Yes, it’s that time of year again. And in the furious flurry of goings-on--in the news, in the blogs, and out here in my meatspace day-to-day--I have to admit that were it not for a quick happenstance glimpse at a nondescript corner of my newspaper during my ride to work yesterday morning, I’d have let National Pi Day come and go without so much as a passing thought (I don't often get to savor the newspaper; it's more akin to stuffing a heat-lamped burger into my snackhole as I rush off to other things).
And ironically enough, the title of the brief snippet I nearly page-flipped over was: *Don't Miss: Pi Day*
I've been a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area for a bit over seven years now; among the many aspects of this very strange and engaging chunk of the planet I love is that within the regional cultural fabric are tightly-woven threads tethered to raising unabashed geekitude to a righteous, happy, high art. So it came to no surprise to learn that the first National Pi Day was celebrated at San Francisco's Exploratorium in 1988.
Now, I am not a mathematician. I suppose I’m more of a polymath. Hmm...no, that’s not quite right either. A polymath is one who is deeply knowledgeable about a wide range of topics and subjects. I am at best genuinely interested in a wide range of topics and subjects, but the admittedly limited understanding I possess of each and all serves mostly as basis for snarkcraft and as twaddle fodder.
I guess that would make me more of a pillymath. Oh, but already, I digress.
One of those subjects that, for whatever set of reasons, I find terribly charming is that of the irrational number. These are numbers that cannot be expressed as a ratio of non-zero rational numbers, and may not be expressed as a string of decimals that either repeat or terminate.
My personal favorite irrational number happens to be phi. The Golden Ratio. A prominent component in the morphological organization of natural life and systems; intrinsically pleasing to the eye and a likely candidate for inclusion in architectural expressions and within sacred geometry across cultures and centuries; and the topic for another day altogether.
Today, our task is to turn our attention and give it up to our friend Pi.
And while I reveal a bias for the Golden Ratio, without question, Pi is truly, in its own right, one saucy mathematic customer. A member of a special subset of the irrational number realm, Pi is a transcendental number. These are numbers that cannot be derived by algebraic solution. The square root of 2 is irrational, but not transcendental. All transcendental numbers are irrational, not all irrational numbers are transcendental. Meditate on that.
And ponder this as well. Approaching it from a more philosophical standpoint, as I’m wont to, its very nature strikes me as deeply remarkable, and, yeah, moving. Consider the circle: among the most simple, pure geometric forms in the universe. A locus of points that are precisely the same distance from one, single, central point. Pure. Simple.
Yet the linear distance around the center (a finite distance), compared to the distance from any one point to the center (another finite distance), will predictably, necessarily yield an unending string of digits. The deceptive simplicity and the purity of the circle belie an intrinsically unknowable and indefinite aspect that is at the very root of its purity and its simplicity.
And perhaps it may well be the case that I need to get out more, but I find deep satisfaction in the act of mentally masticating on the wonders such as this that we’re surrounded by. Chalk it up to my left-wing appetite for ambiguity, but the irony that’s associated with this--regardless of our technological prowess, no mind given to the rapid-pace of ongoing developments in and from the human mind, and to the astonishing things that we’ll witness, enthralled, being developed in our lifetime, we’ll never fully know the circle--this is something that I find to be completely delicious. And I’m talking maple smoked bacon or butterscotch sundae delicious here. Yes. To me, it's just that good.
There was a fun, colorful, small-format hardcover book I used to own (I suspect that it was a victim of the load-lightening cull job I pulled on my acres of shit in preparation for my Maine to California move in late 2000), but it still appears to be available, and I commend to any and all The Joy of Pi by David Blatner.
Courtesy of the efforts of Mr. Blatner, as expressed not just in this book but on his website, I offer one particular nibble of Pi trivia that I enjoy (likely owing to my having spent some time in graduate school actually studying river channels):
Pi and the Length of Rivers
From Fermat's Enigma, by Simon Singh
"Professor Hans-Henrik Stolum, an earth scientist at Cambridge University has calculated the ratio between the (sic) actual length of rivers from source to mouth and their direct length as the crow flies. Although the ratio varies from river to river, the average value is slightly greater than 3, that is to say that the actual length is roughly three times greater than the direct distance. In fact the ratio is approximately 3.14, which is close to the value of the number pi... The ratio of pi is most commonly found for rivers flowing across very gently sloping planes, such as those found in Brazil or the Siberian tundra."
I’m including, below, for any of you who wish to let your inner geek off the chain for an impertinent little romp, a smattering of pi links to assuage the hunger pangs of wandermouselust. Please drop a comment with any pi facts, bits of pi trivia, and the like that you may stumble across or already have living inside your head that you find compelling.
Digits! Get your digits! Pi to A Thousand Places!
This is a Non-Candidate Diary.
Celebrate the circle, but don’t be a jerk--the firing squad’s not invited. Set your watches tomorrow for 1:59 local time, and treat yourself to some irrationality. Buy a round of drinks, and maybe go happily off on some tangents.
And a very, very happy National Pi Day to you all!