Posts Tagged ‘Zeno’

The Drawing Board: Dividing By Zero

If there’s one experience universal to American boyhood, it’s the untraversable chasm between sports and math. Yeah, that is a word. Math and sports have never really seen eye-to-eye, in part because of confusing mixed messages from the disciplines. For example, your coach says, “Give 110% out there,” and your math teacher says “Basketball practice is not an excuse for not doing your homework.” Or your coach says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and your math teacher says “Raise your hand if you want to ask a question.” What the hell? If you were anything like me in school, you were a sports guy. So it probably came as a pretty big shock when a 30-something pointdexter who used to go to college tells you that you can’t divide by zero. Yeah, maybe you can’t, nerd, but I know that right now, this is anyone’s game.

Want to see me divide 5 by 0? Talk to any math teacher and he’ll tell you it’s impossible because you can’t take 5 of something and divide it into zero equal groups. Oh really? Check this out: 5 divided by zero is 5. Why? Because I divided it into zero groups, meaning it’s still all there. If you want to get all technical about it, I didn’t really divide at all, so bam—still 5. Does that mean that I can’t divide it? No, it just means that I obviously wouldn’t divide it because it’s already done. That’s like saying you can’t give a bald guy a haircut–although that is true–but it still applies because they’re both unsportsmanlike attitudes. Think of it as a word problem. Divide 5 into zero parts might as well read Don’t divide 5 into any parts. Naturally, then, the answer is five. Now you try telling your sixth grade math teacher Ms. Covington that, and she’ll tell you the same thing she told me: “Raise your hand if you want to ask a question.” Sigh. So you raise your hand, and she calls on you, and then you give her this look like Are you serious? Do I really have to repeat the question? And she just gives you that smug look, so you decide it’s all-out war. “I can divide five by zero, it’s five.” And she goes “No, five divided by one is five.” And you say, “So what? 2 plus 2 is four, that doesn’t mean 3 plus 1 can’t be.” Now she’s a little irritated because you caught her in a lie.

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