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Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:43 PM

Is the idea of "2 + 2 = 4" cultural?

Brittany Marshall, a self-described teacher and Ph.D. student, took to Twitter this past weekend to voice her displeasure about the concept of 2+2=4, saying the “idea” of the simple math equation is merely “cultural.”

1984 called. It wants Room 101 back.


Continued at: https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/paula-bolyard/2020/07/08/orwellian-teacher-blames-western-imperialism-colonization-for-concept-of-224-n614048


As a mathematician, I'm inclined to think that math is barely cultural at all--it's quite universal in the sense that I can sit down and study the inner workings of polynomials and someone in a different culture can do the same, and we'll reach the same conclusions.

What do you think the phrase in that tweet means?

42 replies, 3975 views

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Arrow 42 replies Author Time Post
Reply Is the idea of "2 + 2 = 4" cultural? (Original post)
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 OP
LakeArenal Jul 2020 #1
grumpyduck Jul 2020 #2
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #6
chia Jul 2020 #12
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #18
grumpyduck Jul 2020 #13
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #16
muriel_volestrangler Jul 2020 #21
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #23
NRaleighLiberal Jul 2020 #3
janterry Jul 2020 #4
Igel Jul 2020 #26
Ron Obvious Jul 2020 #5
Voltaire2 Jul 2020 #7
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #8
CatLady78 Jul 2020 #9
chia Jul 2020 #10
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #11
grumpyduck Jul 2020 #14
Lucky Luciano Aug 2020 #40
Warpy Jul 2020 #15
Midnight Writer Jul 2020 #17
Wounded Bear Jul 2020 #19
Igel Jul 2020 #27
Jim__ Jul 2020 #20
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #24
Jim__ Jul 2020 #25
applegrove Jul 2020 #22
Igel Jul 2020 #28
applegrove Jul 2020 #29
applegrove Jul 2020 #31
BadgerKid Aug 2020 #41
Eugene Jul 2020 #30
NNadir Jul 2020 #32
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #33
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #34
janterry Jul 2020 #35
Dr. Strange Jul 2020 #36
muriel_volestrangler Jul 2020 #37
hunter Jul 2020 #38
Lucky Luciano Aug 2020 #39
BadgerKid Aug 2020 #42

Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:47 PM

1. 🙄

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:52 PM

2. Well, considering that she didn't bother to explain what she meant,

including how she thinks "non-Western" cultures think about it, I'm not going to waste my time second-guessing her.

And given the bio included in the article, it sounds like somebody trying to get attention.

Bye Felicia.

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Response to grumpyduck (Reply #2)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:02 PM

6. Her tweets are protected...

so I have no idea if she expanded on it or what her thought process was. But there are other tweeters who are supporting the idea, so it seems like it's not a lone view.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #6)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:56 PM

12. As a mathematician (I most definitely am not) you might be able to support or reject this idea of

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Response to chia (Reply #12)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:19 PM

18. Yeah...

but that idea of decolonizing mathematics is less about math and more about the history of math. (Who did what, who came up with what ideas, who stole ideas, etc.) Those are legitimate areas of inquiry, but they're more in the area of history.

It's possible that's what the original tweet meant, but it seems strange to relate it to a more concrete thing like "2 + 2 = 4"; that makes it sound like it's the mathematical theory that's cultural.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #6)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:03 PM

13. Fine, but they "should" be at least presenting an argument.

Is that Jennifer Grey in your avatar?

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Response to grumpyduck (Reply #13)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:12 PM

16. Um, no.

It's Jim Morrison.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #6)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 03:18 PM

21. Google still has a cache of the twitter thread

I would say she still comes across as full of shit:

https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:B3PjyjicHuAJ:http s://twitter.com/brittanylm3281/status/1279980164756242433+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

Here's what I can get from the cache (there are more replies after):


Ida Bae Wells @nhannahjones
I wonder if folks always talking about “standards” ever stop to consider that it’s their so-called standards that are the actual problem.

Chris @CeJayGe
Woke Minis
2+2=4: A perspective in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values

Brittany Marshall @brittanylm3281

British researcher Alan Bishop wrote about how mathematics was western imperialism’s secret tool. Also American researcher Danny Martin talks about the whiteness of math spaces in education. I won’t go too far into it but 2 apples + 2 cars don’t equal 4 anything.

John Dawkins @johndawkins
It does amount to 4 “objects” or “items” or ...

