Even though it’s a bit late in the evening, I’ll jump out of my usual posting schedule and wish everyone a happy Pi Day today. I was always a piker in the Pi category – I never made it past memorizing 10 digits (I rounded the third 5 off to a 6 and left it at that). Depending on where you fall on the math geek scale that either makes me a person with better things to do in my life, or someone who could have knuckled down a bit more.
Pi (the symbol is π) is a fascinating number.
π is an irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction m/n, where m and n are integers. Consequently, its decimal representation never ends or repeats. It is also a transcendental number, which means that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers (powers, roots, sums, etc.) can be equal to its value; proving this was a late achievement in mathematical history and a significant result of 19th century German mathematics. Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been much effort to determine π more accurately and to understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into non-mathematical culture.
As an ex-mathematician, I can’t claim any real understanding of the basic, primal mysteries of mathematics like pi. It’s one of those scary concepts like black holes that just lingered at the edge of understanding for me. Nonetheless, the idea of a number that never repeats and cannot be represented in any other way serves as a nice stretch of the mental muscles on a weekend.