Friday, January 13, 2012

Triskaidekaphobia and the human obsession with numbers

Triskaidekaphobia is morbid fear of the number 13. Friggatriskaidekaphobia, fear of Friday the 13th. I wonder if 13 is the only number with two phobias dedicated to it? It is not the only number that has some superstitious significance.  In some cultures the number 4 is avoided; 3 is all over the place in both religious (ex: the trinity) and secular (bad things happen in ...) instances. 7 is called "Lucky", and our buddy 13 "Unlucky". I could go on, but if you've stayed with me this far you're probably about to click on the 'X' and end your agony, so I will leave further examples up to the reader.

The intriguing aspect of all this is the significance we humans place on numbers.  When did it start? Who was the first to assign a number to a set of things?  Where did it happen?  Why? (I kind of sound like a reporter here.)  Oh yeah, How did it start?  Naturally I don't know the answers, but that doesn't stop me from theorizing so let's do.

First - Why/how did numbers happen?  TT (Tom Theory) - As human society moved from  the early hunter gatherer stage to growing their own food, they clustered in groups.  Members accumulated livestock, that needed to be quantified.  Let's say an owner kept track of the stock by retaining a small stone for each head of stock, that way the herd could be inventoried by moving a stone from one bucket to the next as each animal was tallied.  Maybe this led to notches in wood, and finally to symbols representing different quantities.

Sound plausible?  The who, when, and where are beyond my theorizing powers, so have at it if you wish to muse.

Well we all have numbers in our heads, on lists, in our phones; numbers that are important to us.  Right now one that I'm focusing on is 70 - for on February 16th it will be the number of years I've been on the earth.

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