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No other number seems to have a stronger presence in our lives

December 24, 2003
The Iranian
For one who has admittedly never been good at math, I continue to be fascinated with the connotation of numbers and the significance they have in the world around us. Aside from numbers being the very foundation of science, all of us non-rocket scientists use numbers on a daily basis to comprehend the time, the date, the calories we consume, the paycheck we depend on, the votes we need, the spam mail we get, the number of children suffering from malnutrition or obesity, etc. Without numbers our world as we know it would be reduced to nothingness.

This constant preoccupation with numbers has led me to believe that no other number seems to have a stronger presence in our lives than the number seven.

Almost all occurrences of the number seven represent perfection and completeness. It is the most dominant number in religion, literature, music, nature and one of the most unusual numbers in math. The list is endless, but here are the most familiar and most important examples.

In nature, the most significant presence of seven is in the colors of the rainbow or the refraction of a beam of white light through a prism which generates a spectrum of seven colors.  Although it can be argued that these colors are actually thousands of different shades gradually merging into one another, our eyes naturally sort them into these seven groups:

-- Red
-- Orange
-- Yellow
-- Green
-- Blue
-- Indigo
-- Violet

This is done in very much the same way the human ear distinctly recognizes the seven tones that the Western diatonic music scale is built upon. Although the 1⁄2 tones in between the major notes merge "chromatically" to create new tones, the major divisions and the repetitive frequencies are:

-- Do or C
-- Re or D
-- Mi or E
-- Fa or F
-- Sol or G
-- La or A
-- Si  or B

The seven day week is used internationally, and it is said that each day is named after the seven visible planets and luminaries and moving objects in the sky:

-- Monday (Moon)
-- Tuesday (Mercury)
-- Wednesday (Venus)
-- Thursday (Mars)
-- Friday (Jupiter)
-- Saturday (Saturn)
-- Sunday (Sun)

Although the seven day week has religious undertones ("on the seventh day God rested from the work of Creation"), it is also often attributed to the phases of the moon which each last for seven days:

-- Waxing crescent
-- First-quarter
-- Waxing gibbous
-- Full moon
-- Waning gibbous
-- Third-quarter
-- Waning crescent

And where the four phases of the moon (7x4=28) complete the cycle of a lunar month. This also corresponds to the 28-day female menstrual cycle, and amazingly, the sum of the first seven single digits also equals 28: 1+2+3+4+5+6+7=28

Which brings us to some examples of the mathematical uniqueness of seven:

Seven is the only single digit number, which cannot be divided evenly into the circle. (360 degrees)

If a, b are the shorter sides of a Pythagorean triangle, the seven divides one of a, b, a-b or a+b.

Seven is the smallest positive integer whose reciprocal has a pattern of more than one repeating digit: 1/7 = 0.142857142857...

It is also the smallest number for which the digit sequence of 1/n is of length n-1 (the longest such a sequence can be). The next such numbers are 17, 19, 23, 29, 47, 59, 61, 97, 109, 113, ... (Sloane's integer sequence A006883).

In Hebrew, seven is shevah, meaning "to be full or satisfied, have enough of", and it is believed that on the seventh day God rested from the work of Creation. Hence the word (Shavath), to cease, desist, rest, and  Shabbath, Sabbath, or day of rest. This root runs through various languages; e.g., Sanscript, (saptan); Zend- Avesta., (hapta); Greek,  (hepta); Persian, (haft); Latin, (septem). All these preserve the "t," which in the Semitic and Teutonic languages is dropped out; e.g. Gothic,(sibun); Germ., (sieben); Eng., (seven).
In Judaism, we also have the Seven universal rules of Noah (Talmud Sanh.56a):

-- Prohibition of idolatry
-- Prohibition of blasphemy
-- Prohibition of murder
-- Prohibition of theft
-- Prohibition of illicit relations
-- Prohibition of eating live meat
-- Prohibition of failing to establish courts of justice

Among religions, Christianity is riddled with the number seven. The Bible is full of references to the number seven, as in the Seven Parables of Matthew 13.In the Book of Revelation, there are seven churches, seven spirits, seven stars, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven personages, and seven dooms. There are Seven generations from David to Jesus. The beast that rises out of the sea to destroy the world mentioned in Revelations also has seven heads, and its number is 666, which is the sum of the squares of the first 7 primes:
666 = 22 + 32 + 52 + 72 + 112 + 132 + 172

