Numbers are, perhaps, the most important “invention” of humanity: they have given us unthinkable progress, but at the same time they enslave us in a devious way. How to become free to use numbers without being used by them.
“Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted counts.”
Even though this subject may sound strange to many, it actually touches us very closely, all of us. Numbers are everywhere in our lives and we use them constantly, most of the time in an automatic way. We could just think about phone numbers, passwords, various PINs, money; also when we go shopping: prices, weights, quantities, sizes. When we move: kilometres, travel time, speed. In many jobs: measurements, heights, lengths, distances. Everything revolves around numbers, they determine our lives enormously. Having 1000€ or 1000000€ in the bank account makes a noticeable difference. Where does their power to make us slaves is hidden? Obviously, the numbers themselves have no power, we are the ones who give it to them. And this lies above all in our calculation mania.
The temptation to calculate every aspect of life
Calculations simplify our existence
Knowing the height and the base of the triangle, calculate the area. How many times have we run into such problems at school? We started with simple problems and then we moved on to more and more difficult and complicated cases. Until we end up to make calculations on social behaviour, on economic movements, on market trends. Initially, we found ourselves measuring matter and we ended up calculating human behaviour, natural events, the movements of the stars, financial phenomena, psychological types. They invented tables to classify different types of people, just think of Gurdjieff’s enneagram or Jung’s 16 personalities. Some might say: I don’t see anything wrong with this. It is a means to simplify life, knowing very well that the map is not the territory and that reality maintains its uniqueness and irreducibility.
But let’s get into the detail of the question.
Numbers in the Western world
Nowadays, in the western world (including the westernized world), calculations are used massively, especially in our workplaces. Practically in almost all the jobs, there is a computer or a calculator. Considering that, on average, we work AT LEAST 40 hours a week and that this presents a quarter of the time of our life (a third is occupied by sleep), it is a decisive aspect for the existence of a human being. From the advent of capitalism and consumerism onwards, the numbers mainly serve to find the way by which the maximum profit is obtained in the shortest possible time. This approach has led to obvious problems that in this article will be just mentioned: destructive use of the surrounding environment, exploitation of the workforce, total submission of human rights to market trends. Practically speaking, numbers are used to squeeze the fruits of the earth and human energies to generate capital as much as possible, to the detriment of long-term repercussions. There is no planning that takes into account the near future, we only want an immediate profit. How is the daily life of Western man influenced by this approach?
The mania of calculation in seeking love
Now, let’s try for a moment to project this capitalist philosophy into everyday life. Let’s say I’m a single man in my thirties with the desire to have a life as a couple. What I do: in the morning I wake up and think of a way to get to know a woman (or a man, depending on my orientation) with whom to establish a relationship. I do a “market” research to find out which places to meet people in their thirties, which are the best and most effective techniques and the most appropriate methods of approach. I read manuals written by “experts” in the field, I participate in “workshops” to refine my techniques and I subscribe to channels on Youtube on the subject. I download dating apps, I sign up for dating platforms, I intensively use social media.
Then I take action by going to the places I found through my research, writing a detailed record of the pros and cons of each venue, reviewing every aspect. I go there on Friday, Saturday, I take notes of the differences. I do the same job for apps, platforms, social media. In short, a real business plan applied to dating. When I finally find one or more people I like, I start seeing them and I create a dossier as complete as possible for each girl/boy: the family of origin, age, life expectancy, health status, blood tests, DNA tests, work, salary, savings, connections with important people, friendships, influence on social media and so on. When the files are a considerable number, I make a study of the pros and cons of each girl (or boy) and finally choose the best one, according to the parameters that I had previously set for myself.
How love is in reality
Everyone has known at least one person who acts in this way to look for a partner. First of all, the real desire for a couple’s life (and then for a family) comes when we spontaneously fall in love with someone.
The simple aspiration to share life with a hypothetical person who lives only in one’s mind is nothing more than the need to free oneself from loneliness, the projection of something deeper and more complex.
There are no calculations in love, there is no strategy, no technique. There are tactics to “pick up” men or women, to be successful in flirting: but not for love. If we start a relationship as a couple, thanks to some techniques, well we certainly can’t talk about love. Love happens, it comes to us almost by accident, when we least expect it. Just ask two people in love how they met and almost nobody will tell you “through a marriage agency”. Most will tell of “incredible randomness”, “unpredictable situations” and “unexpected phenomena”. I’m talking about simple events, nothing from Hollywood movies, but cases outside of any possible calculation. They just happened. But we are not here to talk about love, let’s return to the main topic.
