During breakfast this morning my daughter says, “Mom, do you know what two times zero is?”
“Two,” I answer quickly, busying myself with the coffee maker to keep from adding, “Duh.”
“No! It’s zero!” she shouts with glee, as she is a child who loves to see her mother get things wrong. (Rare treat.)
I give her a patronizing look and ask her what fool told her that. She answers, “My teacher.” Rolling my eyes, I get the calculator and punch in the equation. It comes up zero. I toss it aside, complaining that it is one of those fancy calculus calculators that doesn’t understand simple math, and we tromp into my office to use the calculator on the computer. The answer: still zero! More cackles from the third grader. Then the five-year-old brother starts in on the cackling, just for the fun of it. I shoo them from the office with a can of compressed-air keyboard cleaner so I can think this through.
Really, it’s wrong on so many levels. You just can’t make the two go away, I mean it’s right there before the multiplication symbol!
The phone rings. I see that it’s my friend Kim so I answer with, “I’m baffled!”
“Me too!” she shouts.
“I know, right? Like how can it be zero?” I ask, assuming she’s just had the same conversation over breakfast.
“What? No, I’m wondering why there are four inches of new snow and no delayed start for school.”
“Seriously, how can the two just go away? The two was there even before the zero!”
Kim tries to talk me down, explaining it just as my gloating eight-year-old had. But I have a minor character flaw in that I Can Never Be Wrong. I realize the only place I’m going to get any supporting evidence is the internet, so I Google the phrase “How can 2 x 0 = 0 ?” until I find something that makes me right. Behold:
Quantum Weirdness: Two Times Zero Doesn't Always Equal Zero
By Mark Anderson
In a surprising discovery released this week, physicists have announced that two times zero does not always equal zero. The new theoretical research examines transmissions of individual quantum states, blah blah blah...
So I immediately print this article (from an Aug 2008 issue of IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of “The world's leading professional association for the advancement of technology” no less) and am seconds away from cramming it in my daughter’s backpack to make her show her teacher when I hear the faint echo of the even fainter Voice of Reason somewhere deep in the warm folds of my neocortex. Do I really want the greatest third-grade teacher in the universe to feel sorry for my child for having an insane mother? Do I really want to be the topic of hilarious ridicule in the faculty lounge?
So I let it go. But on this, as with all things, I side with the quantum physicists.
7 hours ago