Article Two: Hidden Harmonies

by Colin Wilson.

Hidden Harmonies

After all, harmonies and rhythms can be measured in the physicist's laboratory, and described in terms of amplitude and wavelength. Can we not be more precise about them? This is a question which, almost by accident, came to preoccupy an ex-advertising salesman named Michael Hayes. Ever since late childhood - spent in Penzance, Cornwall, where his mother owned a hotel - Hayes had been preoccupied with the question of why we are alive, and what we are supposed to do now we are here. In 1971, at the age of 22, he went to live in Mashad, Iran, where his brother was in the senior management of an international trading company. These were the years before the Shah was deposed, when Iran was still swarming with hippies. During his seven years in Iran, Mike Hayes - as he prefers to be known - took the opportunity to travel to India, Pakistan, Khatmandu and Afghanistan. It was during this time he was introduce by a hippie friend to the ideas of Gurdjieff - via Ouspenksy's In Search of the Miraculous - and began to think more purposefully about the basic problems of human nature. In Mashad he had been deeply impressed by the great mosque of Imam Reza. It was obvious from the sheer number of worshippers, and their devoutness, that for them religion was a living reality, as it had been for the cathedral builders of the Middle Ages. And travelling in India and Pakistan, where he had a chance to come into contact with Hinduism and Buddhism, he again had this sense of the tremendous vitality of the religious tradition. It took him by surprise for, apart from hymns at school and an occasional visit to church, his childhood had not been particularly religious. The sheer size of these religious territories impressed him, and the effect of the religious founders on their followers... "I decided that there was definitely something supernatural about all this. Whoever they were, these 'saviours' of mankind certainly knew how to make their presence felt."

The Double Helix

Back in England, he felt that it was time to catch up on his situation, which he could now see had been less than thorough. He signed on for a course in extramural studies at Leicester University, and it was there he attended some classes on DNA and the genetic code. DNA is, of course, a thread-like material in living cells which carries genetic information, such as whether a baby is born with brown or blond hair, blue or brown eyes, and so on. It transmits this information by means of a code, which was finally cracked in the early 1950s by James Watson and Francis Crick. They showed that the DNA molecule had a spiral structure, and looks rather like two spiral ladders held together by rungs made of four chemical 'bases' called adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. These bases are strung together in what looks like a random order - perhaps AGTTCGGAA - but it is the order of these bases that makes the difference between brown and blond hair, etc. When a cell splits into two - which is how it reproduces - the 'ladder' comes apart, and each half attracts itself to various molecules of the bases that are floating free, until there are now two identical ladders. This is how living things reproduce themselves. It was when he learned that sixty-four is the number in which the four bases can form into triplet units called RNA codons that Mike Hayes had a vague sense of deja vu. Sixty-four awoke vague memories. The same things happened when he learned that these codons correspond with the twenty amino acids necessary for the manufacture of protein - but since there are also two coded instructions for 'start' and 'stop', the basic number is twenty-two. This again seemed vaguely familiar.

Significance of Sixty-Four

Then he remembered where he had come across the number sixty-four - in the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, which is used as an oracle. And the basic unit of the I Ching is, of course, a 'triplet' of lines, either broken or unbroken, corresponding to the principles of Yin and Yang, which might be regarded as darkness and light, or the male and female principles, or the moon and the sun. Hayes recalled that when he had studied the I Ching in his hippie days, he had wondered vaguely why the number of its 'hexagrams' (each one made up of two trigrams) should be sixty-four - eight times eight - and not seven times seven or nine times nine. And now he learned that each of the triplet units of RNA links up with another triplet in the DNA molecule. So the 'double helix' of information in the heart of all reproductive cells is made up from sixty-four hexagrams, as in the I Ching. Could this really be just coincidence? Since his extra-mural course left him with time to kill, he began looking more closely into this 'coincidence'. Of course, it seemed unlikely that Fu Hsi, the legendary creator of the I Ching, had stumbled upon some kind of mystical insight into the 'code of life.' But it seemed worth investigating. If this was not coincidence, then there should be eight trigrams hidden in DNA. And when he had learned that this was so, Mike Hayes began to feel that he had stumbled upon something that could be very important indeed.

Mystical Seven

Then he recalled where he had seen the number twenty-two. This was nothing to do with the I Ching, but with Pythagoras, the Greek "father of mathematics". The Pythagoreans regarded the number twenty-two as sacred because it represented three musical octaves, and the Pythagoreans saw music as one of the basic secrets of the universe. Of course, an ordinary musical scale has seven notes - doh, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti - and a final doh of the next octave completes it and begins the next octave. But three octaves - and the Pythagoreans attached a mystical significance to the number three - begins on doh, and ends on another doh twenty-two notes later. Mike Hayes had played the guitar since his early teens, so he knew a certain amount of musical theory. In the quest that followed, it proved to be of central importance. But at this early stage, in the late '70s, a suspicion was beginning to form in his mind: that these numbers involved in the DNA code might express some basic law of the universe. He was in the position of Edward T. Hall's student who realised that the children in the playground were dancing to some basic rhythm of life, a rhythm that is totally unsuspected by the rest of us. Mike Hayes came to believe that rhythm is basically musical in nature. And this, in turn, meant he was a kind of Pythagorean.

The Third Force

Pythagoreanism is sometimes called 'number mysticism', and Pythagoras attached great importance to the numbers three and seven, and to the laws governing musical notes. Gurdjieff had also spoken of the 'Law of Three' and the 'Law of Seven.' The Law of three states that all creation involves a third force. We are inclined to think in terms of dualities: positive and negative, male and female, good and evil. Gurdjieff - who derived the idea from the Sankhya philosophy of India - stated that instead, we should try to think in terms of three. Positive and negative merely counterbalance one another, but if anything is to come of them, they must be given a push by a third force. An obvious example would be the catalyst in a chemical reaction. Oxygen and sulphur dioxide do not naturally combine; but if passed over hot platinised asbestos, they form sulphur trioxide, from which sulphuric acid is made. The platinised asbestos remains unchanged. Another simple example would be a zip. The left and right side of the zip need the fastener in the middle to make them combine. But perhaps Gurdjieff's most interesting illustration is of someone who wishes to change, to achieve great self-knowledge, and in whom the forces of laziness act as a counterbalance. In this case, the breakthrough can occur through knowledge - a perception of how it can be achieved, which brings a new drive and optimism. In other words, the third force is a kind of kick, an outside force that alters the balance of the situation, breaks a deadlock. The Law of Seven is illustrated by the seven notes of the musical scale; here the final doh somehow draws them together so they can move to a higher octave, just as the seven colours of the spectrum are drawn together into white light. When Mike Hayes began to study the major world religions, he was stuck by how often the numbers three, seven and twenty-two recur. The legendary founder of Hermetic philosophy - identified with the Egyptian god Thoth - is known as Thrice Great Hermes. The number pi - the relation of the diameter of a circle to its circumference - which was supposed to have been discovered by Pythagoras, is twenty-two over seven.

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