Numerophobia: Number Paranoia Across Time and Cultures

Updated March 31, 2010
Like many phenomena, numerophobia, which is known as the irrational paranoia of numbers, probably had its origin in our planet's universal religions and the way those religions measured time. There were many calendars created observing numerous celestial objects such as the rumored Cro-Magnon lunar calendars and 19-year cycle Judean lunar calendars, but the Egyptians were probably the first to adopt a solar calendar. The Egyptian calendar organized itself in a familiar pattern (brace yourself if these numbers are causing you anxiety): "the Egyptians invented a schematized civil year of 365 days divided into three seasons, each of which consisted of four months of 30 days each. To complete the year, five intercalary days were added at its end, so that the 12 months were equal to 360 days plus five extra days." Once the Egyptians and other cultures opened this Pandora's Box of numerical calculation, measuring time went from the conceptual observation of the heavens to chronological and mathematical forms of time.

Speaking of math, the Egyptians were also one of the first to open this evil box of numbers. The famous Rhind Papyrus (an early algebraic and geometric lesson) is a commonly-cited example of this. Egypt was ideally placed astride major waterways which linked Asia, Africa, and Europe together, and at the time of Ancient Egypt's existence, this comprised the entire world of recorded history. The last several chapters of the book of Genesis in the Bible (starting from chapter 40 might be helpful) and the entire book of Exodus highlights Egypt's powerful economic place in the regional scene. Because of Egypt's economic position, it needed a system of effective measurements, and mathematics to support the immense trade and building concepts that Ancient Egypt was engaged in. Egyptian pyramids like those at Giza and Dahshur indicated the mathematical prowess of the Egyptians as these pyramids appeared in near-perfect geometric precision and cardinal orientation. Just as it is today in the entire world, the influx of trade in Egypt resulted in the spread of numbers to facilitate that trade.

Each new culture had a different system and idea of numbers. While we and the modern world are familiar with base 10 mathematics and counting, the Ancient Mayans used a base 20 system. What this history of ancient time-keeping methods and mathematics serves to underline is that numbers are merely constructs, and all numerophobias are constructed from these systems by default. This clearly indicates the irrational nature of a number paranoia. Since, however, numerophobia continues to exist, understanding its origin and causes is valuable to finding a solution for the issue. Many experts believe that numerophobia and the other more specific phobias rooted in this have their origin in traumatic events related to numbers. This is similar to the way you might develop a taste aversion to all burritos if one made you vomit a long time ago, or a woman might be paranoid about talking to strangers if her mother told her scary stories about what could happen if you did.

Below are some words stemming from numerophobia with their meanings. Definitions are from which has an amazingly comprehensive list of phobias.

Arithmophobia--Another name for the fear of numbers.

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia--Fear of the number 666. Hopefully sufferers of this phobia have never seen the word; the phobia appears just about as intimidating to pronounce.

Triskaidekaphobia--Fear of the number 13.

Octophobia--Fear of the number 8.

Incognitusacellophobia--Fear of unknown cell phone numbers.

The last one is clearly made up (by me). I joined the Latin word for unknown or "not thought" (incognitus) with cell to form the word. Numerophobias are simply constructs, however. It is the emotional trauma or memory surrounding the number that makes the number significant. Religious texts circulate many numbers significant to their ideas: Judaism and Christianity, for example, both celebrate the number 7 in numerous references, as does Islam (the Seven Churches of Revelation or the Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

If you suffer from numerophobia or the irrational paranoia of numbers, then help is available for you at That is, it's available so long as you aren't afraid of the contact number (800-828-7284), the price of a "Home-Study" Program ($137 or $147), or the price of a "One-on-One 'VIP'" Program ($2,497). It might just be more effective to market products to numerophobia sufferers if the numbers are written out phonetically.

Numerophobia has made it into mainstream media through the aid of the TV series "Numb3rs", which began in 2005 and chronicles a mathematically-minded criminal investigation team, and most particularly "The Number 23", a 2007 film starring Jim Carrey about a man who becomes obsessed with a book that he believes is written about him. Numbers surround us and are an extension of the cultures we live in, but in the end they are simply constructs which help us to enumerate concepts. If two deadly earthquakes strike a year apart on exactly the same day, this isn't some mysterious foreshadowing of the arrival of the antichrist. It merely means that two deadly earthquakes happened 365 days apart. If our days were numbered differently, such an event would not gain attention. It is the emotions and origins surrounding our numerophobias which are important, not the numbers themselves.