24: The Cosmic Middle

There are three ways of approaching the nature of a number: mathematically, a number reveals something of itself when we examine which other numbers it is in conversation with; biologically, a number shows its relationship to life; and finally—and this is its loftiest aspect—a number manifests itself in culture and religion.

The number 24 has something special to offer in all three ways! First, it is unique in its relationship to other numbers. It is the smallest number that has seven other numbers as factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12. No other number is such a vessel for other numbers. Because it has seven divisors, 24 is also related to 7, showing a cosmic significance. Like rivers in a delta, the seven series of numbers flow into 24.

Mathematically, 24 encompasses a fullness. And what is it like in the human being? There are 24 ribs in the ribcage that encompass our center: our heart-lung beat [Herz-Lungenschlag]. The center thus becomes a mirror of the cosmos—center and universe, two sides of the same coin. The fact that 24 encompasses the whole is also reflected in our measurement of time—following Babylonian chronology, we divide the day into 24 hours. And the oldest monotheistic religion divides the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into 24 books. 24 means the whole, and it means the middle, the center. Yes, this may be the call of the new year, 2024: to find the universe, the All, in our own center, in this open space, this nothingness.

See Wolfgang Held, Uncovering the Secrets of Time and Number: Finding Patterns and Rhythms in Everyday Life, Floris Books, 2020.

Translation Laura Liska
Image Miriam Wahl, untitled. From: Studien über das Wachen im Träumen [Studies on Waking in Dreams], watercolour on paper, 32 × 24 cm, 2020.

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