Being skepical at work #4

I don’t want you to think my coworkers are idiots. Nor do I want you to assume I’m one of those people who are always trying to be right. That said.. sometimes people I talk to at work are just plain wrong.
I’m getting a drive home with a friend of mine and he chimes in with this nugget of information from his high school days:

The statement: “When I was in highschool, I figured out how to divide by zero.”

Claim: Division by zero is defined.

My immediate response: “I strongly doubt the veracity of that statement”

Result of research: FALSE (of course)

While it would be great if the friend in question could be here to explain his theory in detail, I doubt he’d want to partake in an article that ultimately proves him dead wrong. Therefore I will sum up the argument as I understood it.

Basically, his contention was that if you treat zero as an object (that is to say “one zero” or “two zeroes” then you may divide by zero by expressing it as if you are dividing the dividend amongst a number of zeroes. 2 divided by “A” zero would yield an answer of 2, for example.

Yeah… except that’s not what zero is. He essentially made zero equal 1 which changes the whole definition of zero. On a side note, another friend of mine remarked that he had read an article saying that zero was not a number, but a value denoting the lack of a number of something. So allow me to set the record straight about zero: It’s a number.

I don’t claim to be a mathematics whiz by any stretch of the imagination so I’ll refer to experts and references, but from what I have since read about division by zero is that it just doesn’t work. In basic arithmetic, it just doesn’t make any sense to say something is divided zero times. In algebra, it is simply because the reverse of it (multiplying by zero) always yields the same result (spoiler: it’s zero). Therefore you cannot define the opposite process. This would lead to all sorts of weird stuff like proving that 1=2 and what not.

It should be noted that there are various methods in higher mathematics to make sense of the expression, but this was not the scope of my friend’s argument. He maintained that using simple algebra and arithmetic, division by zero was perfectly ok…. as long as you completely change the definition of zero.

What is really scary about this story, is not that someone had it in their head that they could single-handedly, with half a high school understanding of math (I happen to know he did not extra-curricular studying of this topic) solve a 1500 year old math problem, but that (according to his story) he also managed to convince his teacher that he was correct!!!!


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