I recently got asked, “Why do I keep seeing repeating numbers? Does it have a spiritual meaning?” In this case, this person was seeing the same time on the clock every day at 1:11, 3:33, and 4:44 day and night.
I have to laugh, because—case in point—when I went to check her text for her numbers series, this was on my phone home screen. This is a well-documented synchronicity phenomenon that I’ll explain in a moment.
It’s just that some people will try to tell you these sequences or series of repeating numbers do have great spiritual significance and are “angel numbers.”
While I’m all about the spiritual, in this instance when there are scientific explanations that more than adequately explain what’s happening, adding another layer of new age or religious wish-fulfillment seems unnecessary if clarity is what we’re going for.
Let’s Talk About Cognitive Bias
There are a couple of cognitive bias effects that can be in play. Synchronicity can be a side-effect of both. One is called Confirmation Bias and the other is known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or the Frequency Illusion.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes. The effect is strongest for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
The way this works is that when you observe repeating times and decide that maybe there’s something special about it, you release endorphins. This starts to condition your brain to either notice the time at 71 minutes apart (which brings you from the starting repeated number combination to the next), or 60 minutes apart which takes you to the next repeated number combination in the series.
Essentially, you’ve created a mini self-reward every time you notice these number sequences because you’ve labeled them as “special”. So your brain gets set—like an internal alarm clock—to start responding to this positive response of seeing these numbers by alerting you when they happen again. We can set this up for any event criteria, and we’ll start noticing those things we’ve chosen to notice. Which takes us to the next phenomenon.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon or the Frequency Illusion
Frequency illusion, also known as the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon, is a cognitive bias in which, after noticing something for the first time, there is a tendency to notice it more often, leading someone to believe that it has a high frequency (a form of selection bias). It occurs when increased awareness of something creates the illusion that it is appearing more often. Put plainly, the frequency illusion is when “a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere.”
A common example of this when you buy a new car that you wouldn’t necessarily consider as “common” and rarely noticed before. But after you buy your car, you start seeing it everywhere.
There are two parts to it. One part is the perception of increased frequency; the second part is a confirmation bias where you believe that it didn’t happen before at the same frequency. But in reality, the frequency hasn’t changed, you just weren’t noticing it because your attention wasn’t being drawn to it.
According to science, there isn’t a sudden increase in sales of that car putting so many more of them on the road. It’s just that you had no reason to notice them before.
To put it succinctly: Perception of Increased Frequency + Confirmation Bias = Baader-Meinhof Phenomena.
Because we are set up to look for and find patterns to help organize our world into bite-size pieces, once something captures our attention, we’re much more likely to keep seeing that thing.
So, getting back to repeating numbers, you actually look at your watch dozens if not hundreds of times a day. But you’ve chosen to selectively give value to and remember only a few of those times and discard all the other times you’ve checked the time that doesn’t fit the sequence model.
If you still want to give spiritual meaning to those numbers, numerology and the gazillion sites on “angel numbers” will help you do that. No harm, no foul. Just don’t throw science out the window to build up your spiritual beliefs. They can and should co-exist.