Monday, April 23, 2012

On the Recurrence of 423 and 432

Today is April 23rd and I've had many 4/23 thoughts rolling through my head all day so I'd like to unravel them here for all to see.

I awoke this morning around 4 AM in Daytona Beach, Florida. Had to catch an early flight to come back home to Austin after spending a weekend visiting with my family, especially my newborn niece and 2-year-old nephew.

My girlfriend (whose birthday is June 23rd) picked me up at the airport but her phone had fallen and broke yesterday so that added some complications to things. Later in the afternoon she acquired a new phone and called me at exactly 4:23 PM.

Today is Shakespeare's birthday, he was born on April 23, 1564. He died on April 23, 1616.

In his book Coincidance, Robert Anton Wilson examines a vast net of seemingly never-ending synchronicities in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, including those having to do with the number 23. Shakespeare is involved in it all and he gets tied in with legendary Irish king Brian Boru who died at the Battle of Clontarf which took place on April 23, 1014.

In the Wake, there are 5 main characters: 2 females (mother and daughter) and 3 males (father and twin sons). One of the main recurring themes of the book is a foggily remembered incident that occurred in Phoenix Park involving 2 girls and 3 soldiers, resembling Dublin's Coat of Arms which features 2 girls and 3 castles. Wilson notes that Ireland "is a living synchronicity, having 4 provinces divided into 32 counties and also having been converted to Christianity by St. Patrick in 432 A.D." (We'll talk more about that other funny number, 432, in a minute...)

The Easter Rising, an organized Irish uprising against the ruling British, was originally scheduled for Easter Sunday April 23, 1916 but because ammunition arrived late it began on Monday April 24th. The principle culprit behind the Easter Rising, namely Padraic Pearse, is frequently mentioned throughout the Wake and Joyce even knew Pearse personally because he took a Gaelic class from him once.

On my two flights and all throughout this past weekend I've been reading both Finnegans Wake and Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger Volume II.  Volume I of Cosmic Trigger (arguably RAW's best book and one which I hope to write a review for soon) prominently features the number 23 and the synchronicities that accompany it.

Wilson explains that he first heard of the 23 enigma from William S. Burroughs who told him a story about a boat captain named Captain Clark who ran a ferry between Tangiers and Spain. Clark told Burroughs one day that he'd been running the ferry for 23 years without any accidents. Wilson solemnly notes, "That very day, the ferry sank, killing Clark and everybody aboard."

That evening Burroughs put on the radio and the first thing he heard was a news report about a plane crash that occurred on its way to Miami from New York, the pilot was also Captain Clark and the flight was number 23.

This led Wilson to start keeping track of coincidences involving 23 that he encountered and he realized that (among other things) Euclid's Geometry opens with 23 axioms, 23 in telegrapher's code means "bust" or "break the line" while the 23rd hexagram of the I Ching is "Breaking Apart," and he continues:
I was even thrilled by noting that in conception Mom and Dad each contribute 23 chromosomes to the fertilized egg, while within the DNA coil of genetic metaprogramming instructions there are unexplained bonding irregularities every 23rd angstrom ... 23 was my spiral staircase, my intuitive signal.
The most important part of the book's story occurs on July 23, 1973 when Wilson thought he had begun to receive contact from the Sirius star system. The "Dog Days of summer" are associated with the star Sirius (known as the Dog Star because it's the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major) and begin on July 23rd each year. (Scanning the Dog Days page on Wikipedia I came across a quote from John Webster's play that was first performed in the year 1623.)

It's worth noting that I completed Cosmic Trigger Volume I back on January 23rd of this year.

*   *   *

"Where the lisieuse are we and what's the first sing to be sung?"
- Finnegans Wake, p. 432

Now, some tidbits on the number 432.

As already mentioned, I'm in the middle of reading Robert Anton Wilson's very engaging autobiographical book, Cosmic Trigger Volume II. I've just finished the chapter entitled "The Square Root of Minus One & Other Mysteries" in which the author briefly delves into the basics of mathematics and Einstein's relativity to highlight the awe-inspiring inexplicable fact that mathematics (a human invention) is always absolute and verifiable in the world we live in. It almost seems to be of divine origin.

With that in mind, we now take a look at Joseph Campbell's mathematical mind games as presented in two of his books, Occidental Mythology and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space.

Campbell notes that a Chaldean priest in Babylon named Berossos wrote an account of the history of Babylonia in which 432,000 years elapsed before the coming of the mythological flood came and wiped everything out, beginning a new cycle. Strangely enough, this resembles the cosmic cycles in the Icelandic Edda where, on the Doomsday of the Gods, Odin's heavenly warrior hall Valhalla will see 800 fighters entering through each of the hall's 540 doors to wage war at the end of a cosmic cycle.

540 x 800 = 432,000.

In the Hindu sacred epics, the number of years they calculate our current cosmic cycle to last (until it concludes and then another begins) is exactly 432,000 years. The astonished Campbell concludes:
So that we have found this number, now, in Europe, c. 1100 A.D., in India, c. 400 A.D., and in Mesopotamia, c. 300 B.C., with reference to the measure of a cosmic eon.
It gets even more interesting as Campbell explains how the Babylonians managed to calculate (to a precision that was just slightly off) the precession of the equinoxes, that is, the very slight wobble of the Earth on its axis that causes the stars to be in a slightly different position in the zodiac each year. The precessional lag is extremely small, just 1 degree every 72 years. Thus it takes 25,920 years for the zodiac to go the full 360 degrees of a circle.

25,920 divided by 60 (the basic unit of time measurement still to this day) = 432

It is as though the ancient observers of the stars all independently managed to calculate the rate at which the universe inhales and exhales.

