Arithmoiphilia: 01:02:03 04/05/06

Humans are hard-wired to look for patterns. Perhaps it kept us from getting eaten on the savanna 20,000 years ago, but in modern times, it has also led to some very peculiar social behaviors as otherwise rational individuals find import in the random passage of events. This human hunger for order has caused the superstitious to see images of the Virgin on grilled cheese sandwiches and faces on Mars, but it is at its most powerful when the object of attention is numbers. Humans are by nature arithmoiphiles (or perhaps arithmoiphobes) — unconscious numerologists fearfully concluding that the world would end on 01/01/2000 or eagerly anticipating that the “lucky number” on the back of a cookie fortune slip holds the secret to lottery winnings, or perhaps the key to the mysteries of the universe.

Well, the latest incident of Arithmoiphilia is sweeping across the web as I write this (I only heard about is early this morning, thanks to Dana Bartholomew of the LA Daily News who is following the meme’s spread). Some anonymous wag realized that shortly after 1:00am two days from now, the time and date numbers line up to read: 01:02:03-04/05/06. Well, actually they line up that way only for people using the American calendar convention of placing the month in front of the date. Europeans who write the date ahead of the month will have to wait for their chance on May 4th, but the wait will be worth it because as a Swedish friend, Mattias Söderhielm notes, under the ISO standard, the moment is properly written in dramatic count-down order: 06-05-04 03-02-01.

Predictably, messages are flying around cyberspace speculating that this moment is of great portent, perhaps marking the end of time or the end of the universe, the imminent arrival of alien ambassadors, or simply a moment when all ATM machines will spontaneously spit out twenty dollar bills at startled bystanders. The pity is that this particular line-up has seeped into the zeitgeist only days in advance of the Big Event, so we are unlikely to see any mass nuttiness along the lines of the longer buildup before the alleged “Harmonic convergence” forecast for August 19, 1987 (the dates don’t seem significant because the portentous numbers were confected from fiddling with the Mayan calendar by New Agers), or the mother of all silly seasons triggered by anticipation of Y2K.

On the other hand, Europeans still have a month to get ready. With luck, we may yet see crowds of humans making fools of themselves over 01:02:03-04/05/06. So come midnight, pop open a bottle of numerically-auspicious champagne (2000 vintage?), don your tin foil cap, tune into Art Bell’s Coast-to-Coast radio show and enjoy the roller coaster ride as wacky Arithmoiphiles perturb the zeitgeist once again!