Care For Some Pi?

15 03 2008

Since today is March 14 and BBC news ran an article about pi celebrations in the UK, I was forced to see what my math book, The Mathematical Experience, had to say about it. Surprisingly, not much, but I did find a fascinating chapter on what the book calls “Ulam’s Dilemma”. Basically, Mr. Ulam was presenting at a math conference when he got to thinking about the number of new theorems published in mathematical journals each year. (When conferences get a little slow, I generally count ceiling tiles or try to calculate the number of words spoken per hour by the presenter.) He concluded that the number was about 200,000, which got him to wondering, what with all the different categories of math (estimated by this book at about 3,000), how anyone would ever know if these theorums are important or merely geek ramblings.

Of course, putting together a committee to review these new ideas wouldn’t help a bit, since each area is so specialized that you have to specialize in it to even begin to understand it. Which gets me to wondering just what sort of  mysteries could be solved if mathematicians were able to apply new discoveries in other areas to their own specialty. We’d probably have answers to such burning questions as what does pi really mean and how is it that a Wendy’s Frosty never melts.

But back to the original question. Pi is, in a nutshell, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It is often described as 3.14, though it continues on to infinity or something like it, since it has now been calculated out to over a trillion digits that never repeat and seem to be entirely random. Much like this blog entry…




2 responses

16 03 2008

Actually, it’s known that pi never repeats, a characteristic it shares with all irrational numbers (those which cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers). How it was shown that pi is irrational I have no idea.

A fascinating story is how Archimedes determined the value of pi (to a couple of decimal places). See Mathworld for that.

The irrational number that really drove the Greeks nuts was the square root of two, the ratio of the diagonal of a square to its sides. Why couldn’t such a simple thing be sensible?!

27 03 2008

thank you, dude

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