I think, therefore I harm
Do you believe in numbers? Numerology is a study of the relationship between numbers and events, in a divine or mystical way. Despite its importance in history, numerology is not a science, and no modern mathematician would use it. Numerology is classified alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.
I don’t believe in numerology or in any form of magic relationship with numbers, though throughout the years I often made fun at connecting numbers with some events. For example, at one point in my life, I noticed that even years (2002, 2004, 2006, …) had been significantly more serious for me, while odd years had been high, funny, creative and partying years. When I recently analyzed my more recent years, I couldn’t make such a correlation anymore.
Over the years though, I noticed one particular number for having a part in several, unrelated historical or cultural events. That number is 42. Let’s see where I noticed that number.
Lewis Carroll, famous for Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, was known for his repeated use of the number 42 in his writings. For instance, in the aforementioned novel, rule 42 instated that all people of more than a mile high had to leave the court. Also, the novel had 42 illustrations.
The White Queen states her age is one hundred and one, five months and a day – 37,044 days. With the unconfirmed assumption that both queens are born the same day, their combined age is 74,088 days – 423.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams, was originally a comic radio show which began on the BBC in 1978. Over the years, it was adapted to other formats and eventually became an international phenomenon. The story is remembered for its famous use of the number 42.
A supercomputer calculated that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything was 42. Unfortunately, nobody knew what the question was. In order to find the question, a larger supercomputer had to be built. The new computer is built the size of a planet and made of biological components, and thus often mistaken for a planet. The computer is ultimately revealed to be the Earth, with human beings designed to find the question over time. However, to make way for a hyperspace expressway, the Earth is destroyed just five minutes before it was scheduled to produce the question.
When asked, Douglas Adams denied any special meaning to the number 42. He said that he needed a simple even number. He said that he liked that this one was divisible by both 6 and 7, as he thought he may had needed this property later as he continued the story.
This reference became a popular meme, which even Google knows.
42 is the standard runtime of a 60-minute TV show, which allows for six standard 3-minute advertisement cuts. Yes, you really get 30% of advertisement.
A 2007 Doctor Who episode was titled simply 42, to reflect this fact. In the story, the Doctor only gets 42 minutes to save the world, and the setting is meant to show real-time action.
In Japanese culture, the number 42 is a symbol of misfortune, not unlike the number 13 in Western culture. As pronounced in Japanese, 42 sounds similar to to die.
Along with other numbers with a negative sound to it, 42 is avoided in car license plates, room or floor numbers, and many other places where numbers are needed.
In 1963, a Grand Prix was held in Japan for the first time since the war. The event took place at the Suzuka circuit, in Nagoya, built just a year before. Suzuka is renowned for being one of the few circuits in the world to exhibit a figure 8 layout, meaning that one section of the course overlaps another through an overpass.
Masao Asano was favorite, but he astonished the crowd by choosing to use number 42. Asked about the choice, he dismissed old superstitions. He took the lead during the first lap, but as he reached for the last curve, he lost control of his car and crashed into a ravine. He died from the injuries at the hospital, some three months later. A few weeks later, the use of number 42 was banned from use on any car racing in Japan.
The very next year, in 1964, was a great year. 150,000 people assisted to the competition. After the success of the previous year’s Grand Prix, new rules were enforced to make for a great event. Among the new rules, two teams of officials took position up a tower near the finish line to note the position of each car after each lap. In each team, one official was to call the numbers marked on the cars as they passed the line, while the second one would note down the numbers as they were heard. With the pace of the action, they had little time to think. At the end of the race, they would compare notes for accuracy.
The race went with not major incident. When the officials compared their notes at the end of the race, they noted no discrepancy, but noticed that a car with number 42 had been seen eight times. None of them could describe the car. Has Masao Asano returned for a last race?