The magic of Π

Π. Pi is a transcendental number. To quote: Hyperdictionary:

Definition (Transcendental):

1. [adj] existing outside of or not in accordance with nature; “find transcendental motives for sublunary action”-Aldous Huxley
2. [adj] of or characteristic of a system of philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual about the empirical and material
Synonyms: nonnatural, otherworldly, preternatural, supernatural

What’s so damn special about Pi that Carl Sagan wrote a book about it? What’s so special about it that numerous thinkers all over the round round world first became fascinated by this enigmatic number that is so close to 3, but not quite…? Why not attribute the same importance to other such numbers? Say a sedentary root of 10, or something approaching the same level of magickness – the exponential constant, e?

The answer, quite simply lies in the almost universal appreciation for the circle as a symbol of perfection. Maybe, it’s because that’s the figure the heavens have been crafted on – the sun, the moons, the planets are all circular. Perhaps if we lived in a trapezoidal universe, we would be extolling the virtues of linear trignometry. But, we’re not, and let’s leave that at that. What makes pi special today is insignificant when you compare it to what could make pi special in the future.

Simply said, pi is as universal a constant as we could imagine. Any civilization, in any corner of the universe can (and will, it can be reliably said) calculate the value of pi. It’s almost a mark of intelligence, the basic step that drives sentience towards a quest for perfection. If we are to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence, perhaps a good way would be to transmit the value of pi along with all our history and our message. Similarly, any message that we receive could have references to pi.

The book that I mentioned before explores this a bit further: what if, if we delve into the immense irregularity of the number pi itself, and find a pattern in there? What would that imply? The question is fascinating. The answer, if such a situation comes to be, should be even more beautiful.

Defining Aesthetics

Science and art are different, and any effort to quantify or analyze what we consider as art is futile. I’m sure many people agree with the previous sentence. I’m still thinking about it, but nevertheless, it is a fascinating topic to imagine about whatever the end result might be. However, I’d like to level the playing field: Western Science has always been an interloper: where reason exists, faith does not, where things can be explained, there is no individual bias. It’s not like that (and never has been) for much of Asia, for us it is an easy and sendentary lifestyle switch between a religious moralist (of many beliefs) and a rigorous thinker, often both rolled into one. And that is why, I believe when Science begins to take on artistic avenues, we have an upper hand.

It is inevitable after all. Science is bound to go on quantifying everything, and if a person believes that everything is explainable (as a good scientist ought to do) then it follows that artistic and aesthetic media also demand (and will pursue) an explanation. It’s like saying: “I love you, because my genes are so bloody damn attracted to you.” Or, “I love Mona Lisa because da Vinci’s brushes had a titanium thresh to it and it makes the enigmatic smile glimmer a bit.” It’s like explaining the inexplicable. Something bordering on blasphemy.

And yet, Science has begun to do such things. Stylistics is a branch of Linguistics (which I’m very interested in, incidentally) which tries to define style in rigorous terms – it’s trying to translate “I like this.” into “Why I like this.” Though any measure of success is a long way off (as is other disciplines striving for a similar aim, like Psychiatry) an amazing amount of raw data has indeed been collated. It awaits a future Einstein to find a mathematical pattern in them, and then we’re all set.

When Science does find a law governing our likes and dislikes, does it imply an end to our artistic abilities? Because a law necessarily implies the next step along the process-line: inventions tailored to take advantage of it. Perhaps the next J.K Rowling might be an old 286 lying along in an attic somewhere running a sporting new version of Gentoo Linux that adds in the latest in the 3.0 Linux kernel: Artificial Intelligence.

Or, perhaps not.

For discussions of this sort, and the relevance of technology in our lives today, give Netfuture a whirl.


Notice the spelling. F-e-y-n-m-a-n. Sort of like superman and spiderman, Feynman is an ordinary
mortal who tells us what being a scientist is all about. I’m quoting “The Pleasure of Finding Things out” Page 2, “The Beauty of a Flower”:

I have a friend who’s an artist and he’s sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree very well. He’ll hold up a flower
and say, “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree, I think. And he says – “you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is,
but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think that he’s kind of funny. First of all, the beauty that he sees
is available to other people too. […] At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions
inside which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just the beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there is also a beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure. Also the processes,
the fact that the colors in the flower evolved in the order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting – it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question:
Does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which shows that a science knowledge only adds to the excitement
and mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.

I’ll let that passage speak for itself. Richard P. Feynman thinks about the world around him. And in doing that, he makes
us recognize lots of things that we see daily, but we don’t notice. The book is a gem – a collection of the most sense-making
stuff I’ve read in a year, and I’ll recommend it to anyone.