Pub. Date:
American Mathematical Society
Numerology or What Pythagoras Wrought

Numerology or What Pythagoras Wrought

by Underwood Dudley, John Johnson


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Numerology is the delusion that numbers have power over events. It is a descendent of number mysticism, the belief the contemplation of numbers can give mystical and non-rational insights into life, the universe and everything. 2500 years ago, Pythagoras originated number mysticism, crediting certain numbers with characteristics, through numerology, is a more recent invention that allots numbers, hence characteristics, to individuals. Underwood Dudley outlines here the history of number mysticism and numerology and gives many examples, including biorhythyms, Bible-numberists, pyramidologists and a plethora of others. His message is that numbers do indeed have power, but over minds not events. This is the only book that exposes this particular human folly, and requires no mathematical background beyond knowledge of numbers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780883855249
Publisher: American Mathematical Society
Publication date: 12/31/1997
Series: Spectrum
Pages: 316
Product dimensions: 6.16(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.25(d)

Read an Excerpt

This book is about numbers. Not about numbers in their workaday role as counters (send $3.50 plus $4.95 for postage and handling, a total of $8.\45), or as mathematical objects (845 is a sum of two squares in three different ways: 29[squared]+2[squared], 26[squared]+13[squared], and 22[squared] + 19[squared]), but as things about which can be said,

No, I wouldn't go so far as some of my fellow calculators and indiscriminately welcome all numbers with open arms: not the heavy-handed rough-and-tough bully 8 or the sinister 64 or the arrogant, smug self-satisfied 36. But I do admit to a very personal affection for the ingenious, adventurous 26, the magic, versatile 7, the helpful 37, the fatherly, reliable (if somewhat stodgy) 76...

and 9 is a wonderful being of whom I felt almost afraid, 8 I took for his wife, and there used always to seem a fitness in 9X9 being so much more than 8X8. 7 again is masculine; 6, of no particular sex but gentle and straightforward; 3 a feeble edition of 9, and generally mean; 2 young and sprightly; 1 a common-place drudge.

For some people, numbers do much more than merely count and measure. For some people, numbers have meanings, they have inwardnesses, they can be magic and versatile, or young and sprightly. I am not one of those people since I think that numbers have quite enough to do as it is, but for the crowd of number mystics, numerologists, pyramidologists, number-of-the-beasters, and others whose ideas and work will be described in the following chapters, numbers have powers far out of the ordinary.

Number mysticism got its start in ancient Greece, with Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans in the sixth century B.C. Before that, numbers ere just numbers, things to count with. The Pythagoreans made some discoveries about numbers-for instance, that the sum of odd numbers starting at 1 is always a square.

1+3=2[squared], 1+3+5=3[squared], 1+3+5+7=4[squared]....
which so impressed them that they reportedly came to the mystical conclusion that "all is number," If all is number, then numbers are worth investigating, and that is what the Pythagoreans did to the limit of their abilities, both mathematically and mystically. Both mathematics and number mysticism have been marching along ever since, though no longer together-they parted company forever within one hundred years of the death of Pythagoras.

  Mysticism is a nonrational method of getting at truth. Ours is a rational era (even if it seems to become less so every year), and we can lose sight of the existence of truths that are not arrived at by reason: emotional truths, spiritual truths, even physical truths. Some truths cannot be described in words, nor arrived at by reason. Love provides one example. For another, can you describe a sneeze in words? Or what it feels like? If you can, you are a better wordsmith than I. Some truths must be felt.

   Number mystics, by feeling properties of numbers, gain mystical insights into the nature of the universe. Not being a number mystic myself. I cannot describe them, but I could not describe them no matter how gifted a mystic I was since, by definition, mystical experiences are ineffable. Those who have them are fortunate. There is nothing wrong with mysticism.

  On the other hand, everything is wrong with numerology. Numerologists purport to apply number mysticism. That is, they take mystical properties of numers-2 is cold, say, and wet- and attach them to things and people. If your number is 2 (numbers can easily be assigned to people, in many different ways), then you are cold and wet, whether you know it or not.

  This is standing mysticism on its head. For a number mystic, numbers are tools, means of gaining understanding. For a numerologist, numbers are the masters, dictating the nature of the world. Numerologists assert that numbers tell you where it would be best to live, who you should marry, even at what time you should arrive for an appointment. Numbers do not do this. It is not their job. Numbers have power, but not that kind of power.