Marshall:
It’s not real. Every culture had their own ways of categorizing, measuring, and recognizing patterns. European imperialists created & stole from others then forced its symbols and reasoning on the world; convincing different cultures that their original ways weren’t valid.

Dawkins:
The notion “object” is a European invention or it was “stolen”?

Marshall:
Nope the idea of 2 + 2 equaling 4 is cultural and because of western imperialism/colonization, we think of it as the only way of knowing.

Dawkins:
But people have been counting, and thereby abstracting the idea of number for a long time.

Marshall:
Of course, since the beginning of time... but different cultures didn’t use the same numbers & symbols nor did they have the same meanings. It’s like how some words in different languages don’t have a translation in English.
[more replies]

Ariana B. @TheAriBella

This is interesting ti me only b/c going back and forth with #ADOS about reparations, they seemed to have no understanding of the fact that acquiring skills enables people to create wealth. If you won't master 2+2=4 you cannot be a programmer, engineer, doctor, architect, etc.

Marshall:
Somehow discussing that different cultures used measurement and comparisons differently before Western Imperialism became I'm a moron and a host of other derogatory words. I didn't realize discussing the history of math would make people so angry. Also, I'm a trained architect

Frankly, I wouldn't trust a "trained architect" who doesn't know the difference between counting in abstract or unitless terms, and measurement. And putting this down to "Western Imperialism" is bullshit. I do tend to see her as a moron.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #21)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 07:18 PM

23. Thanks for finding this.

Yeah, I think you're right. I don't see anything that she's adding that makes sense of the cultural issue.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:55 PM

3. so much gobbledygook

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:56 PM

4. Postmodernism


I loved reading the postmodernists when I was in college and grad school. But, over the past few years I have come to see it as irrational.

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Response to janterry (Reply #4)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 08:44 PM

26. Only when so absolutely drunk that

whatever solid surface you were on was both spinning and accelerating at right angles.

Then it didn't make any more or less sense than anything else.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 12:57 PM

5. No.

This is vapid.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:06 PM

7. It means this was trolling bullshit.

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Response to Voltaire2 (Reply #7)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:13 PM

8. I might agree with that if she was alone.

But there are other tweets supporting the idea. I don't think it's just trolling.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:44 PM

9. Trolling.nt

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:46 PM

10. The link goes to PJ Media, not inclined to give them clicks

Wondering if this has something to do with Euclid?

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Response to chia (Reply #10)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 01:55 PM

11. I would have preferred to link to the actual tweet.

But that isn't an option.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:05 PM

14. I can say that buttering the toast on the top is also a cultural thing.

And some people will believe it. I'd love to see them butter it on the bottom.

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Response to grumpyduck (Reply #14)

Tue Aug 4, 2020, 08:59 PM

40. We should nuke those bastards that butter side down!

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:06 PM

15. It means somebody is looking for a shortcut

and that there is a path to truth out there that is effortless to find, short to walk, and completely avoids the messy business of ever having to sit quietly and try to learn something from an expert.

Brittany needs to look at the type of training non math based cultures use. There are no short cuts.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:18 PM

17. Put two eggs on a table. Now put two more. Count the eggs. Regardless of culture, same answer.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 02:20 PM

19. I guess it depends on which number base you're working in...

If you're working in Base 3, she's "right."

But when making an argument, not including all the parameters of one's supposition is disingenuous at best and gaslighting at worst.

Since most of society works in Base 10 most of the time, her supposition sounds irrational. It doesn't work in binary, because there is no '2' in the binary-Base 2- number system. It doesn't work in base 5 or above, or any number system that includes the numeral '2' and '4.'

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Response to Wounded Bear (Reply #19)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 08:45 PM

27. And if you're baseless? n/t

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 03:05 PM

20. I don't know what she means, but she says the "idea" is cultural.

Apparently the Walpiri culture did not use numbers:

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #20)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 07:33 PM

24. That's true.

But I still don't know if I would call it a cultural issue. I think there's still a universality in the sense that if the Walpiri decided to extend their enumeration, whatever they ended up developing would have to be consistent with every other culture's development. At least, consistent in the sense that if, for example, the Walpiri recognize/come up with the concept of prime numbers, they will find that there are infinitely many of them. No culture has accepted that there are only many finitely many primes (assuming they even look at such things).

