Daily Archives: August 1, 2008

Overkill on Olympic Numerology

Numbers are amazing. If you have the time and inclination, then there are some really fascinating things about numbers. A cursory glance at the web reveals a plethora of sites. Personally, I am always astounded that for any true circle, the circumference divided by the diameter equals pi – a magical number that may go on forever. But some people take numbers to another dimension.

It can’t have escaped your notice or your pattern-detecting mechanisms in your brain for that matter that the forthcoming Olympic Games to be held next week in Beijing commence at 8 minutes past 8 o’clock, on the 8th day of the 8 month in the year 2008. You are also probably aware that the number 8 is considered lucky in China. Personally, I would have preferred to place more confidence in the organization and planning rather than superstitious numerology.

The reason is fairly obvious.  The number ‘8’ sounds like prosperity or luck in Chinese though I am not sure whether that applies to both Cantonese and Mandarin languages. Any bloggers out there who can enlighten me?

“Superstitious nonsense,” you might cry. But hold on a moment, just because there is no natural link between the sound of a number and influencing an outcome, those with a strong supersense can still be adversely affected.

Consider the Hound of the Baskervilles Effect. In the classic Sherlock Holmes story, Charles Baskerville dies of fright at the prospect of the evil hound emerging from the depths of hell to pursue him. The same fear can be generated by numbers. Unlike the number ‘8’ the number ‘4’ is considered very unlucky in Asian culture. The number ‘4’ in Cantonese (‘su’) and in Japanese (‘shi’) both sound like the word for death.

When researchers studied 25 years of death records from 1973 to 1998 in communities of Chinese and Japanese Americans they found a significant increase in death from cardiac failure on the 4th day of each month. The effect was most pronounced in California.

So fear is a factor and while we may entertain the notions of good and bad luck as a bit of harmless fun, the truth is that it can have a consequence for health. On the other hand, if you are of the disposition to fear numbers, then any bump in the night or knock at the door is going to stress your ticker. People just look for good and bad omens.

So my question is this. Is it irrational to believe in the power of numbers if such beliefs produce measurable effects? Is this behaviour truly irrational? 

Looking forward to your comments.



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