Numerological Nonsense

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 154, 2014 January)


Introduction

Numerology is an occult belief that there exists a connection between a person's date of birth, their name and the number that can be derived from their name. Furthermore, proponents of the technique claim this number (derived from numerological calculations) reveals various qualities, characteristics and facts about the individual concerned.

The purpose of this article is to investigate numerology's ability to fulfil the claims of its practitioners.


Theory and Practice

Numerology appears to be derived from aspects of Pythagorean philosophy. According to the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (c 582 – c 507 BC) Number is the ultimate template from which the Cosmos is molded, embodying as it does the underlying structure of the Universe.

In this view of reality, substance is a formless thing upon which numerical formulas impose order, thereby giving rise to the material world. Number, therefore, is the Eternal Real that exists behind the world of transient forms, and by understanding Number we can come to know ultimate truth. This idea that "all is Number" may have originated from the Pythagoreans discovery of mathematical relationships such as the ratios of harmonic intervals in music:

Starting from the discovery that tuned strings sound in harmony when their lengths are related to each other as certain small integers (whole numbers), the Pythagoreans came to regard the world as a vast mathematical pattern. In order to gain mastery over it, one had to seek the numbers in things. (Growth of Ideas, page 106).

Interest in mathematical mysticism declined with the passing of classical culture, but never vanished entirely. Contemporary numerology can probably be traced to the publication of several books on number vibration, music and colours by the American L Dow Balliett during the period of 1911 to 1917.

According to modern numerology each number has a specific vibration, which for some practitioners of the art is associated with the Music of the Spheres — the sounds the Pythagoreans believed the planets made as they orbited the Earth in their geocentric cosmology of concentric crystalline spheres that gave movement to the Sun, Moon and other worlds embedded in them. This astronomical system has been proven completely wrong by modern science.

Accepting the essence of the Pythagorean doctrine as true, numerologists have deduced that the name of a thing embodies the essence of its nature. Therefore, the name of a person (which is linked magically to the individual) when analysed by numerological means will reveal truths about their character, destiny and so on.

There are many numerological systems that can be used for assigning numbers to letters of the alphabet, none of which is more or less accurate than any other. For the purpose of this article I have chosen the Pythagorean system, as it is the most popular one. This system is shown in Table 1.

Table 1

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
T
J
K
L
M
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
1
2
3
4
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z
5
6
7
8
9
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8


In order to analyse a person's name the numerologist simply adds together each of the numerals in Table 1 corresponding to the letters in the individual's name. Then the digits comprising the resulting sum are added together, with the process continuing until a number less than ten is reached — the Destiny Number, which is said to reveal the purpose, goal and direction of an individual's life.
 
The Birthpath Number is calculated by adding together the day, month and year of the person's date of birth in the same way as previously described until a single number is reached. This is claimed to reveal the person's natural abilities.

Their Realization Number, the sum of the Birthpath and Destiny numbers, indicates, according to numerologists, what an individual might accomplish.

Qualities that are claimed to influence our lives are alleged by proponents to be revealed by the Heart's Desire number — the sum of the vowels in a person's name.

Finally, adding together the consonants in a person's name reveals, according to believers, the individual's personality.

These numbers are then interpreted using table 2 (NOTE: descriptions of qualities vary depending on the numerologist consulted).


Table 2

Number
Quality
1
Action, aggression, ambition, leadership, purpose
2
Balance, passivity, receptivity
3
Brilliance, gaiety, versatility
4
Dullness, endurance, steadiness
5
Adventure, instability, sexuality
6
 Dependability, domesticity, harmony
7
Knowledge, mystery, solitariness
8
Material success, worldly involvement
9
Great achievement, inspiration, spirituality


Testing the Claims

Does numerology work? A simple test using the following well-known historical figures should be sufficient to reveal the facts: Adolf Hitler (born April 20, 1889), Josef Vissarionovich Stalin (December 21, 1879), Benito Mussolini (July 29, 1883), Pol Pot (May 19, 1928) and Saddam al- Takriti Hussein (officially April 28, 1937).

Table 3 shows the Destiny Numbers and so on derived from the sums, which should reveal the purpose, goal and direction of the individuals concerned (NOTE: refer to Table 2 for analysis).


Table 3

Destiny
Birthpath
Realization
Heart's Desire
Personality
Adolf Hitler
2
2
4
2
9
Josef Vissarionovich Stalin
7
4
2
5
2
Benito Mussolini
7
2
9
2
5
Pol Pot
4
8
3
3
1
Saddam al-Takriti Hussein
4
7
2
8
5


Given that these men were all brutal dictators, then number 1 in Table 1 should express their Personality Number (action, aggression, ambition, leadership, purpose). However, when these numbers are examined we see that only in the case of Pol Pot is there a match.

No doubt numerologists will be able to find some kind of common link if they put their minds to it. Humans are very good at finding nonexistent correlations as any good conspiracy theory aptly demonstrates. The question is, however, would a numerologist be able to divine the character of these dictators based on these numbers alone without knowing beforehand who they are?

