Numerology is the ancient and contemporary belief that there is an intimate connection between numerical quantity, the workings of the universe, the heavens and, by implication, future events. Wikipedia puts it this way:
Numerology is any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.¹
With roots in India, China, and Greece, numerology has an intriguing history. Hindu culture is often hailed as the birthplace of the concept of zero but this is a complicated claim. It reminds me a bit of how some proud Canadians say that a Canadian, Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone. Well, in reality, Bell worked on his invention in Ontario, Canada but was born in the UK and also resided in the US. His citizenship was: United Kingdom (1847–1882), British-subject in Canada (1870–1882), and United States (1882–1922).
Likewise, it seems some Hindus were overflowing with pride when they told me during my studies at Visva Bharati that their ancestors had invented the concept of zero. That claim to fame is not totally wrong but the worldwide picture is far more complex.
See Who Invented Zero?
As for numerology, per se, the Chinese allocated numbers on a sacred board, the Lo Chou, and believed that odd and even numerals represented different objects and conditions; for instance, day and night, white and dark, hot and cold, fire and water, sun and earth.
In ancient Greece, the mathematician and sage Pythagoras advanced number theory to new heights. His study of ratios and geometry were integrated with a belief in cosmic interconnectedness.
In the 20th century, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung introduced a new idea called synchronicity, which is the belief in meaningful coincidence (although I doubt Jung was reflexive enough to see it as a belief). One type of synchronicity outlined by Jung is the phenomenon or, depending on your philosophical outlook, belief in recurring numbers.
Jung says that synchronicity refers to meaningful coincidences but also warns against actively selecting stimuli from the environment to supposedly discover curiosities like recurring numbers.
But Jung cannot be sure that he has overcome all personal biases. In fact, his theory of archetypes seems a bit contradictory at times. On the one hand, Jung claims that synchronicity just happens without any kind of observer bias, but Jung also suggests that we are actually lead to synchronicities by the unconscious. So how can that dynamic be entirely objective?²
Whether or not anyone can overcome their conscious or subconscious predispositions remains an important point of debate in synchronicity theory, which can get complicated and muddled with manmade concepts. Ideas like the unconscious, archetypes, and ego are uncritically piled on top of one another, arguably compounding any hidden errors already present in biased thinking.
Similarly, one could argue that contemporary physics is a kind of dice throw using loaded dice and, in some instances, with affinities to numerology.
This is particularly so within astrophysics. Freeman Dyson points out in Infinite in all Directions that most advanced theories about cosmic connections are incomplete, full of anomalies, and still being worked out. Also, rival theories usually appear, claiming to better describe and predict observed phenomena through an entirely different conceptual approach and associated mathematical legitimization.
Simply put, playing with numbers, even at a high level of abstraction and complexity, is still playing with numbers.³
² See my Ph.D. thesis, https://ruor.uottawa.ca/handle/10393/9564 pp. 94-96
³ For instance:
Parties disavow any connection to Cambridge Analytica (stabroeknews.com)