Pi Day – What’s the Big Deal?

Tom and I, being math podcasters, were forced by a code of mathematical obedience to do a  podcast in honor of pi day (March 14th). Yes, \pi, the Greek letter turned mathematical object, number, and spawner of cults across the world.

Both Tom and I approached this topic with hesitation.  You see, while the most common response that math-folk like us get when we tell someone the we are math people is something akin to fear, distrust, disdain, and outright horror.

But, the second is a kind of strange respect normally reserved for guru’s and shaman.  A common refrain that accompanies this type of reaction is something like this, “Wow, you do math. That’s so … like … cool.  I really like pi myself.  It’s part of everything.  It’s, like, at the center of the universe …”

Frightening, to say the least.

But we are hardly the only people to have experienced such weirdness.  The Greeks suffered all manner of cults that worshiped this little unassuming number/letter.  And I’m sure some of them have survived to this day.

Tom and I aimed to dispel some of the myth of pi.  It’s just a number.  A weird number, yes.  Lot’s of applications to lots of cool stuff, yes.  But, mystical, no.  Our relationship with \pi is purely platonic (get it, Platonic … Greek … OK, that was bad).

Here’s the link to the podcast again.

In this podcast:

  • Tom and Nick are not as happy with Pi Day as you’d expect.
  • Why do Hippies like Pi so much?
  • Where does pi come from, and why do we care?
  • Is mounting a Ferris Wheel on a Flat-Bed Truck a good idea?
  • How many digits of pi can YOU recite?  I’ll bet not 69,000!
  • Nick and Tom give you back 23 hours and 40 minutes of your life … ish.

2 responses to “Pi Day – What’s the Big Deal?

  1. I really liked the podcast, but I thought you missed the chance to address one of the seemingly appealing features of pi: that it is both infinite AND lacks a pattern. After all, your average “pi is like everything man” hippy knows that lots of numbers go on forever. Hell, even the decimal representation of 1/3 is infinite. Pi seems weird because the numbers just seem to be showing up randomly, like some mystical pi god is deciding what the xth digit is when we calculate it based on no rational or naturalistic pattern.

    This is, of course, stupid. Pi is just a number, and it “exists” just the way it is because that’s the decimal that describes the circumference/diameter ratio. But I wouldn’t have an easy response to this (although I like your ‘calculating pi is like making increasingly specific measurements’ explanation) and I can definitely understand why it appeals to the birkenstock and granola crowd.

    • I suppose that it is funny that we missed its most famous features: that it goes on forever without any consistently repeating patterns. Oh, and I like your “mystical pi God”. Though, I wish he was a mystical Pie God. 🙂

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