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This Simple Math Problem Drove Our Entire Staff Insane. Can You Solve It?

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Following the social distancing guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are isolated in their homes and ended up searching for various ways to combat the boredom.

While some started learning a new language, exercising, reading more, others started browsing the Internet for interesting ways to engage their minds.

One particular internet feud might spark interest in you too, even though it seems like a simple math equation at first glance. Unlike other feuds, math is supposed to be objective, but this is not the case with this one.

Give it a try:

8÷2 (2+2) =?

Twitter users started arguing about the answer, with many trying to ‘school’ others ‘. The arithmetic problem quickly went viral, with users citing fundamental principals in math, some insulting the others, and math majors arguing over it.

Some argued that 8÷2(2+2)=16, while others said that 8÷2(2+2)=1.

Many used their scientific calculators to prove their answer is right, others used their degrees to indicate they cannot be wrong. Some gave up quickly after they realized it is not a simple math problem, others took it really seriously.

There were even those that claimed that both answers are correct!

As the discussion was not even close to an end, experts stepped in to help. Apparently, the answer depends on where one has studied math.

According to the PEMDAS method, the operations are ordered like this: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.

Mike Breen, the public awareness officer for the American Mathematical Society, explains:

“According to the order of operations, you solve whatever is in the parentheses first. That gives you 4. Then, in PEMDAS, multiplication, and division take equal precedence, so you’d do the first that occurs from left to right.

So you’d do 8 divided by 2 first, which is 4. Thus, it’s 16 according to the classic order of operations. According to the strict order of operations, you’d get 16, but I wouldn’t hit someone on the wrist with a ruler if they said 1.”

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People who got 1 solved the equation using the BODMAS method: Brackets, Orders, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction.

Breen adds that no one is wrong, as it has been ambiguously written in the first place. The creator has written it with an incorrect notation specifically to spark outrage and a battle of “who’s smarter.”

Rhett Allain, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, said:

“This is the math version of, ‘What color is this dress? Blue and black or gold and white?’ My answer is that you do parentheses first, so that becomes: 8/2*4. Next, you go from left to right. 8/2 is 4, so it is 4*4. Now you get 16.

Of course, this isn’t math. This is convention. We have conventions on how to write these things just like we have conventions on how to spell stuff. But still, there are different conventions. Some people spell it as ‘gray’ and others as ‘grey.’ We still understand what’s going on.

For me, I would write this more explicitly so that there is no confusion. Like this: 8/(2*(2+2)), if that’s what you are trying to do. That way no one will get it wrong.”

Dr. Thomas House, a lecturer in Applied Mathematics at the University of Manchester, agrees:

“The lesson is that we have to be careful about definitions. When writing computer code the first interpretation would normally be written (8/2)*(2+2) and the second 8/(2*(2+2)) to avoid any ambiguity.”

Viral debates of this kind emphasize the fact that each person sees the world differently. Reality depends on our own views and experiences. This phenomenon is known as confirmation bias, as we close the mind for ideas that contradict our own beliefs.

Yet, this teaches us a valuable lesson- if we are open to other people’s beliefs, we can end up learning something we never knew.

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