Jung on Numbers

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.

 

Jung on Numbers

 

 

A mathematician once remarked that everything in science was man-made except numbers, which had been created by God himself.

Jung (1946)[1]

 

… number and synchronicity… were… always brought into connection with one another,… both possess numinosity and mystery as their common characteristics. Number has invariably been used to characterize some numinous object, and all numbers from 1 to 9 are ‘sacred,’ just as 10, 12, 13, 14, 28, 32, and 40 have a special significance.

Jung (1946)[2]

 

The very numbers you use in counting are more than you take them for. They are at the same time mythological entities (for the Pythagoreans they were even divine), but you are certainly unaware of this when you use numbers for a practical purpose.

Jung (1961)[3]

 

… numbers are symbols with an exceedingly important role in dreaming. They are representative of characteristic stages of the inborn healing process that Jung discovered early in his career, finalizing that idea by the time he was about fifty-three…

Gary Sparks (2010)[4]

 

Jung hated math. He once told Barbara Hannah that mathematics ruined the experience of school for him.[5] Given this distaste, one might expect that Jung would have ignored or dismissed numbers and anything linked to the subject. But not so! Jung had great respect for numbers, and told Marie Louise von Franz that he would have pursued an in-depth study of numbers if he were younger.[6] She eventually picked up the topic and wrote Number and Time: Reflections Leading toward a Unification of Depth Psychology and Physics.[7] How might such a unification be possible? What was it, according to Jung, that made numbers so significant? We will address these questions by first defining “number,” and particularly Jung’s definition of “number,” and then discuss the features and functions of numbers. Finally we will consider how numbers might foster a unifying of psychology and physics.

 

What is meant by “number”?

 

The dictionary offers nearly a dozen meanings for “number:” “a word or symbol used in counting,” “the amount of units,” “a quantity,” “a collection or company,” “a means of identifying a place” (e.g. the number of an apartment), “a single part of a program,” “a song or piece of music,” “a single issue f a periodical,” “any thing or person viewed apart or thought of as standing apart from a collection or company,” “the property or words that indicates whether they refer to one or more than one” (as in grammar, singular or plural), and “the regularity or beat or measure in verse or music; rhythm.”[8] We use the word “number” in a wide variety of contexts.

For our purposes in this essay, we focus on Jung’s usage and his definitions, and he defined number as: “peculiar entities with irreducible properties,”[9] “not only concepts but something more—autonomous entities which somehow contain more than just quantities…”,[10] entities that have “existed from eternity and occur regularly.”[11] Jung regarded numbers as “archetypes of order,”[12] and “mythological entities,”[13] and, as such, numbers “… are not inventions of the conscious mind but are spontaneous products of the unconscious, as has been sufficiently shown by experience.”[14] Experience is the touchstone of truth for the empiricist,[15] and in this, as in so many ways in his work, Jung came to his definitions and ideas about numbers from his personal observations in his work with patients and their dreams.

Jung also recognized that numbers are “symbols of the Self’s coming to consciousness…,”[16] with the first four numbers in particular symbolizing different “phases of the journey of the Self, different expressions of its transformation.”[17] The number 3 “… denotes the surface or flatness, whereas 4 means height or depth….”[18] The numbers 1, 2 and 3 “characterize or produce incorporeal intelligences…”.[19] Two is associated with opposites, e.g. right and left, favorable and unfavorable, good and bad.[20]

Jung drew on “old tradition”[21] for some number symbolism, e.g. that “… the number 6 means creation and evolution, since it is a coniunctio of 2 and 3 (even and odd =female and male). Philo Judaeus therefore calls the senarius (6) the “… ‘number most suited to generation’…”.[22] Jung regarded 8 as “… a double quaternity [i.e. two 4’s] and… an individuation symbol in mandalas….”[23] Jung found other specific number symbolism in esoteric traditions like Cabalism: the cabalists saw 1 as symbolic of the spirit of the Living God; 2, as spirit from spirit; 3, water from spirit; 4, fire from water; 5, height; 6, depth, 7, East; 8, West; 9, South, and 10, North.[24] Clearly over millennia of time, and many different cultures, numbers have had a variety of meanings and significance. Significance and meaning are just two of numbers’ features. What are some others?

