Seven Deadly Rabbit Holes

Here’s something I wrote while working on my Master’s Thesis, which is probably not relevant enough to include in the final draft. Nonetheless it makes for a good read. Seven is a magic number for the right brain.

According to Jungian author Christopher Booker, there are just seven basic plots in storytelling. You can plot out the steps in these stories, bit by bit, whether it’s plucky David armed with nothing but his slingshot against Goliath, Alice running down a rabbit hole, or sassy Carrie Bradshaw outwitting the Abu Dhabi government in Sex and the City 2.

All stories follow these rules. The most masterly storytellers play with the form — sometimes enough to disguise it: Joyce, for instance, or Virginia Woolf. That’s a sign of genius and proof of the adage, you need to know the rules to break them.

Now consider: there are also just seven notes in the [western] musical scale before you’re back at the tonic (the same note an octave higher or lower). However, no one would tell you there isn’t infinite space to play within those seven notes when you add meter, harmony, assonance, dissonance, silence and so on. The greatest jazz masters like Monk or Coltrane were accused of changing the form, which is another way of saying playing with it — which is one syllable from saying playing within it.

There are seven deadly sins. No one in their right mind would ever claim there aren’t infinitely creative ways to sin. (Take a bow, Mister Trump!)

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia my father-in-law, a renowned psychologist and memory expert, once told me. When Bell Labs were designing the still relevant and working North American phone system, the psychology of the day suggested that seven is the peak number of facts people can retain in a clump. Gosh, we just love our sevens and live our entire history within their seemingly finite parameters!