Pick any number between 1 and 10, and you’re likely to choose 7. Seven is often seen as a very holy or esoteric number, linked with the number of (traditional) planets, the number of archangels, etc. But dig a bit deeper, and one will find that all numbers, from 1 to 9 have all been well-mapped and are part of numerical religious sequences that are deemed to be “important.” In fact, counting from 1 to 9 has often been a mnemonic device to illustrate the creation of the universe. Surprise, surprise, therefore, that it might be the number 11 that is deemed by many to be an unexpected entrant in the competition for being the most interesting or important number. Its importance has been promoted by the likes of Uri Geller, who even argues that it is specifically the occurrence of 11:11 that is of most interest. For many years, he wondered whether others felt the same, and he launched what is best described as an appeal on his website for others with a similar fascination to come forward. He also incorporated it into his novel “Ella,” where he explains his fascination: “I started experiencing this rather bizarre occurrence when I was forty years old. At first I thought they were coincidences, I would stand with my back to a digital clock and something made me turn around and I would notice that the time would be 11:11. These incidents intensified. I would be checked into hotel rooms on floor 11 room 1111. I started noticing these digits on computers, microwave ovens, cars, documents, etc. I decided to write about it on my website. I was immediately inundated by hundreds of emails from all around the world. Individuals were telling me their own 11:11 stories, almost always saying ‘I thought it only happened to me’.” It therefore seemed to Geller that something was special about these numbers. And if so, the question then is what precisely?
The question is whether there is an “11 phenomenon,” or whether perhaps there is even an 11:11 or 11:22 phenomenon, seeing that the two numbers are obviously related. It was 11:22 that was a favorite time for the producers of “The X Files,” many of the clocks shown in the series showing this time. Geller concluded: “It is my opinion and feeling that the endless recurrence of the number eleven represents some kind of a positive connection or a gateway to the mysteries of the universe—and beyond.” If Geller is right, the most obvious approach is to argue that the numbers 11 and 22 are heavily linked with the Kabbalah and the 22 paths that connect the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Coincidence? Or an insight into a larger reality? If there is a difference, of course.
So, where does 11 take us? In numerology, it is the first of the Master Numbers. It also takes us to pyramids, as the proportions of the Great Pyramid are 7:11, and 11 is a number harmonious with Pi. In today’s western calendar, 11 is of course associated with the month of November, and if we go for a sequence of elevens, we end up on November 11, 11:11 am —a date and time that is specifically linked with the commemoration of World War I, as the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, at 11:11am. Coincidence, design, or actually perhaps responsible for part of the 11:11 phenomenon?
Other important dates in our recent history were of course November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, which some see as a watershed event in the history of American politics. There is also the total solar eclipse of August 11, 1999, which occurred at 11:11 AM (GMT). Though the event was heavily promoted as extremely important (it is featured in Nostradamus’ infamous Centuries), in retrospect, it is clear that very little truly happened beyond the astronomical phenomenon itself—and definitely not as much as some of the Nostradamus fanatics thought would happen.
But let us continue by listing interesting number elevens: there was of course Apollo 11 that was the first mission that set foot on the Moon, just like a sunspot cycle is roughly 11 years—though this is an approximation. And should we attach any significance at all to the fact that England’s primary sports of football and cricket have eleven players on the field—though the same applies to an American football team? If we were to do so, how can we exclude dozens of other sports, that do not have 11 people in the team?
What to make of the fact that the winter solstice in 2012 will occur at 11:11 universal time? It is of course this event that is so deeply linked with the Mayan calendar and its ending—or, if you are a fan of “The X Files,” the date of the alien invasion. But, it is clear that some events need to happen at certain moments in time, and the question is whether we can pick individual events from the larger calendar and disregard all other dates and times. Though one might argue that 9/11 contains the number 11, the equivalent terrorist activities in London occurred on 7/7, that other holy number. But noting that all numbers from 1 to 9, as well as 12, if not 10 and 11 too, are “sacred” in some form or other, it is clear that within a twelve-month calendar, the majority of dates can all be labelled as “sacred” in one form or another.
In recent years, 11 has actually gotten competition from the number 23—which even became the title of a movie, staring Jim Carrey—and the shirt number Beckham wore for Real Madrid, trading it in from Manchester United’s holy seven. There are 22 chapters in Revelation, and some query whether the unwritten 23rd chapter is of course what everyone is dying to hear. One of the earliest to subscribe to the 23 enigma was beat poet William S. Burroughs.