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #24)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 07:56 PM

25. I don't believe she's saying it's not true.

She seems to be saying it's a cultural way of knowing, but not the only way of knowing. I'm not sure we need the concepts of math and numbers to have a sufficient understanding of the world - sufficient being enough understanding to survive.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 04:02 PM

22. The symbols used to denote the numbers are cultural. Science is not cultural.

If you add your thumb and index finger together on each hand you get the same amount of digits as if you add together your daddy toe and second one on each foot together. What you call it does not matter.

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Response to applegrove (Reply #22)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 08:48 PM

28. There are some weird cultural systems involving numbers.

The whole Celtic '20' based thing that still shows up in French vingt, quatre-vingt crap that drove me slightly batty.

Then there's the horrid Babylon base-60 that we use in time and degrees of a circle. Seriously, base 60?

They all work. Stick with one that's standard instead of showing how virtuous you are by engaging in mindless anti-ist kneejerking.

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Response to Igel (Reply #28)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 08:49 PM

29. I did not know french was a 20 based system originally.

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Response to Igel (Reply #28)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 03:05 AM

31. I remember learning about different bases in public school. Our teacher

used the base 6 to teach us. I thought it was really cool and got it. Since then the few times it has come up i have a mind block and just can't get my head around bases.

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Response to Igel (Reply #28)

Thu Aug 6, 2020, 04:47 PM

41. Base-60 is so horrid we use it every day!

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Wed Jul 8, 2020, 10:05 PM

30. This is the old "who has all the answers" philosophy question put on an especially poor platform.

2 + 2 = 4 is objectively true. Is objective truth the only truth? That's a philosophical debate that doesn't fit in a tweet.

The reality-based approach prevails because it has earned a good reputation for effectiveness. Its more responsible proponents never claim that it is the only way.

The tweet mainly gives right-wingers a broad brush to paint the left as "loonies."


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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 08:52 AM

32. Well, as I recall, Alfred Whitehead and Bertrand Russell spent page after page...

...Principia Mathematica proving that 1+1 = 2.

I'm not sure if they ever got to 2+2 = 4.

Principia Mathematica is not a book one reads while waiting for a phone call.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #32)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 12:52 PM

33. And then along came Gödel and...BOOM!

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 02:45 PM

34. Update: we seemed to have made the attack list.

https://mathedcollective.wordpress.com/2020/07/09/attack-on-brittany-marshall/

This post bemoans the attacks on the original author, but doesn't seem to address the original question at all.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #34)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 03:16 PM

35. No one is attacking her, they are attacking a lack of intellectual rigor

this really is post-modernism (as I thought up thread) taken to it's illogical conclusion.

We need the so-called hard sciences to push back on this mess.

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Response to janterry (Reply #35)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 03:31 PM

36. That site mentions the tweeting from Keith Devlin.

His tweets were what alerted me to this issue in the first place.

I'm flabbergasted that they think his tweet was an "attack". And there are a couple of tweeters who were still trying to hash this out. They seem to think it's okay for Devlin to object, but not really because he did it while others were attacking.

I would certainly be inclined to push back on this if it's just postmodern crap. But I'd like to make sure that's all it is. And while I see people defending her, those same people won't address her claims.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Reply #34)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 04:51 PM

37. Well, if she tweets in public, "attacking" "Western Imperialism" for supporting 2+2 equals 4

she really should have found out by now, as a PhD student, that people will reply. It's not as if this is some high school student on their first trip into the big wide world. She ought to understand what public speech is, before using it. That's not too much to ask of a person who got a first degree, is it?

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Thu Jul 9, 2020, 06:44 PM

38. Integer math is fucking bullshit. Counting is a lie.

The universe doesn't work that way. All groups are artificial. Every object unique. No two marbles are the same.

I measure everything by Plank Constant.

2 + 2 = 4 only by statistics. Sometimes it's a little more, sometimes a little less. The chances of it being exactly four are infinitesimal.

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Tue Aug 4, 2020, 07:55 PM

39. This is totally gonna invalidate my thesis on equivariant cohomology theories :(

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Response to Dr. Strange (Original post)

Thu Aug 6, 2020, 05:29 PM

42. Huh? Is she suggesting "western arithmetic pride"?

"Western" numerals derive from "eastern" numerals actually, specifically Western Arabic and, before that, various Indian languages.

The representation "2+2=4" reflects the evolution of numerals and symbolic convention.

Anyway, the idea of 2+2=4 seems axiomatic to me, not cultural. Some animals can count, too. What about those cultures?

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