Numerology is the process of attaching meaning to numbers, or to divine meaning out of numbers. It has a long & storied tradition in culture, religion, cults, & conspiracism. All numerology is a constructed meaning that humans create in their minds based on pre-existing context numbers have in the culture. That doesn’t mean that all numerology is frivolous; imparted meanings are still valuable, but it’s important to acknowledge that they are constructed meanings, not emergent ones.
Encoding vs Predicting
When debunking numerological conclusions, it’s important to understand the intent of the numerological statement. Is it meant as a prediction, or is it meant as encoding? Encoding uses numerology to embed meaning into numbers in a way that the audience can verify using a method already known to the audience.
Prediction is much more complicated. A valid prediction requires a statement that identifies itself as a prediction, that identifies clear conditions of failure & success of the prediction, & an explicit process for checking those conditions. If you don’t do all of those things you might end up with issues like the Replication Crisis. What constitutes a valid prediction is a lengthy article itself, but for now this paragraph will suffice.
It’s important to know if you’re looking at an encoding, which the intended audience should be able to decode & doesn’t give the number special meaning, just that it’s a meaning the writer intended to convey, & a prediction, which is intended to communicate that the writer has knowledge of the future or of secret information (regardless of whether the writer has such knowledge).
In some circumstances, a numerologist may proffer a number in an attempt to have the audience imbue it with meaning, even if the numerologist had no intended meaning to begin with.
Degrees of Freedom
When transforming something, if there are multiple ways you can transform it, each of those ways is called a “degree of freedom.” If you’re working with a 3 digit number, you might think it has three degrees of freedom, but that’s way under. The numbers can be interpreted in any way you like: 666 can be three sixes. It can be a sixty & two sixes, or a six-hundred & two sixes, or 66 sixes. Or it can be rotated to become a 9 or reversed to become a ‘d.’ You can add the terms. Or subtract them. Or multiply, divide, exponentiate, factor them, or perform any mathematical transform you like.
With this many degrees of freedom, any number can be transformed into any other number with numerological significance. There is literally no way to verify if any particular numerological assessment is valid unless it conforms to a method of assessment that’s been previously established. This is another way to tell if it’s simply encoding a communication: The writer often wants to make sure you don’t miss the fact that he or she is being clever & will drop hints as to how to interpret it.
In logic there's a concept called The Principle of Explosion, which states that from any contradiction, any false statement may be proven. In practice, numerological transforms tend to reduce entropy, so it's hard to get the full set of false statements that way, but with sufficiently long numeric strings, you can usually reach any conclusion you want regardless of whether it is true.
How many coincidences until it's mathematically impossible?
If you have an explicit method of interpreting a numerological prediction, there is only 1 way to interpret the prediction & checking it involves that explicit method.
If on the other hand there’s no accepted way to interpret the numerological prediction, each time you perform one transform instead of another, you have at least doubled the methods that you can use to interpret a number. Some of these will lead back to the same number in the end, but others will have more paths to take you down. Numbers of totemic importance are often just 2 or 3 digits (17, 45), so you can run into collisions with these numbers after only a few transforms. Most 2-digit numbers should be reachable in 7 transforms or fewer (as 27 is 128), & 3 digit numbers 10 or fewer (210 is 1024).
The number of pages in the IG Report is a shout out to QAnon
Because the number of pages in the Horowitz IG report on FISA applications totaled 476 when viewed as a PDF, & 4+7+6=17, some QAnons claim the page count is a reference to QAnon. The last numbered page is 434, the last page before the appendices was 417, & there 28 pages with roman numerals for page numbers instead of arabic numerals. Each of those could have been used instead of the PDF page count to provide a hit on the numerology if the other one didn’t work out.
The Number of the Beast in the Revelation to John
The famous Number of the Beast (666), is often taken as a prediction of things to come, as the book of Revelation bills itself as predictions of things to come, but in this case it is an encoding of things that have already happened, & in fact tells the reader to interpret it as such an encoding (specifically an encoding of the name of the Roman Emperor Nero). From this we know a certain type of numerology was prevalent in Christian circles in ways that they believed would protect them from consequences from authorities. This isn’t frivolous information. This is important information about the beliefs of a historical culture, but it doesn’t imply that the information is special in any way other than it was a meaning the author intended to make.
We can make these conclusions because we know this particular process of numerology was well-known in the region at the time from other contemporaneous sources. We know that a reader would be expected to use this process & not a different one.
I just ran across Scott Adams making numerological claims as I was writing this article.
Scott Adams believes that Biden’s campaign slogan is the number of the beast because if you take the phrase “Build Back Better,” remove lowercase letters & spaces, & remove parts of the letters, BBB looks like 666.
Scott Adams also believes Joe B is 666 because if you overlay J & O, then rotate it, it becomes a 6, a lowercase e is just 6 flipped, & the B is also 6, as Scott has established supra.
Kamala Devi Harris also corresponds to 666 because the count of letters in her first & last names (but not her middle) are 6 & the word count for The “Vice President of the United States” (Occupied by Mike Pence as of the time Scott Adams said this) is 6 words (not letters) long.
Ronald Wilson Reagan is the Beast
A similar claim was made against Ronald Reagan as each of his first, middle, & last names were 6 letters long.
The Beast is Q & The Beast is Donald Trump
Finally, here are some completely spurious proofs. First, Q is the number of the beast. 666 rotated 180 degrees is 999. 99 + 9 is 108. Since we rotated it before, we need to rotate it again, to 801. We know we’re on the right path because all the digits in 801 are symmetric. 801’s largest factor is 89. 8 + 9 is 17. Since Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, Q must be equivalent to 666.
Now, Donald Trump is the Beast. There are three sixes. 6 times 6 is 36. If you invert the third six, it becomes a 9. 36 + 9 is 45, & Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.
These sorts of transforms are ridiculously easy to execute & as meaningless as when motivated numerologists do them. Because there are no rules set up in advance, you can transform any one thing into another thing.