For him, it was not just the unusual frequency of the number; it was that in any coincidence he would find the number 23. When he was in Tangiers in the 1960s, Burroughs met one Captain Clark, a ferry captain who boasted of not having had an accident for 23 years. That night the boat sank, killing Clark and everyone aboard. Later that evening, Burroughs heard a radio broadcast about a plane crash. The pilot’s name was Captain Clark. The flight number was 23. After that day, Burroughs kept a record of similar coincidences involving the number 23. Throughout his journal, 23 recurred over and over, like a footprint of chance, like the signature on the handiwork of fate. The question, of course, is whether he could have held a similar diary about the number 17. Or 55. Or 765.
Another high lord of the number 23 was the science-fiction author and former Playboy editor Robert Anton Wilson. He caught the 23 bug after a Playboy interview with Burroughs. Wilson was thrilled to discover that parents each contribute 23 chromosomes of DNA at their child’s conception. He nevertheless completely freaked out when he learned that the British occultist Aleister Crowley tied 23 to reproduction by defining 23 as the number of “parting, removal, separation,” “Joy,” “a Thread” and “Life.” Of course, Crowley associated himself with the Great Beast and believed that his number was 666. Two divided by three is… 0.666…6666 etc.
Authors like Burroughs, Wilson, and Crowley have made 23 a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. And it does seem that the fascination with a particular number is akin to a personal obsession—though there is little wrong with that. Whether 11, 22 or 23, it is clear that each of us seems to have a personal—favorite—number, and some numbers might merely be a bit more universal than others, or attractive to one person, but not the other, hence why some numbers are less equal than others.
The vital question remains: so what? Well, for the likes of Geller, it is clear that he is convinced that there is true significance in “his” number. If, like the protagonist of “The Number 23,” you start noticing that this signature of fate peels back the skin of reality and upon peeking through, you realize, as you suspected all along, that there is a dark hand manipulating the events of all creation to a malicious end, well then, 23 can be profoundly disturbing—so can be 11, or any other number. At the same time, it might make you more alert, or even warn you that “something” might happen; e.g., next time the clock turns 11:11 am – or pm.
The inroads to such a realization, it is clear, are always coincidences. One person for whom the number 11 was important, told me that significant events in her life tended to happen on the 11th day of the month. The apparent presence of meaning in what should be a random sequence of numbers is precisely what makes a coincidence into a synchronicity—an important event. In fact, a common definition of a synchronicity is that two events should not be linked via any causality, but are purely linked by their meaning.
The man who brought the term synchronicity into our world was Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Jung spoke about the subject as early as the 1920s, but only committed his thoughts to paper in 1951, continuing his forays into the subject in 1952, with “Synchronicity—An Acausal Connecting Principle.” For Jung, synchronicities were signs, in this reality, that something behind the scenes of this reality was occurring—very much like what occurs to the main character in “The Number 23.” For Jung, synchronicities went hand in hand with his concepts of the collective unconscious, as well as the archetypes. In short, for Jung, there were few “real” coincidences—or rather, meaningless coincidences. Mostly, Jung posited that there was an order to the randomness, and that this order was not directly apparent to us; that it needed a kind of “insight”—an open eye—to realize that… there was no such thing as a coincidence.
So, whether there is genuine meaning to certain numbers, or whether it is all a coincidence, is the big question. For some, there is no such thing as a synchronicity, arguing that in the great mass of chaos, there will be some aspects that might appear to be ordered, but are in fact not. Jung’s approach, of course, is akin to the quantum physicist who argues that thoughts—our brains—are central to the entire structure and operation of this universe. In short, Jung might be right—and so might everyone else who believes that he or she has a special number, which has special meaning for them. Skeptics have labeled such thinking “confirmation bias”; i.e., a tendency to accept information that confirms an already-held idea. But even the likes of Nobel Prize winning scientist Wolfgang Pauli were convinced that synchronicities were genuine, arguing that often ideas occurred in his dreams which would have synchronous analogues elsewhere, as he later discovered when his distant collaborators corresponded with him. It’s a strange universe we live in and didn’t Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, say that “God is a mathematician of very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe”?