Terrence Howard: Debunking Terryology

By Michael Alan Prestwood

Exploring Howard's mathematical flaws.
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Abstract: Terryology is not math, science, nor good philosophy. Actor Terrence Howard has stirred up a debate on basic math. He argues zero, representing nothingness, shouldn’t exist in math because nothingness doesn’t actually exist in reality. Terryology relies on fame and errors in critical thinking to confuse people. Zero is an abstract concept representing a real-world thing. It’s the absence of something. If you have one bowl and I take it, you now have 0 bowls. Simple. He also argues that multiplication should always increase a value confusing addition with multiplication. When you multiply 1 by half, you get half. Half is less than 1. Simple. Multiplication is about scaling, not just addition. If you hold 2 bowls up and ask, “How many sets of these do you have at home?” Someone says “three.” They mean they have 6 bowls at home (2×3=6). Terrence Howard relies on his fame, confusion, and ignorance to argue his case for some bad ideas. He has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of reality, its object-oriented nature, and our rational ideas about our empirical observations of it.

separator, divider, HRTerryology: Why traditional math holds firm.

This week I published the first of two 1-minute hot topic FAQs on Terryology as his fame brings attention to several topics that interest me. In my writing, the problems with Terryology could be categorized under philosophy or critical thinking. What it is not, is math.

Let’s explore.

Terryology: An Overview

While I don’t think this idea has merit, let me first present it the way he does.

Terryology asserts that traditional mathematics is flawed. Terrence claims that the multiplication of one by one should equal two, arguing that if one times one equals one, then two is of no value. He also states that multiplication is fundamentally an increase so when you multiply 1 by something, you cannot end up with the same or less. 

Furthermore, Howard dismisses the existence of zero, suggesting that it is not a real concept. Terry argues that zero represents the absence of existence, which is a philosophical and metaphysical issue. Since nothingness cannot exist, the concept of nothingness cannot exist. If something is nothing, it still must be something to be conceptualized. Zero is not a natural or necessary number and it causes problems in math such as the error when you try to divide by it.

He believes that conventional math, which relies on zero and allows for multiplication to decrease a value, is inherently flawed. His ideas challenge the very foundations of mathematical principles, proposing an entirely new framework for understanding numbers and their relationships. According to Terrence, this reinterpretation of basic arithmetic will revolutionize our understanding of mathematics. Terrence Howard believes his new approach will uncover deeper truths about the universe.

Terryology Debunked

Now that we’ve presented his ideas fairly, let’s disprove his whole theory using two of his ideas: the idea that zero does not exist, and the idea that 1×1=2. First up, the idea that zero does not exist.

The Number Zero 

Terrence Howard’s claim that zero does not exist sparks an intriguing discussion. From a philosophical perspective, zero may not exist physically, but its conceptual existence is undeniable. In 30 Philosophers, the concept of zero is one of the narrative devices–used several times to tell the story of the evolution of human thought.

The absence of zero is first represented in the telling of the story of ancient Eastern philosophy using the earliest well-known female philosopher, Gargi Vachaknavi from around 800 BCE. The book tells the story of human thought from 2600 BCE to today and it’s true that the concept of zero is a strange concept.

Later, in chapter 9 which is set in time about 350 BCE, Aristotle is used to frame how the ancients thought about such topics. 

“I think a key concept in how Aristotle approached life is demonstrated by his thoughts on zero and infinity. Aristotle was an empiricist, a “show me” guy. So, math concepts like zero and negative numbers just did not register with him—humanity had yet to define our modern concepts of them, sure, but beyond that he was pragmatic. And yes, he knew what “nothing” was, but it was a matter of logic, not mathematics. And he knew what it meant when one person owed another person two chickens, but that wasn’t a negative number in his world, it was a positive two chickens owed. When paid, the debt didn’t go to zero, the debt just went away.”

In a sense, Terryology is suggesting we return to thinking of zero as a logic problem, not a math one.

In the next chapter on skepticism, I talk about the use of zero as a placeholder pivot from positive to negative like this:

“Why didn’t we have a year zero, and why don’t we have one now? The short answer is we should. In our society, the concept of 0 is well understood, but it is indeed an odd concept – counting nothing as a step. It wasn’t common in Europe until around the 12th century, when it was introduced through the works of scholars who translated Arabic mathematical texts. The adoption of the Arabic numeral system, which included the concept of zero, eventually replaced the Roman numeral system. To be precise, the Roman numeral system today still does not have a character for zero. It was never added.

All calendars today still lack a zero year with the exception of the astronomical year numbering system, which includes a year 0 to facilitate calculations across the BCE divide.”

Later, in chapter 16, the story of the Islamic Golden Age is told. The story of how a few centuries earlier in India, circa the 5th century, the modern concept of zero was discovered. That part of the story is told like this:

“Imagine a world without zero: you show anyone three rocks and take two away, they know you now have one rock. You take that rock away and you have nothing. They know it, it’s not hard. Now let’s have an ancient mathematician keep track. The first calculation, “3-2=1″ is easy. But when you take the last rock away, they understand the absence, but to them it shifts to a logic problem. The rocks are no longer something of concern.”

