What do all of these things have in common with the date tomorrow – 11-11-11?
They are seemingly mundane events that, because of their relative rarity, spark a sense of significance for many people.
Superstition is an interesting phenomenon.
It caused tribes to touch trees in order to ask a favor of the tree gods (today we “knock on wood”).
During the middle ages, the sighting of a black cat was considered the sighting of a witch that had transformed into a creature. Superstition led to the ritual sacrifice of animals and even humans, in order to appease the god or gods, in hope of good fortune.
Obviously, superstition is a very powerful force that drives the actions of humanity, even today. Each person suffers to some extent from the feeling that random events that appear with some form of order – must be some kind of sign.
Because, how could randomness result in such order?
The Big 11-11-11 Event
Tomorrow, on Veterans day this year, another extremely rare event is about to occur. It is going to be 11-11-11. Adding to the rarity, if you wait until just before lunch time wherever you live in the world, it will also be 11-11-11 11:11:11.
Whether or not you're superstitious, that's actually pretty cool.
The only problem with it, is that the rareness, combined with the perfect order of such a palindrome is sure to ignite a wave of superstitious concern among - I would be willing to bet - a significant portion of the world's population.
And yes, there are plenty of "signs" that indicate there is something significant to the number 11. If you search hard enough, you can find significance in just about anything.
Spirit Guardians Known as Midwayers
One particularly odd belief system is that of the Urantia book. Like many of the new age religions and cults out there, the writing are based upon "messages" that were allegedly related from sentient beings to a human, who wrote those messages down.
The Urantia Foundations describes the book as "...first published by Urantia Foundation in 1955, claims to have been presented by celestial beings as a revelation to our planet, Urantia."
In the FAQ on how the book came to be, the responding diatribe - pages long - is a somewhat comical text portrayed as coming from some divine being, but clearly written by a human attempting to appear as divine. In the section asking what the book is, the response: "The Urantia Book is a revelation of truth for our world from higher beings in the universe."
The followers of this cult believe that the 11:11 signs that appear every now and then are a sign from the Midwayers. Their proof? On page 77, the number 1,111 appears.
"The 1,111 loyal secondary midwayers are engaged in important missions on earth. As compared with their primary associates, they are decidedly material. They exist just outside the range of mortal vision and possess sufficient latitude of adaptation to make, at will, physical contact with what humans call 'material things.' These unique creatures have certain definite powers over the things of time and space, not excepting the beasts of the realm."
Random Claims about 11:11
Ever since the advent of digital clocks and digital displays, there have been people claiming a significance to the palindrome of 11:11.
Uri Geller, a performer that tells audiences that he truly has psychic powers and can bend spoons with his mind, quickly gave significance to the palindrome. On his website, he penned an article about the phenomenon and wrote:
"I started experiencing this rather bizarre occurrence when I was forty years old, at first I thought they were coincidences, I would stand with my back to a digital clock and something made me turn around and I would notice that the time would be 11:11. These incidents intensified I would be checked into hotel rooms on floor 11 room 1111. I started noticing these digits on computers, microwave ovens, cars, documents, etc."
It should be noted that Uri Geller was thoroughly and completely debunked by James Randi and others, but he continues on with the show.
It should further be noted that what Uri describes is a human psychology phenomenon known as confirmation bias. It is that phenomenon when you decide that there is something strange going on, and then you actively seek out events in order to prove that your hypothesis is true.
You might have seen the clock at 12:34, 8:15 or 9:11 - but it is only when you see 11:11 that your previous bias is triggered, your heart leaps, and in your head the event is significant, even though in all reality it is no more significant than all of the other times you've glanced at the clock.
Physics professor Eric Carlson, of Wake Forest University, recently wrote in a press release regarding the upcoming 11-11-11 event, that the date is only significant in our own minds. In response to the question, "what makes 11-11-11 so interesting?" he writes:
"The repetition. Our brains are just pattern matching machines, so we tend to notice patterns like that. If you happen to glance at the clock and it's 11:11, you will remember that - these patterns stick in our minds. But I don't think there is any mystical significance to it."
Yet Another Superstition to Capitalize on
For years, scammers and opportunists have utilized this weakness of human psychology to make a lot of money. Psychics can provide information that is just vague enough to trigger one of those confirmation events in a target clients mind.
This year, even Hollywood is capitalizing on this human psychological weakness with a horror movie titled 11-11-11.
With all of that said, the moment that the clock slides into place at 11-11-11 11:11:11, many people will be watching. Hopefully, most of you will be reflecting on the rarity and wonder of the moment, a significant palindrome that the world hasn't seen in a hundred years.
It's a very cool moment.
And for those of you that will be seeking out evidence that the moment is significant or spiritual - that it marks the end of the world or a sign from sentient beings from another universe, you'll probably find it.
That is the nature of confirmation bias. You will find the "proof" you need, because that's exactly what you expect to find.