The "23 Enigma" refers to the belief that all incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23, some permutation of the number 23, or a number related to the number 23, given enough ingenuity on the part of the interpreter.
The "23 Enigma" in Discordianism is the belief that all events are connected to the number 23, given enough ingenuity on the part of the interpreter. It can be seen in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy (there called the "23/17 phenomenon"), Wilson's Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati (there called "The Law of 23s" and "The 23 Enigma"), Arthur Koestler's Challenge of Chance, as well as the Principia Discordia. In these works, 23 is considered either lucky, unlucky, sacred to the goddess Eris, sinister, sacred to the unholy gods of the Cthulhu Mythos, or strange. Discordians regard this as a corollary of the Law of Fives.
As with most numerological claims, the 23 enigma can be viewed as an example of apophenia, selection bias, and confirmation bias. In interviews, Wilson has acknowledged the self-fulfilling nature of the 23 enigma, implying that the real value of the Laws of Fives and Twenty-threes lies in their demonstration of the mind's power to perceive "truth" in nearly anything.
"When you start looking for something you tend to find it. This wouldn't be like Simon Newcomb, the great astronomer, who wrote a mathematical proof that heavier than air flight was impossible and published it a day before the Wright brothers took off. I'm talking about people who found a pattern in nature and wrote several scientific articles and got it accepted by a large part of the scientific community before it was generally agreed that there was no such pattern, it was all just selective perception."
In the Illuminatus! Trilogy, he expresses the same view: that one can find a numerological significance to anything, provided "sufficient cleverness."[How to reference and link to summary or text]
I first heard of the 23 enigma from William S Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23.
- The 1998 German film 23, starring August Diehl, tells the real-life story of computer hackers inspired by Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy.
- The 2007 film The Number 23, starring Jim Carrey, is the story of a man becoming obsessed with the number 23 while he reads a book of the same title that seems to be about his life. Jim Carrey named his production company JC23.
- Industrial group Throbbing Gristle recounted in great detail Burroughs and Clark's meeting and the revelation of the significance of 23 in the ballad "The Old Man Smiled."
- A September 1952 issue of the comic book Black Magic by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon contained the story "23" that recounted bizarre coincidences associated with the number 23.
- The television series Lost contains an oft-repeated sequence of numbers, one of which is 23.
- Robert Anton Wilson sees the clustering illusion everywhere, not just 23, Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything, Sounds True, December 2001.
- boingboing.net article on Wilson and Burroughs
- Article in the British newspaper The Mirror regarding the power of the number 23
- Robert Anton Wilson on the "23 Phenomena"
- Black Magic vol. 2, no. 10, September 1952 (numbered as issue 16 on the cover)