 

Some Features of Numbers

 

Jung thought of numbers as archetypes[25] and, as such, they were “pre-existent to consciousness.”[26] That is, they were not something humans invented, but were more something we “found or discovered.”[27] In a footnote in an essay “On the Nature of the Psyche,” Jung noted that “A mathematician once remarked that everything in science was man-made except numbers, which had been created by God himself.”[28]

Archetypes are autonomous and “condition consciousness,”[29] i.e. they spontaneously give rise to certain behaviors or reactions, independent of our ego desires, and they can pattern daily living. Hypothesizing that numbers are archetypes, Jung ventured to suggest that numbers, like other archetypes, are “spontaneously produced by the unconscious,”[30] and “show a tendency to behave in a special way.”[31]

Continuing the theme of number-as-archetype, Jung felt numbers “… possess numinosity and mystery… and all numbers from 1 to 9 are sacred,…”[32] By saying numbers have numinosity, Jung implied that numbers can link us to something larger than ourselves: the Divine, the Universe, cosmic reality. Being mysterious symbols, numbers can never be fully understood or boxed up with a simple definition.[33] Number will always elude the complete grasp of our logical minds.

Like other types of archetypes, numbers “… have existed from eternity,”[34] and “belong to both worlds, the real and the imaginary; it [number] is visible as well as invisible, quantitative as well as qualitative.”[35] While we in modern culture tend to think of numbers as simple devices to quantify reality, calculate budgets, balance the checkbook and perform various engineering and scientific endeavors, or as a way to label the days of the week, month and year, Jung saw numbers very differently: as “peculiar entities with irreducible properties.”[36] These entities have functions that go far beyond our common uses of numbers.

 

Some Functions of Number in Jung’s System

 

From decades of work with patients Jung came to see that numbers play an “exceedingly important role in dreaming,”[37]—a role that subsequent Jungian analysts have also recognized.[38] Numbers symbolize “characteristic stages of the inborn healing process that Jung discovered early in his career,…”[39]

I have seen the powerful healing role numbers can play in analysis many times in the course of my own analysis: About six months into my analysis, I began to feel something—a vague sense of frustration—but I could not put my finger on just what it was. At that time I was deep into my study of astrology and one of the books I was using was Dane Rudhyar’s Astrological Mandala,[40] which amplifies the symbols and meanings for the 360 degrees of the circle. Then, in an example of synchronicity, I had a dream one night of the number 80, and, as I worked on my dreams the following Sunday, I wondered if Rudhyar’s discussion of 80 would give me any insights. It did! I found his words very helpful, cluing me into what my problem was. Typical of the Introvert beginning an analysis, I had come to feel overwhelmed by my situation, all my problems, the extent of the work that seemed to be in store for me. Armed with this insight, I was able to put into words with my analyst what was going on. In the 30+ years since then, every time I have a number in a dream I turn to Rudhyar’s book. My psyche will throw up a number when I need guidance, direction or a fuller insight into a problem or issue, and this is not true just for me: I have also seen how helpful numbers can be in my work with students at the Jungian Center.

How is this? Jung felt numbers foster healing from their capacity to “bring order into the chaos of appearances.”[41] Numbers, to Jung, “… not only express order, they also create it. That is why they generally appear in times of psychic disorientation in order to compensate a chaotic state…”.[42] Back in 1985, when I was feeling discomfort but couldn’t put my feelings into words, the dream of the number 80 created a sort of insightful order that allowed me to articulate for my analyst what was going on within.

Jung saw numbers as being useful for establishing “meaningful coincidences, that is, coincidences that can be interpreted.”[43] This is how I see my experience using Rudhyar’s Astrological Mandala: my psyche recognizes I need a fuller sense of what is going on, or more explicit direction, and it throws up a number in a dream. Being primed to watch for synchronicities, I always take number dreams seriously for this reason.

Besides their healing function, and their ordering ability, numbers can serve as mediators between the real (visible) and imaginary (invisible) worlds, or, to put this in other terms, between the world of matter and the world of mind.[44] In her study of number and time Marie-Louise von Franz came to conclude that number can unify these two realms, linking psyche and world, or psychology and physics.[45]

 

The Unifying Potential of Numbers

 

I never got beyond calculus in my college studies. As a humanities major, I was not required to take math beyond calculus. So I never got into the more arcane branches of math. But I became aware of this arcana via one of my favorite television shows years ago: “Numbers.” It had, as its star, a math whiz who used various branches of higher mathematics to solve crimes. Besides providing entertainment each week, this show demonstrated the vast applicability and potential inherent in numbers.

