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What's Special with Number 7?

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Written by   663
2 years ago (Last updated: 1 year ago)

Is the frequent occurrence of seven and the octave merely an obsession with that number, or does it reflect something in nature as well?

I.

First we must ask is whether seven deserves extra attention, if it is a special number, or if its occurrence in various contexts is just what we could expect of any number. Without discussing that particular aspect here and now, I think we can say that it is indeed special. Let us at least assume so for this discussion.

Then, why is it special? There are three possibilities (which do not have to exclude one another):

  1. It is a once turned up idea, kept alive by the force of intellectual tradition.

  2. It is a part or result of the structure of our nervous system and/or our mental organisation.

  3. It is an essential part of the fundamental structure of physical reality.

Seven Wonders of the World, Seven Seas, Seven Vices or Virtues, etc. are all based on an intellectual idea, kept alive by tradition. Still, no tradition survives for millennia unless it contains something essential. Why is the human intellect so fond of forming sets of seven? Can it have something to do with our way to think, with the structure of our mind? Perhaps.

II.

In the 19th century, Scottish philosopher William Hamilton noted that one can observe seven distinctive items without moving the focus of the consciousness.

Later studies and observations have shown that seven seems to be the limit for the consciousness. George A. Miller has expressed this with proper scientific caution as seven plus or minus two.

If you make an effort, you can keep seven distinctive impressions, words, numbers, thoughts, sounds, whatever in your mind at the same time, but hardly more.

You can make the experiment to throw a number of something - matches, playing cards, or something else - on the surface of a table. Unless they are structured in some sort of group symmetry, you can see how many they are by a glance, without counting them - up to seven. If they are more you have to count them individually, which you do by switching the focus of your consciousness gradually.

Is this "limit of seven" inherent in our nervous system? If it is, perhaps sets of seven (of something) are optimal for our intellectual capacity; for perception, memory, and thinking. Perhaps we ought to use a mathematical notation with seven as the base instead of ten?

III.

The primary colours of spectrum are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Although the change of colour (wavelength) is gradual and continuous, we tend to see seven colours. (Six, if we do not count indigo as a separate colour. But never more than seven).

Colour is the way a certain wavelength of light is represented in our mind. What determines which wavelengths we can perceive, or how we see them? Physical reality or our mind?

Diatonic scales contain seven tones, arranged in octaves. Is that a merely intellectual invention or does it reflect a profound structure of our mind - or even, as the Pythagoreans believed, of cosmos (physical reality)?

My last example is the Periodic Table.

John Newlands (1837–1898) formulated an intuitive 'law of octaves' to explain why the Elements - as the tones of a scale - were repeating similar properties at every eighth step, when they were ordered according to their atomic mass. At the time he was ridiculed, but take a look at a modern Periodic Table where the Elements are arranged after atomic numbers! Then you understand why it is "periodic". You probably need some basic knowledge of chemistry and the Periodic Table to appreciate the harmony of it.

The table is an intellectual construct, but what about the octave-like structure on which it is based? Does it come naturally from the properties of the elements or is it just how we perceive them?

By now it should be obvious that there is one question we cannot answer: what is a part of the subject, and what is a part of the object. That is to say, what is a part of our minds (the observer, the subject), and what is a part of physical reality (the observed, the object).

Even if we assume that seven is a part of our mind, our nervous system, the subject, we do not know whether it is also a part of the object; or if it is, to what extent it is so.

IV.

In his "Critique of Pure Reason" [Kritik der reinen Vernuft], Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) turned the then prevailing philosophical tradition upside down, when he claimed that we cannot know anything about the thing as such [Ding an sich], but our experiences and impressions are formed by the mind and its way to organise them. This was, according to Kant, a Copernican revolution of the epistemology [Erkenntnistheorie].

When he said that the object of our knowledge is not the "real" object, but our idea of it as it is formed by the mind - the mind itself (the subject) in a sense became the object of our knowledge. So in this context we cannot make a clear distinction between subject and object.

This thought was not as new as Kant believed. Within the tradition of Alchemy it had long been well established that all processes of nature and reality are influenced by, and dependent on subjectivity.

After Kant, it has continued to influence and occupy thinkers: from Arthur Schopenhauer (1785-1860), who took Kant's idea as a starting-point when he created his own pessimistic philosophy - to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), who created an "organismic philosophy" to solve the problem with what he called the "bifurcation of nature" (the dualism subject-object; or perception-fact).

Another way to express that the only thing we know about something is the impression it has made on our minds, is represented by this excerpt from: The Book of Law, Introduction, privately issued by the O.T.O. in 1938:

"...the object that you see is never the same as the one I see; we infer that it is the same because your experience tallies with mine on so many points that the actual differences of our observations are negligible. For instance, if a friend is walking between us, you see only his left side, I his right; but we agree that it is the same man, although we may differ not only as to what we may see of his body but as to what we know of his qualities. This conviction of identity grows stronger as we see him more often and get to know him better. Yet all the time neither of us can know anything of him at all beyond the total impression made on our respective minds."

In science, relativity and quantum theory reach a point where distinction between subjectivity and objectivity is questioned. We will not go into scientific detail here, it would take us too far; but it is interesting to note that it has been shown in quantum mechanics that, to appear, minute particles (on a subatomic level) are dependent on the observation act.

