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No. 37: Jan-Feb 1985

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The Secret Of It All Is In The Pi

In the above, Pollard discoursed on the meaning of it all and how mathematics seemed to mirror reality so marvelously. Now, one fixture of mathematics is the transcendental number. The adjective "transcendental" is most appropriate here given the title of Pollard's article. Of the transcendental numbers, pi is a great favorite. Mathematicians like pi so much that they have computed it out to well beyond 10 million decimals. Are there any inklings to the meaning of it all in these 10 million-plus decimals? Well, at decimal 710,100 there are seven 3s in a row. At decimal 1,526,800, we find the digits 2718281, the first seven digits of e, the base of natural logarithms. Then at decimal 52,638 there is 14142135, the first eight digits of the square root of 2. But all these discoveries are hardly profound, for they could occur by chance -- nothing really "transcendental" so far.

A more astounding discovery is that:

22(pi)4 = 2143

A few multiplications, and the 10 million-plus decimals of pi have vanished. (Can this remarkable relationship mirror some as yet undiscovered facet of physical reality?)

While it is difficult to squeeze the meaning of the universe out of pi's 10 million-plus decimals, one has to admit that pi is everywhere. To grasp the insidiousness of this number, write the alphabet out beginning with J, as follows:

J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y

Z A B C D E F G H I

Now cross out all those letters with right-left symmetry, such as M, O, etc. The remaining letters are in five groups, with populations of (you guessed it) 3, 1, 4, 1, 6. Surely this must mean something!

(Gardner, Martin; "Slicing Pi into Millions," Discover, 6:50, January 1985.)

From Science Frontiers #37, JAN-FEB 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss