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2 + Torture = 5
aka: Two Plus Torture Equals Five

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"Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as 'the truth' exists... The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, 'It never happened' — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five."
George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War," two plus two years before Nineteen Eighty-Four

A Mind Rape technique popularised by Nineteen Eighty-Four: The villain has the hero in his clutches, but the hero simply... won't... crack. Sometimes the villain has to do more, i.e., to make the hero's mind break. This means using Cold-Blooded Torture (both physical and psychological) to make the hero see things that aren't there or being forced to acknowledge things that are patently untrue, self-contradictory, and/or irrational.

The villain needs to make the hero believe that 2 + 2 = 5. It is said that the Truth will set you Free, and when truth loses all meaning, it becomes just another method of Orwellian Mind Control.

Perception is Truth. Black is White. Wrong is Right. Right is Left. Up is Down. Everything you know is wrong.

Often occurs in a society where Big Brother Is Watching; bonus points if the operation is carried out in a Room 101. Also a good way of procuring a Manchurian Agent or otherwise Brainwashed drone: if you can break someone down so much that they end up believing this, then you can put them back together however you want.

Fortunately, this is a case of Artistic License – Medicine and its use in 1984 itself is a case of Science Marches On, as it turns out that you quite simply cannot torture someone into believing something, and if anything they're going wind up far less receptive to whatever beliefs you were trying to instill on them since they'll associate it with torturers (turns out, the tortured can just claim to believe whatever the torturers want them to, just to make the pain stop).

See also Appeal to Force. Can also be accomplished with Gaslighting or The Ludovico Technique.

Note: This trope has nothing to do with actual math or equations.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece: Kaido uses torture to break down strong opponents who he sees potential in to make them join his crew. Either that, or they eventually die in his prison camps if they continue to refuse. It ends up backfiring on him when Luffy and Kid use the opportunity to train, making themselves even stronger.

    Comic Books 
  • Lampshaded/spoofed in The Invisibles when Sir Miles is using the drug Key 17 to mess with King Mob's mind. He causes King Mob to see, among other things, five fingers where there are four. The illustration is subtly creepy. At the end, when King Mob escapes, he returns the favor: "How many fingers am I holding up, Sir Miles? Just two."
  • The Green Goblin attempted this in an issue of Spider-Man. Having captured Spidey and held him hostage for several days, to the point where he was dying of thirst, Goblin presented two glasses of water. One was underneath a beam of light while the other was kept in shadow. Every time Spidey reached for the lit-up glass, he was electrocuted, but was told the glass in the darkness would be perfectly safe. In other words, Gobby was trying to goad him into literally choosing the dark side.

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey: Private Plato creates an instant demonstration by giving Lt. Sonny Fuzz a black piece of paper and expressing confusion over the alleged fact that the general said it was white.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The Attorney General wanted to find which was his best law enforcement agency, so he held a contest. The FBI, the CIA, and the NYPD all took part, meeting the AG at the edge of a large forest.
    The AG said, "There is a rabbit out in the woods. Each agency will take turns, and whoever finds it in the least amount of time is the best.
    The FBI went first. They returned two hours later without a rabbit and made a report: "We surveilled the rabbit, bugged his house, and built an airtight case against him."
    The AG said, "Bull. You guys never found the rabbit."
    The CIA went into the woods. An hour later, they came out without the rabbit and made a report: "We kidnapped the rabbit, turned him by offering him money and female rabbits, and now he works for us, spying on other rabbits."
    The AG said, "Bull, you guys never found the rabbit."
    The NYPD detectives went into the woods. Fifteen minutes later a bear walked out, bruised, black-eyed, and swollen, holding his hands in the air, and yelled, "All right, I'm a rabbit, I'm a rabbit!"
    • In Russia, this joke was formerly told with the KGB as the butt of the joke.
    • In the Brazilian version, the Scotland Yard finds the rabbit in two hours by using deduction, the CIA finds the rabbit in one hour by using surveillance and the Rio de Janeiro Police returns in 30 minutes with a beaten-up drug addict claiming to be a rabbit.
    • There are also versions that combine the US and Russian versions.

