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Keith Tse


  • Writer's pictureKeith Tse

Meaning of numbers (17)

In many of my previous blogs about numbers, I have talked about numerical combinations being superstitiously and religiously significant, especially when interpreted within the Chinese numerical system e.g. addition, the sum of numbers which may yield a higher level of meaning. Another concept which is relevant here is, of course, the very opposite to addition, namely subtraction. How to interpret it, however, is open to different opinions, since we could treat it as on a par with addition, or we could see it as the anti-type of addition i.e. while addition results in a positive correlation of numerical meaning, subtraction creates the very opposite of what these numbers mean. To take an example: 100-8=92 and 100-4=96. 8 and 4 are key numbers in Chinese since the former means ‘prosperity/fortune’ and the latter means ‘death/ruin’. 100, likewise, also means ‘good fortune’. 92 and 96, being the results of subtraction from 100 by 8 and 4 respectively, can be interpreted in different ways. Either we argue that 8 is propitious and 4 is bad even in subtraction, in which case 92 (100-8) is good and 96 (100-4) is bad (and, by opposite extension, 108 (100+8) is good and 104 (100+4) is bad), or we say that the subtraction of 8 (-8) and 4 (-4) flips them into an ill-omened number and a lucky number respectively, the inherent logic being that -8 symbolises the loss of fortune and -4 the removal of death. In the latter interpretation, 92 (100-8) and 96 (100-4) become bad and good numbers respectively. I take no strong position on whether subtraction reverses the significance of numbers (though it is a very interesting idea well worth pursuing), but since I have always tried to be positive about my numerical superstition, I am willing to say that both the subtraction of 8 (-8) and the subtraction of 4 (-4) are favourable functions, which makes both 92 (100-8) and 96 (100-4) (and 108 (100+8) but not 104 (100+4)) good numbers. More will be said about these different mathematical functions, and those of you who are mathematically-minded may already be thinking about multiplication, division, square (root), differentiation, integration etc. Let’s talk about these in due course. As this is my first post about numbers in 2018, may I wish all my readers a most prosperous and fruitful year ahead in which the numbers in our lives spur us on to success and happiness. 88 (bye-bye in colloquial Cantonese)

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