Thursday, 7 April 2011

Give Me Some More Pi, Please

~~Image: Pi Pie

I'm trying to wrap my head around pi. I mean, what is it exactly? We all know it's a ratio, and one that defines the relationship between the diameter of a circle to its circumference. That relationship is expressed as the number of times the diameter of a circle fits in around its circumference. That's essentially what pi is, but why is it that it is expressed as a seemingly infinite number of digits after the decimal point?

~~Image: Circle illustration showing a radius, a diameter, the centre and the circumference.

Plenty of sites all over the net offer lots of interesting facts about pi, but no matter how many of these you try to cram in, they all still seem to fail in satisfying the pangs for what it is that pi is exactly. For example, below are some facts about pi:

"The sequences of digits in Pi have so far passed all known tests for randomness.Here are the first 100 decimal places of Pi3.141592653589793238462643383279502884…

The fraction (22 / 7) is a well-used number for Pi. It is accurate to 0.04025%.

Another fraction used as an approximation to Pi is (355 / 113) which is accurate to 0.00000849%

A more accurate fraction of Pi is (104348 / 33215). This is accurate to 0.00000001056%.

Pi occurs in hundreds of equations in many sciences including those describing the DNA double helix, a rainbow, ripples spreading from where a raindrop fell into water, general relativity, geometry problems, waves, etc.

There is no zero in the first 31 digits of Pi.Pi is irrational. An irrational number is a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of integers.

In 1991, the Chudnovsky brothers in New York, using their computer, m zero, calculated pi to two billion two hundred sixty million three hundred twenty one thousand three hundred sixty three digits (2, 260, 321, 363). They halted the program that summer.

The Pi memory champion is Hiroyoki Gotu, who memorized an amazing 42,000 digits.The old memory champion was Hideaki Tomoyori, born Sep. 30, 1932. In Yokohama, Japan, Hideaki recited pi from memory to 40,000 places in 17 hrs. 21 min. including breaks totaling 4 hrs. 15min. on 9-10 of March in 1987 at the Tsukuba University Club House.

Pi is of course the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. If you bring everything up one dimension to get 3D value for Pi, the ratio of a sphere's surface area to the area of the circle seen if you cut the sphere in half is exactly 4."

Do you see what I mean? We can try and digest facts about pi all day long, just as we could try and consume the millions and millions of digits of pi over an entire lifetime, and we would still be left feeling ... empty. The reason as to why pi is an infinite number remains pervasively evasive. The mind, in its search for patterns and relationships, seems unable to relate to pi in any way whatsoever, other than drawing the one obvious conclusion that it is indeed a number. An apparently infinite number. But where do these numbers lead to?

I like the idea that it is a truly random collection of numbers, having been shown to exist without having being formed by any KNOWN pattern, but one that must be sub-ordinate to some higher order that we are as yet unaware of, simply because it is these exact same digits, innumerable as they are, appearing in the exact same order everytime we try to evoke pi. The post below is taken from The Sheila Variations, and offers a splendid insight into just how unrandom the random numbers of pi might be. Extracts used in the post are taken from a New Yorker article entitled The Mountains of Pi, written by Richard Preston, which reveal not only the lost world of homemade super-computers, but also something of man's obsession with identifying what is is that the empyreal pi is trying to convey:

"I knew I had read a profile in the New Yorker years ago about Pi, and then remembered that I have it in one of the New Yorker compilations that I own. It’s called “The Mountains of Pi”, and it’s from 1992, a profile of two brothers (the Chudnovsky brothers) on their quest for Pi. That makes it sound tame and intellectual. No. This is a profile of shared obsession.

I love having a library. “Wasn’t there something about Pi in one of those New Yorker books I have …?”

It’s also online – very fascinating profile of two men driven to extremes by their desire to understand pi. It’s also from a time when something like a “computer” in your house was something of a novelty, let alone a “supercomputer”, built to order. Built to serve Pi and Pi alone.

The Chudnovsky brothers claim that the digits of pi form the most nearly perfect random sequence of digits that has ever been discovered. They say that nothing known to humanity appears to be more deeply unpredictable than the succession of digits in pi, except, perhaps, the haphazard clicks of a Geiger counter as it detects the decay of radioactive nuclei. But pi is not random. The fact that pi can be produced by a relatively simple formula means that pi is orderly. Pi looks random only because the pattern in the digits is fantastically complex. The Ludolphian number is fixed in eternity – not a digit out of place, all characters in their proper order, an endless sentence written to the end of the world by the division of the circle’s diameter into its circumference. Various simple methods of approximation will always yield the same succession of digits in the same order. If a single digit in pi were to be changed anywhere between here and infinity, the resulting number would no longer be pi; it would be “garbage”, in David’s word, because to change a single digit in pi is to throw all the following digits out of whack and miles from pi.

“Pi is a damned good fake of a random number,” Gregory said. “I just wish it were not as good a fake. It would make our lives a lot easier.”

Around the three-hundred-millionth decimal place of pi, the digits go 88888888 – eight eights pop up in a row. Does this mean anything? It appears to be random noise. Later, ten sixes erupt: 6666666666. What does this mean? Apparently nothing, only more noise. Somewhere past the half-billion mark appears the string 123456789. It’s an accident, as it were. “We do not have a good, clear, crystallized idea of randomness,” Gregory said. “It cannot be that pi is truly random. Actually, truly random sequence of numbers has not yet been discovered.”

Our minds just don't seem capable of taking pi in. It is an infinite amount of digits, but ones that do not vanish over some distant horizon, stretched over an infinite distance, as the mind might imagine them doing. No, the infinite numbers of pi do not move further and further away from us, but can be seen to exist in a very finite distance, a space which recedes into nothing more than a point, an infinitesimal dot as it were. I wonder if it might be possible to create a form of pi which might be digested, and ultimately understood by the mind?

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