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.



Filed under supernatural

8 responses to “Overkill on Olympic Numerology

  1. A. Moriah

    Triskaidekaphobia= Fear of the number 13

    Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia= Fear of the number 666

    I wonder if there is a name for fear of the number 4… ?

    If find it interesting that there are more cardiac arrests on the 4th in California… did they elaborate on why they believe that is?

  2. brucehood

    Not that I could see.. I suppose it would fit with the stereotype that Californians are more exposed to alternative belief systems… Certainly when I was there in March just about every form of supernaturalism seemed to be thriving.

  3. Arno

    Some statistics from Wikipedia:
    “According to the 2006 ACS Estimates, California’s population is:

    * 59.8 percent White American
    * 35.9 percent are Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
    * 12.3 percent Asian American
    * 6.2 percent Black or African American
    * 3.3 percent mixed
    * 0.7 percent American Indian”
    “California’s Asian population is estimated at 4.5 million, approximately one-third of the nation’s 14.9 million Asian Americans.”

    That is why one would expect such an effect in California.

  4. Arno

    Ergo: the effect is probably so strong for California because, if one third of the Asian American population lives in California, approximiately a third of all the deaths among Asian Americans happened in California as well.
    Thus, you have a very, very, skewed sample if you happen to study effects across the states, as they seem to have done.

    Still, the effect itself is very pronounced in general, which makes for an interesting read.

  5. brucehood

    Hmm, I know there are more Asians in California but are you saying that the larger the population, the stronger the belief? As if sheer numbers strengthen or reinforce cultural belief.

    Seems like an interesting question, Arno. I wonder if this is borne out in other populations. One could have predicted an opposite effect.. namely that smaller closed communities would be more entrenched with their specific beliefs.

  6. Katie Muffett

    I think that taking into account the potential adverse effects of these beliefs and repercussions *is* rational, but the statistical links remain purely rooted in the irrational.

    I personally set this down to the point Bruce raised about closed communities and strengthened beliefs. Rational intellectualism gives equal status to chaos and unpredictability, while these irrational belief systems seek to – bizarrely – attack them with ritual and repetitive behaviour.

    Something clever about entropy could probably be said – but the boob cosmologist warned me I’d die if I tried to be smart.

  7. brucehood

    I just had a look at the stats in this paper again and they correct for the number of deaths in the population for the remainder of the month. So it not simply the size of the population and number of deaths in Californian Asians.

  8. Pingback: Alton Towers Suspends Superstitious Ride on Friday 13th «

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