**What’s something divided by zero?**

General Musharraf is becoming too frequent a guest on Sunday Levity. But this one deserves mention. Responding to now routine concerns over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, he said:

“The only way it would be endangered would be if al-Qaeda gets so strong that it defeats the Pakistan Army, or if Taleban supporters win the election, and the possibility is zero, multiplied by zero anddivided by zero.” [Times Online]

We know that when he talks about being 400% sure he’s likely to be lying. But in this case he may be, ironically, telling the truth. For unless he is a student of Brahmagupta’s mathematics (circa 628 CE), he is effectively saying that the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of al-Qaeda/Taliban is indeterminate. In other words, we just can’t say that the chances are.

“multiplied by zero and divided by zero” gives the result 0 irrespective of whether “divided by 0” is indeterminate or not.

0 x indeterminate = 0

Haha. Nitin, the irony is hilarious and eerily frighting at the same time.

Nitin,

I believe you mean “what the chances are”, in the last line.

Actually dividing by 0 is the same as multiplying by infinity.

The answers to multiplying and dividing by infinity are not all indeterminate. The problem is generally solved by using limits and differential/integration methods. Thus a simplistic example

if x –> infinity then 5x/x = 5

of x –> 0 then also 5x/x = 5.

doing math involving infinities is not neccessarily indeterminate.

The Muslim Al-Jabr guy who invented algebra knows it.

RH