This Feb. 22, the world hits an unprecedented milestone. It’s the date itself: 2/22/22. And this so-called “Twosday” falls on a Tuesday, no less. True, the number pattern pops out and is difficult to overlook. Is it, however, significant? It may look so, based on the thousands of commemorative products available for purchase online.
“Twosday” has no historical importance and sends no cosmic message. Nonetheless, it says a lot about our brains and civilizations. I’m a social psychologist who researches how pseudoscience and paranormal claims become widespread beliefs. From a scientific standpoint, they’re almost always ludicrous, but they’re fantastic for explaining how brains, people, groups, and cultures collaborate to generate shared meaning.
The date of twosday isn’t the only one with a unique pattern. There have been two Onesdays (1/11/11 and 11/11/11) in this century, as well as 11 months with repeats like 01/01/01, 06/06/06, and 12/12/12. In 11 years, we’ll reach Threesday, 3/3/33, and then Foursday, 11 years later. The brain has developed an amazing ability to make connections and find meaning. It used to be that doing so meant the difference between life and death. Recognizing paw prints in the soil, for example, meant avoiding deadly predators or capturing and eating animals. Changes in daylight indicated when crops should be planted and when they should be harvested.
It’s satisfying to notice a pattern, such as a familiar face or tune, even if survival isn’t at danger. When the brain discovers one, dopamine is released into the synapses, motivating the brain to continue looking for new patterns. Apophenia is the perception of meaningful connections between unconnected items, such as when a number sequence appears to spring out at us. The phrase was first coined to describe a schizophrenia symptom.
Astrology, which visually aligns stars into constellations, is another type of apophenia. These are the well-known Zodiac signs such as Aries, “The Ram,” and Sagittarius, “The Archer.” Each symbol is linked to the meanings of the objects it represents. People born under the sign of Aries, for example, are thought to be stubborn like rams. However, those indications do not exist in any actual sense in the sky, and the system fails scientific tests.
Though remarkable, the date 2/22/22 has no inherent importance outside its purpose in our calendar. This is true of numbers in general: they can only be used to measure, label, or count objects. “Twosday” is a basic example of numerology, the pseudoscientific practice of ascribing supernatural meaning to numbers.
Alternative systems, such as those found in China and the Middle East, can be traced back 2,500 years to the Greek mathematician Pythagoras. Although numerology appears to be mathematical, it is more related to palmistry and tea leaf reading. Magazines, books, movies, television shows, websites, and other forms of social media have all helped to popularize it.
It’s difficult to gauge the popularity of numerology, but the concept that particular numbers are good or harmful is widespread. Nearly a quarter of Americans, for example, believe that the number seven is lucky. Numerology can take various forms. The most common method involves assigning numbers to names or other words and calculating their “root,” also known as the “destiny number” or “expression number.” It begins by assigning a number to each letter of the alphabet: A = 1, B = 2, and so on until me = 9, at which point the cycle restarts with J = 1, K = 2, and so on.
For instance, the five numbers in my first name – 2, 1, 9, 9, and 7 – add up to 28. To find the root, put the digits in 28 together to get 10, then add those two digits together to get 1. The roots of my middle and last names are 4 and 9. When you combine the three roots together, you get 14, and when you add those numbers together, you get 5, which numerology equates with being free-thinking, adventurous, restless, and impatient.