If you were normal and gainfully employed, you would not have known that there is something called ‘Pi Approximation Day’ and it passed away this week. But hey, don’t stop reading; this piece is not about Pi. I know, like every student, you too were traumatised by Pi and it was one of the reasons why you gave some fantastic psychotropic substances a curious try.
Before I turn to the actual topic of the week, allow me to say a few words on Pi, which is a classic mathematical construct that is very central to all scientific developments: That is, it helps confuse and confound people.
Let me illustrate with an example involving circular objects. How to calculate the area of a circle? For long, the scientific community grappled with this question to establish that it was indeed the scientific community.
Looking at the problem intently, one day, in a moment of inspiration, they hit upon the most reliable solution. ‘Hey,’ they said, ‘let us invent Pi and solve the whole problem’. Because with the arrival of Pi, nobody was anymore trying to figure out the area of circle, they were more concerned with what the heck is this Pi.
They also decided to represent Pi by ‘Π’. This was a major breakthrough as it presaged the development of smileys and other emoticons that form 99.9% of internet lexicon, and 3.1415926 5358979323846…% of all the spoken languages.
Mathematicians quickly zeroed in on the value of Pi to be 22/7, brilliantly extrapolated from the fact that it was available for solving mathematical equations all through the week, 22 hours a day. For the record, Pi is closed for two-hours everyday for maintenance related activity.
Pi is technically calculated to be the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. The circumference of the circle itself is arrived at through the formula ΠD, while the diameter is worked out through the convenient formula D.
The above explanations make it clear —- you will want to write this down in a record notebook —- that to arrive at the value of Pi it is scientifically imperative to know beforehand the value of Pi. This is how nuanced all scientific concepts are.
As it evolved, Pi became akin to the ‘joker’ in the card game of rummy: It fits into any sequence. You can even add it your salary computations, so that it looks scientifically calculated. One of these days, you should include Pi in your tax returns and claim deductions under Section 80 MC (Mentally Challenged).
Okay, I know Pi is not the subject matter of this week’s column. Still, you will excuse me if I add a few more words on it.
The importance of Pi lies in the historical fact that it emboldened scientists to invent many more inscrutable characters and assign them notional values. ‘Theta’ is a good example that readily comes to mind.
‘Theta’ is the 8th letter of the Greek Alphabet. As it was doing pretty much nothing in the language department, the authorities did what was the most logical thing to do: Send ‘Theta’ on deputation to the science department. Soon many other Greek letters, too, were doled out to science. Eventually, Greek was left with no letters and it naturally became a dead language.
Anyway, once letters like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta, came to science, they did what a self-serving group always does: Form a Trade Union and demand inclusion in all the science formulas. Obviously, they must have had their way, because I don’t remember any formula or rule without the pesky presence of at least one member from the Alpha, Beta & Co.
Pi’s invention was also the trigger for an assembly line of similar improbable numbers. Avogadro’s Number readily comes to mind, because ‘Google search’ readily comes to hand.
Many of you may feel challenged by Avogadro’s number and ask what is Avogadro. Well, the right question to ask is: Who is Avogadro? Apart from being a person with a strange name, as my daughter’s science book tells me, ‘Avogadro was an Italian physicist noted for his work on gases’. There wasn’t any smiley at the end of the sentence so we should presume that it was said in all seriousness. Avogadro’s number, I think, represents the number of people who will reach for their hankies when a famed Italian scientist gets to work his gases on.
But it’s just not historical science. Pi also seems a great inspiration for every-day items, by which I specifically refer to pizzas. In general, the pizza prices seem to involve several severe multiplications with Pi. And that is not all. Only those who understand Pi can hope to at least get a hang of the various combinations of the toppings and the various sizes that go with a pizza. Pizzas are not made for single individuals. You need to be afficted by multiple-personality-disorder.
I, for one, can never even come close to getting it right. Whenever I get to eat pizza, I am either too full or feel underfed. And I can also not figure out the funda behind many pizza terms. My neighbourhood pizza parlour keeps sending the SMS, ‘You buy a medium pizza with selected toppings, you get a personal pizza free’. What’s this ‘personal pizza’? And does it mean that the other pizzas belong to the pizza parlour? Tough questions.
So I tell the scientific community, what we actually need is, not Pi Approximation Day, but Pizza Approximation Day. This was to be my subject for the week.
But with Pizza I don’t get the toppings right. And I don’t get it right as a topic as well.