Campbell quotes "a popular book on physical education" which states that a person of good conditioning who exercises regularly will have a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute.

60 beats per minute equals 3,600 beats per hour

3,600 x 24 = 86,400

86,400 divided by 2 = 43,200

There's more:

A computer program has found that the optimal number of dimples on a golf ball is 432.

The diameter of the Sun is about 864,000 miles (divided by 2 that's 432,000). The diameter of the Moon is 2,160 miles (that equals half of 4,320).

Pretty startling, huh?

Read plenty more about it here and here and here.


  1. As we've been arguing back and forth on the significance of synchronicity in the Wake, I'll post a link to this post on my blog, PQ.

  2. Thanks, Seana.

    There's really no argument about synchronicity when it comes to Joyce. It's one of the hallmarks of his two biggest works (Ulysses and the Wake).

    Anyone interested in synchronicity in the Wake should definitely pick up the book I mentioned, Robert Anton Wilson's Coincidance. He has a handful of essays dealing specifically with synchronicity in the Wake. In the first chapter of the book he quotes Samuel Beckett who said:

    "To Joyce reality was a paradigm, an illustration of a perhaps unstatable rule... It is not a perception of order or of love; more humble than either of these, it is a perception of coincidence."

    Sheldon Brivic lists over 100 synchronicities from Ulysses in his book Joyce the Creator.

    It's worth noting that Joyce did all of this before Jung coined the term "synchronicity". In fact, going by a quote from the Ithaca chapter in Ulysses, Joyce's word for these coincidences is "homonymity".

  3. I was wondering how the type of synchronicity in Joyce relates to the other kind. When you notice fortuitous coincidences in life, that's one thing. But it's not really the same type of coincidence if it's a book that an author worked on for almost twenty years. I haven't read Wilson's work, so if you could explain the concept to me I'd appreciate it.

    It's interesting that some of the most prominent Modernists were superstitious: Joyce and Schoenberg, for instance. But their work contains deliberate patterns that they produced in a painstaking process of artistic creation.

  4. This parlor game about the number 432 becomes much less "startling" when you realize that you have to perform various operations on other numbers to get to 432, an arbitrarily chosen number that you've already decided is significant. You multiply two numbers together; you divide a number by 60; you multiply a number by 2 and divide another by two just to get to a number that you still have to divide by a thousand to get to 432.

    But the funniest thing is doing all the math to get the number of ideal heartbeats in one day, which you divide by two because of "inhales and exhales." neither of which a heart muscle actually does.

    Mystical stuff there.

  5. @Howard:

    Thanks for commenting. Synchronicity does not necessarily consist of "fortuitous coincidences in life," that's more along the lines of serendipity.

    Synchronicity is essentially a connection between the psyche and the outside world that can't be explained be causality. I've seen Jung discuss it somewhere as the idea that time is not just quantitative but qualitative.

    Joyce employs synchronicity to great effect all throughout Ulysses. Frequently throughout the book, the main character Leopold Bloom is struck by something or someone he encounters that he'd just been thinking about. "Coming events cast their shadows before," he thinks.

    The whole "Wandering Rocks" chapter involves synchronicity. Through 19 mini episodes, we follow different characters as they move throughout the city, their thoughts and actions often connecting with those of another character at the same time.

    As for Finnegans Wake, I'm not nearly as familiar with its details but the Wilson book I mentioned (called "Coincidance", named after the line in the Wake "the coincidance of their contraries") explores it deeply. He frequently uses the term isomorphism along with synchronicity. The way I see it, Joyce's development of a style of writing that would capture many allusions at once somehow managed to bottle up more referential coincidences than he'd intended.

    I've discussed this effect here a few times before. The book is designed in such a way that it's almost like a churning machine that actively weaves with the world of the reader creating countless synchronicities and connections.

    And yes, indeed, Joyce was very superstitious. He considered it a remnant of his Catholic upbringing. "Coincidance" often refers to Joyce's superstitions about numbers, dates, names, etc.

  6. @Euclid:

    I think yours may be the first comment I've ever received that actually challenged or criticized something I've written. For that, I'm very thankful.

    Often I'm afraid I might say some dumb things that nobody takes the liberty to point out.

    I changed the part about "inhales and exhales." That was silly. Nevertheless, 43,200 heartbeats every 12 hours still seems significant to me in light of everything else.

    The mathematics may appear convoluted, sure. Blame it on the guy who uncovered this information, Joseph Campbell.

    But it's not all that random.

    The Babylonians figured out that the precession of the equinoxes (aka the wobble of the earth on its axis) rotates all the way around every 25,920 years.

    Campbell divides that number by 60 because the "soss" as the Babylonians called it, was a base unit of measurement for them. It remains so for us. 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 360 degrees in a circle, etc.

    The rest of it appears pretty basic to me but you're right: if one hopes to see things a certain way, that's how it'll appear to them.

    1. I was trying to make the point that the more "convoluted" Campbell's maths are, the less impressive the exercise becomes. The more operations he has to perform on these data just to arrive at multiples of 432, the more numbers we should assume he could, ahem, "uncover" through similarly arbitrary methods.

  7. @Howard: I came across something in a book recently that I think answers your question about Joyce using synchronicity in the Wake. The author here, Bernard Benstock, uses the phrase deja vu but I believe what he's referencing is basically an aspect of synchronicity.

    "Throughout the Wake Joyce is poetically striving for the deja vu experience to emphasize the Viconian continuity. Poetic echoes best serve his purpose; the memorable lines of poetry in the Wake reappear often to add to that strange sensation of having been here before."

    from pg 142 of Benstock's book Joyce-Again's Wake.