HERE’S WHY SEVEN IS MOST LIKELY YOUR FAVOURITE NUMBER
And why it’s significant.
ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER that you’ll ever do, according to the consortium of scholars known as Three Dog Night. But what if there is a number (or many numbers) even less popular than one?
For reasons totally unrelated to classic rock, author Alex Bellos set out to find the world’s favourite numbers. His online survey swiftly received more than 30,000 votes from numberphiles around the world. Voters gave many reasons for their favourites, though they usually corresponded to an important date or age or other positive association.
Overall, odd numbers outperformed evens. And Bellos suggests that numbers ending in zero were too, well, round for most tastes. “When we say 100, we don’t usually mean exactly 100; we mean around 100,” Bellos told Nautilus magazine. “Why would you have something as your favourite that is so vague?”
Numbers that stake a claim to a higher purpose did well. For instance, 42 – the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – landed in 11th place. The lovely, symmetrical number eight, which is pronounced ba- in Chinese and rhymes with the Chinese
word fa-, signifying prosperity, came in third. Second place went to the number three, perhaps for its many appearances in nature and culture: the number of leaves on a typical clover, little pigs pursued by a certain wolf, musketeers in the Dumas novel, and wishes offered by genies.
Very specific numbers with regular gigs in geometry also proved popular. More than 400 people voted for pi (3.14), and 103 voted for 1.618, which in mathematics is known as the golden ratio or the divine proportion and is commonly seen in nature and design.
But the clear winner is the number seven, raking in nearly ten per cent of the total vote. Shocked? If you’ve ever been to a casino, probably not. But seven’s triumph also reaffirms a human fascination that goes back thousands of years. Bellos points out that ancient Babylonian tablets were riddled with sevens. There are also seven dwarfs, seven samurai, seven deadly sins and seven days of the week. We even speak of seventh heaven as the ultimate happiness.
But all of this, Bellos suspects, is the effect and not the cause of our sevenfold obsession. He posits that seven is a stone-cold rebel that follows no rules but its own.
“Seven is the only number among those we can count on our hands, one to ten, that cannot be divided or multiplied within the group,” Bellos explains. One, two, three, four and five can each be doubled to reach two, four, six, eight and ten. Nine is divisible by three. Seven, then, is the only number between two and ten that is neither a multiple nor a factor of the others. In this way, ‘lucky number seven’ stands alone.
“It’s unique; it’s a loner, the outsider. And humans interpret this arithmetical property in cultural ways,” Bellos says.
As for the real loneliest number? It isn’t one, which came in 21st. The smallest whole number that didn’t receive a single vote, 110, is in a solo class of loneliness all its own.