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The Winston Smith Illusion: When 2+2 = 5

Professor of Psychology and Computer Science Arthur Shapiro of American University tweeted this illusion, named after Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Shapiro wrote:

Since “post-truth” is the Oxford word of the year, let’s start off this new blog with an Orwellian twist. In 1984, the mathematical expression 2+2=4 is the centerpiece in a battle over Truth. After all, 2+2 obviously equals 4, and the Party’s final and most essential command is for Winston to reject the evidence of his eyes and ears. Winston therefore pleads in his journal, “[T]he obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended”; otherwise, the Party can control all of our thoughts.
I am not trying to soften your mind for Big Brother, but … is the mathematical statement 2+2=4 always true? Certainly, 2+2=4 is true for numbers and simple counting: 2 apples plus 2 apples equals 4 apples. However, not everything in the world follows the rules of simple arithmetic.


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