So much of our lives in western culture are defined by the number four: four seasons, four horsemen of the Apocalypse, four ages (infancy, youth, adulthood, old age), the Final Four in college basketball. I could go on and on.

A lot of this is strictly cultural. After all, if we lived in another part of the world, we might only recognize two seasons (wet/dry, hot/cool). Why only four horsemen? There are a lot more horrible things out there than conquest, war, famine, and death.

Why isn’t five to be a more natural number? After all, we have five fingers on each hand. It’s how we learn to count. Or ten. Most of the major western languages use a decimal system of counting, and the metric system of measurement used in most of the world is based on ten. Still, four is one of the most commonly used numbers in our culture. For some of us, it’s even more important.

I have a relatively mild obsession/compulsion when it comes to the number four. From talking to my friends, it seems that it’s not that uncommon. I count things in groups of four or multiples of four. Sixteen seems a lot more natural to me than ten, or fifteen. You know how people make marks when counting, four downward strokes and a fifth crossing through them? That’s unnatural to me. I do it, because it’s what people expect, but it just feels weird.

I do a lot of counting: books (I work in a library), steps (why are we supposed to get 10,000 steps a day, and not 8,192?), beats in music (please let it be 4/4 time, and not some experimental 3/4 time thing). I always count in multiples of four, even if I have to convert it to some 10-based system so other people know what I’m talking about.

The idea of four directions seems natural to me. Even though I understand that six directions (forward, backward, right, left, up and down) makes more sense. In fact, unless my sense of direction is completely messed up, I instinctively know north, south, east and west better than I know left or right. When I’m riding with someone and giving them directions, it really confuses them when I do things like point to the left and say “go right.”

It’s not completely rational. I don’t know how it got started. But I’ve been like this as far back as I can remember. It’s not something I make any effort to change. I don’t want to, it’s must me. Are you a fan of four, too?


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