Today is Pi day. Every year I look forward to Pi day. It is a time to realize my life has come full circle and that a day of irrational behavior is just part of the circle of life experience, so to speak. Last night π entered my dreams and I thought a lot about how π is a metaphor for something greater.
Pi (often written: π is the sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet as well as a symbol that represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle (the distance around a circle) and the diameter (the distance across a circle). No matter what the size of the circle, π will always be 3.14 (with an infinite number of digits following, for example, 3.14159265359…). Pi is considered an irrational number which means it is real but not rational. Huh? I always love how mathematics describes Pi. It is not rational, it is real. But, what is real? What is rational? A better explanation is to say that when you try to figure out the ratio, it results in a number with a decimal point and a lot of numbers after the decimal that go on and on and on.
So, in honor of π day, here are some irrational and real thoughts about what π teaches us about life.*
- Life is a journey like a circle. We follow the path from birth to death, emerging from an unknown place and ending in an unknown place. If we chart a path from any age to the diametrically opposite age on our circle, it traces a diameter. If we take the length of our lives divided by the distance from, say 2 to 42 in an 80 year lifespan, you get π. So, π connects us to the central focus of our lives, metaphorically, to the outside, mundane facts that guide our lives. In my irrational mind (today is π day), the center of our lives is our purpose. Some of us discover this center, others wonder what the heck it is. But, somehow the number 3.14 is intricately connected and makes the explanation for our lives somewhat irrational.
- π is intrinsically connected to gravity. We are bound by gravity every day. Certainly, as my skin sags and walking becomes ever more painful, I am reminded that gravity eventually makes life a little more treacherous
- π is one of five, very special super numbers. We discussed π already. The Super Number are:
- Pi (of course)
- e which represents “the natural number”. It is also called Euler’s number and is a constant, an irrational number that is extremely important in mathematics. The lesson in life is that there is always something in our lives that is a constant. It is always there and always be there and it may not have a rational explanation.
- i which represents “the imaginary number”. This imaginary number is the square root of negative 1 (which of course is imaginary) and helps us solve a lot of complex problems. We all know, of course, that imagination is the main driver of innovation. We can’t have new ideas without the imagination to think them up.
- 1. Of course, one! How can we not know 1 is a Super Number. It is the basis for all multiplication. And, we all know that every time one more person is born we are multiplying!
- 0. We can’t do anything without the number zero. Whover though of the number zero is a super genius! 0 is the secret to addition. All of us are added to the population from nothing and return to nothing. Makes sense.
- The last interesting fact is there is a limit to how precise we need to be! 152 digits in the decimal place are all we ever need to use in an equation. More precision is not needed yet. And, that is just the way life is. We don’t need to get too worked up about precision. We just need to approximate what we need and go with the flow.
In conclusion, trying to make sense out of what π can tell us about life is about the most irrational thing you can do on π day. A better use of my time is to have a slice of Pie!
*The list was based on an article in Wired: Six Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pi.