6÷2(1+2) and The Treachery of Images

Despite the apparent disjoint between the arts and the sciences, there is an interesting relationship between the 6÷2(1+2) problem and The Treachery of Images. Just as a painting of a pipe is not a pipe, and the word ‘pipe’ is not a pipe, the symbol for the number 2 is not 2. It’s easy to forget with the supposed objectivity of math and science, that the order of operations is a convention of mathematical language, one of many, and language is socially constructed.

This is the fundamental problem with popular regard for math and science as the exploration of universal truths: there are no universal truths about how to communicate those truths. Math and science as institutions will forever be dependent on the common sense of language, and 6÷2(1+2) is a demonstration of what happens when people disagree on common sense, especially a common sense that they have been told is a universal truth.

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