And why it’s sig­nif­i­cant.

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - BRAN­DON SPECKTOR

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.

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