Thursday, 7 January 2010

Humble pi

As someone who has written about infinity (and good fun it is too), I quite often pick up on big numbers. Regular commenter on this blog Ian Campbell kindly pointed out to me a piece on the BBC news site about the number pi being determined to 2.7 trillion digits.

Many people will be wondering, 'what's the point?' The news article gives an excuse, but really this is justification after the fact. You might as well say that you can justify trainspotting because it provides useful statistics on train movements. Calculating pi to n digits is the trainspotting of the mathematical world. It's not particularly clever - anyone can do it given a simple algorithm and enough time - and it has no great value. It's just something to tick off.

However, I don't want to put down Fabrice Bellard. There is no doubt it's an achievement. Why should everything in science and maths have a use? What's the use of a poem or a painting? Let him get on with it, I say. And good luck to him.

The pi poster shown is from the Math Teacher Store.

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