The Magic Number of 7

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There was a paper written by George Miller in 1956 with the title The Magic Number of 7 Plus or Minus 2 – what a great title that is! The paper was about our ability to process information. It seems that most of us can consciously hold and deal with about 7 pieces of information simultaneously. More than that and we quite often start to forget things.

Numbers have always fascinated me, not arithmetic, but numbers. I love the fact, for example, that the ratio of a circle’s circumference to it’s diameter (pi) is an irrational number. In other words, it has an infinite number of decimal places. Just imagine, if I were to simply attempt to recite the digits of pi (which you probably remember began as 3.1412) then I would never have room for another blog post ;).

So just there, in the ratio we find within the circle, we come across the concept of infinity. Actually, I don’t know how you could not find it amazing, but I do know there are plenty of people who don’t quite share my enthusiasm.

Numbers are always used with meaning in the Bible. They always convey something over and above the quantity itself. Why did Jesus choose 12 disciples, for example? He could have chosen as many, or as few, as he wanted – so why twelve? The answer is because there were 12 tribes of Israel. See – a meaning over and above the actual quantity itself. Staying with the subject of disciples, why do you think that many people have come to consider the number 13 to be unlucky? Yes, you got it: because there were 13 people at the last supper.

Anyway, back to the number 7. It is everywhere in our culture when you start looking for it. I know you might say that so too is every other number, but actually, the number 7 makes quite a significant appearance. Here are some examples:

  • 7 Wonders of the World
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • 7 Churches of Asia
  • 7 Dwarfs
  • 7 Hills of Rome
  • 7 Ages of Man

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but just as I didn’t want to get into reciting the digits of pi, similarly, I don’t want to waste a large proportion of my life on the list. Having said that, in the Wikipedia article someone seems to have already done that ;).

On one occasion, speaking with someone at my previous place of work, when I was writing a book I remarked that I might call it The 7 Thingies of What’s-It? Why? Because the number seven is a spiritual number. It is the number of perfection and completion. That’s why so many writers have used it in the titles of their works, including:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 7 Keys to Success

The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success

The 7 Laws of Success

The 7 Thingies of What’s-It – is on reflection, perhaps not such a great title!

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