# The war on math targets the equals sign

The plus and minus signs better look out too:

The equal sign is the bedrock of mathematics. It seems to make an entirely fundamental and uncontroversial statement: These things are exactly the same.

But there is a growing community of mathematicians who regard the equal sign as math’s original error. They see it as a veneer that hides important complexities in the way quantities are related—complexities that could unlock solutions to an enormous number of problems. They want to reformulate mathematics in the looser language of equivalence.

(Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research develop-ments and trends in mathe-matics and the physical and life sciences.)

“We came up with this notion of equality,” said Jonathan Campbell of Duke University. “It should have been equivalence all along.”

The most prominent figure in this community is Jacob Lurie. In July, Lurie, 41, left his tenured post at Harvard University for a faculty position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, home to many of the most revered mathematicians in the world.

Lurie’s ideas are sweeping on a scale rarely seen in any field.

Kevin Hartnett, “Is the Equal Sign Overrated? Mathematicians Hash It Out” at Wired

Lurie has moved beyond the equals sign.

But he is not nearly so innovative as Hartnett makes out. Woke math teachers have moved well beyond right and wrong answers. But they will be heartened by this support in the face of fierce criticism elsewhere.

See also: The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math

## 2 Replies to “The war on math targets the equals sign”

1. 1
polistra says:

Well, they do have a point. The specific problem of infinities is irrelevant to real math and real people, but there’s a more important ambiguity in the use of the equal sign, which does interfere with real understanding.

In equations on paper, the equal sign is like an old-fashioned balance. It says that you can modify the piles of stuff on each pan, but you have to modify them in a way that keeps the balance centered.

Computer algorithms NEVER use equals this way, and there’s no provision for this process of moving things around. In computers the equal sign has two main purposes. First: Placing a number in a labeled box for convenience. Some computer languages distinguish this use by phrases like CONST X = 3. Second: Setting up a box with inputs and outputs. Y = sin(X+3). X is an input jack and Y is an output jack, and the circuit connecting them will always yield the specified function.

Many people get tangled up in trying to transfer the two-way paper equations to the one-way assignments in a computer, and textbooks don’t help much.

2. 2
EDTA says:

Yes, the equals sign that programmers use is more properly called the “assignment operator”, to distinguish it.

But among the Left, a yellow equals sign on a dark blue background is incredibly fashionable these days. So this guy (above) had better take that into account before he gets too excited about abolishing it entirely.