Q&A: Why Do We Celebrate Pi Day?

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March 14 marks the annual celebration of Pi Day, a holiday that pays tribute to the mathematical constant most of us were introduced to in middle school geometry.

These days, scientists and mathematicians have calculated Pi to more than a trillion digits, but its exact nature remains a mystery that will never be solved. In mathematics, Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, but in pop culture, the Greek symbol has come to represent the unknown in its broadest terms. In honor of Pi Day, NewsFeed spoke to David Blatner, author of The Joy of Pi, to discuss the history, allure and evolution of the famous number.

(More on TIME.com: See the top 10 “troubled genius” movies)

What exactly does Pi Day celebrate?
It’s primarily a chance to have fun with the topic of math and science. And while it celebrates Pi officially, it’s more of an excuse to get excited and show the fun side of math and science.

Why does Pi remain such a fascinating topic hundreds of years after mathematicians first began using the symbol?
What’s interesting about it is that it’s technically irrational and transcendental. The exact digits of Pi cannot ever truly be known. There’s no way for us to figure out what Pi is and that’s kind of an odd and curious thing for science. At its simplest, Pi is the measurement around the circle, divided by the measurement across the circle. The idea that something so simple should unfold in something that is unknowable is baffling.

So the mystery is part of the allure?
Yeah, we’ve gotten used to this idea that if we just calculate hard enough, we’ll be able to find an answer. And I think a lot of the 20th century was all about finding answers. We’ve forgotten to some degree that in early centuries, there was the idea of a true mystery —something that is not possible to know. And Pi reminds us that there are still mysteries out there. There are truly unknowable things.

But we’ve made quite a bit of progress in being able to define Pi.
We’re getting closer and closer but there will never be an answer. A thousand years ago, we knew a few digits of Pi. Somewhere in the 20th century, we started getting into the thousands of digits. In the past hundred years, we’ve gone from thousands to millions of digits, and now the world record is in the trillions. That’s kind of amazing.

What are the main questions scientists and mathematicians are asking about Pi these days?
We’re trying to pinpoint why Pi is like it is. Why do the digits of Pi unravel the way they do? One of the key questions is, is there a pattern to the digits? Are there more 7s than 4s? If there were some kind of pattern in Pi, it might give us a peek into some underlying nature of the universe. And that’s what a lot of mathematicians are trying to figure out right now. Is there some way of looking at Pi that gives us a better sense of the universe? Because everything is based on circles in the universe, so if we could understand those circles and Pi better, we could understand the universe better.

It’s pretty amazing that a mathematical symbol has become so prevalent in pop culture. Why is that?
In my research, I was just amazed at how many places Pi shows up from cartoons to movies. It just kept popping up. I don’t think people care so much about 3.14 and whatever—what people really care about is what Pi means. And the fascination and lure of Pi really is this sense of mystery that it points to. This idea that everybody knows about it, but nobody knows what it is. When you’re faced with the unknowable and it’s right at the heart of math and science, it just kind of tickles people.

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24 comments
SamipHirpara
SamipHirpara

I think this voting counter has been hacked,,,,TIME should take an action right a way. Fake voting

sccott
sccott

Looks like something wrong with the voting. Impossible for Kejriwal to get so many positives and Modi negatives.

AAPtards are doing something to boost Kejriwal.

sudarshanasudi
sudarshanasudi

JOKE ,KEJRIWAL MORE IMP PERSON IN THE WORLD THAN CHINISE PRESIDENT,POPE,............MORE DANGEROUS THAN KIM JONG UN.........................RICHER THAN ARAB KING................................WHAT NEXT?    ......HEAVIER THAN ENTIRE GLOBE????? ................. BOGUS VOTING IN OPENION POLL OF ''TIME '' , ADMIN SHOULD DESIDE WHO'S WHAT BASED ON OPENION OF NON PATISAN PERSONALITIES,NEWS EDITORS ,OR A SMALL RESEARCH ,STUDY OF SOCIAL MEDIA ...OTHERWISE READERS WILL QUESTION CREDIBILITY OF ''TIME'' ;;;; all the best TIME ---thanks for the joke of millenium ;;;lali who slapped kejriwal should be biggest don in planet ,do u agree??? 

JamesZeno
JamesZeno

While there are bunch of nagging babies in the comments below who are complaining about Modi's so called IT Team hacking in Time's poll, What I see is Modi getting CONSTANT Negative votes. Not a single vote is positive from that flood of votes we see under his name.


This gets everyone thinking, who's doing the hacking now? Arvind Kejriwal also known as AK49 who runs his party on NRI funds from US? OR Rahul Gandhi who might actually need help to even sign in his facebook .. if he has one. 


