Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pi is a Piece of Your Imagination

Let them eat Pi! I think.

Students and teachers across the nation and perhaps around the world will be celebrating Pi day tomorrow, March 14th. Maybe you’ll bake or buy a pie or just have a slice. I like to make an apple pie now and again but only when I think there will be enough people coming over for dinner – Thanksgiving perhaps – to finish the pie. Leftover pie is a real problem for me because I will eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a snack until it is gone.

My wife’s Granddaddy Pete used to say that cutting a pie into more than four pieces is wasteful! I agree, and I love that a pie, no matter what kind it is, apple, blueberry, chocolate, coconut cream, or even pot pie, it is always a circle!

Circles are beautiful and mysterious. I think about how often spheres occur in nature, but I believe that the source of the majority of circles, the two-dimensional brother to the sphere, is the human hand. Whether with a compass, a string, or a rope, it is so easy to make a perfect circle. One feature of a circle, the ratio of its diameter to its circumference (Pi) can be calculated to within a whisper but can never be known.

It is estimated that perhaps 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians began the quest to find pi, and through all the ages of human history, including our present information age, we have added to the numbers on the right of pi’s decimal, but the rest is up to our imagination.

Pi represents the balance between information and imagination. Like mathematics, a circle is a human construct to capture the imagination and harness it for a wheel’s perpetual properties or the fair and foul fathoms of a baseball field. Try as we may, nonetheless, we will never know pi.

So, tomorrow, celebrate the unknown and unknowable with a piece of delicious pie! In this day and age – the information age no less – we think we can know everything. Celebrate that we cannot and that there is beauty and imagination in trying. Droves of students will recite pi. Greater numbers still will stand by with smiles in awe of the effort.