The Weekly Sam: The Meaning and Mystery of Numbers By Samuel L. Blumenfeld

On New Year’s Eve, I, like so many other countless Americans, was glued to my TV set
watching ABC and PBS take us to celebrations across the globe, beginning at some
remote island in the South Pacific where the year 2000 started, then to New Zealand,
Australia, Japan, China, Moscow, Bethlehem, Rome, Paris, London, Newfoundland, Rio
de Janeiro, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago. I did not stay up long enough to
see the new year arrive in Los Angeles, or Honolulu, which was probably the last major
city on earth to finally come into the year 2000.

It was amazing to see the delirium in Times Square as more than a million folk turned out
to see the famous ball atop the Times building lowered so that the sign 2000 could light
up. The only thing that changed after that momentous countdown was a number: from
1999 to 2000. Yet that immaterial, spiritual change of one number forced nations across
the globe to spend billions of dollars for fireworks displays, parades, concerts, dances,
celebrations, and feasts, all of which took years of preparation. My favorite display were
the fireworks on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It lived up to all its hype. That tower, a
culminating display of 19th century technology, has a grace, dignity, and solidity
reflecting the inventive genius of that century.
Why is one number so important? Why is it capable of creating delirium among millions
of celebrants? We are the only species who believe in the power of numbers. The Bible
is full of numbers. There is even a Book of Numbers. There are Ten Commandments,
Seven Seals, Twelve Tribes, Seven Angels. God gave man not only the ability to count,
but the absolute necessity to count.

What are numbers? They are merely the names and written symbols we give to
quantities. The need to count is what makes numbers necessary. We count everything.
We count days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millenia. We count the miles
we travel and the number of hours and minutes it takes us to get from here to there. We
count a hundredth of a second in Olympic races. We count our birthdays. The
countdown of life begins at conception, nine months of gestation. Some lives are cut
short before birth, before that developing human being has learned the meaning of

We register the day, month and year of birth and then count each completed year of life
as a blessing. Last May, I completed 73 full years of life. My brain, life a computer, has
a storehouse of memory which is now so full that sometimes it is slow in bringing up a
name or a particular event. But memory is extremely useful in being able to recall what
life was like fifty or sixty years ago. It gives one a view of a changing world that the
young simply do not have. Reading about it is not like having been there. And most
young people do not bother to read if indeed they can read.

And many young people have difficulty with numbers because of the way they are now
taught in our public schools. Math test scores have been dismal. Why? Because the
schools cannot deal with the mystery of numbers, which is really part of religion. For
example, the delirium over the beginning of a new millenium is fraught with religious
significance. The counting in our calendar is based on the birth of Jesus Christ, who was
sent to this earth to save men from their sinful natures, to offer them forgiveness of sin
and salvation, and offer them eternal life after death.

But humanists, who do not believe in biblical religion, prefer to celebrate the New Year
as the time in the calendar when the days begin getting longer. They simply see mankind
as a species of animal living on a planet that revolves around the sun every 365 days or
so, and rotates on an axis which gives us days and nights. They see no religious
significance in any of this. They see no mystery in numbers.

But it is religion that has created meaning in numbers. The Lord created the universe in
six days and rested on the seventh, which is why we have a week and a weekend. We
celebrate festivals that conform to biblical commandments, requirements, and events.
God gave us a rudimentary calculator in our ten fingers. That is why we use a ten-base
system of counting.

We also know that the marvelous technology that permitted us to place satellites in outer
space so that we could view the New Year celebrations around the globe depended on the
development of mathematics. All of computer technology is based on the ability of the
human brain to translate numbers and letters into zeros and ones by way of electrical
impUlses. Even the concept of zero is one of the great inventions of the human brain,
without which all of our modem technology would not have been possible.
Another important use of numbers is in the forming of chronological memory, on which
all of our knowledge of history is based. In fact, the Bible itself is the standard of
chronological narration, which begins with day one of Creation and extends beyond the
written word of Scripture to our present day calendar of events. History can only be
understood in chronological terms, for it permits us to analyze cause and effect. And that
is why American children are deprived of a chronological study of American history-so
that they will be unable to understand cause and effect. They are taught that
remembering dates is not important. It’s no longer necessary to know what happened in
1492, 1776, 1789, 1860, 1917,1939, 1941, or 1945.

I became acutely aware of the importance of chronology when I was researching my
book, “Is Public Education Necessary?” I wanted to find out why the American people
gave up educational freedom for government owned and operated schools so early in our
nation’s history when the advantages of educational freedom were so obvious in view of
the fact that that is what our Founding Fathers enjoyed. I had to do a year-by-year
investigation to finally understand how and why that change took place. It had nothing to
do with economics or literacy. It was all philosophical, and that was a true revelation to
me. That philosophical revolution was engineered by a small Unitarian elite that had
captured Harvard University and began its work of secularizing education through
government ownership of schools.
We need to know numbers in order to survive. We must count money. We must count
taxes. We must count commodities. We must count billions and trillions in government
spending. We must count people. In the Book of Numbers we find much counting of
people of different ages for social, military and religious reasons. Civilized nations count
themselves. Counting always answers the questions of how many, how long, how short,
how high, how low.

And now we must start dating our checks, and letters, and diaries with the year 2000, or if
we prefer to use Roman numerals, MM. The human race has reached an incredible
milestone when we think of what life was like in the year 1000. And most of the material
advance that has profoundly changed human life took place in the last 150 years. The
young have so much to look forward to, provided they don’t forget that what they enjoy
today is the result of what human beings did and invented before them. The past is,
indeed, prelude.

(This article was written by Sam Blumenfeld in 2000.  For PDF versions to this and his other work, please sign up for the Blumenfeld Archives