Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Legends of the Number 23

Author:  Matthew Montalto-Cansler

The number 23 is one of the most commonly cited prime numbers which is a number that can only be divided by itself and one.  Twenty-three is the lowest prime number that consists of consecutive digits.  Primes are often described as the “atoms” of mathematics or the building blocks of the world of numbers.  An American businessman has put up a $1,000,000 prize for the first mathematician to find a pattern in primes, a problem in the mathematical world known as the Riemann hypothesis.

Riemann Zeta Function Image
The 23 obsessions began with William S. Burroughs who claimed to have met a sea captain named Clark who said he had never had an accident in 23 years.  Later that day, his ship sank, killing him.  That night, Burroughs supposedly heard a radio news broadcast about a flight 23 that had crashed in Florida though he may have been thinking ofthe flight 23 that was destroyed by a bomb in 1933.  After that, Burroughs kept meticulous records of his 23’s.  He later published a short story titled “23 Skidoo”.

There are so many freaky numerical coincidences such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species that was published in 1859.  1+8+5+9=23.  The Hiroshima bomb was dropped at 8:15 am –8+15=23.  The World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11/2001 (9+11+2+0+0+1=23).  This is one of the more disturbing examples of the power of 23.  The independent US commission which investigated the attacks found the date had been chosen randomly by the hijackers and had originally been planned for later in the year.  Alternative explanations for the date included the taking over of Palestine by Britain in 1922 and the fact that 911 is the US emergency code.

The movie, The Number 23, starring Jim Carrey, is a psychological thriller.  It was released in 2007 with the center of the theme being the number 23.  Some say the number is cursed, associated with bad luck, tragedy, and death.  In the movie, the same is true of Walter Sparrow who begins to unravel as he reads an obscure book, “The Number 23”.  The book seems to mirror Walter’s life in unexplainable, dark ways like the book’s main character,Detective Fingerling.  The number 23 becomes an obsession as Sparrow follows in the footsteps of other men who became obsessed with the number 23 such as Albert Einstein and William Burroughs.

Jim Carrey from the movie poster, “The Number 23”

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford Upon Avon on 23 April 1564.  He died 52 years later on his birthday, 23 April 1616.  Kurt Cobain, the god of grunge, was born in 1967 and died in 1994 = 1+9+6+7=23 and 1+9+9+4=23.  The first Morse Code transmission –“What hath God wrought?” was from the Bible passage Numbers 23:23. In telegraphers code 23 means “break the line”.  “23 Skidoo” is an American catchphrase from the early 20th century meaning to make a sharp exit.  It was used as the title of a book of short stories by William Burroughs, the first 23 aficionado.  But some believe its origins lie in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, where the old woman counting the daily victims of the guillotine calls “23” as the hero is beheaded in the last chapter. 

The Bible does not let the number 23 pass with some significance.  It is widely held that Adam and Eve had 23 daughters.  The 23rd verse of the first chapter of Genesis brings the act of creation to a close while the 23rd chapter of the book of Genesis deals entirely with death, the death of Abraham’s wife, Sarah. The most famous and most quoted of the Psalms is number 23: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:  He leadeth me beside the still waters.” 

What is all the fuss about. The number 23 is only the whole number between 22 and 23.  23 is the ninth prime number and the fifth factorial prime.  It was the center of one of Einstein’s studies, calling it the Einsteinian prime.  William Burroughs started it all and still we are left with this enigma.

Works Cited:

Kiger, Patrick J.  “What's the Fascination with Number 23?”, InfoSpace Holdings LLC, 2019. .

“The Number 23.”  Christianity, Christianity Today, 2007. https://www.christianity 

“What does the Number 23 Mean.”, Accessed  29 Oct 2019

Tegun, Tamar Melike. “Weird and Enchanting Facts About the Number 23”,                  , Interesting Engineering, 3 Sep 2019.  Reference*,

 Links for further research:

TnPihl. “Jim Carrey Online”., Jim Carrey,, Accessed 21 Oct 2019.

“23 enigma”. Wikipedia, 13 Sept 2019,

“Meaning of Numbers in the Bible”., Interac, Accessed 21 Oct 2019.

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