Why Numerology Doesn’t Work

What is Numerology?

Numerology is the belief that numbers have mystical meanings and can predict the future or provide insight into someone’s personality. Numerologists assign numbers to letters in names and important dates to calculate “life path numbers” and other numerological profiles. They believe these numbers reveal hidden information about a person’s character, destiny, strengths and weaknesses.

A Pseudoscience, Not a Science

While numerology has ancient roots, there is no scientific evidence to support its validity. Numerology should be considered a pseudoscience, not an actual science. Here’s why:

Lack of Falsifiability

In science, theories must be disprovable through testing. But numerology cannot be definitively proven false because practitioners can always provide ad hoc rationalizations for failures or insist that the future will prove them right. This makes numerology unfalsifiable, unlike legitimate sciences.

No Mechanism

Numerology lacks a plausible mechanism explaining how numbers could magically influence events or personalities. There is no reason numbers should have inherent meanings beyond what humans assign to them. Numbers are abstract concepts, not mystical forces.

Failed Predictions

If numerology really worked, its practitioners should make accurate predictions at rates better than chance. But numerologists have failed to predict events like 9/11, stock market crashes, election outcomes, sports results, and individual life events with any consistency. Failed predictions indicate the theories behind numerology are flawed.

Barnum Effect and Subjective Validation

Many people find numerology results align with their personalities because of the Barnum effect, our tendency to view vague statements as accurate, and subjective validation, seeing connections in randomness. Detailed statistics on matching personality profiles to numbers would likely show no significant differences from chance.

Origins in Superstition

The foundations of numerology lie more in mystical philosophies like Kabbalah and superstitious beliefs in “lucky” numbers than in empirical evidence. Basing theories on superstition rather than facts is unscientific.

Lack of Peer Review

Unlike serious scientific literature, ideas and techniques in numerology have not undergone rigorous peer review and testing. Peer review helps filter out pseudoscience and ensures theories match reality. Numerology’s lack of scrutiny is a red flag.

Regression Fallacy

When random events happen after a numerology reading, people often wrongly attribute the events to the reading. But correlation does not imply causation. Numerology relies heavily on this regression fallacy rather than controlled experiments.

Cold Reading Techniques

Readings seem accurate because practitioners use cold reading tactics like vague statements, prompting, and flattery. They give the illusion of insight through manipulation, not special powers.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

If people believe numerology readings shape their future, they may subconsciously alter their choices to match the readings, creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Controlled trials prevent this effect from skewing results.

Cognitive Biases

Numerology relies on confirmation bias, selective memory of hits and forgetting misses, the clustering illusion of seeing false patterns, and other well-documented cognitive biases. Good science controls for these biases; numerology exploits them.

No Proposed Mechanisms

Unlike scientific theories, numerology has never proposed potential mechanisms through which numbers exert influence. Numbers are abstract human creations with no inherent mystical powers.

Does Anything Useful Come From Numerology?

While numerology may lack scientific validity, some believe finding meaning in numbers has psychological benefits for mood, self-reflection, and sense of purpose. However, these benefits likely arise from placebo effects, confirmation bias, and the human tendency to find meaningful patterns, not numerology itself.

Overall, belief in numerology almost certainly arises from magical thinking and lack of critical examination rather than any supernatural truth. While debunking pseudoscience has value, people are free to enjoy numerology as long as they recognize it is a mystical philosophy, not a science. But making life decisions based on numerology could lead to poor outcomes.

In summary, numerology fails numerous basic tests of a legitimate science: falsifiability, proposed mechanisms, peer review, failed predictions, lack of controlled experiments, origins in superstition, and reliance on cognitive biases. While finding meaning is psychologically beneficial, people should base important life decisions on empirical evidence and critical thinking, not numerology.


Carroll, Robert Todd. The Skeptic’s Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003.

Dunn, Patrick. “Numerology: Is It Harmful Pseudoscience or Helpful Psychology?” Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 42, no. 6, Nov/Dec 2018, pp. 28-30.

Vyse, Stuart A. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Wiseman, Richard and Watt, Caroline. “Measuring Superstitious Belief: Why Lucky Charms Matter.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 37, no. 8, 2004, pp. 1533-1541.

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