Numerotherapy and Its Metamessage

Article excerpt

"...his 'number' is already written down, along with the fate that goes with this particular number."1 This line by Kenneth Burke suggests that so much more can be said about number as a medium, which means Marshall McLuhan's chapter on number in Understanding Media can be extended with diverging emphases.2 Oswald Spengler's chapter entitled "The Meaning of Numbers" in The Decline of the West can serve as a good source as we conduct the extension.3

In China, there is a species of "nomad" (a la Gilles Deleuze) therapists who treat patients with numbers. As a practice that invokes the therapeutic power of numbers, numerotherapy is very different than logotherapy. It immediately calls to mind / Ching, the idea of alea (the Latin name for the game of dice, as explained by Roger Caillois), and the Nietzschean notion of the dicethrow.4

Deleuze has a passage in Nietzsche and Philosophy that is highly relevant to the point I'd like to make:

To think is to send out a dicethrow. Only a dicethrow, on the basis of chance, could affirm necessity and produce "the unique number which cannot be another". . .. The dice which fall are a constellation, their points form the number "born of the stars." The table of the dicethrow is therefore double, sea of chance and sky of necessity, midnight-midday. Midnight, the hour when the dice are thrown. . .5

The sentiment here is well in line with the spirit of / Ching, as explained by Alan Watts in The Way of Zen.6 Based on this understanding, the more sophisticated kind of numerotherapy should chance upon each of its prescriptions, as if it were triggered off by a singular, nonduplicable encounter, a once-occurrence, a hecceity, rather than predetermined by a formula.

The December 2010 issue of the Sheng Yi Tong (Business Expert) magazine carried a page-long article on numerotherapy entitled "Therapy Based on Numerical Codes of the Human Body." The article listed eighty diseases that can be alleviated by silently mumbling combinations of numbers between one and eight. The specific combination has to do with the actual symptom.

What "primitives" intuitively grasped may take hundreds of years or even forever for science to understand. The advancement of science is too often punctuated by the retrieval of what it displaced earlier. Reliance upon technology has numbed humans' natural perceptive powers. Accomplished meditators claim being able to hear their own blood flow, heartbeat, stomach movement, and "bowel movement" (in a literal sense, rather than as a euphemism), which work together like an orchestra. Along the same lines, Claude Lévi-Strauss mentions "a particular tribe which was able to see the planet Venus in full daylight."7

In the Ming-Dynasty semimythical novels Investiture of the Gods (Feng Shen Yan Yi, by Xu Zhonglinj and Journey to the West (Xi You Ji, by Wu Cheng'enJ, there is a god by the name of Erlang, who has a third truth-seeking eye in the middle of his forehead. In the Chinese language, "to open one's third eye (kai tian yan)" is an idiomatic expression, which has a strong media ecological resonance. …