15641 kWh. The number appears on my daughter’s electricity meter. This is apparently unheard of with regards to her consumption, warns us the EDF agent. Is there an insulation problem? When was the building created? I hang up the phone, a little confused. My “to do list” gets longer as the hours go by. I notice the bottle of Volvic water in front of me. On the green label, a gleaming 1.5 L stands out. It also reads that for more than 15 years, Unicef and Volvic have improved the quality of life of thousands of children by giving them access to 913 drinking water points in Africa. Sudden notification from my mobile: My daily screen time is down 79% from last week. I quickly read an article in Le Monde: a Zendesk banner invites me to reduce the cost of my customer support by 80%. I absolutely don’t understand what this is about. Clearer, however: the “inflation tsunami” announced for 2023 . Haribo sweets up 26%, Marie catering dishes up 15%, Le Gaulois or Maître Coq chickens up 10%, hams or Bresse pâtés up 7%. My tolerance index is panicking: it officially drops below 0.
Maze of digits and numbers. Our “analytical-digital” civilization thrives on it; a way of keeping control over reality? Do you remember the first lockdowns of 2020, where we lived according to the rhythm of the number of deaths and daily, weekly, monthly, annual cases? Remember the macabre bar of 100,000 Covid deaths in France, now forgotten. Since replaced by those of Ukraine and Russia…
Vestiges and vertigo of figures!
The 500,000 Euros of the McKinsey contract invoiced to the French national education ministry;
The 2m03 of Andries Noppert, the tallest player of the Qatar 2022 World Cup;
The 2.7 million bubbles contained in 1 liter of Coca-Cola…
1. Monster & Tyranny
Whether they enrich our content strategies (I plead guilty), give credibility, highlight/dramatize a fact, or measure a performance, we are immersed in digits and numbers. Important or futile.
They impose their diktat on us. Often act as irrefutable proof. Irrepressible argument. Digits, numbers and figures reflect seriousness, mastery, expertise, authority. We are crushed by their omnipotence. They defeat us unless we oppose them with other numbers/figures like a counter-slap 😊 (cf. epic debates/ numbers battles between the candidates for presidential elections)
Olivier Rey (philosopher), transcribed it masterfully:
“In the beginning was the verb, it seems that in the end everything must become number. Where the words were, the numbers come (or the curves, maps, diagrams drawn from them). Numbers become the ultimate guarantors of reality and not only calibrate the world, but colonize even the intimate. in When the world becomes number.
That’s right: the world has become a (monstruous?) number.
Aware of the power of digits and numbers, we make of their manipulation and/or communication an art. A strategic, sometimes political weapon. (Articles on how to communicate numbers effectively abound; round numbers are said to give the impression of technical superiority, for example… so don’t hesitate, go all out!).
Thus numbers become eminent sophists. And humanity prostrates itself at the feet of these gods who govern us… so as to count, evaluate, quantify, gauge, weigh.
Governance or tyranny? (The links between totalitarianism and quantification have often been highlighted. Just think of Stalin’s -widely documented- obsession with statistics and their instrumentalization).
In any case, it is about Hubris. Yes, numbers/figures empower decision-making. However, beware of excess! When considered as an absolute end, they fail to grasp reality. They can “decorrelate us from emotions” prudently reminds us Dominique Steiler, director of the economic peace chair at GEM. Digits/Numbers should remain tools at our service. Not enslave or dehumanize us!
2. Everything is number.
Obsessed with performance – our pounds lost or gained, our miles traveled/not traveled, our units sold/unsold, our followers gained/lost. – we only consider the numerical and quantifiable dimension of figures/numbers. The current inflation is not helping matters.
We therefore tend to forget their symbolic or even metaphysical/philosophical aspect! Perfectly: metaphysical. I.e. beyond the physical and sometimes the visible.
For mathematicians, for example, the set of natural numbers just like that of prime numbers are “logically infinite sets therefore inaccessible, in their entirety, to any sensible experience”. In January 2016, moreover, they also discovered a prime number with more than 22 million digits…. They apparently had to mobilize 800 computers to achieve this !
Where was this number hiding? There ought to be other numbers like this, unknown to us, leading their peaceful existence out there.
Natural numbers “escape, from this point of view, the Knowing Subject reminds K. Popper. It is an autonomous world that can do without us, that exists outside of our control “.
Equally revealing in my opinion: In the 12th century, the Indian mathematician Bhaskara demonstrates that 1/0= Infinity. This reveals the intrinsic equivalence/relation between emptiness and… the whole. Another notion that humans can hardly appehend.
Digits and numbers therefore point to another reality, persistent, independent of us. A reality to decipher.
And if digits and numbers communicate, what do they really say? How to apprehend them other than a measurement tool?
Freud was absolutely fascinated by numbers. “I realized that everything that happened in the real world had its equivalent in the world of numbers,” he wrote to a friend. According to him, when a person says “2113”, each of these digits would unconsciously refer to an element of their experience! Beyond the anecdote, Freud is part of a long tradition before him.
