The Only Way to Win Is Not to Play the Game

The Only Way to Win Is Not to Play the Game

Questions like 8÷2(2+2) boil down to whether you compute the answer left to right or do the multiplication on the right side of the obelus (division symbol) first.
I used to explain that when people sent me messages about some viral order of operations questions, but for the past few cycles (they seem to bubble up every several months like an algal bloom in a lake) I have adopted a strict policy of refusing to answer.
The real answer, the one I believe any mathematician, physicist, engineer, other number-cruncher would tell you is to make sure your expressions aren’t ambiguous.
If you want the answer to be 16, write (8÷2)(2+2).
I’ll close by echoing his appeal to those of us who talk about math in public to help people see beyond mathematics as a subject with arbitrary rules and black and white answers to the more interesting questions that motivate mathematicians.

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