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Dividing by Zero

You Can't Divide by ZeroYou can’t divide by zero. Everyone knows that. Well, almost everyone. University of Reading professor Dr. James Anderson doesn’t know that. Neither do the year 10 kids he’s been teaching. It seems he’s “solved” the problem of dividing by zero.

It’s simple, really. Just say that anything divided by zero is nulity. Pick a Greek letter to represent the concept. Then, get a film crew to document you teaching it to high school students. That’s all there is to it.

It’s really funny if you don’t take it too seriously. The comments on the page are the best part. In addition to totally debunking the “theory,” they provide some great real-world examples. Dr. Anderson uses this example of the problem:

“Imagine you’re landing on an aeroplane and the automatic pilot’s working,” he suggests. “If it divides by zero and the computer stops working – you’re in big trouble.”

Commenter Bob reacts to Dr. Anderson’s solution:

The problem with this “new number” that “[stretches] from negative infinity, through zero, to positive infinity,” that will supposedly allow computers to grasp x/0, is that ANY equation can equal nullity…. So unless you hard-code every programing language to only use this number in the event of dividing by zero, it will cause errors in any math problem. And then, say you have a flight computer, as the above article suggests, that needs to divide by zero, and then add 100, and that’s how many yards it has left till it hits the ground. x/0+100=nullity, so it has anywhere between infinity and negative infinity until it crashes. That really narrows it down, huh? Now instead of the program getting [a] syntax error, which will quit out of the program with an error message, the program gets a logical error, as it will attempt to manipulate a totally worthless number. What will the program assume? It’s infinite miles away from the earth? It’s infinite miles under the surface? Somewhere in between? The program wont crash, but the plane sure as hell will.

The scary part is that this appears to be a real story that aired on a real newscast. So now we have people believing that they can start dividing by zero, and they’re teaching kids about it. This reminds me of Indiana’s legislative debate over the value of pi, which fortunately died in the house of representatives in 1897. I sure hope Kansas doesn’t hear about this.

Lest we think Britain’s children have been horribly, irrecoverably corrupted with this stuff, we should take student Hannah’s comment to heart. “Ha im in the front row. it was fun and we got to miss a lesson. yum.”