I think it can be safely said that numerology reveals nothing significant about a person. Studying the individual's actions and gaining insight into their character by interviewing the person, family members, and friends, together with a psychological assessment, are more effective methods of enquiry and analysis.

That this is the case is shown by the following quotation that illustrates numerology's ambiguity:
Whether you are performing a numerology analysis for yourself or a friend — try to be objective. Naturally you will be focusing on individual numbers. But also try to get an overall feel for how the numbers harmonize or conflict with each other. Do certain numbers reappear in various categories? If so, this might suggest a person with a strong tendency in a particular direction. At times the person may carry this tendency to an extreme. But if they have a strong negative tendency, how might they use it in a positive way? Likewise you may come across a person with many different numbers. This might suggest someone who is well rounded, capable of functioning at their best in several areas of their life. Or it might be that such a person feels scattered, lacking an overall drive or strong direction. (Do-It-Yourself Numerology)

This method is hardly an objective way to analyse data. Indeed, it seems to be a game in which one looks for spurious connections between numbers so that some kind of plausible story can be fabricated from random factors. The fact that numerologists admit different practitioners will give different readings using the same numbers supports this conclusion.

Naturally, most people are eager to believe any positive characteristic or trait ascribed to them. This, combined with a client with a predisposition to believe in the reality of the occult, produces a situation in which the person readily accepts the numerologist's predictions and character assessment.

That personality has no connection with an individual's name is supported by research showing our traits have a strong biological basis:

Differences in temperament can be seen very soon after birth, and heredity has been confirmed as a component of emotionality, activity, sociability, and impulsivity. One study (Buss, Plomin, and Willerman, 1973) showed that identical twins are much more similar in temperament than are fraternal twins; this resemblance has been attributed to the common genetic endowment of the identical twins. (B.R. Fetterolf, Ed., page 220)
This finding holds true even when identical twins have been separated at birth and adopted by different couples. The fact that they have entirely different names makes no difference whatsoever.

Destiny, of course, is due to many factors such as the environment into which one is born and the ability to take advantage of (or missing) chance opportunities that arise. Therefore, the number of a person's name and date of birth can't predetermine their path through life any more than their shoe size can.

The most significant problem with numerology is that it is based on a system of counting invented by humans — in this case a base ten system that is a cultural construct (probably derived from the ten digits of our hands) that is not some kind of Law of Nature. The Babylonians, for example, had a base sixty (sexagesimal) system with a sub-base of ten, which worked just as well for them as is demonstrated by computational ability:
Babylonian mathematics was, in many ways, more advanced than Egyptian maths. They could extract square and cube roots, work with Pythagorean triples 1200 years before Pythagoras, had a knowledge of pi and possibly e (the exponential function), could solve some quadratics and even polynomials of degree 8, solved linear equations and could also deal with circular measurement. Babylonian mathematics was based much more on algebra and less on geometry, in contrast to the Greeks.
(Babylonian Mathematics).
Added to this is the fact that alphabets are also cultural constructs — standard Hindi, for example, has 11 vowels and 35 consonants. The same applies to names. For example, consider the name Paul, its meaning and history:
[derived] From the Roman family name Paulus, which meant "small" or "humble" in Latin. Saint Paul was an important leader of the early Christian church, his story told in Acts in the New Testament. His original Hebrew name was Saul. Most of the epistles in the New Testament were authored by him.
Due to the renown of Saint Paul the name became common among early Christians. It was borne by a number of other early saints and six popes. In England it was relatively rare during the Middle Ages, but became more frequent beginning in the 17th century... (Behind the Name)
In Hindi the word "small" can be translated as "chota (tiny) and "humble" can be translated as either "nica" (of humble origins) or "narnra" (modest). Now, if Paul translates the meaning of his name into Hindi the numerological values will vary despite the fact that he is the same person.

Finally, the fundamental mistake numerology makes is the assumption numbers are actual entities that can influence people's lives. They are not. They are merely symbols that stand for the qualities and quantities of things — intellectual constructions that help us make sense of the world rather than extant and independent entities capable of imposing specific characteristics on individuals.

Conclusion

Numerology is nonsense.

There is no valid reason why various numbers must be assigned to the letters of the alphabet, or why they must be added together in the manner given. Neither is there a logical reason why an individual's name must embody any aspect of their nature. In the final analysis numerology is nothing more than an irrational superstition that is not in any way founded upon sound facts.


Bibliography


Barrow, J.D. Pi in the Sky, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992

Fetterolf, B.R. (Ed.) Psychology Today, Random House, New York, 1979

Levine, I (Ed.) Philosophy: Man's Search for Reality, Odhams Books Ltd., London, 1963

Randi, J. The Supernatural A-Z, Brockhampton Press, London, 1995

Encyclopedia of Magic and Superstition, Black Cat, London, 1988
 
The Macdonald Illustrated Library, Vol 10: Growth of Ideas, Macdonald, London, 1965

Do-It-Yourself Numerology
http://members.aol.com/AspireA1/

    Babylonian Mathematics
http://cs-exhibitions.uni-klu.ac.at/index.php?id=323

Behind the Name
http://www.behindthename.com/name/paul



http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/