Her first name was Kim.

The license plate on her car read RUSH 47.

Her last name can’t be recalled.

She listened to Rush way too much, so that part of the plate merited no query.

But the 47, that piqued my interest.

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(This is not actually her van nor did she ever drive one. This photo was taken last summer and is the only thing that I have that’s even close to showing a license plate with 47. If you thought it was her vehicle at first, that was simply the power of 47 working its way through you.)

“I dunno, it’s just a really strange number. It comes up at the oddest times,” she explained.

That was it, no more explanation.

This happened over 15 years ago in college.

Since then, I’ve excited (and/or annoyed) around 50 people with it.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say simply that they associate me with that number.

These friends would see me point it out to them enough times that eventually they found themselves encountering it.

When the internet was still toddling, I happed upon its website, much to my delight.

“47 – the quintessential random number” it declares.

The site hasn’t changed one iota of data in over 10 years: if you look at the “Recent 47 Sightings” you’ll see that I submitted an entry about a CD by a band named “Rock Band No. 47”.

I did this in the mid-90s.

The main theory surrounding 47 starts with professor Donald Bentley at Pomona College in 1964.

He postulated a half-convincing, half-joking theory that put forth the notion that all numbers were equal and therefore all numbers were equal to 47.

Genius.

(Of course it would stand to reason that if all numbers were equal to all other numbers then all 47 would be no different than 46 or 48 and so on.)

If this were true, wouldn’t that mean that 1 dollar would also be one million dollars?

Unfortunately not.

In spite of this seriously flawed logic, it had its impact.

A Pomona college alumni was a writer and producer for several  Star Trek series and films.

He incited other writers and producers and soon, many of the numbers throughout the series and films were 47-based.

This spred virally as well and has had frequent appearances and references on the following shows:

The Simpsons
X-Files
Alias
The West Wing
Lost
Scrubs
South Park

and many other pop-culture references of the last third of the 20th century.

To find this out really shook any unshakable faith I had in this number.

The whole thing was semi-founded on an academic joke that a significant number of people thought funny enough to propagate into the pop culture.

To the number’s credit, it has a lot of mathematical properties that pretty much all other numbers don’t have.

A few examples:

47 occurs 47 times in the first 1000 prime numbers.
4 consecutive Fibonacci numbers can equal the product of the first 7 primes.
47 is the 15th prime number, a prime Keith number, a safe prime, a supersingular prime, and the 6th Lucas prime.
4+7=11, 7+11=18, 11+18=29, 18+29=47.

Apparently there are a many many other examples that really dig into some mathematical depth, far beyond what most people think of when the word math is mentioned.

It shows up in religions too.

Jesus performed 47 miracles in the New Testament.

The 47 ronin of Japan that is linked to Confucianism.

And by themselves, 4 and 7 both have extreme symbolism lodged in world lore:

Four seasons, four horsemen of the apocalypse, four noble truths of Buddhism, four-letter words, the Fab Four, four food groups, four parts of the day, four classical elements (water, earth, air, fire), four mathematical functions (add, subtract, multiply, divide), Four was an album by Blues Traveler, 4 was an album by Foreigner, and oddly, four, according to Wikipedia, “is the universal number for women, as symbolically suggested in literature throughout history.” (Who knew?)

Seven deadly sins, seven days of the week, seven wonders of the world, the number of notes in  traditional Western music, days in a week, Snow White had seven dwarfs, Stephen Covey’s ubiquitous bestseller “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, 7up, 7-11, the film Se7en by David Fincher, 007, Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes and the number of openings in a human head.

Ok, that last one doesn’t have anything to do with any cultural lore.

But “Number 47 said to number 3/You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see” does.

The effect on me was incalculable.

I saw it everywhere.

I put it on shirts, hats, ascribed an email address to it, slapped a couple of 47 bumper stickers on my cars, and whenever I would choose a number out of thin air, it would have a 47 in it.

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Some days I would see it 20 or 30 times per day.

Some days I would see it only once but at the strangest, somehow most appropriate time.

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Then I moved to Madrid.

