For those inclined toward the occult, today's date —1/11/11—seems powerful indeed. But does it hold any real significance?
According to the historian Annemarie Schimmel in her book "The Mystery of Numbers," medieval numerologists – people who searched for the cosmic significance of numbers – within Christian, Muslim, Chinese and Indian schools of thought all considered the number one to represent divinity, unity or God. Just as everything emerged from God, they claimed, all numbers emerge from the number one.
At the same time, though, scholars had absolutely nothing good to say about the number 11: "While every other number had at least one positive aspect, 11 was always interpreted in medieval [analysis] in a purely negative sense," Schimmel wrote. The 16th-century numerologist Petrus Bungus even called 11 "the number of sinners and of penance."
If you follow medieval numerology, then things could get rough today, with January's divine number one butting up against the sinful negativity of those double 11's.
Fortunately, theories must have changed over the past 500 years. Glynis McCants, numerologist and best-selling author, has an optimistic outlook for the day ahead: "Whenever you see 11/11, it means the universe is wide open to whatever it is you want," McCants told Life's Little Mysteries. "People should light a white candle, and focus on what it is they want to achieve in this new year cycle. The vibrations that emanate from the 11/11 will help make it possible."
Whether this day goes well or terribly, it seems interpretations can be found to back up either outcome. This leads us to the question: Why do people continue seeking answers in numbers in the first place, despite numerology's constant predictive failure?
"Cognitive scientists have demonstrated that our brains are hard-wired to look for meaningful patterns in the sensory data it collects from the world," said Alan Lenzi, professor of religious studies at University of the Pacific. "Numbers that are already significant to us, such as calendar dates, that also coincidentally fall into an obvious pattern become doubly significant."
"Given the propensity for people to look for significance in particular days and times (e.g. the "end of the world"), patterns are easily imbued with imaginative meaning," Lenzi said. "1/11/11 is just another example of people doing what people do: finding significance."
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Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.