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If I yelled out a three. Then a one and a four. Would you ask me to go on and shout out some more?
OK, math lovers! Next Thursday (March 14) is once again our chance to sing out the digits of harmonic irrationality to the world, to repeat our favorite non-repeating number.
3.141592653 something uh something something. Yeah, you know, it goes on and on, kind of like our irrational leaders filibustering in Congress. But there’s a big difference. Pi never repeats itself.
So why the fascination with pi? What is it about a number that motivates people to memorize it out dozens of places. Or hundreds? Some people have memorized and recited pi out over 10,000 digits. The current record holder is Chao Lu who managed to recite pi out 67,890 places.
Of course, computers are much better as spitting out the digits. As computational capabilities continued to increase, it became traditional to demonstrate a computer’s power by having it calculate pi out to the umpteenth digit. A couple years ago, they broke the ten trillion-digit mark.
Ten-trillion digits. If you recited one digit every second, it would take you more than 300,000 years to read it.
So, given my love of math, you might wonder how many digits of pi do I know. Well, I know all of them!
Yeah. 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and 9. I just don’t know the order of those digits yet.
The history of pi is ancient. The Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt) in 2550 BC used 22/7 as an approximation of pi. In the Christian Bible, Solomon made a circular temple with a diameter of ten cubits and a circumference of thirty cubits, rendering “3” as the value of pi.
I guess he really wasn’t all that wise.
The Babylonians (1800 BC) estimated it at 3.125. Of course, they used base-60 notation, so they wrote it as 3.7-30.
The Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi offered a far better fraction of 355/113, accurate out to six decimal places.
It wasn’t until 1706 that William Jones assigned the Greek letter pi to denote the number. Prior to that, it was called “Quantitas, in quam cum multipliectur diameter, proveniet circumferential”, which means “the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference.”
Yeah. Pi is a lot easier to say.
Early Greek numeric systems used the alphabet to denote numerical values. The letter Pi was used to denote a value of 80.
If you asked an ancient Greek how far he had memorized Pi, he might answer, “All the way. Both digits!”
In Germany, they call Pi “Die Ludolphsche Zahl”, which acknowledges the accomplishments of the German mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen. In the late 16th century, he computed pi out 35 digits. He was so proud of this record that the number was inscribed on his tombstone.
There have even been movies about Pi. Darren Aronofsky’s movie “Pi” had a paranoid mathematician stalked by a Hasidic cabalistic sect hunting for secret patterns to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Pi has been used in songs. The British singer Kate Bush wrote a song called “Pi” in which she recites the number out 116 decimal places. Unfortunately, when I listened to the song, I noticed that the lyrics made a mistake at the 54th decimal place. Still, that’s not bad for an alternative rock singer.
In America, math nerds celebrate Pi Day on March 14 to correspond to the digits 3-14. But in Europe, dates are given with the day first and the month second. Since they don’t have a 14-3 or 1-43 on their calendar, they opt to celebrate Pi Day on July 22, which is represented as 22/7.
By the way, did you know that Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day?
I could end this irrational piatribe with a pi-ku or a numeric piem. But instead, I’ll pain you with a pathetic pi joke.
What do you get when you divide a bovine by its circumference? Cow pi, of course!
Yeah, now you understand why mathematicians don’t get invited to many parties.