New “Knowing” Film Based on Numerology and Bible Code Pseudoscience

March 19, 2009

In the new film "Knowing," Nicolas Cage plays a professor who is given a piece of paper containing a mysterious number code taken from a time capsule at his son’s school. He decodes the message and realizes that the numbers accurately predicted past disasters—as well as an imminent apocalypse. That last bit, of course, makes it into an interesting movie. If he’d stopped at "discovering" the hidden code, the movie would end with him writing a best-selling New Age self-help book.

Though the plot is fictional, this scenario has occurred many times in the real world. In 1997 Michael Drosnin published a best-selling book titled "The Bible Code," in which he claimed that the Bible contained a code (hidden in numbers and letters) accurately predicting past world events. Drosnin’s work was later refuted, with critics (including CSI Fellow David E. Thomas) demonstrating that the "meanings" he found were simply the result of selectively choosing data sets from a vast sea of random letters.

In psychology, the tendency for the human mind to find coincidences, patterns, and connections in random data is called apophenia. It is related to paredolia, the mind’s ability to find faces and images in ambiguous stimuli such as clouds, tortillas, food stains, and so on. In statistics, there is even a name for this type of thinking mistake: a Type I error. A common example of a Type I error is a false positive result on a medical test, for instance detecting a disease.

The premise behind "Knowing" has several roots, including numerology—seeing significance in numbers. Sometimes the significance is said to be lucky (7), unlucky (13), or just somehow evil (666). After the September 11, 2001 attacks, many people found meaningful coincidence or significance in the number 11, such as that the twin towers resembled the number 11, that "New York City" has 11 letters, and so on. With a little effort and creativity you can find or create whatever significance you like.

Of course, the film’s roots in pseudoscientific silliness don’t mean it won’t be an entertaining film. In fact, previews suggest that there will be a token skeptic who gives a brief explanation of apophenia and tries to convince people that it’s all an illusion. And, of course, he will be wrong; such is Hollywood. 



#1 Personal Failure (Guest) on Thursday March 19, 2009 at 9:32am

and the writers of House keep trying to convert me to some sort of formless theism, but what else is new?

#2 gray1 on Friday March 20, 2009 at 1:31pm

Cage has done a number of films along the same genre and has been quite successful with them thus far.  Maybe he should work in a part for Madonna on an even deeper end of the kabbalistic side next time.

#3 ruttle (Guest) on Monday March 23, 2009 at 6:51am

While I agree with the points raised, this is not really a movie review, is it?

#4 byatis (Guest) on Wednesday March 25, 2009 at 6:14pm

Saw the film today and ... 1st half.. all good, thriller about predictions numbers etc, 2nd half… all crap phantasy

#5 gray1 on Thursday March 26, 2009 at 7:50am

The preview for the new movie Angels and Demons (sequel to The DaVinci Code) with Tom Hanks is now showing on TV.  Having read the book, if the movie is true to form it would be yet another assault on sensibilites involving torture, an ancient and powerful secret society, the Catholic church, more torture, and conspiracy upon conspiracy, etc. 

In other words, with Tom at bat this movie will play quite well as a top box office draw, but it may still manage to disappoint some in that the book itself and probably the movie also involves no real angels or demons, just people.  Sorry about that guys, but using these words in the title sells.

#6 Adam (Guest) on Friday March 27, 2009 at 9:01pm

I watched tonight… Did anyone pick up on the biblical contrast…(the second half of the movie…. For instance… Two taken away male and female and both taking an animal with them probably male and female… The boy telling his father that only those called could go… Then when the two small children arrived at their location… the gold wheat to me it meant the streets of Gold in a way… And finally the Tree of Life…. Ok I know I may be stretching it but interesting nevertheless…..

#7 rra (Guest) on Sunday April 12, 2009 at 6:19am

I saw this movie last night.  It was one of the worst films I have EVER seen.  Insultingly stupid, horrible acting, purely christian propaganda, and pretending to not be propaganda.  Nicholas Cage made an ass of himself.  Adam refers to biblical references—No accident.  They did that on purpose.  Unfortunately, I went with someone who was totally enamored by it…  At one point, I was really about ready to throw up I was so disgusted with it, and my friend leaned over and said, very sincerely, “I just got chills…”  OMG.  I can’t say enough about how much I hated this film experience.

Here’s my main reason why:  The real world, the earth truly IS in danger.  And not enough are taking that seriously, and / or doing anything about it.  What does this movie say?  It tells us:  Don’t worry, there’s an afterlife, and “the chosen” will live forever.  It tells us:  Don’t pay attention to that real world, pay attention to the whispers in your head;  there is no need to stop the destruction of the only planet we have, the planet that is responsible for our lives…  Because we can just start over.

This is beyond moronic.  It’s criminal.  Alas, it’s the very reason the planet and future generations are in danger:  The very culture that advocates these perspectives.

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