The Encyclopedia universalis: Theory of Numbers points out:
“In most civilizations that have reached the stage of writing, whole numbers have from the beginning been linked to religious or magical practices, and their properties have exerted a sort of fascination with minds, which is far from having disappeared nowadays, where “numerology” retains followers; it is therefore not surprising that it was within the Pythagorean school, imbued with mysticism, that the scientific study of these properties began. This school also intended to carry out the developments of geometry and arithmetic in an “arithmogeometry” where certain types of digits were associated with figures (…)”
Pythagoras indeed. The philosophical mathematician. Many of which make him the father of modern numerology. Whether we believe it or not, the famous formula of the Pythagorean school rings in our ears: “Everything is number”. The cosmos would be governed by whole numbers (the Gods would have decided so). These would constitute the essence, the matter of everything. To know the number/digit of a thing would therefore amount to knowing the thing itself. All that exists is number. Musical sounds included. Pythagoras actually made these numbers heard by an instrument: the monochord!
Numbers and letters.
We are in 580-500 BC. No wonder. Why ? At this time, Greek letters are also used as digits. So alpha=1, beta=2, etc. Any digit/number can therefore be translated into a word and any word into a digit/number. Logical no? Hence the correspondence between number, word and thing. Pythagoras associates, for example, 1 with essence, 2 with opinion, etc. Some digits are masculine (1 and 2), others feminine (3 and 4), some are virginal! like the 7 (uh, there, the logic frankly escapes me) 😊….In short, the universe = the number, the number = the universe… suggesting that a deep meaning is to be found in the digits and numbers. They speak ! More, they reveal.
Ditto for the Hebrew alphabet: the letters also have a numerical value. From 1 for “aleph”, the first letter, to 400 for “tav”, the last letter.
“Numerical values then become revealers of second, hidden meanings; they call for additional interpretation, for new and innovative understanding”.
Hence the “gematria” which is the interpretation of the texts of the Hebrew Bible via a system of numerology. According to this principle, for example, the mythical figure of the beast, revealed in the apocalypse of Saint John, corresponds to a name: Caesar Nero! You heard it right, Nero, the mad emperor.
“Let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666”. Revelation 13:11–18
I don’t know about you but I find it absolutely fascinating.
Under these conditions, that a mysticism of digits and numbers has developed at the same time as a powerful symbolism is not surprising. Let’s continue.
7, 40, 108, 9, 99, 4, 153
The Bible is full of powerful symbolic digits and numbers: 7 (creation of the world but also the 7 deadly sins), 3 (the trinity, Christ rises on the 3rd day), 40 (40 years of wandering Jews in the desert, 40 days of temptation for Christ), 12 (figure of the people, 12 tributes of Israel), 1 (unity, perfection, divinity), 153 (the miraculous catch). 7 also takes pride of place in the Koran: 7 turns around the Kaaba, there are 7 heavens, 7 earths, 7 hells, 7 doors to paradise… The 9 also plays a key role: The 99 names of God…. Each culture has its pantheon of digits and numbers. In the Indian tradition, the 9 is the number of Brahma, the creative principle, the 108 (1+0+8=9) turns out to be a recurring number (the 108 names of Ganesh, the 108 gopis-guardians of cows- of Krishna). In West Africa the 3 and the 4 would represent the feminine and masculine principle and vice versa…
On the other hand, the 4, associated with death (same pronunciation “Si” in Chinese) is hated throughout South East Asia. The 0 has long been considered heretical or even diabolical in the West (the void does not exist, this idea calls God into question). The 17 ? Absolutely loathed by Italians and considered cursed. (the number 17’s Roman numeral, XVII, is an anagram of VIXI, which means “I have lived” in Latin, synonymous with death). And we all know the contrasting opinions around the 13 in the world!
Not to talk about the football jersey numbers! So much to say about them. The goalkeeper of a team usually wears the number 1 jersey. The 7 shirt carries an iconic feel: some of the legends of the game, like Ronaldo, had it on their back!
Numbers convey a deeper meaning, even mysterious at times. Remember the Club 27 legend? It includes the names of all the great stars who have left us at 27 (2+7).
3. Numbers & Brand identity
At this point of reading (Unless you have succumbed to exhaustion) your head is filled with figures, questions, recriminations perhaps! (firstname.lastname@example.org). I do not claim to exhaust the totality of this abyssal subject. I invite you to think and use numbers a little differently.
So why not integrate them into your branding? Rely on the deep richness of their semantic field?
Simple example. My brand is called 2 rue Saint-Georges. What does this 2 mean? To tell the truth, there is a lot of Freudian experience in the history of this name! Explanation. I woke up one morning, two years ago, with this name on my lips. I then tried to figure out what was there. The 2 ? The integration of opposites, cooperation (I have often been a lone wolf), but also the mystery of the Popess who bears the number 2 in the tarot and looks like me to be mistaken. That’s part of the explanation. For the Saint-Georges bit, go to the home page of my site. 😊
This little anecdote takes us back to the magic of numbers and the impact they can have on a brand identity. They indeed convey strong symbols. They can establish/create a universe. Below is a brief overview, a bit caricatural I admit, of their interpretation. Just to give you a little idea. Please note that this may vary depending on the cultural context. Further study required!
