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Cosmic order rooted in the skies above

The Salt Lake disaster area we are living in for four years so that we can impress the world for a couple of weeks is a powerful reminder of changes that have taken place along the Wasatch Front. In the past we have bragged about the planning and foresight that has been typical of our town and region, frequently complimenting Brother Brigham and others for wide streets arranged in a north-south and east-west grid, resulting in a city that is easy to get around in.

At least it used to be that way, but with growth the situation became more complex. Immersed in such rapid expansion, perhaps we are losing sight of principles that stand at the foundation of planning that started here 150 years ago, principles that go back to earliest human times and that have their roots in the heavens.I refer to the fundamental directions that we perceive from nature. Orienting streets or anything else for that matter, to the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west) represents a deep-seated human appreciation for the apparent workings of the cosmos, an awareness intertwined with religious, cultural and even political orientations. The cardinal directions are defined by the apparent motions of the sky that are caused by the real motions of our planet.

For most of human history people thought the sun migrated annually north and south, creating the seasons. Over time, and with much intelligent struggle, we learned that it is actually the daily rotation and annual revolution of Earth that cause the phenomena which establish the directions we orient by. The four directions are presented to us each day and every year of our lives by cycles of light and darkness, warmth and cold. They flow through all of us from our earliest ancestors, right up until tomorrow.

Yes, the cardinal directions are deeply imbedded into our philosophies as well as our sciences, and into our minds as well as our cities. But there are more than for fundamental directions that we constantly orient to. In addition to looking around the horizon, we also look to the sky and to the earth. In the sky we know sun, moon, planets and stars; from above we receive the energy that animates us. From the ground we receive food and other material substances to manufacture the things we use.

Thus, we move within this set of six directions, yet there is one more bearing that we constantly carry in the conceptual framework of our surroundings. Most will not think of it as a "direction," but in many cultural traditions it has been included along with the surrounding cosmic directions. It is the center place, the point of perspective, the location of observation, home.

Thus, we see that there are seven defining "directions:" north, east, south, west, up, down and the center. Is this the primal reason that seven became known as a "lucky" number? Well, there are other reasons one could point to; seven ancient "planets" (sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and the seven days of the week and other things that were associated with them.

Seven does seem to be a fundamental cosmic number drawn easily from the fact that we are intelligent observers of the world that surrounds us. However, cultures attuned more closely to the cycles of nature would likely add four additional directions. These, too, have always been of great importance through cultural histories. Although the sun rises directly east and sets directly west at two times of the year, vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the most critical directions on the observational horizon are the points where the sun turns in its migration north and south, the summer and winter solstice directions. These summer and winter sunrise and sunset extremes define two points along the eastern horizon and two more along the western horizon.

So 11 is the principal cosmic number based upon observations that are critical and fundamental to our existence here on planet Earth: the four cardinal directions of north, east, south and west; the four intercardinal solstice sunrise and sunset directions; the above and below; and, finally, the place from which we look around to perceive ourselves existing in the universe.

So, our "lucky" cosmic numbers can be either seven or 11. Both help us comprehend the movements of our planet, the occurrence of day, night and the seasons. Humans are observers of the universe and interpreters of what they are able to notice and measure. From such simple things as perception of these basic cosmic directions, combined with all our experimentation and invention, have come automobiles, airplanes, spaceships, television and computers.

Salt Lake is a fine example of a city that began with a plan that included orientation to the cosmic directions. It was really nice living in a town that had streets to the four directions making it easy for anyone who could count to find an address. It was great living "way out west" where life was relatively simple.

Those days are gone. Now some yearn for the rest of the world to come among us, and we suffer in all the ways associated with growing population, while we also enjoy the conveniences, comforts and adventures that accompany the spread of humanity round the globe.