Alain Negre is the author of The Archetype of the Number and its Reflections in Contemporary Cosmology (Chiron Publications, 2018), which makes a case for number having a qualitative aspect by virtue of which it qualifies as an archetype reflecting a deeper reality of consciousness. In the following correspondence, he answers questions about his work and views presented in his book.
Ernest: Alain, I’d first like to ask you to tell our readers the main thesis and conclusion that come out of your book.
Alain: Contrary to the common opinion, symbols and myths are at the very heart of science. Their transformative power fuels the minds of the great inventors of new theories. They disappear in mathematical quantitative models but reappear in their interpretation. I claim that a symbolic numerical 4×3 structure is reflected in the contemporary cosmological narrative. In the framework of a dialogue that respects differences, it points towards a possibility of mutual enrichment between science and spirituality.
Ernest: One important name that pops up in mind whenever mind and matter are discussed is Descartes. But he appears absent from your discussion in the book. Do you believe the Cartesian philosophy has implications for your book’s topic?
Alain: The Cartesian cut between mind and matter or between object and subject is a very simplified model of knowledge that replaced the traditional ternary conception of spirit-soul-matter where the soul acted as intermediary between spirit and matter. The split operated by Descartes became an abyss. It gave a tremendous impetus to the development of a science dedicated to the study of matter for itself. However, consciousness cannot be created from non-living matter.
Ernest: Jung and Pauli are the main figures you reference repeatedly in the book. Do you think that contemporary cosmology has largely ignored their intellectual collaboration on the complementary nature of mind and matter?
Alain: A key feature of classical physics was the detachment of the objective observer. With the advancement of science, the presence of observer within the observed phenomenon – obvious in cosmology – can no longer be denied or neglected. Consequently, Cartesian dualism, for which mental and physical phenomena were seen as being completely distinct and mutually exclusive, is no longer appropriate. Psychiatrist Jung and physicist Pauli got aware that psychology and physics dealt with the same reality. They conjectured a picture in which the mental and the material emerged as two complementary aspects of one underlying psychophysically neutral reality, reminiscent of an ancient philosophical notion called unus mundus. This new mode of thinking can provide new insights into the deeper mysteries of cosmology.
Ernest: On the relevance of asymmetry in natural forces and its effect on the evolution of the universe, would you explain to our readers how this asymmetry reflects in the first four numbers?
Alain: Cosmic asymmetry seems to exist from the ‘beginning’ of the universe that is supposed to have emerged from an unstable quantum vacuum. The collapse of the wavefunction, the second law of thermodynamics, is time asymmetric. From the unexplained preponderance of matter over anti-matter and from the fundamental physical entities to the biological organisms, symmetry breakings dominate the evolution of the universe.
In another level of reality, a symmetry breaking may also be invoked for the Jung/Pauli’s conception of a psychophysically neutral reality. The first four numbers mirror it as a 4×3 symbolic structure. They express the transformation of an archetypal order through a circular movement where the perfectly symmetric original unity is differentiated into a fourfold multiplicity and restored to the One in a recursive movement. That which causes the movement may be due to an asymmetry in the first four numbers, namely an instability between 3 and 4. In his book Aion, Jung considered Three “as a defective quaternity or as a stepping-stone towards it,” a progression echoed in the old alchemical axiom of Maria Prophetissa: “One becomes two: two becomes three: and out of the third comes the One as the fourth.” In a nutshell: what is three becomes one, which is also the fourth, a fourth that, in von Franz’s words, “acts as a stabilizer by turning back to the one.” Thus, the asymmetry in natural forces, such as that of the nuclear weak interaction in beta decay – possibly responsible for our matter-only universe – may be mirrored by ‘imperfect’ number three in need of a missing fourth element which restores the unity of the first.
Ernest: Dreams, consciousness, and archetypes today seem less applicable in mainstream science while theoretical physics and reductionist psychology lead the way. Do you think this is because the nature of number is treated differently in the two realms?
Alain: Mainstream scientists would certainly benefit from Pauli’s idea of a project for a neutral or psychophysical language. As a matter of fact, Pauli came to recognize the objective nature of his dreams and fantasies, which would help not only in the domain of the psyche but also in mainstream science.
