The Numbers

The dim light creeps down hallway stairs through the corridor. The musk of the old parsonage-turned-office tastes like old moss. A skinny redheaded girl sits Indian-style in front of me on one of the 1960’s style waiting chairs outside the office. She’s placid and distinctly removed sketching something in a black book. I relish the silence sitting there before being called in.

“I feel like I’m losing my mind..” I tell the student counselor. He’s growing a small but aggressive go-tee while his long hair dangles down atop from a man-bun over his glasses. He’s asking the usual questions.

“I feel like Hurley in LOST,” I tell him. “I’m noticing things now, like the numbers in LOST and I can’t stop seeing them…”

He jots down a note oblivious to his discernible wince.

“Who’s Hurly?” He asks.

“Never mind.”

“When was the last time that you ate?”

“Today,” I said.

“How’s your sleep?”

“Not wonderful.”

He jots down some more scribbles.

“Honestly, I’m not even really sure what I’m doing anymore. It’s harder to go to class, manage assignments, I can’t even get myself to read hardly. It just all feels so…. pointless.”

He scribbles down some more notes and glances back up. He’s new at this. I explain to him that studying poetry in quantity is offensive because poetry is qualitative. How the reactionary nature of movements in literature seems fatuous.

“It feels like the only unforgivable sin anymore is being boring. Every literary movement reacts to the one before, who themselves were reacting to the one before. Somehow imbued with the self-importance and urgentcy that is remarkably and hardly ever new or novel. Naïvely believing there’s a superior progression; that somehow we are always ahead of the curve. That we have reinvented art. It feels so petulant, vain, and futile- and being forced to listen to them yammer on is just so… exhausting…”

He stops and looks at me intently.

“Have you considered taking a break?”

“I have… But if life is just a series of taking breaks when futility hits you, then what are we doing anyway? Staving off the inevitable? Twiddling our thumbs till we die?”

He instinctually scribbles down more notes keeping his eyes down like he’s in a lecture.

”I’m researching the mind right now and how its learns language. What I’ve discovered is that we are meaning detecting machines.”

He’s looking me in the eyes now.

“I’ve noticed a ghost in the machine. A zeitgeist. Once I began noticing it I can’t help but see it everywhere. I’m starting to feel a bit insane, like Hurly. The numbers in his story are winning lottery numbers. After giving him fame and fortune they bring an onslaught of tragedies that disassemble his life. With each event unfolding the numbers mysteriously link to a mysterious hatch on a Island he crash landed on. A code that has to be entered into the computer every day to prevent the end of the world. Coefficients that signify the Islands chosen replacement leaders. Hurly kind of loses his marbles running away every time he sees them.

“What does any of this have to do with you?” He’s interrupting now, and I think, losing his patience.

“As I said, I’m writing my paper right now. It started with me researching how the mind learns language. How we as infants take in sense impressions via our five senses at first. As time goes along we build up clusters of information around certain objects, times, and people. These clusters begin to intersect in our minds and begin to pyramid and form memory. The coalescing into the point at the top could be metaphorically described as the hierarchy of our consciousness. We reinforce useful and reliable connections and delete the noise during REM sleep. This is why consciousness it’s not just limited to our brains but an entire neural network. Basically who we are is a unified intelligent network of many different experiences.”

He struggles his eyes at me and looks into the middle ground.

“I was intrigued because in religion class we were talking about the original definition of God in Hebrew is ‘Elohim’ which translates to “divine of the many.” Originally it was synonymous with the pantheon of ancient Mesopotamian gods. The two different Hebrew priestly casts interpreted it differently. The Sadducees, who did not believe in the afterlife, spirits, angels, or demons thought that Yahweh was the Jewish people’s God of the many. Meaning that he was one in the pantheon. The Pharisees on the other hand who did believe in spirits, angels, and demons, and the afterlife believed Yahweh to be The One of the Many. It is as if they were saying that all the other ideas of God we’re kind of true, but we’re all kind of false. It is as though they believed that Yahweh was all the true conceptions minus the false. That he was the One transcendent true God. A unifying principle that is beyond human categories, known but not fully comprehensible.

I noticed how this “One of the Many’ paradigm is ubiquitous. Not just with the mind and how it learns language, but in how the fathers of Greek philosophy intuited something strikingly similar. We were reading about Thales, the father of modern philosophy, said that the earth was divided up into five material essences. The fifth, quintessence, he said was unseen and gave the order to all the others. The zeitgeist of the cosmos. A unifying principle by which everything coalesces. He founded the University, is a synonym for, “One of the Many.” Taking all the different diverse disciplines, with all their differing truths and realities, and arriving at a fully integrated unified whole.

I noticed in my sociology classes we talk about democracy. Collective bargaining and individual rights. E Pluribus Unum meaning the “One of Many.” I started to realize that almost everything we do as humans is seeking out this “One of the many.” In psychology, we talk about all of our life experiences, paradigms, social influences, and biological factors. The goal is to remunerate them in service to a fully integrated and realized sense of self. To cultivate a “One of the Many.” In physics, the highest goal set by people like Stephen Hawking and others is to arrive at a unified theory of everything; the empirical ‘One of the Many.” In art movements, dance, cooking, music, conversation, and just about everything else we do- underneath it all is this drive to take disparate elements and create a new and novel unified whole.”

The counselor stares blankly at me. Takes off his glasses, rubs his eyes. I feel kind of bad for him.

“So why is this causing you so much anguish? Apart from feeling the need to explore so many rabbit holes?” He says with a note of resolve.

“Because what is abundantly clear is that what we have today is a pluraversity, not a university.”

He stares at me.

“We have a bunch of different disciplines, teaching their divergent truths. Each with a little carved out world with hardly any interconnecting through lines.”

“Okay…”. He blurts out impetuous.

“This will only lead to break down. It will cut people off from each other, from knowing themselves, and perhaps most tragically, from the pursuit of knowledge itself. This will fracture society in the long run, perhaps beyond repair. I can’t help but wonder if this place is tearing the world apart.”

He leans back in his chair a bit and lets outside as though he was thinking.

“And when I tell my teachers about what I’m writing, I want them to tell me I’m arrogant. I want them to tell me I have no clue what I’m talking about. That I’m just being a petty little brat and dismiss me. But they just won’t do that. Tragically they are all in agreement. One of my teachers even told me that I could write about this for the rest of my life.”

“This is a bad thing?” He asks in high pitch.

“Yes. Because they are admitting to me and themselves that this is all just one big costly joke.”

He leans forward bent over and folds hands together.

“Honestly, I have no idea what to tell you. I’m just an art grad student who thought he would volunteer.”

We both sit in the tiny crowded little office and staring at the floor.

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