Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quantum Weirdness

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.


Corey Schwartz said...

Ha! You are hilarious, Christy. If you have nothing, and you double it, you still have nothing :)

Christy Raedeke said...

But, but, we didn't start with nothing, we started with two! And then we brought in the nothingness!

I'll buy that zero squared is still zero, but this 2x0=0 thing is just nonsense!

Thanks for trying to explain, Corey, but I am jackass stubborn...even when it makes me look like an imbecile, like today. :)

Heidi said...

you are hilarious! I'd never thought about it that way. I loved the zero times tables because every answer was zero... so easy a mathphobe could get it.

But you're right. Zero times two is clearly zero, but two times zero?? You have something and then it goes away??

This one is going to bug me all day!

AC said...

I just remember that when multiplying, it doesn't matter what order the numbers are in. For the record, math totally sucks and will never make sense.

Also, my husband was actually a member of IEEE in college--I think he was the treasurer or something. It's the society for electrical engineers, a.k.a. the "hot sexy people."

Corey Schwartz said...

Yes, the order doesn't matter. Let me put it in book terms. If I had zero contracts in 2007, and zero contracts in 2008, then I have a total of ZERO contracts. For TWO years I got zero. (2 times 0) Does that help at all?

Paul said...

Corey, Corey, Corey... "If you have nothing, and you double it," then you have two nothings. If it is nothing then it is something. You cannot multiply nothing; but 2 X 0 is 2 times something. Zero is something. Therefore it is not nothing. If nothing didn't exist then there would be no empty space in which something could exist. It's like those zero contracts I landed in 2007 and 2008. I have tons of rejections letters to prove nothing exists... and that's something.

Christy Raedeke said...

Paul, you're better than the writers on the Colbert Report!

Corey Schwartz said...

Paul, where's your blog? I want to visit :)

Tyler said...

Hahaha, this gave me a good afternoon laugh! And for the record, I side with Corey ;)


Paul is way too cool for a blog, Corey. He just has a "profile," and hovers around cyberspace incognito.

Barbara Slaton said...

Christy --

Your Grandpa was President of IEEE and I'm sure he would have been very happy to explain it to you in terms that you could grasp...

Now, for fun, try 8,438,972 x 0 :)

Aunt Barb

Katie said...

I am laughing once again at the ever amusing life of one Christy Raedeke.

Corey has explained this perfectly! Why can't you get it?!

Of course Paul's reasoning is well... amusing. And very - "Paul." Which is actually a wonderful thing :-)

Hi Tyler! S'up?

Guess what? SF and I were actually interviewed and photographed today. For what you ask? nothing actually... haha. just the promise of something :-) We live in a hopeful town!

Hardygirl said...

Yikes! And doesn't something really crazy happen when you try to divide by zero? Don't you get something called the "null set"--that was even more nothing than zero. The null set doesn't even exist! So what happens if you multiply zero by the null set?

And, is a form letter rejection the same as a zero or the null set? Or would the null set be the same thing as never hearing back from an agent? Can you ever receive a NEGATIVE amount of rejections??? Like so MANY that they start to accumulate in some sort of negative alternative universe???

God help me.

Little Ms J said...

I won't even try to argue math and logic because I think the whole concept of numbers is silly. I dare not say that aloud as my husband is a big nerd.

Do you know about the Nine(s) Trick? If you hold your hands infront of you palms facing your body you can do the nines times tables without thinking. You just fold down the number (finger) of whatever you are multiplying against nine. Fold down your third finger (the bird) on your left hand (9x3)and there will be two fingers to the left and seven to the right of the bird which equals 27. This is the only reason I did not flunk out of school.

pete "0x=0"O said...

I found an extra copy of a TCP/IP book that I will overnight to you. This should address all open questions.

Christy Raedeke said...

Oh, Pete. You are right after my math-erific extended family on the list of people from whom I would want to hide this post. I'm so sorry you now know this about me. [Hangs head in shame.]

My writing people can forgive my mathlessnes, but you? I fear we will never speak again.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Miss J, I had totally forgotten about that nines trick. I used to teach it to my 3rd graders. Now I can use it for myself, mathphobe that I am. Thank you, and thanks, Christy for more laughs.

Deb Markanton said...

Look at it this way...just as AC says, it doesn't matter which order the numbers are in so:
2x0=0 can be explained thus: two zeros amount to, yep, zero.
0x2=0 can be explained thus: zero twos amount to, you get it.

peteo said...

Christy, are you kidding?

I'm hitting refresh every 3 seconds and hyperventilating as I wait for the "2 divided by 0" post.