Not only can numbers solve practical problems and bring order to what may seem like chaos, they give us a way to apprehend “an already existing, but still unknown, regular arrangement or ‘orderedness,’…”.[46] This ordering potential may be what led the great German mathematician Johann Karl Friedrich Gauss to declare that “God arithmetizes.”[47] Creation itself seems to be informed (i.e. given form) by numbers.

This being so, because numbers have both quantitative and qualitative properties,[48] they link the world of matter and the world of mind. When Marie-Louise von Franz described numbers as a mechanism unifying psychology and physics, she saw the applicability of numbers to what her friend Wolfgang Pauli described as “atom and archetype.”[49] The world of quantum reality (atom) and the world of psyche (which contains the archetypes) are “mediated” (in Jung’s words) by Number: “the great mediator, Number,… is valid in both worlds, … the real and the imaginary;…”.[50] Numbers provide a way to unify mind and matter, the material and the spiritual realms.

In my three decades of experience dealing with my number dreams, I have seen this amazing ability of numbers to bring together the world of matter (my outer life with its problems and predicaments) and the world of the psyche (the source of my number dreams) to foster healing. Just how this happens reflects one of the features of numbers: mystery.

 

Bibliography

 

Edinger, Edward (1995), The Mysterium Lectures. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Hannah, Barbara (1976), Jung: His Life and Work, A Biographical Memoir. New York: G.P. Putnam.

Jung, C.G. (1960), “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 9i. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” CW 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1970), “Civilization in Transition,” CW 10. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: East and West,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1976), “The Symbolic Life,” CW 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Meier, C.A. ed. (2001), Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung Letters 1932-1958. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Pauli, Wolfgang (1955), “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler,” The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. New York: Pantheon Books.

Rudhyar, Dane (1973), An Astrological Mandala. New York: Vintage Books.

Sparks, Gary (2010), Valley of Diamonds: Adventures in Number and Time with Marie-Louise von Franz. Toronto: Inner City Books.

von Franz, Marie-Louise (1980), On Divination and Synchronicity. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Zabriskie, Beverley (2001), “Jung and Pauli: A Meeting of Rare Minds,” in Meier, Atom and Archetype. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

[1]Collected Works 8, ¶356, note 24. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[2] Ibid., ¶870.

[3] CW 18, ¶461.

[4] Sparks (2010), 15.

[5] Hannah (1976), 41.

[6] Sparks (2010), 13-14.

[7] Ibid., 14.

[8] World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary II, 1328.

[9] CW 8, ¶356.

[10] Ibid., ¶871.

[11] Ibid., ¶965.

[12] Ibid., ¶870.

[13] CW 18, ¶461.

[14] CW 8, ¶870.

[15] Jung described himself as an empiricist; for more on this, see the blog essay “The Psyche is Real: Materialism, Scientism and Jung’s Empiricism,” archived on this blog site.

[16] Sparks (2010), 61.

[17] Ibid., 61-62.

[18] CW 9i, ¶679.

[19] Ibid. By “incorporeal intelligences,” Jung might have been referring to the vix mediatrix naturae, the healing force of nature that lies within each of us that knows how to heal us.

[20] CW 11, ¶180.

[21] CW 9i, ¶679.

[22] Ibid.

[23] CW 10, ¶692.

[24] CW 12, ¶313.

[25] CW 8, ¶870.

[26] Ibid., ¶871.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., ¶356, note 24.

[29] Ibid., ¶871.

[30] Ibid., ¶870.

[31] I.e. in symbolic, non-rational or mysterious ways that the logical ego mind cannot always grasp. Ibid.

[32] Ibid., ¶870.

[33] Symbols, in Jung’s definition, can never be fully grasped or defined; for more on Jung and symbols, see the essay “A Way into Mystery,” archived on this blog site.

[34] CW 8, ¶965.

[35] CW 10, ¶778.

[36] CW 8, ¶356.

[37] Sparks (2010), 15.

[38] E.g. von Franz (1980) and Edinger (1995).

[39] Sparks (2010), 15.

[40] Rudhyar (1973). My students tell me this is now out of print.

[41] CW 8, ¶870.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] CW 10, ¶778.

[45] Sparks (2010), 15.

[46] CW 8, ¶870.

[47] Quoted by Jung, CW 8, ¶943.

[48] CW 10, ¶778.

[49] Pauli worked with both Jung and von Franz; see Zabriskie, “Jung and Pauli,” in Meier (2001), xxvii-l, and Pauli (1955), 149.

[50] CW 10, ¶778.

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