2 1. A Baker’s Dozen
Mathematicians confronted with such humbug wrinkle their noses
in disdain. Of course, they recognize that twelve is an important num-
ber but its preeminence is to be attributed not so much to its mystical
properties than to the fact that a dozen can be divided without a re-
mainder by 2, 3, 4, and 6, not to mention 1 and twelve itself. Twelve,
therefore, has twice as many divisors as 10 which can be divided only
by 2 and 5 aside from 1 and itself. This is the reason why twelve
came to serve as the basis of the duodecimal system which prevailed
in the Anglo-Saxon world. The Ancient Romans preferred the num-
ber ten which has the important advantage that school children and
less numerically able business folks can count up to that number by
using both of their hands.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the mathematicians
Charles de Borda, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, and Antoine-Laurent
Lavoisier fully recognized this advantage. They sided with the finger-
counters and suggested to the French Academy that the decimal sys-
tem be used as the only legal standard for measuring lengths and
weights. (Borda further argued that the day should be divided into
10 hours with an hour divided into 100 minutes, each of 100 seconds,
but this proposal never went very far.)
Let us turn to the number six. In antiquity, six was considered
a perfect number because the sum of its divisors, other than itself,
is equal to itself (1 + 2 + 3 = 6). How about seven and thirteen?
As far as mathematicians are concerned they are neither better nor
worse than six or twelve, but they are of greater interest since they
have no divisors, other than one and themselves. Such numbers are
known as primes; these are the atoms which make up all the rest of
the numbers.
Numerologists and other mystics who believe in the magical prop-
erties of numbers usually credit Pythagoras as their guide. The Greek
philosopher did indeed try to understand the cosmos with the help of
whole numbers and geometric shapes. While we might be tempted to
consider many of his so-called discoveries simplistic, Pythagoras was,
in fact, a pioneer and his dictum “all is number” was revolutionary.
But the Pythagoreans’ concept of the world remained severely lim-
ited. It was confined to natural numbers and fractions. As soon as his
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