I have deliberately chosen this example of the couple relationship, of love, precisely because of its total distance with the calculating method. I wanted to compare two opposite extremes to make the “squeal” that occurs when one method, useful in one sector, is used in another, even more evident. As crazy as it may seem to constantly use calculations in every aspect of life, we do it more than we think. There are people who do nothing, even peel a potato, without having “calculated” before if it suits them or not. Everyone has come to know individuals who have strong opportunism. Humans who don’t move a finger if there isn’t some kind of gain, not necessarily monetary. People that threw spontaneity into the toilet and flushed it away; they measure every word they say, depending on the context and the people they are with. Robots that no longer even know what they really love and what they don’t, because they now identify themselves with the calculation.
For example, we are a group of friends, the human calculator knows that you like metal music and he/she throws a sentence about Iron Maiden totally decontextualized, just to please you. He/she wants to keep you good because it is good to have benevolent relationships with everyone because you never know, one day you might be useful to them. People like that have lost any flavour, they taste of nothing, they are flat. Their whole life is based on calculation: I buy those clothes there because they are in fashion now and they identify me with a kind of person I want to deal with. I am applying for that job that will give me money and I will be well considered, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not. I say that joke so that girl I like (mostly because she is considered pretty, nice and has a good job) will be pleased by me. People who have totally sold themselves for a dish of stew.
The census of David
Although I am not a religious person, there is a passage in the Bible that has always made me think. It is 2 Sam 24. King David decides (instigated by God) to make a census of his people, to know the number of inhabitants, especially of the fighters (or young healthy males to be sent to war). As soon as the census is completed, David himself realizes that he has done something horrible and asks for God’s forgiveness; God obviously punishes him before forgiving him. In all this, it is never explained what David’s sin was. It is left to free interpretation.
After long reflection, I came to my conclusion: it was a calculation sin. Longing to know the number of their people, labelling them according to their duties, their usefulness, speculating on how many can be sent to die in war. Ultimately: treating human beings as objects, as possessions. Likewise, the serial calculator behaves: every person, event, situation, animal, plant, in short, everything that surrounds him/her is nothing more than a potential to be exploited at will. It is an approach to life that can only turn against us because as we treat it, we are treated. And also because we concentrate our energy, attention and will for all that is impermanent, transitory, forgetting our essence, which is the only thing that exists, that is true.
Become aware of the temptation of numbers
We are all calculators, but we can be “healed”
Because of the education received and the Western society in which we live, we are all driven to deal with reality by calculating. We may not be as pathological as the human calculators mentioned above, but it still happens that we get caught up in the calculation craze of certain situations. There are people who count how many countries they have visited and how many they are missing (to reach what?). You can read on social media slogans like #30before30 or #40before40. Others count the numbers of girls (or boys) that they had sex with. A lot of people count the likes or reaction they got on social networks…
I say it again: there is nothing wrong with numbers and calculations! The use made of it determines their “morality”. I want to say that we must not stop doing calculations and live only from Providence, hand-to-mouth. The balance between extremes is what we can wish to desire. There are those who say that the calculation should be relegated only to material things while the “spiritual” or linked to ideals ones should be without them. Personally, I do not agree: every situation requires a mix of both aspects. Sometimes even love needs calculation, in specific moments of our lives.
Like two wings that make us fly
Since there is no winning formula, the ideal thing is to remain “vigilant”, always aware of how much the calculation is influencing our choice, our approach to that concrete situation. We should try to avoid becoming victims of it, letting ourselves be overwhelmed and allowing it to dominate our will.
Every so often, let’s stop and ask ourselves: what is really moving my actions? Am I following my inner voice, the nature of my essence? Or am I allowing my lust for power to use others as pawns? Am I pretending, perhaps, to fly with a single wing, or do I open myself to the possibility that life is also made up of unexpected events and that my projects can change?
Like the eagle, in order to reach the inaccessible heights of the sky, it needs two healthy wings, perfectly coordinated and in balance, so our higher self needs calculation and instinct to realize its highest dreams.
Since it is not easy to understand from the outside if a person is a computer, we need very trained “eyes”, the ideal thing is to be able to understand it yourself. Of course, the comparison with the other is always a great mirror, be it a friend, a psychologist or a life coach, but in any case, only we can really understand if what moves our actions is a mask or our deep nature. Some useful techniques are questions like:
- if no one saw me and heard of it, would I do the same?
- if I had all the money in the world, would I make the same decision?
- if there were other concrete possibilities, would I continue on my way?
These simple questions, which require an honest and sincere answer, can open our eyes to what is really moving our choices and our actions. Perhaps we will discover that it is the calculation that drives us but at the same time we do not see other possibilities, and maybe that’s okay. The important thing is to be aware of what is happening inside us and to take an informed choice about the causes (and the consequences).