Pythagoras and Plato attached their names to the power of numbers. Each number carries a symbolic charge. The simplest are the most meaningful. They can be associated by imagination with the higher functions of the soul.
The 1, or « unity », symbolizes intelligence because it is unified in intuition or in concept. Through intuition or concept intelligence grasps what makes the “unity” of the thing, and thereby reveals itself as « one ».
The 2, or « duality », represents science, because it starts from a principle, to reach a conclusion. It goes from one to the other, and thus generates the idea of duality.
The 3, or « trinity », is the number associated with opinion. The opinion goes from one to two (which makes three): it starts from a single principle but reaches two opposite conclusions. One seems accepted, provisionally « concluded », but the other remains « fear », always possible. The opinion, by its intrinsic doubt, introduces a ternary ambiguity.
The 4, or « quaternity », is associated with the senses. The first of the quaternities is the idea of the body, which consists of “four angles”, according to Plato.
The 1, 2, 3 and 4 altogether symbolize the fact that all things are known either by intelligence, or by science, or by opinion, or by the senses.
Unity, duality, trinity and quaternity are « engrammed » in the soul.
From this, Plato concludes that the soul is « separated ».
It is « separated » from matter and the body because it is composed of four unalterable, eternal numbers that serve as its essential principles.
How could one deny the eternity of the 1, 2, 3, 4 ?
And if the soul is composed of, or ‘engrammed with’, the ideas of the 1, the 2, the 3 and the 4, how could one deny its own eternity?
This Platonic idea is worth what it is worth. At least we cannot deny in it a certain logic, which combines reason, imagination and myth.
And this idea opens the way for Platonic « great stories » about the soul, the world and the Author, which it is difficult, even today, to throw into the dustbins of History.
But above all, it should be stressed that this idea, as well as the whole Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies that result from it, is bathed in a deep shadow, whose sources come from extremely ancient times.
Twenty centuries after Plato, Marsilio Ficino stated that the construction of the Platonic imagination would not have been possible without the immemorial contribution of seers, diviners, prophets, aruspices, auspices, astrologers, Magi, Sibyls and Pythias. He summed it up as such: « When the soul of man is completely separated from the body, it will embrace, the Egyptians believe, every country and every age. »i
In the midst of the European Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino, a humanist thinker, wanted to reconnect with the mysteries of the East and the lightning-fast, millenary intuitions of their greatest geniuses.
Happy times when Orient and Occident thinkers were seen as allies in the search for answers…
At the dawn of a chaotic third millennium, we need to build the conditions for a World Renaissance, we need to create a new civilization on a global scale.
For the world to live, we need to embrace, in the midst of each of our souls, every country and every age.
i Cf. Marsilio Ficino Platonic Theology