God Bows to Math: The Human Calculator Speaks

Scott Flansburg,

the Guinness World Record holder for "fastest human calculator," sees the world in digits. We called him to ask a few questions about numbers, and other unknowns, in advance of his appearance on Thursday at the Minnesota State Fair, where he'll demonstrate his skills in the Qwest tent between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.

City Pages: How big is the problem of innumeracy?

Scott Flansburg: People get nervous even talking about math. They're afraid of me because it. We could save the world if everyone knew math.

CP: What are some of the ways you get kids into math?

Flansburg: I tune people into the language of numbers. Those ten digits on your calculator, the Arabic numerals zero through nine, those are the foundation of all the numbers in the universe. If you write down any number and add up the digits, and subtract that sum from the number, you end up with nine. That works with any number to infinity.

CP: Do you believe in numerology?

Flansburg: No, humans take numbers and try to make themselves more important by interpreting them in certain ways. But at the same time, there's the language of numbers: The small-N "numerology" is patterns that exist in languages throughout the world, not just English but Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, all those.

CP: So was there any truth to the movie Pi?

Flansburg: Yeah. It was a good movie. What's weird is the number [that the main character] found on a piece of paper, that was 216 digits, and 2 + 1+ 6 = 9. And what's even more interesting is 216 is "6-6-6"--it's 6 x 6 x 6. I see patterns in whatever I do. It's all numbers. But this nine thing, what it does is it turns on the calculator in your brain. So if you look at the number 22, that number was designed to teach you 2 + 2.

CP: Are you into mathematical philosophy?

Flansburg: I'm a high school dropout. I've never been to college. The only higher math I learned is the stuff that intrigued me that I sat down and wanted to learn on my own. But I get into different things, like calendars. I'm also a human calendar: You can tell me your birthday and I can tell you what day of the week it fell on. So what's your birthday?

CP: November 8, 1969.

Flansburg: That was a Saturday.

CP: Do you picture the entire calendar in your head?

Flansburg: No, it's a formula that I have in my mind, and I plug the number that you say into it.

CP: Do you see numbers differently than other people when it comes to, say, current events?

Flansburg: Well, there's some crazy stuff about 9/11. Just do a Google [search] on "$20 bill folding": It reveals the towers before they collapsed. And 9 + 11 adds up to 20. Nine-eleven is a really interesting day because it's the 254th day of the year, and that adds up to 11, and there's 111 days left, so there's another bunch of ones, and the two Trade Towers were like two "ones" in the sky. And what's there now? "Ground Zero." It's all about zero.

CP: I'm looking at this on Google now. How did anyone think of this?

Flansburg: The weird part is, all they did was fold it up into a paper airplane. And isn't it interesting that an airplane is exactly what knocked those towers down, and there were 20 hijackers.

CP: I guess that falls into the realm of coincidence.

Flansburg: Does it? That $20 bill was created just a few years before 9/11, and that's when this image appeared. I don't believe in coincidences.

CP: Well, what else could it be?

Flansburg: What's the exact opposite of coincidence?

CP: Um, cause and effect?

Flansburg: A divine plan. It goes as deep as you want it to.

CP: You think the $20 bill predicting 9/11 is evidence of a divine plan?

Flansburg: Well, that's a big statement. If there's somebody that believes in God, and believes that God said, 'Hey, why don't we kill 3,000 people and knock down some towers?'--that seems extreme. At the same time, I read this fascinating book where this guy claimed that God is infinite and eternal, where man is not. Did God just create everything and allow that to happen? It makes humans ask some amazing questions that we might not have asked before.

CP: You're reminding me of the Minutemen song "God Bows to Math."

Flansburg: Wow, I love that, I'll have to check it out. I'm just researching all this stuff. I don't have the answers. I'm just trying to figure out the questions to ask.

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