Saturday, February 16, 2013
This is my 100th blog. Woo hoo!! These blogs have been posted over a period of just 104 days. It has been something of a challenge. I’m sure it hasn’t always been successful. There have been times when I struggled to find anything worth saying. Nevertheless, as a discipline, I forced myself to write something on any day that it was possible to do so. There were a few times when I did not have access to the internet, particularly over the holiday period (and on one occasion when the whole network was down).
It seems appropriate to reflect, on this auspicious occasion, about the almost mystical number: 100. It all comes down to fingers, in the end, I suppose. It is all due to a random mutation, so many hundreds or thousands of millions of years ago, that resulted in the first emergence of five-digited creatures. And then to that other phenomenon a few hundred thousand years ago – walking upright, developing functional hands. And so we count things in tens and tens of tens, etc.
This simple example helps us to see how very anthropocentric the concepts of meaning and significance are. The one hundredth occurrence of something has significance for no other reason than that we, human beings, have 10 digits on our hands. If we had only eight digits, our number system would likely be in base eight, so we would count thus: 1, 2, 3, …, 7, 10 – with “10” being what we now call “8”. And “100” would be what we now call “64”. Yet we cannot resist the almost numinous appeal of 100. This is one of the ways in which we shape reality in our own image.
From this it can be seen how intensely personal “meaning” and “significance” are. The green, smelly aliens of which I spoke in the previous blog, with their twelve digits, would not be able to understand why our “100” should have any particular significance. This is intensely personal to us as a species. So it is with us as individuals. What in our history and experience gives to some particular event this feeling of meaning and significance? How can others share it? In terms of our individual experience, as opposed to the history, experience, and physiology that we share as a species, we are each of us, vis-à-vis the other, a green, smelly alien.
And yet, strangely, there are many things of meaning and significance that we share, for which there is no immediately obvious explanation. These fall under the heading of “universal symbols” or archetypes. There will certainly be some debate about which of these are, in fact, universal, in the sense that they arise from something innate to human nature. The circle might be one. What is it about the circle that makes us sense in it something more than just one among many geometric shapes? Why is the circle somehow “perfect”? What is it in us that makes us respond to it in this way? Our response to light and dark may be another, and is perhaps understandable in terms of our evolutionary history, and the potential danger that darkness represents.
The point is that what we find meaningful cannot be separated from our collective and individual history. We are essentially anthropocentric as a species and egocentric as individuals. We can share meaning only insofar as we share a history.