The number six has gone A-list, enjoying an opportunistic wave of popularity as it rides the tide of the corona pandemic. People are frantically counting numbers in their social group fearful that an extra pair of feet will cost them hundreds of pounds as well as increasing their risk of exposure. Social media is rammed with opinions on this member of the numerical spectrum. Naysayers complain bitterly that six is illogical and is based on a flawed equation while supporters fiercely argue that six is the perfect number to limit the circulation of several million virus cells.

Has a single-digit ever before been responsible for so much? From those who blame it for a looming mental health and economic crisis to those who believe the rule of six will save thousands of lives, the numbers are everywhere even if they don’t add up.

This is not the only time that six has enjoyed a certain cachet. It was the first perfect number to be discovered (i.e. six equals the sum of its proper divisors). In the book of Genesis, humans were created on day six. It is the symbol for the Greek God of love Aphrodite and sex is the Latin prefix meaning six – connections, connections everywhere.

Indeed this humble integer is renowned for its connections. The six degrees of separation theory, proposed by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in 1930, has entranced everyone from stalkers searching for their idols to scientific geniuses eagerly proving the math. The theory posits that despite there being more than six and a half billion people walking the earth, each individual is separated by six connections at the most from any other person on the planet.

It seems rude not to test this theory so let’s hook up two famous names from different time periods, countries and walks of life. In six steps I’ll connect the world’s greatest mathematical genius, Albert Einstein to Boris Johnson, the prime minister behind our current rule of six laws. (Hush… no one suggested different IQ spectrums.)

Albert Einstein – Mathematician
This six-step story begins at the end of Albert Einstein’s life who connected in death to…

  1. Thomas Stolz Harvey
    Following Einstein’s death in 1955, pathologist Thomas Stolz Harvey performed an illegal autopsy at Princeton Hospital, during which he stole the scientist’s brain to study. He kept some of it preserved under a beer cooler for years to protect it until research advanced enough to analyse Einstein’s superior intellect. Then, Thomas, aged 84 was sought out by freelance journalist and author…
  2. Michael Paterniti
    The American writer intrigued by the macabre story traced the pathologist who had decided it was time to return Einstein’s remaining remains to his family. So Thomas Harvey invited Paterniti to drive him across the USA to deliver the brain to Albert’s granddaughter Evelyn. The road trip was immortalised in Paterniti’s first book “Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain”. Mr Paterniti went on to interview many of the great, the good and the downright weird in his award-winning career including the more tasteful…
  3. British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi
    Ottolenghi is the Israeli born darling of imaginative gastronomic fare worldwide. Gourmets began their love affair with the eclectic chef when he and Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi opened their first deli in London. Since then Ottolenghi recipes feature in every soiree, dinner party and foodie event with a special spotlight on vegi fare. So on-trend is this Middle Eastern gourmet that he appeared in a rap video named after him by his number one fan…
  4. British Hip Hop artist Loyle Carner
    The rapper named his 2018 single Ottolenghi following his lifelong love affair with cooking and admiration for Yotam’s innovative style. As well as his music career, Loyle who is diagnosed with ADHD runs a popular cooking school for teens with ADHD called Chilli Con Carner. When Loyle was nominated for best British solo artist at the 2018 NME Awards, the musician connected to our fifth link, the nominee for NME’s Hero of the Year…
  5. Jeremy Corbyn
    Jeremy Corbyn was placed on the award’s shortlist because NME believed the Labour leader had encouraged youth to engage with politics. However, while Loyle Carner won, Jeremy lost to Ariella Grande – a premonition perhaps of his later and greater loss in the UK general election to our current leader…
  6. Boris Johnson
    And so we conclude our six steps from the world’s most famous prodigy Albert Einstein to the rule of 6 pandemic prime minister.

Boris Johnson rather neatly segues to another infamous use for the number 6, this time in triplicate as we explore the origins of the satanic 666. (Any correlation to the prime minister and the devil is purely accidental and not by intent.) There is little Boris can do to silence his critics but during the Roman era when the New Testament was being written, criticising political leaders were often met with a bloody end. Therefore opponents used codes to secretly slate ruling elites. Letters were used to write numbers in the Greek, Roman and Hebrew alphabets and the Hebrew language gave every word a numerical value. This meant codes could be imbedded in texts such as the New Testament. The Hebrew numerical translation of 666 was actually Nero Caesar, a deeply unpopular man. So it’s not a huge hop, skip and a jump to trace the linguistic journey from Nero to 666 becoming the biblical reference to the beast and from there to the devil with the original meanings lost in the passage of time. What would have been the numerical value for Boris and would it feature the numeral six?

The association of 666 with Satan gained even more traction in the 1980s when heavy metal band Iron Maiden released the hit song, The Number of the Beast. It was inspired by the Omen, a horror flick about devil possession. Rumours flew that poltergeist-style events had wreaked havoc in the recording studio such as lights flickering and visions of the devil. This fuelled the true crazies who denounced Iron Maiden as Satanists. In actuality, the song was about a dream and the band was less than impressed by the devil rumours telling the gossip mongers to “stick their heads up their arse” – ah the lyrical eloquence of heavy metal.

Of course, the devil is not the only supernatural association this tantalising perfect number enjoys as we head into the final hall of numerical fame. As daylight dies in the dark, grim run-up to Halloween and the inevitable slew of horror films jam the airwaves, it would be remiss to leave out M. Night Shalayman’s supernatural film The Sixth Sense and the notion of ESP itself.

It is a remote possibility that anyone exists who doesn’t know the film’s legendary end twist but just in case there will be no spoilers. The film is also famous for the young protagonist’s line “I see ghosts” as it explores the erroneous idea of a paranormal sixth sense. The idea that humans possess an extrasensory perception has divided scholars for centuries and is continuously debunked as having no scientific merit. So is ESP, as some scientists suggest, a mere case of visual processing whereby our brain registers small changes that inform our subconscious? Or is the sixth sense a phenomenon that has yet to be understood fully in the same way that your average 12th-century bro would have seen the electric light as depraved magic and proof that Mr 666 was walking the streets?

Perhaps there are always six perspectives to such questions. After all, the eminent philosopher and psychologist William James theorised the following:

“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present, there is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.”

Regardless, I think we can all agree that if six were a colour, this year it would be the new black.


Copyright by Sonia D. Picker

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