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Monday 10 May 2021

The “pi” day

Author of the content

Dear Director,
I am an Italian New Yorker and a passionate reader of Moondo

Today, March 14, we celebrate Pi Day, I would like to read about the history and application (also in the artistic and literary field) of this very special issue.
I understand that among your collaborators there is the engineer Raffaele Aragona, a well-known expert in science and literary games, and I wonder if one can read one of his contributions in this regard.

Thank you in advance.
Best regards,

Elena Abdomen

After receiving this letter from New York, we immediately contacted our Raffaele Aragona, who sent us the following text. We thank the reader and Eng. Aragona for letting us discover the suggestions of this “magic” number (Editor's note).

3,141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944 59230 is a number with infinite decimal places that has inspired writers and artists such as Wislawa Symborska, Kate Bush and Darren Aronofsky, and has given rise to performances of various kinds.

On the 15th the "Ides of March" (anniversary of the assassination of Caesar) fall, but the previous day, the 14th is dedicated to celebrations of another kind, which refer to the "PI Greek", according to a custom established thirty-three years ago in the United States; yes, because in those parts March 14 is indicated with "3.14", a notation that puts the number of the month before that of the day.

The idea was born in the "Exploratorium" of San Francisco in 1988 on the initiative of the physicist Larry Shaw and since then, in various universities around the world, celebrations of all kinds have been organized in honor of the "god" pi greek.

Mathematically π is an irrational number, that is, it cannot be expressed by the ratio of two integers and for centuries many have been relentless in trying to fully define it to the point of provoking Albert Einstein's singular reaction "Mathematics is the perfect way to make fun of "; strange case, the scientist was born on March 14, 1879. In decimal form, after the comma, the number has infinite digits that do not have periodic sequences. Approximated to the second decimal place, π is simply given by 3,14. Stopping at the first 18, the number is written 3,14159 26535 89793 238 and there are those who have composed a useful sentence to memorize it, associating each word with the number of letters that compose it: "Ave, o Roma o Madre vigorous of Latin virtue that so much luminous splendor, prodigal, you shed with your wisdom ». In geometry, the number represents the ratio between the measurement of the circumference and that of its diameter; the Greek letter was chosen precisely because it is the initial of the word περιφέρεια which, in fact, refers to the circumference: in middle school everyone remembers having also used it to calculate the surface of the circle (radius squared by 3,14).

Although these are usually two genres independent and immeasurable, mathematics can well claim a literary role equal to that of poetry. Sometimes they meet in unexpected ways: when a poet finds inspiration in mathematics or a mathematician turns to poetry for his own formulas. An illustrious example is given by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska who, in the opening lines of Liczba Pi (PI Greek), pays a singular homage to the number by citing the first 24 decimals interspersed in the opening lines of that text: Worthy of wonder is the number π, three point one four one. / The following digits are still all leading, / five nine two because the number never ends (…). Szymborska takes π as an example of something that continues beyond eternity.

Poetry, but also music. You can mention the song p by Kate Bush in 2005: speaking of a mathematician obsessed with the search for decimal digits, Buch counts and sings almost a hundred. Daniel McDonald musically interpreted π by associating a number to each note of the "harmonic scale less than A" obtaining a real melody. Not even the cinema has ignored the π which completes the title of the film The delusion theorem (1997) by Darren Aronofsky: here too the protagonist is a mathematician grappling with the secrets of numbers, and in particular pi, who would be able to understand everything in our world.

Still in the literary field, François Caradec, a member of Oulipo, is the author of Que j'aime à faire apprendre au π-éton Paris, a 2002 poem about Paris composed of 71 stanzas in which the number of lines follows the decimal order of pi greek: 3 lines for the first verse, 1 for the second, 4 for the third and so on. Without forgetting Italo Calvino, who in the Cosmicomic (1965) says about the bet on the birth of the universe and the winnings obtained by Qfwfq using the π.

Carl Sagan, an American astronomer-writer, also became interested in π; in his Contact (1985) the protagonist wants to convince the world that within the universe there is something hidden in the figures of that number. Another American writer, Rudy Rucker, in his Pi in the sky (1983) tells of the discovery on a beach of a cone, on the lateral surface of which signs corresponding to the decimal digits of the π and with a huge amount of information. Along with various works of art, there is no shortage of particular performances such as that of Alexander Yec and Shigeru Kando who, in 2013, with the help of a particular computer, identified 12 thousand billion decimals; the Indian Sharma Surech Kumar has even memorized the first 70.030 decimal digits, declaiming them all in 10 hours and conquering a Guinness Book of Records.

pi day
«Flow Of Life Flow Of Pi # 2» is the digital art representation of π created by the Romanian artist Cristian Vasile.

This is Szymborska's entire poem:

Worthy of wonder is the number pi
three point one four one.
Its following digits are still all initials,
five nine two, because it never ends.
He does not let his eyes embrace six five three five,
eight nine with the calculation,
seven nines with the imagination,
and not even three two three eight as a joke, or for comparison
four you are with anything
two six four three in the world.
The longest terrestrial snake after a dozen meters breaks off.
So too, albeit a little later, do the snakes of fairy tales.
The row of digits that make up the Pi number
does not stop at the edge of the sheet,
manages to continue on the table, in the air,
Up the wall, the branch, the nest, the clouds, right in the sky,
throughout the atmospheric and stratospheric sky.
Oh how short, almost as short as that of a mouse, is the comet's tail!
How faint is the ray of a star, which bends in space!
And here's instead two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt number
the year one thousand nine hundred seventy three sixth floor
number of inhabitants sixty five cents
turn of the hips two fingers a charade and a figure,
in which he flies, flies and sings, my nightingale
and please keep calm,
and so heaven and earth will pass away,
but Pi is not, that is not,
he always with his good five,
not any eight,
a not last seven,
stimulating, oh yes, stimulating lazy eternity
to last.

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