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News and notes from around the world


THIS MONTH THE SWEDISH CITY of Göteborg hosts an international symposium on the topic of “Numbers and Truth.” While the event promises to be hard going for anyone who missed the class on neo-Fregeanism, the basic idea is this: Numbers are the world’s only source of objective truth. (That is, we can argue over what an apple is, but we cannot argue that 10 apples are nine.) Of course, this rather inflexible approach to numbers—as illustrated by these nine examples—hasn’t always prevailed.

1. In China, the number 1—a so-called yang number, associated with masculine energy, unity and great potential—is said to be particularly auspicious.

2. For Hindus, the number 2 evokes mystical concepts of duality: the knower and the known, the doer and the deed, the self and the not-self.

3. The Ashanti of West Africa regard 3 as a lucky number, symbolizing the moon goddess, who, according to lore, is three people (two black and one white).

4. In Norse mythology, 4 represents stability in the cosmos, with four dwarfs holding up the sky (which is made from the skull of the slain frost giant Ymir).

5. In Hebrew tradition, the number 5 is a symbol of sacrifice, strength and salvation. It is the number of stones with which plucky David defeated Goliath.

6. The Babylonian creation myth, written in verse on stone tablets, has the world completed by tablet No. 6; the number stands as a symbol of divine inception.

7. For ancient Egyptians, 7 stood for fertility and fate. Every newborn was said to be visited by seven goddesses, who decided his or her fortune.

8. In Buddhism, the “Eightfold Path” leads people to new possibilities, enlightenment and the end of worldly suffering.

9. The Mayans believed there were nine underworlds ruled by nine dark deities. Thus the number was regarded with both reverence and dread.

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