The only way Times can clear this mess, is by counting the accounts used to vote YES for Kejriwal and same accounts to vote NO for Modi should be counted out of this poll and vice versa .. do the same for Narendra Modi's YES to Kejriwal's NO with the same account.  

YogiVyas1
YogiVyas1

You can see the live counter on Modi running at a consistent ~1000-2000 votes/min and  all are negative votes. Looks like some sort of a scripted attack.  

Kejrival's counter is running pretty fast too .. but all positive votes .. 

The results are completely bogus. 

AAPtards will stoop down any level .. 

TIME should have done a bit more if it wanted ensure credible results ... 

ShaunGordon
ShaunGordon

No meaning in this voting efforts..All fakes from both AAP and BJP sides. 

AAM_AADMI
AAM_AADMI

For AAP: All Modi Supporters woke up from sleep to Vote their Role model Mr. Modi ji. We are voting on the issue of Development of India...not for stupid argues as u have from the start till end  ...  

Modi supporters will wake up once again and number of likes will directly go to 80 % ,... so  Keep watch on the LIKE parameter Machine

- AAM AADMI from INDIA

HariRewaria
HariRewaria

this voting has been turned into a joke now. So many fake votings?
Ties top 100 will surely loose its credibility.

ShikhaJamwal
ShikhaJamwal

Dear EDITOR, the reader poll counter FOR "

Which U.S. Political Figures Should Be on the 2014 TIME 100?
has been hacked by the Narendra Modi IT TEAM so that fake votes can be voted on
 the website. This is basically to prevent Arvind Kejriwal from getting the maximum votes. Please take note of this IMMEDIATELY. This is a emergency. Your WEBSITE OF READER POLL OF 2014 TIME 100 HAS BEEN HACKED. This nos of YES TO THE NOES on the Narendra Modi counter has suddenly jumped from 40000 odd to 107500

UJJWAL
UJJWAL

whats the point in conducting the voting if anyone can hack your website.........10000 votes for narendra modi in 10 sec. is just impossible

AgarwalShashikantIitIndore
AgarwalShashikantIitIndore

Your website is hacked for sure. Within minutes there were so many yes votes for Narendra Modi. This is chaeting.

VeerjattSingh
VeerjattSingh

"Dear TIME, the reader poll counter has been hacked by the Narendra Modi IT TEAM so that fake votes can be voted on the website. This is basically to prevent Arvind Kejriwal from getting the maximum votes. Please take note of this IMMEDIATELY. This is a emergency. Your WEBSITE OF READER POLL OF 2014 TIME 100 HAS BEEN HACKED. This nos of YES TO THE NOES on the Narendra Modi counter has suddenly jumped from 40000 odd to 107500"

GarrySingh
GarrySingh

your website is hacked or some one making u fool........"narendra modi" counters goes upward by 26000 votes in just 30 min ... :)
do something otherwise there is no mean of this voting ....... 

Rayofshadows
Rayofshadows

Sultan Qaboos bin Said (Oman) should be on that list. His role in world politics (slightly hidden behind curtains) cannot be denied. Some of his work recently is being the go between and the initiator of Iran US talks for the first time in decades, the holding together of the Arab Gulf States and avoiding a war and turmoil between them, plus countless hostage negation for foreign countries. He is extremely influential though he may not want it shown.

SiniH
SiniH

@TIME: Arvind Kejriwal did NOT defeat the major parties in New Delhi. His party won only 28 seats as compared to BJP's 32 seats. He went on to become a 49 day Chief Minister supported by the Congress out of his own choice since BJP did not enter the fray for lack of a higher majority. 

Ram_gopal
Ram_gopal

A silent revolution is happening in India.Without bomb blasts ,without blood shedding  the common man has started questioning the corrupt authorities.

Once again India is being an exception to rest of the world by revolting through the path of truth and non violence.Perhaps a model that the Afro Arab countries,which are in the middle of civil wars can copy!

At the forefront of this movement is Mr. Arvind Kejriwal ,an activist turned politician. 

Yes,the common man has begun to speak in India.  

medo.mo50
medo.mo50

Where is president Muhammad Mursi ? I believe that he should be in the list if it is fair ! otherwise, you have to omit Al Sisi because he has no position in Egypt now ! as well as he is suspected of killing thousands of civilians and most of Egyptians hate him ! 

sccott
sccott

@ShikhaJamwal  


Looks like something wrong with the voting. Impossible for Kejriwal to get so many positives and Modi negatives.

AAPtards are doing something to boost Kejriwal.

NevLobo
NevLobo

@SiniH Oh yes, the BJP and the Congress could not do in 67 years the good that Arvind Kejriwal did in 49 days!