It still has its surges and thrusts, like this shot of a light pole in front of the royal palace.

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(A bar near I used to live.)

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(A place I used to teach at.)

But it’s mostly something from another time and place that I’ve pretty much relegated to part of my past.

The explanation as I see it–if there really is one–is in hypersensitivity.

Kim told me to watch out for it and I did.

It popped up a lot.

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I then pointed its occurrence out to others and sure enough, eventually they thought that maybe there’s something to it.

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Throughout this whole silly drama, there have been a few naysayers.

These people usually either say that I’m flat out wrong or that it’s not 47 but 23.

23 is their number.

And then (now) Jim Carrey is playing a role about some guy who becomes obsessed with 23.

The movie’s title breaks the originality mold:

The Number 23

It begs you to see it.

Well, if that is your number.

If you haven’t seen the trailers, it looks like a Hollywood version of Pi or even A Beautiful Mind.

(Aside: I think using Hollywood as an adjective should be a synonym to the dysphemism dumbed down.)

A man starts looking for patterns in numbers.

Later, the man goes crazy looking for them.

Movie theme: Numerology can be quite powerful.

Movie message: Don’t mess with numerology; or don’t over think anything as you might go crazy.

Simultaneously, David Lynch has pasted together another puzzling film, Inland Empire, that is wrought with some 47 dandies throughout it.

The main difference is the subtlety.

And the titles.

The game is officially on.

With April 7th right around the corner (which is the official 4th month and 7th day), no one knows what could happen.

I once thought Kurt Cobain killed himself on April 7th but later discovered it was very late in the day of April 5th.

Damn.

Now that’s not precisely 4-7, but it’s magnetically close, like 4-7 drew him to do it.

A few years ago, Easter fell on four-seven.

I thought for sure that if there was ever going be a full-on rapture, it’d surely be that day.

Forty-seven doesn’t rule my world anymore but every now and again when I am doing something related to America, it pops up.

I finally got around to watching Closer and the final shot shows an ultra-hot Natalie Portman strutting down a busy street in New York.

All the guys turn to gawk as they pass by her.

She walks into the camera and out of the shot.

The camera pans up…

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Granted, 47th St is a pretty famous NY street, but they could’ve just as easily chosen 5th or Times Square or any other Manhattan corner.

But they didn’t.

And this and many choices like it keep 47 alive, subtle and raising eyebrows across America and beyond.

It even made its way into TNB.

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The quintessential random number strikes again.

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KIP TOBIN's real name is Stephen Christopher Tobin, but no one really calls him that, not even his mom. His favorite letter is "i", which is also one his least favorite words; his favorite words tend to include euphonious consonants like Ls and Rs and Ss, such as surly luscious allure. He relocated to middle America last year. He writes fiction and nonfiction but will not tweet. He's currently working on his doctorate in Latin American Literatures and Cultures, studying the intersection of the body, vision and media in contemporary Hispanic Science Fiction . If asked, he will tell you that S. Gautauma pretty much summed 'er all up when he said: All things are transient. Work out your own salvation. He's constantly in that latter process, all the while trying to become as present and aware as he possibly can in this world of simulacra and simulations. You can leave a message on the board here and he will try to get to back with you. His alter ego sometimes posts music mixes on Tip Robin's Mega Maxi Music Mix Mash (tiprobin.blogspot.com), which is unsearchable on the internet and something of a micro, gotta-be-in-the-know phenomenon. He's no longer a part of the social networking revolution. The revolution, it seems, will not be televised but rather streamed, and he hopes he's not watching it. He wishes everyone good luck whenever he can. Good luck.

