What Can Actually be Divided by Zero?
— Inspired by Mai Vu, Class of 2024
Everything and Nothing!
Division by zero is like meditation, you concentrate on the pursuit of nothingness! In my opinion, what can be divided by zero is a scientific question best answered by brilliant mathematicians like Bhaskara II in books like Lilavati.
However, I believe division by zero can have different meanings for people from different walks of life. For a mathematician, it might be a mystery that needs solving or an answer that needs to be found; for the average man, it might mean nothing more than the message “Math Error” displayed by the calculators when you try to divide any number by 0 on them and hold not more important than the ‘g’ in lasagna!; for me, however, division by zero foreshadows a void, a feeling of loneliness and a lesson of what not to do in life.
I remember, to this day, how my Grade 6 mathematics teacher tried to get riddance from me, when I was too curious about why did my calculator show “Math Error” when I divided 7 by zero, by telling me I was too young to understand the concept. However, after my irritating stubbornness, she tried to explain to me how it is not possible to multiply a number with zero and not get a zero, which makes division by zero impossible.
I soon realized how correct she was about me not getting it, as my naïve mind soon lost concentration and started thinking about what I was going to have for lunch. Later that same night, I thought that for most people division by zero is as lame as my teacher’s explanation was for me, and the reason behind this, according to me, was that they also had their teacher explain this topic in a very monotonous tone! So the very next day, I sat down on my study table with two pieces of paper, a pencil, and a calculator to understand division by 0.
As I continued to vary the numbers in the numerator of the expression, I started getting weary to find the calculator indifferent to any changes in the divisible. After a while, I got vexed by my earlier experiments and started calculating different numbers with 0 as the numerator and to the astonishment of my tender mind, the answer every time was the same: 0. At that moment, a thought struck me like lightning and I rushed to pen it down on my ‘Special Diary’.
My childishly ignorant mind had just deducted a philosophical answer from a purely mathematical experiment! My 10-year old self just realized how Newton would have felt after discovering gravity as those results were no smaller for me at that time.
I had actually substituted the numerator for mangoes and denominator as friends, with the outcome of my experiment being, and I copy the lines from my ‘Special Diary’, “life can be spent even if you no worldly possession, but if you have friends, there would still be a solution; but in a life without friends, even a million good things would still be void.”
The logic behind this statement was that the calculator answers no matter how considerable the denominator even though the numerator is zero, but even a seemingly intelligent machine like a calculator was helpless when giving a solution in case of no friends.
As I grew up and started to understand more advanced mathematics and the logic behind the “Math Error”, my assumptions from that day began to seem more and more injudicious but the message concluded by my younger self will always accompany me and is something that I plan to be telling the younger generations as a piece of advice: life can be spent without funds but not without friends!