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The Pi Verses

March 2009

Big news this month, National Pi Day was made Official by the US Congress. Just in time too! Maybe this will eventually become a much needed holiday in March. If so I suppose we Physicists can let Mathematicians take a little bit of credit (but just a bit).

We haven't yet decided how to celebrate Pi Day this year, but last year one of my daughters did the obvious thing (see the photo to the right). I asked her if she had to look up any digits and she proceeded to rattle of pi to 101 decimal places. That's one digit for every Dalmation in the movie... The only problem had been running out of space on the pie! She had planned to memorize pi to 100 decimal places, but she saw the 101st digit and can't forget it.


Pi Day '08 in the Craigen house

"Waste of Memory"?

I find it bizarre that when you mention something like memorizing pi to many decimal places, people will often say something like "what a waste of memory", as if our brains were an old 10 GB hard drive that we risk filling up with extra information. As if! I've seen people damage their brains in many ways, but memorizing too much isn't among them. We don't say of an athlete "just think what they could have accomplished if they had done something useful with all that muscle and energy". We celebrate achievement, and that should include academic achievement. I believe that memorizing things builds rather than fills your memory. It is something most of us should aspire to do more.

The "Pi Verses"

So why do I call this article "The Pi Verses"? Have you ever seen those signs "JN 3:16". People put it as obscure billboard, hold it up a sporting events, and so on. Have you ever thought "that looks almost like the first three decimal places of pi"? For those who don't know, this is a well known Bible verse: John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". The problem with citing it on its own is the first word. I've heard "when you see a therefore, ask what it's there for". In other words, you can't properly understand a quote which begins with a logical bridging word, since it obviously depends on what was written before. Mulling this over, it occured to me that what is lacking is probably the "John Pi Verses", that is the digits of pi to 5 decimal places taken as John 3:14,15.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
- John 3:14,15

Maybe the first half of that has you just plain confused. That's ok. If something makes you think, makes you do some research to understand it better, that's ok. I leave it as a mental exercise for the reader to paste verse 16 to the end, hence producing John 3:14-16. Now if 3:14,15 provides the first 5 digits of pi, 3:14-16 provide a rounding off of pi to 5 digits - helping you remember that the 6th digit of pi is greater than 5!

Maybe some readers are ready to give up here. My point with the previous paragraph is to muse a bit. It may sound rambling, but it actually does help remember both. It helps you memorizing pi, it helps you remember the verses and where they divide. I think that one of the biggest problems we have with trying to learn things is passivity. Anything that gets you involved and thinking about what you are trying to learn will help.

Pi Verses could be found in lots of numbered literature, not just Holy books. Perhaps you are wanting to memorize lines of a poem: verse 3, lines 1-4 are the "pi verses". This can provide an anchoring point to remember the surrounding parts as well.

For the sake of Muslims reading this:

Beautiful for men is the love of things they covet; women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world's life; but Allah has the excellent return (Paradise with flowing rivers) with Him.
- Surat 3:14 - The Noble Qur'an

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