The Allure of Numbers

IMAGINE a world without numbers. There would be no money. Trade would be restricted to face-to-face barter. And what about sports? Without numbers, not only would we be unable to keep score but we could not even define how many players should be on each team!

Besides their practical application, however, numbers carry an aura of mystery. This is because they are abstract. You cannot see, touch, or feel numbers. To illustrate: An apple has a distinct color, texture, size, shape, smell, and taste. You can check each of these properties to see whether a certain object is indeed an apple, a lemon, a ball, or something else. A number, however, is not like that. One collection of seven items may not share anything in common with another collection of seven items​—other than their “sevenness.” Hence, to comprehend the meaning of numbers​—for example, to discern the difference between six and seven—​is to grasp something very abstract indeed. And this is where number mystics come into the picture.

From Pythagoras to Pseudoscience

Attributing special meaning to numbers was common in ancient societies. Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher and mathematician who lived during the sixth century B.C.E., taught that all things can be reduced to numerical patterns. He and his followers reasoned that the whole universe exemplifies order and proportion. Could it not be, then, that mathematical relationships are inherent in all material things?

 Since Pythagoras’ day, numerical readings have been used for prediction and dream interpretation as well as for memory aids. They have been employed by Greeks, Muslims, and members of Christendom. Using a system of numerology called gematria, Jewish Cabalists assigned a numerical value to each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and thereby claim to have found hidden meanings in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Modern-day numerology is similar. Often, your name and birth date will be the starting point. A numerical value is assigned to each letter in your name. By adding these​—along with the numbers of your birth month and date—​a numerologist establishes your key numbers. He then ascribes special meaning to these numbers, which he feels provide a complete description of you​—including your personality, your unconscious desires, and your destiny.

Perhaps the real attraction of numerology lies in the seeming accuracy of its analysis. “Many people have come to believe in numerology through finding how closely the numbers fit those to whom they are applied,” writes Edward Albertson in his book Prophecy for the Millions. Yet, numerology has also been labeled a pseudoscience. Why? Are there reasons for you to be suspicious of its claims?

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In his book The Bible Code, journalist Michael Drosnin claims to have discovered hidden messages by means of computer analysis of the Hebrew Scriptures. According to Drosnin’s claims, the “code” yielded the words “assassin that will assassinate” along with the name Yitzhak Rabin​—and this was found a year before Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was killed.

As expected, The Bible Code created its share of controversy. Dave Thomas, a mathematician and physicist, demonstrated that computer analysis of any text will produce what appear to be cryptic messages. Analyzing Drosnin’s own text, Thomas came up with the words “code,” “silly,” and “hoax.” “Hidden messages can be found anywhere,” Thomas says, “provided you’re willing to invest time and effort to harvest the vast field of probability.”

With its capability of making an unlimited number of calculations, a computer would likely find some combinations of letters that could be used as some sort of prediction. But this is merely a coincidence and does not prove that the Bible contains hidden messages. *


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Pythagoras taught that all things possess numerical patterns

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Courtesy National Library of Medicine