The nature of number is quite different before and after the historical construction of the mathematical edifice, when it has lost its symbolic power. Then, qualitative and quantitative aspects of number unfold in distinct levels of reality. The nature of number must be treated differently in the two realms. However, they both conserve their status of intermediary between intelligible and sensible, or also between eternity of Being and the becoming of nature. And the same transitional position was shared by the soul, until it gradually faded out during the Middle Ages.
The explanation for many of the conceptual difficulties in today’s science may be found in the oblivion of its origins and this reminds me of a paradox raised by Michel Cazenave in his conference “Mathematics and the Soul in Proclus”: the world-soul is structured according to the laws of mathematical ratios while the latter are supposed to be produced by this very world-soul. Besides, this philosopher looks forward to a reassessment of Kurt Gödel’s meta-mathematics, a path too quickly closed down for being wrongly regarded as extraterritorial, compared to his incompleteness theorems.
Ernest: In the 7th chapter in your book when you mention circular representation of time and allude to ouroboros, does it go against the mainstream cosmology’s quest for figuring out the origin of the universe from zero time?
Alain: Science could only develop with the emergence of the notion of linearity of time which, in physics, has become a useful convention to describe the chronology of events: every event is the effect of a cause that preceded it, something that would remain valid in a circular representation. Now, in the case of cosmological time, physical conditions at t=0 and t=∞ deprive time from physical meaning (Planck’s energy conditions or absence of matter). That’s why I allude to ouroboros and to a quality of time in another level of reality, that of unconscious and unus mundus which is cyclical time. Both ‘ends’ of physical time tend to an indefinite form of time. They kind of merge where ouroboros swallows its tail. Thus, psychological time and physical time share a deep complementarity that could benefit to mainstream cosmology confronted with the mystery behind the origin of the universe from zero time.
Ernest: Just like the work on a grand unification theory in theoretical physics, do you think your work could have a heuristic value in cosmology?
Alain: The reflection of a 4×3 symbolic structure in the narrative of the cosmological model could suggest a new way of seeing the universe, a new systemic understanding likely to pave the way for new findings in the attempt to unify relativity and quantum physics.
Ernest: When we speak of astrology and the zodiac, many would likely say we are talking cultural beliefs than science. And when you plot the numbers or concepts on a cross, like you do in parts of your book, it brings to mind the religious, particularly the Christian worldview. Do you think that such work can then be reconciled with the scientific approach?
Alain: Contrary to the image of a sky-fallen science by pure spirit told in a ‘holy’ history of science, Dodds, Koyre, Westfall, and others revealed that the formation of scientific laws originates outside of science itself, which is the source from which astrology also stems. Astrology is a psychological phenomenon. The “inner firmament” glimpsed by the famous Renaissance physician Paracelsus was a forerunner of what Jung interpreted as unconscious introspective perceptions.
Drawing from astrology and religious considerations, Kepler created a new science of physics and separated it (with some difficulties raised by Pauli) from what now appears as a symbolic knowledge, perfectly taken into account by depth-psychology which preserves its rationality and dignity.
The figure of the cross underlines dialectically-related opposites that reflect the pattern of a mandala, a universal symbol of unity common to many religions. Yes, cultural beliefs, religion can be reconciled with science; a vestige of their common origin persists in etymology of ‘religion’: religere (re-read) – more fundamental than religare (bind) – means “to consider or observe carefully,” and this is in agreement with the scientific approach. But reconciliation does not mean confusion: a unity of knowledge must respect the various disciplines, their methodologies, their norms of truth and modes of verification.
Ernest: Lastly, where do you go from here in your search for understanding the quality aspect of the number archetype?
Alain: I don’t have any specific plans, only a general inclination toward keeping alive Pauli’s vision “to integrate natural science within a greater holistic picture.”
Ernest: Thank you Alain for taking the time for this correspondence and sharing your views.
Alain: Thanks for your invigorating questions that allowed me to deepen my understanding on this difficult subject.