This Teen Asked the Basic Math Questions We’re All Thinking and a Real Mathematician Responded

Some people are natural-born MVPs.

They pick up the slack that we all leave behind without anybody asking them to in the first place. Gracie Cunningham is just one of those people.

The high schooler created a TikTok questioning the existence of math – and the internet nearly exploded. What’s even more amazing is that a real mathematician actually responded to her questions.

Talk about a statistically significant TikTok.


In the original TikTok, Cunningham asks:

“I get, like, addition. Like hey, if you take two apples and add three, it’s five.

But how would you come up with the concept of, like, algebra? What would you need it for?”


this video makes sense in my head but like WHY DID WE CREATE THIS STUFF

♬ original sound – gracie

Critics of the video came out in droves – so Cunningham released an additional video clarifying what exactly she meant.

Haters still inevitably piled on, but Cunningham actually raises an excellent point. It’s a question that we’ve all undoubtedly wondered at some point.

Just where does the idea of math come from? Who made it up? How is the way that we understand math different today from the way we understood it when it first began?

That’s where Dr. Eugenia Cheng comes in.

The Chicago-based mathematician came across Cunningham’s viral TikTok and responded with an extensive, two-page reply explaining the concepts that Cunningham had called into question.

Cheng, the author of x+y: A Mathematicians Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, shared her thoughts on Cunningham’s questions:

Her thoughts and questions are the kinds of things that research mathematicians think about all the time, and I believe it’s what drives us to do research: we are not satisfied with basic answers and we keep wanting to ask why, more and more, to get deeper and deeper into the root of a question.”

Moments like this give me hope for the rest of us. We could all use some more internet wholesomeness in our lives.

What are some questions about math that you’ve always wondered?

Let us know in the comments below!