July 19, 2017

Horse 2299 - For My Next Number...

I got asked on Monday by a client to write a thing about what numbers I think are "good" and "bad". He pointed out that in the building where he lives​ in Chatswood, that because the owners of the building are Chinese, there is no floor 4 and no floor 13 in the building. Instead the floors count up 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 77, 88, 888 and 88888. 4 is seen as evil because the word in Chinese sounds like the word for "death", 8 sounds like "money", and 7 is also lucky. I was asked if I saw numbers as being lucky, unlucky, good, bad, evil, or whatever, and I think that I was a disappointment  to him because it made no difference to me whatsoever.

One of the things which Mrs Rollo will accuse me of (and perhaps quite rightly) is that I think about numbers too much. I have a job where I basically play with arithmetic all day long and to be perfectly honest, doing tax returns, preparing financial accounts and filling in Business Activity Statements is logically no better than doing a complicated sudoku - it's all about fitting numbers into grids.
I have previously written that I wish that the whole world would switch to a dozenal number system and that the number 14 is the first boring number because it isn't prime, triangular, square, cubic or abundant; so I have form when it comes to this sort of thing. So it surprises me not when I get asked to write a thing about the goodness or badness of numbers. Which numbers do I like, which ones do I hate, and are there any good or bad numbers?

Let me start out by saying that I don't care about whether numbers are "good" or "bad"; the concept doesn't make sense to me either. I personally like to type numbers like 987, 456 and 321 on the keypad but that's because I get to do a flourish on the keypad; those numbers are like trills on a piano. I also don't happen to have a case of synesthesia, as someone once asked me, where someone gets to see colours associated with numbers, though I think that that would be pretty neat.
I can imagine 2 being blue, 3 red, 4 purple, 5 orange et cetera but that is because of my existing associations with pool balls; I used to have a 3 ball as a gearknob in a red Ford Ka.

I suspect that the reason why people think that I have a favourite number, or an opinion on whether or not numbers are good or bad is because they must be trying to map some kind of cultural expectations over numbers and by extension, someone who works and lives in that world.  They​ very fact we call all numbers which can be cut into two "even" and those numbers which can not "odd", seems to imply an expectation of symmetry on numbers. I can understand this I suppose but it still doesn't really explain why there are seven days in a week, why we tally things off in groups of five, or why three is a magic number.
I totally understand why 100 is culturally significant when we consider amounts of money or that mythical point in cricket when the scoreboard adds an whole new column but even then, the number of deliveries in an over is six, as is the number of runs one scores for clearing the boundary with one shot. As for the goodness or badness of the numbers themselves? I don't think that that proves anything at all.

I don't really find the thought that numbers as abstract concepts posses a personality either. 16 isn't bossy, 12 isn't angry, 7 doesn't hang out at cool parties, 1024 isn't secretly into musicals and keeps a record collection behind the fridge. Why anyone would think that I think about this sort of thing is a mystery to me. I could invent back stories for all the numbers but what would be the point? Whilst it is indeed true that many languages assign gender to inanimate objects, I think that that is a function of needing a set of rules for grammar and I think that the gender that objects are assigned is mostly arbitrary. I don't see what advantage there is to calling a table a girl, or the Euro a boy, even though I'm perfectly happy to accept that motor cars and ships are female. I don't see any inherent gender in the number 18, 33 or 582, any more than I can answer the question of what colour Wednesday is.

One of the things I like about "2001: A Space Oddessy" is the description of the monolith which features as a continuing motif. Its dimensions are described as being 1:4:9 and that it would be foolish to think that they ended there. I think that if we ever find aliens in the universe (which although is a non zero chance, is close enough to zero to be taken as acceptable fact) that the most likely point of universal agreement will be in the subject of mathematics. The rules for mathematics seem to apply in all circumstances and forever. Now that's quite apart from whether or not numbers themselves are "good" or "bad" or even what sort of personality you want to apply to them.

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