Watch what happens when you divide by zero on a mechanical calculator

Credit: Youtube

Division by zero is a definite no-no whenever you’re doing math. It simply doesn’t make any sense from an arithmetic standpoint as there is no possible number which can output the numerator when multiplied by zero. So, when something is divided by zero, mathematicians simply state that the answer is ‘undefined’. This is not a totally abstract idea as you can see it in action in the real world. Computer programmers who accidentally divide by zero will get their code stuck in an infinite loop, for instance. But perhaps the most spectacular illustration of undefined division by zero is to try it on a mechanical calculator.

Youtube user MultiGlizda did it on a Facit ESA-01, an ancient but very sophisticated machine as far as mechanical calculators go. It works on a pin-wheel mechanism and can output answers as long as 13 digits. It sold from 1949 through 1952 by Swedish company Facit Calculators.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=443B6f_4n6k

Why division by zero is undefined

Division by zero is a disallowed operation because you can not find an answer. For instance:

 12 divided by 6 is 2   because
    6 times 2 is 12

   12 divided by 0 is x   would mean that
    0 times x = 12
There is no possible number 'x' which multiplied by 0, which is nothing, can output 12, which is something.

If you’re still confused, let’s get back to the basics. Both multiplication and division are nothing more than sequential addition and subtraction, respectively. For instance, 12 divided by 6 can be written as:

12-6 = 6
6-6 = 0

It took two steps, so the answer is two. Likewise, 10 divided by 2 is:

10-2 = 8 
8-2 = 6
6-2 = 4
4-2 = 2
2-2 = 0

That's five steps, so the correct answer is 5. 

However, 10 divided by zero would look like:

10-0 = 10
10-0 = 10
.....

Check out this more in-depth explanation for why the answer to division by zero is undefined.

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About Tibi Puiu

Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.

One thought on “Watch what happens when you divide by zero on a mechanical calculator

  1. Brian

    Divide zero equals infinity. In real world robot systems, divide by zero comes up all the time and it means full power. All systems should simply return the largest number whenever there is a divide by zero situation, It's works. Stop and catch fire is unacceptable.

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