   This is a thread that runs through numerology, pyramidology, and the many other misuses of numbers that are described in this book. What they have in common is the belief that things happen because numbers make them happen. The pyramidologist measures his pyramid and says that the world will end on August 20, 1953 because of his measurements (chapter 25). A neo-Pythaagorean says that Greeks carved the Eastern Island statues because his numbers tell him so (chapter 4). A distinguished Oxford University scholar asserts that one of Shakespeare's sonnets is irregular because 28 is a triangular number (chapter 17). The stock market behaves as it does because Fibonacci numbers make it go up and down (chapter 33).

   Another thread is the numerologists' refusal to believe that patterns can occur by accident. Human beings are very good at seeing patterns, and sometimes they see patterns that no one made but exist only by chance. The Bible is full of 7s, one author tells us, while another finds 13s. Yet another finds squares and a fourth finds triangular numbers. Each of the four says that the numbers are there because God put them there. It is possible that God takes delight in confounding poor, limited humans with obscure puzzles, and it is possible that the Bible is full of 17s or 23s that were put there on purpose and that no one has noticed yet, but I doubt it. The 7s, 13s, squares, and triangular numbers are all there by chance. Like numbers, chance has power.

   Others find that people they dislike bear the number of the beast, 666. They are thus bad, because of the number. Or, they think that they find 666 in the bar code that is on almost everything that we buy and because of the number, deduce the existence of a vast conspiracy. Biorhtythmists say that we all oscillating in cycles of lengths 23, 28, and 33 days and act as we do because of the numbers. There is something about numbers that can turn the head.

   What follows in this book is a description of these and other manifestations of number mysticism and numerology. The lessons to be learned are that
    numbers have power
    numbers do not control events
    coincidences happen

  These facts are so obvious that they hardly need stating; so the question is, why read any further? The answer is that by so doing you can learn about something that you may not be aware of, the world of number mysticism and those infected by it: the pyramid-measures, bible-numberists, Elliott Wavers, and so on. It is, I think, a colorful and interesting world, and worth knowing a little about.

   There is, by the way, no other book devoted to this subject. Numerology by E.T. Bell [1] contains nothing on modern numerology, and other books with that word in their titles tend to be written by numerologists. Since this book covers more than numerology, a more descriptive title for it would be its subtitle, What Pythagoras Wrought, but that would be less informative. Also, it is my hope that copies of it will turn up on the New Age shelves of used book stores, where they may fall into the hands of those expecting something different. The shock may do them good.

   I wish to thank those who provided me with material or other help, in particular Arthur Benjamin, James Bidwell, I;.J. Good, Richard Guy, Michael Keith, David Singmaster, Diane Spitler, Ian Stewart, Michael Stueben, and especially Martin Gardner, who allowed me to inspect his wonderful files. I am also indebted to the Fisher Fund of DePauw University, which provided me a semester free of teaching duties.

1. Bell, E.T., Numerology, Century, New York, 1933, reprinted by Hyperion Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1979
2. Galton, Francis, Visualised numerals, Nature 21 (1879*1880), 252-256
3. Smith, Stephen B., The Great Mental Calculators, Columbia University Press, New York, 1983.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Pythagoras; 3. Neopythagoreanism; 4. The Pythagoreans abroad; 5. Alphabets for Gematria; 6. The Beast; 7. Beastly curiosities; 8. The Beast is coming! 9. The law of small numbers; 10. Comes the revolution; 11. The law of round numbers; 12. Biblical sevens; 13. Thirteens and squares; 14. The triangles of Genesis 1:1; 15. Paradigms; 16. Through poetry with straightedge and compass; 17. Shakespeare's numbers; 18. Rithmomachy; 19. Number forms; 20. Mrs L. Dow Balliett; 21. Numerology books; 22. What numerologists sell; 23. Listen for your number; 24. The power of the pyramid; 25. Inside the pyramid; 26. The Pyramid, Stonehenge, the Malayasian Lottery, and the Washington Monument; 27. Pyramidiocy; 28. Are you gridding? 29. Enneagrams; 30. All that glistens; 31. Numbers, numbers everywhere; 32. Biorhythyms; 33. Riding the wave; 34. Conclusion.

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