Copyright © 2020 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

If you are interested in numbers, you find all my articles related to numbers here, and please also join my community Numbers (7b6a).

If you are interested in the philosophical aspect of this article, read my other articles related to philosophy here.

You find all my writings on Read.Cash, sorted by topic, here.


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$ 0.00
2 years ago

This article is astonishingly wonderful. Seven is indeed a special number. Thank you for this.

$ 0.00
2 years ago

You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

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2 years ago

I would love it if you subscribed back to enjoy my articles as much as I am enjoying yours if you don't mind

$ 0.00
2 years ago

I am just now looking through your articles, and yes, I will subscribe.

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2 years ago

Sure thanks

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2 years ago

The discussion about the subjectivity and objectivity is interesting. It raises questions. The periodic table also! Nice article.

I agree that there is no special objective meaning to 7. It is just our subjective analysis that leads us to draw links and to "see it". But he who searches for a meaning will find a meaning. The movie PI is all about the subjective and the objective regarding our universe and its interpretations.

And if there are numbers that are objective, it is indeed Pi and e.

As for the table of elements, I don't see any periodicity with 7. There are currently 7 periods but that is just because we don't feel the need to add another to contain element 119 and above. All the last elements are created in particle accelerators for a very short time. I regard the periodic table as having an infinite extension but those elements are never found in nature. We just know their existence in theory.

In the periodic table, the period is 2, then 8, again 8, 18, 18 again and keeps growing but always stays even. Why those numbers specifically is what I am interested in currently. I mean, I see the table and I can count. But is that the best way to visualise the elements? Why a 2d view for a 3d space? After all, we all know how maps are difficult: trying to map a sphere onto a surface...

So I think the periodic table of elements should be reworked and that a 3d visualisation would be better at representing the concept. Atoms are 3d and their orbitals use that 3d space. So I think that to visualise the periodic table, a 3d view should be better.

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9 months ago

I don’t really believe in the numbers and lucky number having any significance. Sometimes back I read and article that 7 is the lucky number for most of the people

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2 years ago

That's just an intellectual idea spread through the generations. But why has so many chosen number 7?

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2 years ago

I'm not really sure if I get this right because I don't know much about science. But from what I understand, we have different perception of something because it is what our mind make. But it does not always mean that it is the real thing or other's perception is wrong.

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2 years ago

That's true. We never know anything more than our perception shows us and what the brain concludes from it, we are completely in the hand of how this perception and the brain works.

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2 years ago

Cool article really delves into the science In hermeticism

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2 years ago

Yes it does. That's the first time I see someone here using that word. Do you now much about hermeticism?

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2 years ago

Well, biblically speaking 7 is the number of God while 6 is for Satan. That's why, the number of beast that will be out soon is 666. Number 7 represent the days God created the earth, just like in a week it has 7 days. It is special because on the seventh day, God rested and chose the 7th day as the rest day, where in we will have our rest and have some time for God. I'm not promoting any religious belief, it's all up to your belief and perceptions anyway.

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2 years ago

God did not create the world in 7 days. He created the world in six days (the number of the devil?) and took a rest of day number 7.

If you ask me 7 stands for bad. 7 plagues for example...

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2 years ago

Yeah you're right God created earth in 6 days, there's a glitch on my comments hihihi I apologized. If you ask about the devils number please read the book of Revelation. Anyway I'm not enforcing any religious beliefs here, it's all up in our beliefs and perceptions.

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2 years ago

Perhaps 6 is the magic number? It's easier to remember. 😁

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2 years ago

There is much more that can be said about number seven than I say here. But yes, much is up to belief and perceptions. However, according to St Augustine, God created the world in 6 days because 6 is a perfect number. But let's not discuss that further right now.

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2 years ago

I was wrong about saying God created earth in 7 days, you're right he created it in 6 days. I mean he rested on the 7th day. Hehehe sorry. But don't want to discuss further. Thanks for your eye opener article.

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2 years ago

Wow, nice idea you have. I liked it. Its really a special number. Thank you so much for sharing. Waiting for your new article.

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2 years ago

You're welcome.

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2 years ago

It is a special number, but why? That is the question. I will return to number seven soon, this is not all that can be said about it.

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2 years ago

That is the question what is the number 7...thank you for sharing this information...

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2 years ago

Okay. I just know why now. Thanks for this article of yours dear.

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2 years ago

You're welcome.

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2 years ago

To me, number 7 is not special no matter what the philosopher William Hamilton or others say. If you search for a reason you will find it. The 7 was special long before Hamilton's time. We only need to read the Bible for it. It was an I interesting read though but I prefer the 9 although it never brought me any luck (neither did 7). Thanks for the interesting read. 🍀👍💕

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2 years ago

Well, I never said that Hamilton created anything, just discovered something about consciousness. The reason for people to attribute seven with special importance is still unknown, but it has been considered special since the Sumerians.

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2 years ago

I'll wait and see if you figure it out.

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2 years ago

Salamat po sa pag share na iyong natutunan tungkol sa number 7 sana po ipagpatuloy mo po ang susulat ng mga articles ng sa ganun ay matutu din ako.

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2 years ago