This is not an absolute truth by any means, but among mathematically oriented human beings, it is not uncommon to refer to numbers as a sort of universal constant. The view doesn’t seem far-fetched either. Numbers do exist everywhere (despite not having a physical existence of any kind). They manifest in everyday objects – from apples to rockets. They mix and meld into each other to create equations that are simple as well as complex. And they always make sense. There is very little ambiguity where numbers are involved. Unless you are bad with numbers, like I am.
Something curious occurred to me. There is another aspect of human culture that seems to correspond to pretty much the same characteristics as numbers do.
Think about it. Gods are said to exist but they don’t have a physical existence of their own. Their likeness manifests in everyday objects and events. They combine to form mythologies and religious narratives that encompass the whole world. Unlike numbers however, there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to their workings and their meaning.
So here is something interesting to consider. Perhaps numbers are gods.
If our current understanding of the universe is correct, then numbers are very much the life blood of the universe. And even if they are not, they are at least the bridge that connects the human mind to a decent understanding of the universe. Numbers show us the organising principles of natural phenomena, they allow us to understand events that our senses are too limited to even perceive. With their help, we have built a worldwide communications system and we have sent vessels into outer space.
But numbers didn’t create the universe, I hear you say. They didn’t say anything or do anything to create us. In fact, without conscious beings who can understand and make use of them, numbers can actually not do much at all.
This is a fair point. But I was not suggesting anything like that anyway. Hindu philosophy allows for the possibility of gods having come into existence after the creation of the universe. And the gods, though they may exercise tremendous influence over human affairs, are by no means all-powerful. In a universe without the human mind, there would perhaps have been no gods (as we understand them). But would there have been no numbers? Did we create numbers? Or did we simply give shape to abstractions and call them numbers? That’s what we seem to have done with gods anyway.
Honestly, I don’t know. And I don’t think I am smart enough or qualified enough to end a debate that has raged among scientists and philosophers for ages. But I will ask you to consider one possibility.
A lot of religions consider God to be that which brought everything into existence. They believe it to be that which was there in the beginning. It was the cause without a cause and the state of being from which emerged all that exists.
I think the number zero answers that description pretty well. It symbolises a state of nothingness from which you can go in only one direction. Things don’t get more “nothing” than zero. When there was nothing, there was zero. Everything emerged from zero. I guess this makes zero a rather special god.