  • George Orwell used this for Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith writes that freedom is the ability to say "two plus two is four," then later tries to make himself believe in Doublethink by changing it to five. During his torture, the torturer forces him to see five fingers when there are only four. After Winston is released, he at one point subconsciously writes "2 + 2 = 5" on a coffee table's dust layer. Interestingly, several editions of the book list "2 + 2 = " instead. Alas, it's actually a typo: Winston really did write "2 + 2 = 5".
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky offers us this joyful piece of wisdom:
    "Once it's proved to you that, essentially speaking, one little drop of your own fat should be dearer to you than a hundred thousand of your fellow men, and that in this result all so-called virtues and obligations and other ravings and prejudices will finally be resolved, go ahead and accept it, there's nothing to be done, because two times two is-mathematics. Try objecting to that."
    • Dostoevsky is actually inverting this trope: the torture comes from the reality that 2 + 2 = 4 and that there is no realistic hope to escape from it. Only when you can say 2 + 2 = something other than 4, can there be hope and freedom. Perhaps a version of I Reject Your Reality when the reality is gloomy and tortuous.
  • In one of The Stainless Steel Rat books, "the grey men" mess with Jim's mind using hypnosis to make him think they've chopped off his hands and reattached them.
  • In the children's book Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) by Michael Ende, the dragon Mrs. Grindtooth (Frau Mahlzahn) tries to use this technique on her pupil/slave Li Si. Li Si, being both very intelligent and very brave, refuses to fold.
  • Part of what happened to Tycho Celchu at the beginning/in the backstory of the X-Wing Series. He was bent pretty terribly by Isard but didn't actually break. When she overlaid Rebel and Imperial insignia and tried to transfer his loyalty to one over to the other, the contradiction sent him into a catatonic state. She later tried it on Corran Horn with even less success. However, Isard used it successfully to brainwash many other people into becoming Manchurian agents before. They were just resistant from the start, thus they wouldn't turn.
  • Within the Star Wars universe, the Sith have a tendency to use this and Being Tortured Makes You Evil on Jedi captives. Unfortunately, it's often successful because the Sith are not only exploiting loopholes in the Jedi's dogma of emotional repression, but they also exploit the Order's chronic bad habit of telling their rank-and-file "a certain point of view" when it comes to critical information.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In the fifth book, Ramsay Bolton tortures Theon Greyjoy and conditions him to accept a completely different identity.
    • This also pops up in the backstory novel Fire & Blood. The conspiracy against King Aegon III (and more specifically, against his Lyseni in-laws who have gained massive influence in the court) sets up his regent Lord Thaddeus Rowan as a scapegoat, torturing him to the point where he'll give a seemingly honest confession to being accused of trying to assassinate the king on behalf of the aforementioned in-laws. This ends up backfiring on the conspirators, as Aegon's brother Viserys quickly realizes that Rowan will just as earnestly confess to anything, from contradictory accusations about aspects of the conspiracy all the way up to being responsible for the Doom of Valyria. This exposes the false nature of his "confession" and brings down the conspiracy.
  • Night Watch Discworld: The utterly mad Captain Findthee Swing uses craniometrics to determine whether someone was a criminal or not. And funnily enough, "after a short stay in the care of his much more direct underlings, he would inevitably be proven right".
  • Albert Camus wrote, very similarly to Orwell "again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two makes four is punished by death" in his book The Plague.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: Some of the bad guys attempt this with Sydney but as she can't be brainwashed she merely pretends to be broken.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Chain of Command, Part II," Picard is captured during a black op and taken to Gul Madred, who thinks that Picard knows Federation defense plans. Madred tries to force Picard to tell him that there are five lights on the wall when there are really only four. Every time Picard insists that there are four, Madred zaps him with an Agony Beam. When Picard is finally released, due to a deal being struck between the Federation and the Cardassians, he defiantly proclaims "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!" to Madred as he is leaving, but it's not as triumphant as it seems — later, Picard admits to Troi that not only would he have readily said there were five lights just to make the pain stop if he hadn't been released at that exact moment, he was so much at his wits' end that he for a moment actually saw five lights.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "Intersections in Real Time", John Sheridan's torture and interrogation is based around manipulating perspective and breaking down Sheridan psychologically until he comes to truly believe that he is a mutineer, a conspirator, a terrorist who has been turned against his own government as a result of alien influence. They need him to sincerely believe his confession in order to pass telepathic scans.
