For those of us who enjoy thinking about patterns and numbers, February 22 was a special day: Using the standard DD/MM/YYYY format, it was the palindromic 22/02/2022, and even fell on a Tuesday. And just imagine the wondrous time of 2:22:22 that occurred on that day, not once, but twice!
But inevitably some feel the need to assign a cosmic significance to this sort of nifty arithmetic confluence, and so a major newspaper in the largest city in Canada consulted a “professional numerologist” to explain the significance of this auspicious date, “the meaning behind it, and what we should keep in mind throughout the day.” In the article, “Why is Tuesday so special? In numerology, 2/22/2022 marks a ‘moment of alignment’,” the numerologist explained how people’s lives would change due to this special configuration of numerals (which of course is entirely due to ancient arbitrary assignments of days, months, and years). The reporter went on to request additional information, asking the numerologist to further illuminate the situation using Tarot cards.
In response, I submitted the following letter to the editor of The Toronto Star:
We are living in a world where we ignore science and rationality at our peril. This has become increasingly clear in view of the continuing global pandemic, not to mention the looming threat of climate catastrophe.
One of the reasons that humans have got where we are is that we have a highly developed ability to recognize patterns and assign agency. This has been, on balance, beneficial: If you are out in the wild and hear a rustling in the bushes, it’s prudent to assume it’s a tiger that wants to eat you, and not just the wind.
The disadvantage is that humans are also very good at assigning patterns a significance that is completely unjustified by evidence.
But how are we supposed to take a publication seriously with an article about the cosmic significance of a string of numbers, which also unselfconsciously includes a request for the numerological expert to “pull some Tarot cards to help illuminate what Feb. 22 has in store“?
I guess there is still some rationality out there, since my response was published in the next day’s Letters to the Editor page, under the title, “What’s in a number? Er, nothing when you come to think of it…”