If you are aware of the 23 Enigma, the conspiracy-like theory of deeper meanings and strange synchronicities connected with the number 23, then since December 31st, 2022, you might have been pondering what’s in store for all of us next after a rather bedevilling start to the decade.
Robert Anton Wilson
Of course, the 23 Enigma could just be apophenia – the tendency to see patterns in completely random things. The significance of 23 was first noted in a Fortean Times article written by Robert Anton Wilson. William Burroughs, of Beat Generation fame, told Wilson of an experience he’d had. In it, a sea boat captain bragged to Burroughs that he had been sailing 23 years without any incident. Later that day, however, his ship had an accident. The captain, and everyone else on board was killed. The captain’s name was Clark. Burroughs, already stunned, discovered that, on the very same day, four thousand miles away in Florida, an airliner had crashed – its captain was also named Clark. To cap it off, the number of the flight was 23! Sombre synchronicity indeed.
There’s plenty of odd facts and figures connected with this particular number. To give you an idea - it’s the first prime number in which both digits are themselves prime numbers and add up to a prime number. It takes 23 seconds for blood to circulate around the human body. The axis of planet Earth is 23.5 degrees and Shakespeare was born and died on the 23rd of April.
Once you know about the number 23, you might start to discover some strange connections yourself. I realised, as someone born in 1977, I had spent 23 years alive in the 20th Century. This year I will have been alive in the 21st Century equally as long - 2023 is my equinox year, if you will, where time is in some sort of balance.
I’m a libra, so balance, so it goes, is important to me. This odd equinox started me thinking about time and equilibrium and so not only 2023 but 1923 as well and I wondered what significant things might have taken place 100 years ago.
Of course, in most years significant things happen, but whilst making my investigations I learned that, in the United States, the world’s first portable radio was developed in 1923 by Edwin Armstrong as a gift for his wife.
In this same year, across the Atlantic, in Hastings, East Sussex, John Logie Baird began to develop the apparatus which would become television – or ‘seeing by wireless’ as Baird referred to it.
Baird - Totally Wired
So, in 1923 two inventions which, arguably, have shaped the culture and creative consciousness of humanity in the last one hundred years more than any other, were begun!
I was a little stunned and excited by this – I quickly checked to see what year sliced bread was first sold and felt a mild disappointment that it was five years out of synch, in 1928. But imagine…
Back to equilibrium and the midpoint between 1923 and 2023 – that’s right, 1973.
Perhaps the most important event, as far as I’m concerned, was the marriage of my parents – on the 23rd of March of that year. But that’s not all.
In his wonderful book, A Year in the Country, Stephen Prince cites 1973 as a year of shift, or schism. He views it as:
‘a period of political, social, economic and industrial turmoil, when 1960s utopian ideals seemed to corrupt and turn inwards.’
The first part of that quote could have been a reference to 2023, never mind fifty years ago.
Prince also notes that 73 was the year which electronic music pioneer, Delia Derbyshire, ceased working within the BBC and its Radiophonic Workshop. She said later that around that period, “the world went out of time with itself.” Perhaps she was right, but perhaps also, time present and time past, as Eliot puts it in Four Quartets, were calling to the shadows of time future – like Baird’s first TV image, faint and blurred. Within the strange schism of 1973, powerful pebbles were being tossed into the dark and lonely water (the public information film and hauntological touchstone The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was also released in this year) There were certainly two great innovations - an echo of the portable radio and television breakthroughs.
Get on TV! The first moving image captured by Baird
In April of 73 the first handheld mobile phone call is made by wireless communication pioneer, Martin Cooper. This is the moment where our addiction began.
Then, in November, the sci-fi movie Westworld is the first feature film to use digital image processing. The ubiquity of the digital image today has almost become the de facto reality in which our lives take place.
The 23 enigma and the schism of 1973 are perhaps nothing more than a quirk of numbers, a frequency one can opt to tune into if they so wish – at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started. It’s 2023! And I wonder what transformations will be born in the next 337 days or so.
The next blog post will be February 12th