      Interrogator: The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be, and other times what you decide it to be. My task is to make you decide to believe differently, and when that happens the world will remake itself before your very eyes.
      Sheridan: Not a chance.
      Interrogator: No? You've done it before... when you were a soldier you fought the Minbari. The Minbari were the enemy. That was the truth. And then one day someone said the Minbari are no longer the enemy and that was the truth. And you not only accepted them as allies, you embraced them, you took one of them as a lover. You swore an oath to Earthforce because you believed in it. That was the truth. Now Earthforce is supposedly the enemy, now that is the truth. It all depends on what you believe and what other people tell you to believe. The truth is fluid, the truth is subjective.
    • However, Sheridan manages to rather effectively turn the logic around against his interrogator by saying that, essentially, if the truth is just as fluid as they say, then the things they proclaim to be the truth and are actually pushing are just as fluid and can be changed or defied just as easily.
      Sheridan: You know, it's funny, I was thinking about what you said, that the preeminent truth of our age is that you cannot fight the system. But if, as you say, the truth is fluid, that the truth is subjective, then maybe you can fight the system. As long as just one person refuses to be broken, refuses to bow down.
      Interrogator: But can you win?
      Sheridan: Every time I say "no."
  • In the first episode of The Thick of It, Malcolm tries to "persuade" journalists that minister Hugh Abbott did make an important announcement at an earlier press conference (though he did no such thing) - it's just that journalists missed it.
  • Parodied in a TV show by Swedish comedian Hans Alfredsson, in which he plays the leader of a small semi-Nazi organization, whose main targets are "svartskallar" — literally "blackheads", a common ethnic slur in Sweden. The Movement is supposed to be vegetarian and celibate, but when a rich and influential member tells the Leader that he owns a sausage factory and is not about to give up his wife, the Leader tells everyone that from now on, sausages and women are vegetables. At the end of the story, the Leader meets his mother for the first time... and she turns out to be black. When someone asks what this means for party policy the Leader declares that from now on, red is black and black is red... and the members turn on the single red-headed member with evil glee.
  • In the Mini Series Roots, Kunta Kinte is whipped until he says that his name is Toby, the slave name given to him by his master.
  • Though it involves no torture, in the Red Dwarf episode "Camille", Lister tries to break Kryten's Cannot Tell a Lie programming by showing him an apple and getting him to say it's an orange. He doesn't want to make him believe it — just to get him to say something he knows to be untrue.
  • In The X-Files, this is pretty much the objective of the military guards torturing Mulder in "The Truth". After breaking into a government facility and finding "the truth", as well as several other things the government was hiding, Mulder is captured and denied food, water, clothes, and sleep. Whenever the guards come in, they ask him what he's thinking, and beat him for answering truthfully. What is the correct answer? They want Mulder to admit that he illegally entered the facility to obtain non-existent information and killed a man, even though none of those things are true. Why? They're holding a Kangaroo Court and are hoping to get rid of him once and for all. It appears to work, as Mulder repeats the words back. Turns out he's just saying it to get them to leave him alone.
  • They did this to Baltar in Battlestar Galactica (2003) to the point that his mind was so mixed up and he was talking so much gibberish that when he confessed to having done some terrible crimes, no one believed him.
  • Michael Westen in Burn Notice invokes this trope to state why he never uses torture, or at least physical torture. The show is very against torture and while it does grudgingly admit on a few occasions that mental/psychological torture and breaking a person can work, that tends to be a prolonged process which the group rarely has time for. Michael and company write off physical torture as unreliable because it generally just gets you the fastest answer to make the pain stop, and furthermore, the main characters are often dealing with people who have military or intelligence training that might allow them to resist torture or to feed the torturer bad information mixed in with anything that might be true. As such Michael and his friends rely on various methods such as trickery, disinformation, misinformation, deception, blackmail, and a whole repertoire of gambits when they need to get information out of somebody.
  • In Game of Thrones, after Ramsay Bolton hears Theon Greyjoy begging him to kill him after being tortured for a long time, Ramsay comes up with the idea that Theon is not Theon anymore, but "Reek." Ramsay slaps him until he admits his name is now "Reek."
  • The Outpost: After Garret is nearly killed by Dred, he's taken to the Prime Order capital, where the healer Sana nurses him back to health and strikes up a romance with him. Then the Tormentor comes and takes him to the dungeons to be beaten until he renounces Gwyn/Rosmund as a false queen before Sana stops him and heals him back to health again. Turns out this is a ploy by both Sana and The Tormentor, who are husband and wife, and are using a combination of brutal torture, gentle healing, and carefully crafted lies to break Garret's spirit to get him to serve the Prime Order.


