“Wrong number” (Numerology)

numberfearIn an attempt to stand out among the myriad of divination methods, numerologists present their practice as the most scholarly and learned of the paranormal arts. They point to patterns in a seashell or galaxy and attempt to tie this to someone’s job satisfaction or musical ability.

Or they will reference repeating trends in nature, such as those of the Fibonacci Sequence, and try to ride these mathematical coattails to relevance. They cite Newton, Kepler, Plato, and Erdős, taking their quotes about the beauty of numbers and twisting them horribly out of context. The most abused victim of this historical distortion is Pythagoras, with some even calling numerology a Pythagorean system, even though he had nothing to do with it.

He had some misguided followers who took his groundbreaking ideas and tried to make them into something esoteric. But there is no evidence that Pythagoras thought there was any relevance to this, and no reason to think he endorsed the idea that names and birthdays could reveal personality, interests, and fate. Even if he did think that, there is no reason to suspect it’s a correct conclusion, and is merely the appeal to irrelevant authority.

Another fallacy embraced by numerologists is the appeal to antiquity. This is always a strange one. Why would persons enamored by the deep past praise it using a computer? Why do they use electric lights instead of kerosene lamps or torches? As to its use in numerology, the appeal to antiquity has practitioners boasting it was used in one form or another by Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Hebrews, Armenians, and Arabs. In this case, the appeal to antiquity actually highlights one of numerology’s fatal flaws. All of these cultures had their own alphabet and not all had the same calendar, so the basic premise of numerology is snuffed out.

Numbers have often been seen to have mystic power. 3, 7, and 40 are common in the Bible. Greeks were fond of 12, the Chinese embrace 8, and 7 in a lucky number in the United States. But while numerologists highlight this history, the simple idea of using only name and birthdate is relatively new, probably dating to the early 20th Century.

Values are assigned to each number or letter, based on whim or guesswork. Despite this shaky foundation, numerologist.com calls the field a science. If so, it’s a science that lays out no predictions, describes no method, performs no tests, explains no hypotheses, and makes no attempt to replicate or falsify. Proponents offer no explanation of how a manufactured set of numbers, set to an arbitrary base of 10, would determine personality, interests, and life path. There is no explication about how it would work or why we should believe it, unless you count a bunch of testimonials.

These testimonials are the result of subjective validation, the law of truly large numbers, magical thinking, and selective memory. Few people who are satisfied with their lives will seek out a numerologist, and therein lies the appeal. They tell customers about their hidden strengths and powers, as well as laying out a thrilling vision of amazing love, financial security, and career success. Besides that obvious appeal, it can be reassuring and emotional to have someone talk with you about what matters most to you. It plays to primal urges to have someone reassure you that your life has meaning.

It is good to examine strengths, weaknesses, goals, and personality traits, but this should be realistic and based on deep reflection about who you are and where you want to go. This should be self-examination, or maybe done with a good friend who might know you better than you know yourself in some ways. It should never be done with a stranger who literally knows only two pieces of information about you, neither of which define you. Numerologists insist that one’s name and birth date determines that person’s destiny. You were meant to have a certain job, marry a certain person, play a certain sport, and pay a certain numerologist to tell you this.

Numerologist.com offers a free reading. I’m impressed, they know I wouldn’t pay for it. Many times, these free divination methods will reveal the same reading for every person. The readings usually apply to most people, since they are written vaguely enough and are full of contradictions, such as, “You are often timid, but not afraid to assert yourself if your ideas are being dismissed.”

With numerology this isn’t as possible since people have different names and birth dates. However, once your magic number is calculated, you will receive the same reading as someone with identical numbers. I deduced this because I received my exhaustive reading within five seconds. The system assigned numbers to my letters and birthday, providing no reason why those values were chosen or why they would influence what I’ll have for lunch, much less impact major life choices and events.

The reading rambles on for several tedious paragraphs, making me out to be a mix of Warren Buffet, Maurice Greene, and Johnny Depp. This would appeal to anyone who has the low self-esteem consistent with someone seeking out a mysterious stranger to fix their train wreck of a life.

In an anomalous, more modest, tidbit, I am told, “You enjoy golf, chess, and equestrian pursuits.” I have never golfed. I have ridden horses maybe a dozen times. I played chess halfway regularly when I was in my teens and 20s. So here, the success of my reading is 0 percent, 60 percent, and 5 percent. But if I’m wanting to believe, I will remember the horse on the chessboard, but not the one that I rode. Or I will think, I only rode few times, but really enjoyed it when I did, so this guy has got me down. Golf will be dismissed completely, and eventually forgotten.

“You love nature and especially gardening and landscaping. Number 4’s often also own many pets.” I don’t garden and don’t have a pet. This guy isn’t even in any good. He makes it way too specific, in one case saying it was my fate to build an opera house. However, if someone wants to believe bad enough, this erroneous analysis will morph into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Your insistence on financial security, charity and the stewardship of the young often makes you a pillar of the community at a very young age.” Are they even trying here? I’m 47.

What follows are several leaflets for sale, including one that instructs on how to select fortuitous telephone numbers and hotel rooms. I see now why my reading included the line, “If you are stolen from, your highest spiritual calling is to forgive the debt. “

Numerologist.com gushes about how people and meaningful events in our lives can never be a coincidence. It chides skeptics and rationalists, describing us as persons who prefer to avoid this truth because it makes us feel safe.

However, people seek to avoid randomness, not patterns. The aversion to randomness, the desire to feel in control, and the wish to find meaning in life is what causes some to embrace divination.

Someone with a common name, such as Joshua James Franklin, born on the same day as someone with the same moniker, will not lead an identical life and have the same strengths, goals, and personality as his namesake. This has been shown in two studies, the only ones I know of that have attempted a scientific analysis of numerology. Links to those studies are here and here.

Both studies had negative results. The second of the two involved a professional numerologist and 200 volunteers. It was attempted thrice and failed all three times. Now those are numbers that mean something.

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