like physicians; they can only rely on what they believe to be true, and that is not enough. How can a mystic prove to the world that 9 is the Hermit Card's number, just as a scientist can claim a scientific principle?

Hence the problem with spirituality -- it does not adhere to logic, or evidence. It mainly, if not only, adheres to the strength of someone's belief or faith. Faith in what? It could be a dream they had, a vision, or even an ancient scripture.

And yet, as I have argued many times -- if there is knowledge, there is no need for faith as a substitute. Spirituality is in the land of the abstract, where anyone can make just about anything, like an old game of cards into a deep system of discovery, or certain crystals into different emitters of energy. And still, the only thing that backs it all up is one's belief that it is true, rather than the knowledge, that it is true, no logical assessment is necessary, mainly if not only emotional confidence is necessary.

As you can see on "The Philosopher" page (as of 2021), I paid for and learned certain courses online to teach me about the arcane, even though I was raised to disbelieve it. I've decided to do so not because I see myself as a mystic or anything, but because I wish to broaden my horizons whenever exhaustion doesn't hit me.

Knowing the "other side" of things is very important if one wishes to understand their falsehood, or even whether or not it is actually false. Due to the insights I've found during the writing of this article, I am still partially skeptical about the arcane being true, or even if it is even useful to understand the mysteries of the world. Once I have the available funds, perhaps I'll try digging even further.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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