But most importantly in Christianity there are the seven deadly sins:

-- Vanity
-- Envy
-- Gluttony
-- Lust
-- Wrath
-- Covetousness
-- Sloth

There are Seven Devas of the Hindu pantheon, and the Seven Chakras of Tantric Hinduism are:

-- Crown Chakra Sehasara, located at top of head
-- Brow Chakra Anja, located in center of forehead above eyes
-- Throat Chakra Visshuda , located at base of throat
-- Heart Chakra Anahatha ,located at heart center of chest
-- Solar Plexis Chakra Manipura ,located between the sternum bone and the belly 
-- Sacral Chakra, Svadistana,Located at sex organs or near belly button
-- Root Chakra, Muladhara, Kundalini ,located at the tailbone base of spine

In Zoroastrianism , there are the Seven Amschaspands:

-- Ordibehesht
-- Khordad
-- Amordad
-- Shahrivar
-- Bahman
-- Espandasmad
-- Ahooramazda.

In Islam, muslim pilgrims on "Hajj" or their pilgrimage trip to Mecca, arrive by the seventh day of "Zuu- ul Hijja" (by Islamic celestial calendar), do the  "Tavaf" and circle the "Kabeh" seven times , and do the "Saay" or run between the hills of "Safa" and "Marva" for seven times.

In the Koran, a few verses from the Chapter of Joseph are as follows:

"O Joseph!" (he said) "O man of truth! Expound to us (the dream) of seven fat kine whom seven lean ones devour, and of seven green ears of corn and (seven) others withered: that I may return to the people, and that they may understand."  (Joseph) said: "For seven years shall ye diligently sow as is your wont: and the harvests that ye reap, ye shall leave them in the ear,- except a little, of which ye shall eat.  "Then will come after that (period) seven dreadful (years), which will devour what ye shall have laid by in advance for them,- (all) except a little which ye shall have (specially) guarded.

In Japanese folklore there is a group of supernatural beings popularly known as the seven gods of bliss, who in the order of their popularity are:

-- Daikok (The Great Black One)
-- Ebis (The Stranger)
-- Benzaiten (Goddess of Eloquence)
-- Bishamonten (Vaishravana)
-- Hotê (Linen-bag)
-- Jurojin (Old Man)
-- Fukrokju (Wealth and Long Life), or Kisshôten (goddess of Good)

Rome, it is said, was built on seven hills, and The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

-- The Great Pyramid of Giza
-- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
-- The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
-- The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
-- The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
-- The Colossus of Rhodes
-- The Lighthouse of Alexandria

Leonardo Da Vinci is known to have established a method of thinking named the Seven Da Vincian Principles:

-- Curiosita - An Insatiably Curious Approach to Life and an Unrelenting Quest for Continuous Learning
-- Dimonstrazione - A Commitment to Test Knowledge through Experience, Persistence, and Willingness to Learn from Mistakes.
-- Sensazione - The Continual Refinement of the Senses, Especially Sight, as the Means to Enliven Experience.
-- Sfumato - A Willingness to Embrace Ambiguity, Paradox, and Uncertainty.
-- Arte/Scienza - The Development of the Balance between Science, Art, Logic and Imagination. "Whole-Brain Thinking"
-- Corporalita - The Cultivation of Grace, Ambidexterity, Fitness, and Poise
-- Connessione - A Recognition of and Appreciation for the Interconnectedness of Things and Phenoma. Systems Thinking.

The Seven Continents are:

-- Africa
-- Antarctica
-- Asia
-- Australia
-- Europe
-- North America
-- South America

The Seven Seas are:

-- North Atlantic
-- South Atlantic
-- North Pacific
-- South Pacific
-- Indian
-- Antarctic
-- Arctic

Seven is probably the most important number in Greek Literature and mythology:

-- Seven Labors of Hercules
-- Seven daughters of Atlas in the Pleiades
-- Seven gates of Thebes
-- Seven sons and seven daughters of Niobe
-- Seven strings of the lyre of Zeus
-- Seven spheres

From William Shakespeare's "As you like it", we have  The Seven Ages of Man:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard;
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

