The 23 Enigma: Captain Clark Welcomes You Aboard!

Movie poster for the 2007 film 'The Number 23' starring Jim Carrey.

Movie poster for the 2007 film 'The Number 23' starring Jim Carrey. editor’s note: This classic dossier by Dave “daev” Walsh was originally published on this site on Oct. 18, 2000.

Well, we don’t have any explanation. We’re not into saying, “This is why”. I don’t come to any conclusion. I simply think it’s interesting.

— Genesis P-Orridge, interview in ‘Tape Delay’ by Charles Neal, 1987.

The ’23 Enigma’, as discovered by William S. Burroughs, presents itself as a good omen for some — disaster for others. Trying to convey the phenomenon to the uninitiated is as easy as describing the night sky to someone who has been blind from birth.

When Burroughs was in Tangiers, he knew a Captain Clark who ran a ferry over to Spain. One day, Clark told Burroughs that he had been doing the route for 23 years without an accident. That day, the ferry sank … that evening, while Burroughs was thinking about the incident, a radio bulletin announced the crash of Flight 23 on the New York-Miami route. The pilot was another Captain Clark!

Burroughs began to keep a scrapbook of 23s. When writing about Dutch Shultz, he realized that when the New York City gangster had put a contract out on 23-year-old Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll, who met his end on 23rd St. Shultz himself died on October 23rd, 1935. As Robert Anton Wilson writes in ‘Cosmic Trigger’, the same night, Marty Crompier, another gangster was shot, but not fatally. “It’s got to be one of them coincidences,” he told police.

Speaking of October 23rd, Seventeenth century scholar Archbishop Ussher reckoned that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, while the Mayans believed the world will end on December 23rd, 2012.

Hexagram 23 in the ‘I Ching’ oracle means “break apart.” 23 in telegrapher’s code means “break the line.” Aleister Crowley defined number 23 as “parting, removal, separation, joy, a thread, and life …”

Parents each donate 23 chromosomes to the fertilized egg … the human biorhythm cycle is generally 23 days, and it takes 23 seconds for blood to circulate through the human body.

And so on …

This inexplicable fascination with 23 has become a mind-virus, seeping into the music of ‘Psychic TV’, the art of H.R. Giger, the comics of Jamie Hewlett and Grant Morrison, the literature of Robert Anton Wilson, Arthur Koestler, Umberto Eco, and countless others. The pages of the ‘Principia Discordia’ supply another feast of 23s. It now reached a point where one has to be sharp to differentiate between the 23s meant as signposts for those in the know, and those which appear for no obvious reason, in the damndest of places. The Internet is these days littered with lists of historical and scientific ’23s’, some of which are not so ` — i.e. mere coincidence, some mind-boggling — beautiful synchronicity.

The ’23 Enigma’ has its skeptics — those who say that it’s a focusing of attention on just one number. This may be true, but as mentioned above, some folks have fun with 23s — the day-to-day synchronicity that raises a private smile – while for others it can be sheer hell, and we’re not just talking about Burroughs’ two Captain Clarks. Genesis P. Orridge (his band, ‘Psychic TV’, released 23 albums on the 23rd of each month for 23 months) told the members of another British band, ‘Cabaret Voltaire’, about the enigma. They showed interest, but skepticism. Two days later, Genesis received a phone call from them:

“You bastard! … We’ve come to Holland to do three gigs, and in ever hotel we’ve had room 23, and the gig on the 23rd was a complete disaster. And everywhere we turn, there are 23s. What have you done?”

“Well, I did say you’d start noticing it,” answered Genesis.


A great domain – a pity it isn’t more useful!

Search Yahoo For 23
Interesting? Perhaps . . .
A concise listing of all things 23.

The title says it all!

The ’23’ Synchronity
A useful 23 list.

The 22 Enigma
Just to confuse matters … a comparison!

Skidoo: The Book Of Lies, Chapter 23, Skidoo, By Aleister Crowley
A poem called ‘Skidoo’, in ‘The Book Of Lies’, Chapter 23 by Aleister Crowley (first published 1913).

Robert Anton Wilson

Genesis P-Orridge
Cultural Engineer, founding member of the seminal bands ‘Throbbing Gristle’, ‘Psychic TV’, and ‘Thee Majesty’.

Principia Discordia, Or How I Found The Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her
The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger — Wherein Is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. Essential reading!

10 Comments on "The 23 Enigma: Captain Clark Welcomes You Aboard!"

  1. “Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus being perceived as significant.”

    When someone sees Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich, we mock their credulity.

    When someone finds that a number occurs in vaguely-associated clusters, we're expected to believe it's a profound, even mystical event.

    Standard is double.

    • Gemmarama | Aug 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

      oh fuck off and read some jung won't you. it would be a more constructive use of your time than nipping our heids, as we say where i come from.

  2. I'm all for William S Burroughs being cool…because he just is…but truthfully, there is no minor coincidence that can't be made more amazing than it really is after the application of mind frying amounts of heroin and random gay sex.

  3. Weird. I read this article about the number 23 and then I went to the article about Max Headroom.
    When (on the video) they turn the big screen on guess what number is on it. 23!!
    ( cue twighlight zone music)

  4. The 23 Enigma goes back way further than William Burroughs. Check this out:

  5. Stopmomfool | Aug 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm |

    When I first heard of the 23 enigma, to try it out, I said to myself, “Self, what number of relevance comes to mind…my age,” I was 23 years old of course.

  6. Stopmomfool | Aug 12, 2010 at 10:31 am |

    When I first heard of the 23 enigma, to try it out, I said to myself, “Self, what number of relevance comes to mind…my age,” I was 23 years old of course.

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