Speculation on Next Ed Sheeran Album Divides Mathematical Community

Dominic Widdows
4 min readSep 25, 2023

Princeton, New Jersey

The amazing success of + (2011), ⨉ (2014), ÷ (2017), = (2021), and now — (2023) has the mathematical community wondering “What should the next Ed Sheeran album be called?”

While many fans expect it to be called Autumn Variations (following Aniftos, 2023), mathematicians point out that the journal Billboard doesn’t have the impact score to resolve such a key conjecture. “We’ve really appreciated Mr Sheeran’s championing of mathematical education for more than a decade by now”, said Prof. Alred E. Dunall, head of the Complete Series Department at Caltech. “Even if his next album is influenced more by Elgar than Pythagoras, we hope he will soon get back to his core mission of promoting mathematical notation.”

Which mathematical symbol Mr Sheeran should choose next has become intricately debated. Prof Dunall said this is to be expected, because +, ⨉, ÷, =, and − have exhausted the symbols of elementary arithmetic. “One could start to use numerals, or letters such as x and y, but we’d prefer a less variable choice that promotes higher mathematics, and doesn’t get us into trouble with Elon Musk.”

The next symbols elementary students have to use are the parentheses ‘(‘ and ‘)’, but they have to appear together and there’s no evidence that Sheeran is working on a double album. We also inquired about the symbols < and >, but Prof Dunall said this would promote inequality.

Exponents have their advocates, though raising this has symbolic challenges. The most common notation for exponents is eˣ, but it’s hard to see how to make this a single symbol — if the notation is reduced to just x as a superscript it might be too small to read. (And it would still be just an x.) Computer scientists claim that ^ or ** are perfectly good symbols for the exponent operator, but are unable to pick which one. “I’m not sure Mr Sheeran would want to promote a symbol that can so easily be confused with bitwise XOR”, said Prof Raisa Narg, head of the CMU Computer Program Complexity Program, who went on to blame the Python language. “Also, however much we hope the album would be called exponent, some fans may mistakenly call it power, and there’s a danger that this might associate the album with questionable forbears such as 1980s heavy metal and maybe the monarchy.”

Logicians have championed the ∧-symbol, which stands for the conjunction AND. Other logicians recommend starting with the ∨ logical OR symbol. “OR gets a bad rap sometimes because it’s called disjunction, which is too often associated with dystopian sci-fi novels”, said Prof D. Deuce, chair of the Oxford Caucus Caucus. “But really, when students get to know ∨ properly, they realize it’s one of the most inclusive of mathematical operators.”

Lattice theorists weigh things differently. Prof Elle Ementzin, a specialist in set theory at the Wolfram-Boole institute in Champaign and Cork, said “The debate between ∧ and ∨ is just a wedge issue, which we’d avoid by using ∪ and ∩. Everyone we’ve interviewed quite likes union and intersection, and we could go on from there to subset ⊆ and superset ⊇. Superset would be a pretty good name for an album, even if it isn’t by Supergrass or Supertramp.”

A simpler suggestion from some computer scientists is %, which they use to mean the amount left over after division. Despite the fact that you can actually find it on a keyboard, educators remain unimpressed. “Whatever programmers think, if you bring out an album %, most people are going to call it percent”, said economists. “And remainder would be a lousy name anyway.”

More advanced computer science teachers say that artificial intelligence is too big a topic to ignore, and the next album should be called ⊗, but others are worried that this makes things sound tenser.

While the debates evolve divergently, mathematicians agree that Ed Sheeran should keep promoting mathematical symbols. “JS Bach, another composer who inspires mathematicians, wrote works with BMV numbers up to at least 1126. With similar talent and devotion, we reckon Ed could cover most undergraduate notation, if he doesn’t get too distracted by Variations and gets back to his roots soon”, said Prof Ementzin. “Which reminds me, √√ is a pretty good name for an album.” And as Prof Dunall optimistically pointed out, “It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s a lot less than ∞”.

References

Aniftos, R., Ed Sheeran to Welcome Fall With New Album ‘Autumn Variations’, Billboard, 2023. URL https://www.billboard.com/music/pop/ed-sheeran-new-album-autumn-variations-1235399637/ accessed 2023–08–24

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Dominic Widdows

Works at IonQ on AI and quantum computing, particularly natural language processing. See http://puttypeg.net for more.