Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Wall of random numbers in white against black background

Which Is Your Favorite Number and What Does It Imply?


Alex Bellos, mathematician, conducted an investigation on the subject and these were his results.

In Plato’s Republic, Plato states that the study of the science of numbers tends to awaken an organ which the Ancients described as “the eye of wisdom” (the same that today is known as the pineal gland). The current model for teaching mathematics however, does very little to awaken that elevated mind. The sole reason why geometry, based on Euclid’s Elements, is studied is that it enables pupils to acquire knowledge vital for the understanding of other parts of mathematics. But, even if we know very little about math and Pythagorean number philosophy, we all have a beloved number, a favorite among the infinite possibilities, and most of us have no idea why. Perhaps it has to do with certain archetype or an abstract resonance with nature. But to study the “favorite number” phenomenon, Alex Bellos, mathematician and The Guardian writer, began to collect information on the matter.

Bellos launched the, and asked the visitors to vote on their favorite number and explain the reason behind their choice. More than 44,000 people voted. Throughout the project, the mathematician noticed some interesting patterns. “Definitely”, he said, “the non-mathematical reasons were much more frequent than mathematical ones. Dates and birthdays were the most common.” He also noticed that odd numbers are more persistent than even ones. However in China, number 8 is popular because it rhymes with “prosperity”, and 4 is infamous because it rhymes with “death”.

My theory, which has not been proven scientifically, is that we use even numbers to refer to approximate things. When we say 100, we rarely mean exactly 100; we want to say approximately 100. So it feels incredibly vague. Why would you choose something so vague as your favorite?

Bellos went on the BBC to announce the results, which are also available in his most recent book, Alex Through the Looking Glass:

The curious thing is that no-one knows why. The least favorite number in the world turned out to be 110, since it’s the smallest whole number that did not get a single vote.

This study reveals superstition and human affinity for numbers as significant but unexplainable, but that, according to the Greeks, is the basis for the supreme wisdom of the universe. And perhaps this is not mere coincidence, is it?

Related Articles