Life of Pi

By Ali Hyder Mulji

Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, the first number in history to have a symbol, the simplest ratio of the simplest imaginable shape in geometry, yet scientists and “numberphiles” have spent countless years after learning the secrets of this number. What is so special about this figure? Why is 22/7 the most popular number in math?   

The Birth of Pi

The Babylonians estimated pi to be somewhere around 3.12 which, considering how it was when the last mammoths went extinct, quite close to the actual value. 

Several years later the unmistakable Archimedes tried his hand and calculating the exact value of pi by using the method illustrated here…

He first made a triangle inside a circle 

He concluded that the distance it takes to travel the perimeter of the triangle is shorter than the perimeter of the circle. He then made more triangles around the existing triangle to make a hexagon.

He concluded that the distance it takes to travel the perimeter of the hexagon is shorter than the perimeter of the circle.

He then made even more triangles

He then repeated the same process outside the circle

He did this until he had a 96-SIDED figure on both sides of the circle!

By simple calculation he concluded that pi had to be between 3.1408 and 3.1429

This was perhaps Archimedes’ final contribution to mathematics, during the calculation of which he was murdered in his house by Roman soldiers, leading some to think that his last words were, “Don’t disturb my Circles”

This process was repeated by a Chinese mathematician who made a shape with 3,072 sides but only reached 5 digits of pi 3.1416 

Mathematicians soon realised that this method was rather wasteful for obvious reasons but strangely never thought of finding the values itself as a wasteful activity. 

The War over pi

Several hundred years later with the invention of algebra and an understanding of infinite series, mathematicians all over the world go into a war to set the world record for calculating the most accurate value of pi. They reached up to 71 digits in 1699; 100 digits in 1706 and 112 in 1719.

Later with the invention of computers, countries like the USA and Japan wanted to make new records only to prove who had the more powerful technology. 

The current world record is just under 22.5 TRILLION digits and yet we can find no pattern in the series. The numbers pass every test of randomness with flying colours.

The Realm of Stupidity

Pi is not the only number that has an infinite series of numbers without a pattern. The root of 2 is the same and so is the root of 3, they’re called irrational numbers and they’re all around us. But nobody knows exactly what makes pi so special. Lu Chao holds the record for reciting, by memory, the highest number of digits of pi which is 67890 digits. There is NOTHING to be gained by calculating its exact value. In practical life reaching up to 10 digits gives you a circle precise enough for spaceships and aircrafts but humans are strange beings, we get fixated on the most absurd things imaginable. Why do we climb mountains and swim across entire rivers or run several hundred miles? Its because we CAN. Pi, like several other things humans do, has reached the realm of stupidity.

Published by mscnm

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