- 0: mystery, digit and number, all and nothing, beginning and end, potentiality, cosmic egg, the ouroboros
- 1: Beginning, singularity, unity, masculine, individuality, the acting spirit
- 2: Union, listening collaboration, motherhood, feminine, but also duality/polarity and balance: yin yang, day & night, etc.
- 3: Creation, spirituality, trinity (body, spirit, soul), completion, totality
- 4: Stability, balance, 4 elements, achievement, order, earth
- 5: 5 human senses, change, movement, exploration
- 6: Beauty, love, perfection, harmony, balance
- 7: Perfection, sacred, spirituality, creation
- 8: Plenitude, infinity, abundance, power, materiality
- 9: Fertility, birth, achievement/accomplishment, End, Beginning
Still not convinced?
Far from neutral!
Think on the other hand of these brands built from and on numbers. Chanel N°5 iconic sensory journey. Coke 0, 7up, Four Seasons (power, elegance, stability), Formula 1 (leadership, excellence, uniqueness), Boeing 707…. The Levis 501 jeans, a timeless signature fit. Le Fou 21, Dolce & Gabbana perfume, exploits the characteristics of this number: independent, free, pure spirit. And so on and so forth.
Digits and numbers give personality to your brand identity; they also confer a perception of quality or superior technicality. Thus, the alphanumeric system is often used for variants, series and innovations including staging technical attributes. The V12 engine expresses power… Each of the phones in the IPhone range has its own image. IPhone 12, IPhone 14. Ditto for BMW, BMW M2, M3 etc…
Care creams too and cosmetics in general! Skin 111, Lunar 28, Serum H2o are good examples. It has also been shown that integrating a 24 for a deodorant brand or 360 for a logistics brand increases the perception of effectiveness. Think 24/7. Once again, digits and numbers reinforce the brand promise.
Moreover, a study carried out by K. Gunasti and T. Ozcan in 2016 strongly demonstrates this: brand preference increases and the product offer is perceived as more complete when the brand name contains a multiple of 10! (consumer reactions to round numbers in brand names). Numbers ending in 0 are otherwise associated with a positive disruption.
But it’s not just about product naming.
Extend this reflection to your vision, your presentations, strategies or even communication… Can you imagine how much material you would find there for differentiation?
So yes, the numbers speak for themselves.
What if you really made them count?
Did you know? in 11 points.
- 7, 11 and 13 are the world’s favorite numbers, according to a study by mathematician Alex Bellos for the Guardian in 2014.
- Numbers have a gender: 2,4,6,8 are associated with the feminine unlike two-digit numbers or 1, 3, 5, 7, 9
- Odd numbers connote strength, independence, fighting spirit vs. peer numbers, that are more relational
- The golden number, discovered in high antiquity is: 1.618. It is supposed to represent divine harmony
- The number of man is 9 (end and restart) and that of God is 7
- Between 2019 and 2022, 22, 26 and 31 are the numbers most often drawn in the lottery
- The 16 digits appearing on your credit card were formed by the Luhn algorithm
- 21: Twenty-one cannon shots are fired at the accession of a new President of the Republic or the reception of Heads of State in France. The supposed weight of the soul: 21 grams 😊
- The aversion of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia and that of the number 4 tetraphobia
- Ground 0: the name of the site in New York where the two towers of the World Trade Center were located, destroyed after the September 11 attack. Germany Year Zero, the name of Rossellini’s film released in 1948
- The 7 Day Theory is Tupac Shakur’s last studio album, released 2 months after his death. Composed in 7 days, it gave rise to multiple conjectures. Tupac should have been resurrected on July 07, 2007 (07/07/07) 😊
Digit: basic mathematical symbol to which a numerical value is associated. In the Arabic symbolism used in France, there are no more than 10 digits: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Digits are used to write numbers.
Number: they represent a quantity or a value. There are an infinity of them.
Figure: a figure can be a shape, a diagram, or a number; if used to describe a number, it can be composed of a single digit or of multiple digits.
Where do numbers come from as we currently know and use them?
The so-called Arabic numerals (0 up to 9) entered the West in the 12th century via the translation into Latin of the treatise on calculation by Mohammed ben Mouça-AI-Khârismi (whose Latinized name will give algorismus, algorithm). The word number is also an Arabic word “sifr” meaning zero/empty.
But in fact the Arabs themselves got them from India! The book of the great Al-Khärismi is none other than the translation of a manual (now lost) offered by an Indian delegation to the Caliph of Baghdad around 830. Moreover, it was also an Indian scholar named Brahmagupta who invented the 0 from the 5th century…
Thus were introduced a new numeration system but also a spelling ( graphic representation of numbers). The invention of the printing press will help to disseminate them, not to mention the work of distinguished mathematicians (Gerbert d’Aurillac, Fibonacci among others).