14 March 2006

Happy Π Day! (North America only)

In North America (possibly not including Mexico) today is 3/14 and therefore qualifies as Π Day. (Or in normal parlance Pi Day.)

When I was much younger, although my heart was set on studying literature at university, I demonstrated a serious aptitude for maths (or math if you prefer) scoring highly on the (
American High School Mathematics Examination. At school, the teacher I had for the Calculus tried to convince me of the beauty of maths in order to persuade me to give up my silly liberal arts pretensions and study something eminently more elegant, e.g. maths.

Although I preferred to persevere with literature I did take some maths courses at university; advanced calculus and number theory. Again my professor tried to convince me to take up maths full time but by then I was immersed in Joyce and Yeats and had convinced myself that I was going to be the next, great Irish writer (despite 75% of my heritage being German). I was even making my first attempt to get through Finnegans Wake. (I actually managed to get through it 2 years ago although I had to devote about 90 minutes a day to get through 3 or 4 pages while referring to two different annotated texts and it took over 9 months. Yes, there is some incredible prose and a plethora of good jokes, but I am not sure I got the point. Ulysses is eminently superior. For those of you brave enough a digital version may be found

So despite the efforts of those two esteemed gentlemen I don’t I even quite saw the beauty of mathematics. I even have some friends who studied maths at university and they will, often over innumerable pints of Guinness, wax lyrical about the subject.

However there was one exception. Early on, perhaps as early as 8th grade, I came across pi and it readily captured my imagination. This incredibly number, which has
now been calculated to 206,158,430,000 decimal positions without ever repeating it’s pattern, is so integral to everything we experience around us. What is more important to either art or science than the circle? Seven and a half centuries ago the Florentine artist Giotto was said to have drawn a perfect circle, free hand, in order to order to convince Pope Boniface VIII of his not inconsiderable talent. And yet, at the heart of the circle is pi, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of the circle. What was the God I do not believe in trying to tell us?

Mathematicians have been trying for centuries to find some pattern or deeper meaning to this; so far to no avail.

So, wherever you are today, whenever you see a circle, remember and honour the mystery at the heart of it.

(If you are outside of North America you will have to wait four and half months then settle for 22 July (22/7) or Approximate Pi (3.181818) Day.)

A Promise

Alright I created this blog a few weeks ago and already have been remiss. I had promised myself that I would average a post at least every other day and obviously I've not done that. So I hereby make my vow public and my occasional readers can scorn me when I fail to live up to it! (NB - does this count as a post and can I then take a day off???