In  Persian culture the most notable occurrence is in the celebration of the Persian Eyd or new year, where a dining cloth or "Sofreh" is spread out on the floor and decorated with "Haft Sin"  or seven items (with many variations including "senjed", "sonbol",etc ) all starting with the letter "Sin" or "S" in their names:

-- Sabza (wheat grown to the height of a few inches)
-- Somagh (a spice)
-- Sib (apples)
-- Sekkeh (coins)
-- Sir (garlic cloves)
-- Serkeh (vinegar)
-- Samanu (a thick paste made from cooking a mixture of wheat, water, oil, and flower)

Seven or "Haft", is used a lot in Persian expressions too, as in:

-- Az haft dolat azad (Free from any obligation)
-- Beh haft jaddam ghasam (I swear on my forefathers)
-- Barayeh haft poshtam basseh (Never again)
-- Adameh haft khat, mareh haft khat, haft khateh roozegar (Shrewd ,cunning, and evil person)
-- Haft padeshah khab didan (Slept like a horse)
-- Haft ghalam arayesh (Full makeover)
-- Haft Sang ( game where one team tries to hit the other team members with a ball and stop them from piling seven stones on top of each other)
-- Haft khaj (a winning hand of seven cards from the clubs suite, in a popular card game called "pasoor" or "chahar barg")
-- Shabeh haft (one of the 3 funeral ceremonies held for the deceased on the seventh night of their passing away)

Persian literature is also full of the number seven:

-- Haft khan rostam ( Seven Labors of Rostam, from Shahnameh Ferdowsi)
-- Haft shahreh eshgh (Seven cities of Love )
-- Haft peykar (Seven bodies, book of poetry by Nezami)
-- Haft asemoon (Seven skies)
-- Haft behesht (Seven Heavens)
-- Haft orang (Seven colors)

Modern technology clearly reflects the influence of the number seven in its naming schemes. For instance the OSI model (Open System Interconnection) is divided into seven layers which defines a networking framework for implementing protocols , and pretty much defines the process for which data communication on the internet is established:

-- Application : Provides different services to the applications
-- Presentation : Converts the information
-- Session : Handles problems which are not communication issues
-- Transport : Provides end to end communication control
-- Network : Routes the information in the network
-- Data Link : Provides error control between adjacent nodes
-- Physical : Connects the entity to the transmission media

On a less serious tone, it is amusing to see that the entertainment industry has its fair share of seven influences too. Take a look at the list of movies with the number seven in them that the Seventh Art or cinema has created for us:

-- Seven
-- The Seven Samurai
-- Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
-- Seven brides for Seven Brothers
-- The Seven year itch
-- The Magnificent Seven
-- Sinbad and the legend of the Seven Seas
-- The Seventh sign

An episode of "Friends" included the following dialogue:

-- Monica: All right, I'm gonna show you something a lot of guys don't know. Rach, give me that pad, please? All right. Now...
-- Chandler: Wait, you don't have to draw an actual wo.... Whoa! She's hot!
-- Monica: Now everybody knows the basic erogenous zones. You got one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven!
-- Chandler: There are seven?
-- Chandler: That's one?
-- Monica: Kind of an important one!
-- Chandler: Oh, y'know... y'know what? I was looking at it upside down.
-- Rachel: Well, y'know, sometimes that helps.
-- Monica: All right. You could, uh, start out with a little 1, a 2, a 1-2-3, a 3, a 5, a 4, a 3-2, 2, a 2-4-6, 2-4-6, 4, 2, 2, 4-7, 5-7, 6-7, 7... 7... 7... 7 7 7 7 7 7...

And just for good measure, here are the lyrics from Bob Dylan's Seven Curses:

"These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:
That one doctor will not save him,
That two healers will not heal him,
That three eyes will not see him.
That four ears will not hear him,
That five walls will not hide him,
That six diggers will not bury him
And that seven deaths shall never kill him."

You can keep going on and on , for example an old wives' tale says that if you break a mirror you will have seven years of bad luck, or how to avoid the Seven year itch in Marriage, or why first graders are sent off to start school when they are seven years old. The examples are numerous and too many to list in one place. Hopefully  these few examples won't keep you awake at night and make you lose your required seven hours of sleep.

Now lets move on to the number 13... 

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