A few paragraphs later I define it like this:

“Zero is both a number that represents the absence of quantity, and it is the point between positive and negative. It also serves as a placeholder in our numbering system, allowing us to distinguish between numbers like 10 and 100. It’s also a fulcrum around mathematical operations. It opened up the door for the development of negative numbers, which were scattered in some cultures but became coherent with the advent of zero. Before zero, number systems, and calendars, started at 1. If the number 0 had been available to the ancients, we would have the much-needed “year zero” in our calendars today. Zero opened the door to new realms of thought. It’s a poignant reminder that sometimes, the most transformative ideas are those that fill a void we didn’t even know was there.”

Simply summarized, Terrence Howard’s questioning of zero’s nature misses its established utility and significance in mathematics and beyond. Zero is an abstract concept representing the very real situation of absence. For example, if someone has a bowl and you take it, they have 0 bowls. Simply put, zero signifies absence.

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Multiplication: 1×1=1, not 2! Duh!

Terrence Howard’s claim that 1 x 1 = 2 is fundamentally incorrect and contradicts basic arithmetic principles. Multiplication is defined as the repeated addition of a number. In this case, 1 x 1 means adding 1 to itself once, resulting in 1, not 2. Multiplication is not the same as addition; with addition, you add distinct quantities together, while with multiplication, you repeat a number by a specific factor. When you have a bowl and say you have 1 of them, then you have one. If you say you have two, you have two. Saying you have one bowl is represented in math with 1 x 1. If you hold up one bowl and say you have two of them, that’s 1 x 2, which is two bowls. The process of determining how many of something you have is factoring, also known multiplication.

Here’s a simple explanation:

  • Multiplication: 1 x 1 = 1, you saying you have one bowl.
  • Addition: 1 + 1 = 2, you adding someone else’s bowl to your collection of bowls.

Fundamentally, there is a relationship between ideas and the world around us. In chapter 18 of my 30 Philosophers book, this relationship is introduced with the Idea of Ideas. In it, rational ideas about our empirical observations, is put like this:

“Take, for example, math and geometry: they provide frameworks to describe objects. Picture two rocks and two shells on a beach. You might recognize “equivalence,” a Rational Idea, between the two rocks and the two shells. If these items form a pattern resembling a square, the Rational Idea of “square” emerges. Similarly, if they form an “L,” an “L shape” becomes relevant.” 

Later in the same chapter, the the realm of the possible is presented:

“The idea of equivalence in our mind is possible only because the physical universe can be configured in a way that brings meaning to the idea. The idea that two shells is equal to two rocks in number was around, and possible, long before humans saw equality. “

Our ideas are ground in provable empirical data. While anyone can have an idea, a rational idea reflects the empirical world we live in.

Howard’s error likely stems from a misunderstanding or misapplication of arithmetic operations and possibly a rigid personal-use of terminology. He insists words mean one thing when they actually have several meanings. While debunking Terryology is needed for the review process of science, it also reinforces the importance of adhering to established mathematical definitions and principles. By doing both questioning and reinforcing, we uphold the integrity of mathematical truths and ensure clear, accurate understanding of fundamental concepts.

As we near the end of our exploration of Terryology, it becomes evident that his ideas align more closely with bad or misguided philosophical inquiries rather than scientific ones. These concepts touch on the nature of reality, consciousness, and knowledge—fundamental questions that belong to the realm of philosophy. While there are no bad ideas, their is such a thing as bad thinking and his ideas are bad and therefore fall squarely into the realm of critical thinking.

Terrence tends to use many logical fallacies in his attempts to persuade—often a tactic of the conman, huckster, or the confused. While he employs the appeal to authority fallacy by using his fame and referencing historical figures like Pythagoras and Einstein, he primarily relies on what I categorize as linguistic trickery. Specifically, Howard’s arguments often hinge on redefining terms and using convoluted explanations to make his ideas appear more plausible than they are, distracting from the lack of empirical evidence and logical coherence.

FAQs about Facts: Two Ideas of a Confused Man

This week’s 1-minute FAQ debunks Terrence Howard’s claim that the concept of zero does not exist. This FAQ is categorized under critical thinking, allowing us to explore Terryology from the perspective of the Philosophy of Science. The knowledge path for this week’s FAQ is:

Next week’s FAQ will tackle Howard’s assertion that 1 x 1 equals 2, not 1. This FAQ falls under philosophy, exploring it from the perspective of the Philosophy of Mind. The knowledge path for next week’s FAQ will be:

By examining these claims through these two philosophical lenses allowed us to better understand the fallacies and misinterpretations at the heart of Terryology.

Conclusion: Terryology Is Just Bad Philosophy

The debate surrounding Terryology raises important questions about its categorization. While it could fall under “philosophy” or “critical thinking,” the latter is a cornerstone of philosophical inquiry. Either way, Terryology resides outside the realm of science.

The one redeeming feature of Terryology is the fact that it aligns with philosophical questions about reality, consciousness, and knowledge. Critical thinking is essential for evaluating these ideas. After careful analysis, Terryology remains irrational. And, the fact is that if Terrence Howard wasn’t famous, no one would be talking about Terryology.

–map / TST

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By Mike Prestwood
Natural Philosopher

Mike’s throwback title simply means he writes about philosophy, science, critical thinking, and history with a focus on exploring boundaries and intersections. While his focus is on our rational ideas about empirical observations, he does enjoy dabbling in the irrational. His exploration of the empirical led him to develop his Idea of Ideas which allows him to understand what is empirical, rational, and irrational as well as to easily understand what is empirically true, rational true, and irrationally false.

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