1. A Baker’s Dozen 3
students realized that the diagonal of a square cannot be expressed as
the ratio of two integers, the Pythagorean brotherhood’s world view
collapsed. Legend has it that the discoverer of the irrational numbers
was put to death.
Attempts to understand nature and the cosmos with the help of
numbers continued with Plato and after him with the Neoplatonists.
In the third century A.D., the philosopher Iamblichus developed Neo-
platonism into a “Theology of Arithmetic.” In his work, Iamblichus
alternates between Pythagorean concepts and free associations; num-
bers assume mystical symbolism: numerology was born.
At around the same time, Jewish Mysticism, known as Kabbala,
gained prominence. The Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation), the oldest
and most mysterious of all Kabbalistic texts, was written between the
third and sixth century. The creation and the order of the universe are
interpreted with the help of the numbers 1 to 10 and the twenty-two
letters in the Hebrew alphabet. One is God, two is divine wisdom,
three is worldly understanding. Love, power, and beauty follow, and
so on. The second book of the Kabbala, said to have been written in
around the thirteenth century, is the Zohar, (Book of Radiance) which
too had a powerful impact on Jewish mysticism. One tool used in the
Kabbala, although not taken seriously by most rabbis, is Gematria,
from the Greek work geometry. By assigning numerical values to the
letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the technique allows the calculation
of numerical equivalences of letters, words, and phrases. Once a text
has thus been reduced to its numerical value, this same numerical
value can be re-expanded into different words and phrases. Thus,
Gematria opens up myriad possibilities to interpret and prophesy,
thereby exploring relationships between words and ideas.
It is surprising that scientists and theologians have always intu-
itively felt that it would be numbers, and only numbers, which can
adequately describe the world. “True understanding of the divine is
out of reach for those ignorant of mathematics,” the German Cardinal
Nicholas von Kues wrote in the fifteenth century. Today, of course,
intuition has turned into conviction and we know that mathematics
is the basis for our understanding of nature. Like the numerologists
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