2 responses to “47 vs 23: The Debate Rages to a Head”

  1. […] Hall of Fame Kip Tobin ponders the power of the number 47 in an essay entitled “47 vs 23: The Debate Rages to a Head”. “Jesus performed 47 miracles in the New Testament,” he writes. “The four noble truths of Buddhism. […]

  2. tip robin says:

    17 Comments »
    Comment by joe_christmas
    2007-02-28 09:34:11

    well done… i am a big fan of the number 47 myself, as you know. i had forgotten that kim’s other obsession is a band i wish had never existed. with the fire of a hundred thousand suns… 47 is a good time, though. i’ll come to town shortly after hitting that $47 million super lotto jackpot, man…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by joe_christmas
    2007-02-28 09:35:15

    p.s.

    jones…

    sincerely,

    smith
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by pete
    2007-02-28 10:25:19

    yeah, jones. and I was the one that asked her about it.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ana
    2007-02-28 13:45:50

    No te creas que no te leo!! Lo hago siempre 🙂 Nunca me habia fijado en el 47..a ver cuantos aparecen por Kings Cross. Going to Madrid end of March so i´ll tell you exactly how many then. Hope to see you there!

    By the way..next short story for when??
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by CK
    2007-02-28 23:10:33

    First and foremost, I learnt a new word:

    dysphemism

    Like, wow.

    So this whole 23 47 thing…I have a theory. Psychologist Carl Jung came up with this overtly flaky idea called the collective unconscious. It’s essentially the psychic DNA of the human species’ experience. It gets passed on to all of us and is constantly been upgraded, as it were, by current experience. (One wonders if the fact that there are so many humans now will up the speed at which the col. uncs. will change.)

    Anyways, there are some mystical numbers that appear all over the world in myth and religion, just like the character archetypes. They seem to be 3, 4, and 7. The seven heads of the Beast, seven chakras (thought someone is messing that one up by adding an eighth), the four corners of the earth, the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water), and multiples: mandalas often appear with four quadrants.

    Interestingly, I’ve never met someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder who doesn’t use one of those numbers or a prime for counting, most often 11.

    So the argument would be that 3, 4, and 7 (or 23 and 47) are imprinted as special numbers by human history.

    The whole collective uncs thing is flaky, but it makes a disturbing amount of sense when you start looking at it more carefully…
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by rk
    2007-03-01 01:09:48

    K:

    I also learned what a dysphemism is (even learned one in French, thanks to your link!)…

    What about the Irish band Black 47? I was really into them around ‘94… which is twice 47!!!

    Personally, I’m a 27 man myself, and I will buy any article of clothing I see with a 27 on it and used to snap photos of 27’s, just like you with your 47’s.

    Weird.

    RK
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by BFSmith
    2007-03-01 10:38:20

    kip:

    thanks for the shout out. Douglas Adams of the Hitchhiker’s Guide would have you believe that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. So who knows?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Greg
    2007-03-01 10:58:49

    I think the answer you are looking for is 42.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Greg
    2007-03-01 10:59:25

    AH! Smith beat me to it!
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jonassen
    2007-03-01 11:25:41

    It doesn’t have the same flair as 23 or 47 or 3, 4, or 7, but I always notice 136 when it appears. It probably feels neglected.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rich Ferguson
    2007-03-01 14:01:54

    Kip:

    Bravo to you, and bravo to the number 47.

    Great work.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by reno
    2007-03-01 14:15:10

    hey 47…

    good deal, kip
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kaytie M. Lee
    2007-03-01 14:16:33

    Aw…I think I’m backwards. I don’t have a lot of 47s in my life, but I do have 74s.

    I’m doomed.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jonassen
    2007-03-01 19:29:08

    In Lucky Number Slevin, the main character, Slevin, actually stays in apartment 47.

    24/7: actually, that’s 2 and 47

    Macarena: said 47 times in one damn song

    My AK 47 is illegal.

    47 on the period table: silver

    In Hitman, a video game, one of the hitmen is Agent 47.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kris
    2007-03-02 12:10:51

    I think it all goes back to what you said about being aware of it then therefore you notice it more. Since I was a kid the number 17 been “my number”. When I met my husband he told me his number was 43. Now I see 17 and 43 everywhere.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by joe_christmas
    2007-04-09 16:24:50

    42 is just 47 minus (2+3). just sayin’.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Alexander Maksik
    2007-11-13 01:33:43

    And now, as you well-know, I live at 47 rue M.

    x

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