  • As per The Zeroth Law of Trope Examples, this is part of the treatment Petruchio gives Katharine in order to "tame" her in The Taming of the Shrew when he insists that the food is bad and the clothes are ugly and refuse to allow her to eat or keep them. He also obstinately claims that it is 7 o'clock when it is only 2. " shall be what o'clock I say it is." She later gives in to his game, agreeing with Petruchio that, in spite of it being broad daylight, that the moon is shining, and shortly after agrees with him that it is not the moon after all, but in fact the sun. This is potentially Shakespeare's ode to Gaslighting.
    • According to some interpretations, though, this is a subversion; Katharine takes Petruchio's lies and stretches them even further, coming up with speeches so patently ridiculous it's hard to think she's not making fun of him. And this may be where they reach an understanding with each other - from this point forward, they start teaming up to terrorize other people instead of each other.
  • In Equivocation, Shag protests that a Gunpowder Plot conspirator's confession obtained by torture isn't the best evidence by pointing out the misspelling of his own name (Winter where it should be Wintour). Cecil threatens he can have similarly done to Shag, giving justification to playwright Bill Cain's use of William Shagspeare in place of the well-known William Shakespeare.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked by Assassin's Creed: the Final Boss wields a device that can cast illusions and control human minds, with the only exception being someone trained to withstand it (in this case, the player character). He goes for full-on solipsism and quotes Alamut, declaring the Apple of Eden proof that "Nothing is true... and everything is permitted!"
  • The Feeble Files: After Feeble is arrested and sent to a prison for political dissidents, the prison's torturers manage to briefly convince him that the correct answer to any question they ask him is always "whatever the OmniBrain says it is."
  • Portal: Midway through the struggle with Big Bad GlaDOS, she angrily seethes, "You think you're doing some damage? Two plus two is... f-f-f-f- Ten. ...In base FOUR! I'm FINE!"
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Interestingly, if you shoot Ocelot with a tranquilizer round, he claims he has drug resssistannce trrraiiinnninnng. Repeated shots eventually make him insist "Two plus two equals five. TWO plus two equals FIVE..." without any outside assistance. As it turns out, he's intentionally torturing himself with reinforced contradictory beliefs because Venom Snake is on the verge of accidentally breaking his hypnosis, and like his later plan in Metal Gear Solid 4, he kind of needs to semi-forget that Venom Snake isn't Big Boss to pull this insurrection off.
  • In the Burning Shores expansion of Horizon Forbidden West, Londra uses his Mutiny Suppression Protocol, or MSP, to forcibly submit stranded Quen into his fold using either prerecordings of him or an AI that resembles him. In the past, he used this on his workers to make any attempts at rebellion literally unthinkable.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: In "Bullocks To Stan", Deputy Director Bullock starts sleeping with Hayley and Stan tries to make Hayley's ex-boyfriend Jeff more assertive to put a stop to it. Stan states a blatant falsehood, namely that the orange he's holding is a banana, which Jeff agrees to because he's that much of a wimp. Stan then electrifies Jeff until he stops agreeing with Stan and sticks up for himself.
  • ChalkZone: In "Portable Portal", Mrs. Tweezer sets out to make sure that Rudy understands what is "real" and what isn't. She straps him to a chair that shows him two pictures, generally a photo and a cartoon image, and asks him which is better. Every time Rudy picks the cartoon, it honks loudly at him. After some time, Rudy is left feebly trying to answer and getting honk after honk after honk until he says "whatever you say", which is the answer the counselor was looking for. She even uses the word "ungood" instead of "bad," straight from 1984's Newspeak dictionary.
  • The Replacements: In "The Insecurity Guard", Todd replaces the school's hall monitor with a robot that he uses as his personal bodyguard. During an oral test in History class, Todd is questioned about the first president of the United States, and responds "George Stapler" as he looked around for clues. Just when the teacher was about to fail him, Todd sends the robot to intimidate her into accepting his answer. His abuse of power reaches the point the school itself was renamed from "George Washington" to "George Stapler", a name it retains for the rest of the series.
    Teacher: Oh, wait! I'm wrong! Ha ha... It is George Stapler! And whatever else Todd says!
  • Robot Chicken: The nerd is subjected to the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques version when he's being questioned as to the location of Mordor. He breaks after a few moments, outright asking them what they want him to say, which is "Pakistan."
  • South Park: In "Fishsticks", Kanye West, denying that liking fish sticks makes him a gay fish, tracks down Carlos Mencia, believed at the time to be the originator of the "fish sticks" joke, and tortures him. When Mencia is unable to crack and break from the "reality" of the joke, Kanye decapitates him with a baseball bat.

...So, Torture = 3?


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): There Are Four Lights, Two Plus Two Makes Five, Two Plus Torture Equals Five


There Are Four Lights

In "Chain of Command, Part II" from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Captain Jean-Luc Picard is captured by the Cardassian Gul Madred. Madred subjects him to torture - using a device to cause him pain and trying to get him to tell him that he sees five lights when there are, in fact, only four. Seemingly defiant to the end, as he is being released, he shouts at Madred that there are four lights. Afterwards, however, on the Enterprise-D, he admits to Troi that what he didn't put in his report was that he was given a choice: to keep saying there were four lights, or give in and get a life of comfort. He tells her that he was ready to say that there were five lights, just to the end the pain, but more than that, he actually could see five lights.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / TwoPlusTortureMakesFive

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