Photo credit: Martin Gommel (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Recently, a friend posted 1 + 1 = 1 on Facebook, which caused a flurry of replies to her “silly” post. I replied with a number of different answers to 1+1, as I have always considered the Philosophy of One to be a litmus test of how someone looks at the world. It was fun to watch her other friends (predominately of high school age) come up with answers and proofs on why each answer could be true. The curiosity shown was inspiring, and curiosity is important.

The Philosophy of One test is one we can all do, looking at different answers to the age-old question: “What is 1 + 1?”

1 + 1 = 2

The most logical and correct answer…right?

For many people, especially engineers and analytical-type individuals this can be the only true correct answer. We have all learned it in school, and the fact 1+1 does indeed equal 2 is essential to our symbolic number system.

Unfortunately, when it comes to philosophy, this is a rather tedious and boring answer. Even more to the point: it doesn’t describe everyone.

1 + 1 = 1

Those people who wish to focus on the unity of life can easily see 1 + 1 = 1. They will relate it to love and relationships. They will relate it to the oneness someone can achieve with the universe, God and everything else. In a marriage, two individuals become one. One creative youth even came up with a mathematical proof on how this could be true (naturally, that is the same form of proof that shows that 1 = 0, which is caused by a small fallacy — but it still sounds good). However, if one can truly see 1 + 1 = 1, one can see the interconnection with other living beings.

1 + 1 = 3

You visual or hearing learners should get this one. “One plus one” has three words to it, so thus one plus one equals three. I had a friend who would test this on her elementary students. Usually one or two people would get it, and they would usually see it by counting it out on their fingers. Her background was in music and art, so the realization of 1 + 1 = 3 came naturally to her.

Granted, she also said she enjoys silly word games and riddles.

1 + 1 = 4

This was originally a sarcastic answer that stuck with the possible solutions of the Philosophy of One. Why was this sarcastic? I was annoyed at a person jumping to conclusions that did not even fit the problem. Then I realized, that it is a natural tendency and philosophy of most people. These people want so much to be logical and reasonable, so they are usually the first to argue that 1 + 1 can only equal 2, and we are nuts for playing this simple philosophical mind game. However, they then become addicted to their own logic and thoughts, and like any addiction it compounds upon itself. Addiction to thoughts are probably some of the most dangerous addictions around, as they can cause someone to rationalize any action to prove their thought and thinking is correct. It is an easy addiction to fall prey to, as it is one that builds us up, and creates a universal acceptance. Thus, we have 1 + 1 = 2 + 1 (self) + 1 (world) = 4.

So, 1 + 1 = 4 illustrates that mental jump people make from a simple solution to a solution that includes complexity.

One question – Four possible solutions

It is important to remember, exercises like these help us change perspectives. These perspective changes can then give us a solution we wouldn’t normally see and, as such, help hack your mind into overdrive to try to find different solutions to simple problems. Try to seek out your Philosophy of One, and from that seeking you may find an elegantly simple solution that solves your problem.

What do you first think when you hear 1 + 1? What other answers are there for 1 + 1?

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