Among my favourite books is The World in Six Songs, by Daniel Levitin. I loved it so much I wrote a series of blog posts in 2009 about a songs challenge I came up with, and even got to talk to the author about it! Recently, I heard about scientific book involving the number six, called Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe, by Martin Rees. This one didn’t interest me that much, with “deep forces” being beyond what I could fully understand, or at least be willing to commit the time to doing, seeing what those numbers were. Before I went to do that, though, I thought of the six numbers of “my universe”, as in a balance of the physical universe I knew and understood, as well as the emotional one that had the most meaning to me. I did it to see if I could hit at least one of those numbers in Just Six Numbers, to see if what I thought were the important numbers were truly as important as someone more knowledgeable of the “deep forces” of the universe deemed them to be. The results are below, but before you read on and maybe get influenced by my choices, try making a list of just six numbers in “your universe”, with “your universe” being whatever ways you want to define it.
The numbers below are the six numbers of my universe. They are presented in order only because they can’t all be presented at once. The order has no importance.
I’m going to start with one, for existence, wholeness, the best, the individual, and half of the binary of computing that is so present in our everyday life. This one is a human choice with its symbolism, not a scientific choice like some constant often found in nature.
Pi, on the other hand, is a constant found everywhere in the universe! A ratio between the distance around circles and ellipses, spheres and ellipsoids, among other such shapes, to the distance between points on that distance, as well as their areas and volumes, applied far beyond just that, pi is just a magical number. No, it is a mystical number! And in more ways than one! It is a scientifically, as well as symbolically, profound number to me.
We live in a universe with which we can practically interact with four dimensions, three physical of length, width, and height or depth, and time. Four describes the universe more completely and comprehensibly to more people than any other number, I would bet.
e is what is known as the “natural” logarithm, with “natural” being the important part of the name. If you don’t understand much about math, the various definitions of e won’t help you understand why it’s important. The more practical definition that I give is this. We count in what is known as base 10, because we have ten fingers. You count from 0 to 9, and then you turn the next digit to the left, so you get 10 after 9, 20 after 19 (the 1 changes to a 2), then 100 after 99 when the left most 9 is paired up with every other digit from 0 to 9 already. That’s base 10 counting. Computers count in base 2, so that there is never a 2 in its set of numbers. So you start with 0, then 1, then 10, then 11, then 100, 101, 110, 111, 1000 and so on. But even that’s not important. The important question is who’s to say base 10 is better than base 2? Or base 8 that spiders might count in, or base 6 for insects, if we make bases by some sort of appendages? So what base would science, math, and/or physical processes of the universe count in where the math would be easiest to do? That answer? Base e! Which is an irrational number, like pi, which’s decimals run on infinitely without a repeating pattern, with e being roughly the value of 2.718281828459. But if you used its symbol in a lot of mathematics, you get some very elegant looking solutions rather than all the “junk” you have to carry everywhere and round off repeatedly in this almost nonsensical base 10 in which we count! Now that’s a beautiful concept when you see how the universe works in its raw form!
Finally, I choose the speed of light, represented as c rather than some number because that number changes pending the units you use to measure its speed. This is the cosmological “speed limit”, if you will, with an intimate tie to energy and other phenomena in the universe, like in Einstein’s famous Energy equals mass times speed of light squared equation. There are probably better cosmological numbers if I’m going to base a choice on the cosmological criteria. However, I don’t understand the others enough to describe them to you well, like the “cosmological constant” represented by the Greek letter lambda (λ) that’s also used to represent wavelength. As a result, I’m sticking with the more simplistic and elegantly understandable speed of light that is also arguably more symbolic in the common narrative than the cosmological constant. And just for the record, the speed of light is roughly 299,792.458 km per second, or about 186,282 miles per second! That’s roughly circling the Earth at sea level about 7.5 times every second! Vroom!
Arguably the opposite of one, and at least in the binary of computing, this number of nothingness, emptiness, lack of presence, was mysterious enough that it was only accepted as a number long after other whole numbers, even after some decimal and fractions. While we know zero as any other number and take it for granted as being as legitimate as any other number, it is fair not to judge our ancestors if we ask how can we count something that isn’t there to think of it as a number like the others that we can count? 0 is also the number of choices I had in common with Martin Rees’ six numbers, although my awareness of the cosmological constant was close since that was one of Martin’s six numbers that ran the universe.
As a final point to the six numbers of my universe, I only wish Greek letters were so easy to key in, or could be used more commonly. If they were, somewhere, you can bet, I would have some username something like 1π4e0c, or maybe a password with a few more “numbers” added in like λ and g, for gravity that’s just slightly influential in our lives and kinds of holds the universe together, ya dig? Mind you, that’s not exactly one number but rather a concept that differs in different places unlike cosmological constants, so maybe ya shouldn’t dig.
What would the six numbers of your universe be?