In Douglas Adams’s popular 1979 science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, supercomputer Deep Thought reveals that the answer to the “Great Question” of “Life, the Universe and Everything” is 42. Deep Thought takes 7.5 million years to calculate the answer and everyone is disappointed because it isn’t very useful. However, the computer points out that the question itself was vague. To find out what happens next, you’ll have to read the books…
There have been many theories from fans in an attempt to explain what secret reason the number 42 was picked as the answer. It’s been proposed that it was chosen because 42 is 101010 in binary code, or because light refracts through a water surface by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, and others have commented that 42 refers to the number of laws in cricket, a recurring theme of the books.
But they’d all be wrong, as Douglas Adams himself explains:
“The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat on my desk, stared in to the garden and thought 42 will do. I typed it out. End of story.”
So, what do you think the answer to life, the universe and everything is? Personally, I’m a firm fan of The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, which introduces the ’absurd’, laying somewhere in the juxtaposition between the fundamental human need to attribute meaning to life and the “unreasonable silence” of the universe in response.
From The Avengers, to The Hungers Games, to even BoJack Horseman, if you’ve been watching your favourite shows and movies closely, you may recognise the number A113. And if you’re an avid Pixar fan, you’re sure to have spotted it as the number appears in every one of its 24 feature films. It’s on an underwater camera in Finding Nemo, on a street sign in Soul and it appears as graffiti in Inside Out. So what’s going on…is this just a coincidence, or is there more to it?
As you probably guessed, this pattern is no accident. It’s actually a long running joke among students of the California Institute of the Arts. A113 is the name of a classroom used by graphic design and character animation students where people like John Lasseter, Tim Burton, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and others have spent a lot of their time. Brad Bird was the first to bring it to our screens, hidden as a car number plate for an episode of Steven Steilberg’s TV Series Amazing Stories. From there, the trend caught on and it became the recognisable easter egg it is today!
The number 7 crops up in all walks of life; religion, mathematics, folklore, and more. Common instances of the number seven include the seven deadly sins, the seven heavens, the seven chakras of the human body and the seven seas.
In cultures around the world, there were legends about the seventh son of the seventh son, who was endowed with both good and evil magical powers.
It’s also our favourite number – mathematician Alex Bellos asked 44,000 people to name their favourite number and over 4,000 of them chose 7, far more than any other number.
3, 4, 5
Or rather, the rule of 3 – 4 – 5. Want to build a big shed, mark out a tennis/basketball/fill-in-the-blanks court, and need to make sure the corners are square and lines parallel? Create a triangle in each corner where: one side is 3 (feet, metres, lengths of your dog, whatever): the hoped-for perpendicular side is 4: and the line completing the triangle is 5. The ‘right angle’ will be exactly 90°.
Used by carpenters for centuries, this is actually a hands-on application of Pythagoras’ Theorem: in a right angle triangle, the square of the hypotenuse ( the ‘5’) equals the squares of the other two sides, added together. Try it out.
Did you know that more than 80 percent of hi-rise buildings in the United States do not have a 13th floor, and the vast majority of hotels, hospitals and airports avoid using the number for rooms and gates as well? Though it’s uncertain exactly when this particular tradition began, negative superstitions have swirled around the number 13 for centuries.
In religion, 13 guests attended the Last Supper – the next day, of course, was Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. This created a longstanding superstition that having 13 guests at a table was a bad omen.
Just like crossing paths with a black cat or walking under a ladder, many people believe Friday the 13th brings bad luck. Horror movie franchise Friday the 13th, introduced the world to hockey-mask-wearing killer Jason, and is perhaps the best example of the famous superstition in pop culture history.
However, these fears are a primarily Western construct. Some cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, actually considered the number lucky, while others have their own unlucky numbers, such as in Asia where the number 4 is often avoided.
The number 23 has long been a topic of interest among mathematicians and scientists, as it crops up often and seems to represent a number of coincidences. It is one of the most commonly cited prime numbers – and the lowest one with two consecutive digits. Each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the start of new life. 23 is also one of the happy numbers – there are only three other numbers with this property: 1, 22, and 24.
Other examples of weird numerical coincidences include 1859 – the year in which Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published (1+8+5+9=23) and the Hiroshima bomb was dropped at 8.15am (8+15=23)
Christianity and Islam both have a strong connection to the number 23, such as the Qur’an was revealed in a total of 23 years to Prophet Muhammed and Psalm 23 (Sheperd Psalm), one of – if not, the most quoted and well known Psalm. Those who follow Discordianism, a religion founded on the belief that chaos and discord are a necessary part of life, revere 23 more than most. This number is a tribute to the goddess Eris, who surveys chaos in a world rife with conflict.
Have you ever been told to make a wish when you spot that the time is 11:11? Or have you noticed a repeating sequence of numbers such as on a street sign, or on the till when you’re paying for coffee? Known as “angel numbers,” these repeated digits (222, 333, and so on) are believed to be the spiritual universe communicating with you.
“Angels speak to us in synchronistic ways, which basically means that we will see something over and over again, so much so that it goes beyond mere coincidence,” says Megan Michaela Firester, a celebrity aura reader, psychic medium who goes by Mystic Michaela.
“Seeing a repeating number is like your angel pointing to you and making you feel seen and heard. They are trying to get your attention, and the numbers they send have meanings.”
Popular examples, often worn for protection on necklaces are 444, which represents divine guidance as a sign you are being heard, and 777 which presents as a sign from the universe to let go of the fears of your future and trust that all will work out for you.
It’s ironic then, that the repeating 666 sequence, in some cultures represents the diametrical opposite of an angel number, as it is the “number of the beast” i.e. the mark of the devil.