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Mariah's avatar

Does this phrase make any sense [Mathematics]?

Asked by Mariah (25863points) January 3rd, 2015

“Integer of zero.”

I am pretty well-versed in mathematics and while I fully understand each individual word of that phrase, used together it seems to be nonsense to me.

Does it mean something I’m not familiar with?

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17 Answers

PhiNotPi's avatar

“Integer of zero” most likely means something similar to “the number zero,” i.e. zero. I haven’t found any other potential meanings.

Normally, it would be redundant to mention the fact that zero is an integer. It might not be redundant in the context of programming, in which case it would imply that the number, besides being equal to 0, is stored in integer format.

LostInParadise's avatar

Although referring to zero as an integer would be redundant, it might make sense in the context of problems that can only have integer values, like a problem in combinatorics.

dxs's avatar

As they said, the context matters. Perhaps additional specification of zero being an integer was mandatory. Can you provide more information on how it was used?

Mariah's avatar

None of your conjectures make sense in context, unfortunately.

It was said by Stephen Hawking’s character in The Theory of Everything. He was asked about a probability he was calculating and he said “It’s some integer of zero, but I’m not there yet.”

The addition of the word “some” pretty much rules out the idea that it could just be referring to the number zero. Furthermore, in the context of probability, it seems pretty nonsensical to be referring to integers anyway, since probabilities are between 0 and 1 inclusive.

It seems it is nonsense, which is unfortunate. The only flaw I have found with the movie, which I otherwise adored.

funkdaddy's avatar

It’s a joke…he could have said “nil” or “nada senorita” or “the square root of zero”... it’s dismissive but in a slightly cute way… his mind is running away and the world around him isn’t keeping up. She’s there to show him something real.

From the script

JANE walks in, sees STEPHEN, slumped in an armchair watching TV in the common room.

At a distance, JANE stops, shocked. He looks woebegone, depressed, physically reduced already. She summons up a cheerful demeanor, however, and advances.

JANE: Something educational?

STEPHEN: (without looking at her) Very. John is having an affair with Martha. But Martha is in love with Alan. And I think Alan is homosexual by the look of his shirts. I’m trying to work out the mathematical probability of happiness.

JANE: Are you close?

STEPHEN: It’s some integer of zero, but I’m not there yet.


STEPHEN: You just missed him. He was here earlier.

JANE: Don’t do this.


JANE: Cut me off.


JANE: Teach me croquet.
Come on. Teach me.
What is this?

STEPHEN: I believe you poetry undergraduate types call it…“a slough of despond.”

Mariah's avatar

I get that the exchange was a joke. Is nonsensical math supposed to be part of the joke? It went right over my head if so.

janbb's avatar

Yes, he’s saying the probability of happiness is zero but saying it more scientifically.

dxs's avatar

I’m with you, @Mariah. It took me a long time of thinking before I dismissed that as nonsense. And I still didn’t care for the the humor.

funkdaddy's avatar

I’m not 100% sure, but I would guess two things

1) It’s supposed to only mean something to him in this scene, most people won’t recognize it as nonsense. That’s why “you poetry undergraduate types” later on is important. He’s separating himself. When my wife (a nurse) asks me (a web developer) what’s wrong with my work I might tell her I’m having “cross browser compatibility issues with my ones and zeros”... it’s nonsense, but mostly just in a “we don’t have to dig too deep on this right now” sort of way. She’s got her simplifications for me too.

2) I’m going to assume the writer for the movie wasn’t a theoretical physicist or a mathematician. So they wanted something that sounded good, accuracy would be optional.

CWOTUS's avatar

Maybe we should think of it this way, @Mariah: It’s a theater major’s bad attempt at a math joke.

I think that even a theater major could have had an idea of what an asymptote is, and made a decent – comprehensible to a certain number of people, and correct – joke about “approaching a probability of zero”, but we’ll have to just agree “it’s a bad joke; it’s supposed to mean zero – ha ha”.

Mariah's avatar

Just seems like one movie where it should have been quite important to get the math language correct. But i can accept it.

JLeslie's avatar

I perceive it as sarcasm. Stating an impossibility. I don’t know the full context even though more verbiage is given by other jellies above. Possibly he is purposely using vocabulary over her head to avoid a long conversation.

Zaku's avatar

I think it was supposed to be “some integral of zero” (which might make a little more sense) and some force of ignorance adjusted “integral” to “integer”.

Mariah's avatar

Huh….“integral of zero” is definitely a phrase that makes more sense in general, but not at all in the context of probability. I dunno!

janbb's avatar

I think you are overthinking it. I think he was intending to say something nonsensical like “the twelfth of never.”

Mariah's avatar

That’s the only thing that makes sense to me, aside from writer error.

Zaku's avatar

Though it would still be writer (or editor, or director) error, it appears to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that “integral of zero” is sometimes used in a probability context, where (if my vague memory of integral language isn’t wrong) some function produces a set of possible values, most of which are zero so it could be said to have an integral of zero, so the he could have meant jokingly that he was working out the odds by modelling a function but was certainly the function would have an integral of zero (i.e. might as well be zero).

At least, I got 147,000 Google hits for (“integral of zero” probability), (ten times more than for “integer of zero”, probability) including:

“the function that i commented on (one that is zero everywhere, but for one point where it takes on a finite value) has integral of zero.”

“I think the mistake here is to think that “one chance in infinity” actually means something useful. ... the function that is 1 at all rational points and 0 at all irrational points has an integral of zero”

“For example, what if my function is not continuous but is non-negative and has an integral of zero?”

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