Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What if math is wrong?

  1. Aug 25, 2004 #1


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award

    I was thinking about this while at McDonald's yesterday. If 1 + 1 = 0, would that change the constants of nature? I asked the same question to the girl running the cash register, yet she stubbornly refused to return my money.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2004 #2
    LOL...sorry but thats funny. Well, you have a good question there. The thing about math is that it is created from logic. Changing math would mean changing the logic from which it came, which would mean that this new logic would apply to everything as did the logic before. So it seems to me that the constants wouldnt "change", but be in a different form (different units?). The constants are based on measurements which are based are a set unit. lol, if you were to be in medieval kingdoms, the constants would change every time there was a new king, because the meter was defined by the distance from the nose to the fingers of the king.:rofl:
  4. Aug 25, 2004 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2015 Award

    That explains why my brain is wrinkled... it is puckering in fear of the unknown.
  5. Aug 25, 2004 #4


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Math isn't wrong - it works. You can prove 1+1=2 through experimentation with countless physical processes.
  6. Aug 25, 2004 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Thus proving that even at McDonald's there are some reasonably intelligent people.
  7. Aug 25, 2004 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Iwas thinking the other day that amounts of money are strictly limited to a subset of the rational numbers. Wouldn't it be better if we represnted money using complex matrices?
  8. Aug 25, 2004 #7
    1+1 cannot equal zero. We define the sum 1 + 1 to be the number 2. Whether this corresponds to something in nature is another story and which is true by observation.

    However it'd be nice if math was wrong if it worked to my advantage. I could pay off a lot of debt that way! :rofl:

  9. Aug 25, 2004 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I suppose this is as good of a time as any to introduce this. For those of you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend Eugene Wigner's essay on "THE UNREASONABLE EFFECTIVENSS OF MATHEMATICS IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES". A reprint of this essay can be found here:


  10. Aug 25, 2004 #9
    what if... what if i could fly AND be invisible...? that would be the best :rolleyes:
  11. Aug 25, 2004 #10
    but no, as we've all learned, when you have an apple and take another apple, you have two apples.

    so what its really no apples and our senses have failed us
    *shrugs* it works as far as we can telll......
  12. Aug 25, 2004 #11


    User Avatar

    chronos, this might actually be a good consept. Everyone is alway trying to fine the right answers, but thier must be an infinite amount of incorrectnesses to every right idea. now thies incorrectnesses, can determin limits to the idea, say yea 1+ 1 =2, but also, untrue is 1+ 1 = 1, and 1+ 1 = 0, ect. now if this didnt work we wouldnt have if/then statments in programing, and the such.

    for a = 1 to 10
    if a = 2 then print " correct"
    next a

    were " next a" adds one to a.
  13. Aug 25, 2004 #12

    On a different note, I was thinking of starting a postmodern bank. People would deposit money. All accounts would always read ? where their balance was. If people called saying they wanted their money back, I would just ask them how they know they deposited it in the first place.
  14. Aug 25, 2004 #13
    The article Makes a lot of sence.
  15. Aug 25, 2004 #14
    Well, math got many men to the moon and back, if 1+1=0 I don't think things such as going to the moon would work so well...
  16. Aug 25, 2004 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Nothing good can come out of eating at McDonald's. :biggrin:
  17. Aug 25, 2004 #16
    maybe the number "1" represents one of some "thing", which when added to the exact same thing they cancel out. Its sort of like particle/antiparticle but perhaps the simple adding of some particle to the state of another one of these particles induces its properties to change to that of an antiparticle. Then it could work? 1+ 1 = 1 + (-1) = 0
    This is too abstract of a discussion anyway.
  18. Aug 25, 2004 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Actually, your question is a bit imprecise. If you're talking about "the constants of nature" you're not talking about math, but about physics, or some other science.

    Regardless, science is specifically structured in such a way that it reflects the history of reality. If reality suddenly and fundementally changes then science will not longer be applicable.

    Mathematics is more like a philosophy than a science. Asking what happens when 1+1=0 is a bit like asking how many angles can dance on the head of a pin. There is mathematics where 1+1=0, but, in practice it isn't applicable to money.

    There are many different mathematical constructs, and, in order to apply them, people must select an appropriate one, or create a new one. Science is a process for selecting appropriate (typically mathematical) models of the real world.

    Consequently, it's silly to suggest that changing mathematics changes the amount of change that you get at the cash register. You might as well ask congress to repeal the 'law' of gravity. The process of subtraction ultimately only serves to predict the amount of change you should get, rather than controlling it.
  19. Aug 26, 2004 #18
    hmmm 1+1 = 0 it's possible for this mathematic equation to be true...that 1+1 might means 1( to the I direction ) + 1 ( to the J direction ) which = 0 since I and J are opposite of each others....i'm just guessing I = X and J = Y
  20. Aug 27, 2004 #19
    math is logic applied to a set of axioms, generally the axioms chosen model physical situations like counting apples: 1 apple + 1 apple = 2 apples.

    We could however use different axioms, i.e. drops of water: 1 drop + 1 drop = 1 drop. This is a different kind of math, it has the same logic, but different assumptions, and is probably not all that useful.

    Hence math cannot be wrong because the axoims are held to be truisms. The closest math can get to wrong is if poor assumptions are made; this is human error and not a flaw in the mathematics itself.
  21. Aug 27, 2004 #20
    Zero is the neutral element of the sum, so by its definition x + 0 = x for all x.

    Lets have an element 'x' of the integers ring 'Z' . As a ring, Z has a neutral element represented by zero, the inverse of 'x' is '-x', and so...

    If x + x = 0, that would mean that x is a number whose inverse is itself, and there is no number at all which can verify that property except zero, so one plus one can not be zero.

    No matter to do with this, physics are safe by the moment :wink:
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2004
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: What if math is wrong?
  1. What's wrong with this? (Replies: 17)