Note to my loyal readers: This will be my last post before a two-week break so I can go to my publisher's annual writers' retreat in the Ozarks. Please keep sending links & ideas -- I'll be right back in the saddle when I return. Look for the next Skeptophilia post on Monday, August 6!
Most of us, I'd like to think, just see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe, and don't make such a big deal out of it. If we want to believe in a Higher Power That Guides Everything, we do, and don't spend endless hours crafting abstruse proofs of the conjecture. We're content to have a beer, watch a hockey game, and let god have some much-needed quiet time.
There are a few people, however, who just aren't content if they're not actively beating the matter into submission. Such a person is Marty Leeds, Wisconsin-born writer, mystic, philosopher, and the origin of dozens of highly entertaining YouTube videos.
Just yesterday, I was sent a link to one of Leeds' creations, entitled, "Number Magic: Gematria." The link was accompanied by a message stating, and I quote: "Words cannot describe the level of derp in this video." So of course I had to watch it. And I wasn't disappointed.
Turns out he has an obsession with the number pi. Okay, it's a pretty cool number, being transcendental and all, but he thinks there's... more than that. Way more, as it turns out.
What you get when you divide the circumference of an apple by its diameter. [Image licensed under the Creative Commons Matman from Lublin, Apple pie Pi Day 2011, CC BY-SA 3.0]
If you're unwilling to sacrifice an hour and a half of your precious time (and to be honest, I made it through about twenty minutes, and just skimmed the rest), and countless innocent cells in your prefrontal cortex that will die in agony, allow me to present to you the main points of Leeds' argument.
- There's this thing called gematria that was made up a while back by some Hebrew mystics who had overactive imaginations and way too much free time. The idea behind gematria is that each letter in the alphabet (whether Hebrew, English, or other) is assigned a number, and when you add up the numbers for a word or name, you get a number that "means something."
- You get to decide what the numbers mean.
- If two words add up to the same thing, they are mystically linked. Leeds uses a form of gematria which takes the English alphabet, splits it into two lists of thirteen letters each (A-M, and N-Z), and numbers each list from 1 through 7 and then back down to 1. So my first name, Gordon, would be 7+2+5+4+2+1 = 21. "Sharp" is 6+6+1+5+3, which also adds up to 21. So you can see that thus far, we have a pretty persuasive theory here.
- Leeds then does a gematria addition for four words or phrases. We have "man" = 3, "woman" = 9, "Christian" = 39, and "The Holy Spirit" = 61. Note that he had to add a "the" to the last one to make it work out the way he wanted.
- So, let's look at the first thirteen digits of pi. He picked thirteen because we had split the alphabet into two groups of thirteen letters each, which seems like impeccable logic to me, given the obvious connection between pi and the English alphabet. Anyhow, we have 3.141592653589. It starts with 3 and ends with 9 -- giving you "39." So right away, we can see that there's something wonderfully Christian about pi, not to mention having a man on one end and a woman on the other. Also, 3+9 = 12, and 3x9 = 27, and 12+27 = 39. So you get your 3 and 9 back, so "man + woman" + "man x woman" = "Christian." Or something like that.
- Take the middle number in the sequence (2) and the two on either side (9 and 6). Why? Because tridents, that's why. Stop asking questions.
- If you multiply 9x2x6, you get 108, which is a very holy and important number. Myself, I just thought it was the most convenient way of getting from 107 to 109, but what do I know? But the Hindus liked the number 108, and plus, it's the number of stitches on a baseball, so there you are.
- Now, take the remaining digits of pi, and basically draw a menorah under them. You then put them together in pairs, flip 'em around, and add 'em together. I really don't want to go into all of how he does that, because my cortical neurons are already whimpering for mercy, so you'll just have to either watch the video or else just accept on faith that somehow all of the numbers and flipped numbers and all add up to 352. Then, you add that to the 2 and 6 from the trident bit, and you get 360, which is the number of degrees in a circle. Get it? Circle? Pi? Are you blown away? (Okay, he left out the 9. But still.)
- If you multiply the first through eighth digits of pi, you get 6,480. If you multiply the eighth through the thirteenth digits, you get 32,400. Subtract them, and you get 25,920, which he says is the number of years for the precession of the Earth's axis to complete one rotation. Except that according to the Cornell University Astronomy Department's webpage on the precession of the Earth's axis, the length of the precession of the Earth is said to be "about 26,000 years" -- the imprecision being because a motion that slow is almost impossible to measure accurately. But I think we call all agree that since we're using gematria as our jumping-off point, being off by eighty years or so is plenty accurate enough.
- Of course, like any good performer, he saves his most amazing bit for the end, wherein we find out that the first thirteen digits of pi add up to 61, which you will recall is the number of "The Holy Spirit." So pi "encodes" (his word) The Holy Spirit and the precession of the equinoxes.
- Therefore god. Q.E.D.
This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a must-read for anyone concerned about the current state of the world's environment. The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is a retrospective of the five great extinction events the Earth has experienced -- the largest of which, the Permian-Triassic extinction of 252 million years ago, wiped out 95% of the species on Earth. Kolbert makes a persuasive, if devastating, argument; that we are currently in the middle of a sixth mass extinction -- this one caused exclusively by the activities of humans. It's a fascinating, alarming, and absolutely essential read. [If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]