Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A SCURRILOUS ATTACK ON MATH BY AN INNUMERATE LOUT (A Digression from Driving Down the Mountain with Ella and Friends, after having written about the Transitive Property yesterday)

I had trouble falling asleep last night, worrying over questions of infinity and Pi. The final decimal place of Pi is famously unsolved and though to be infinite. I’ve read pop-culture articles about it in non-math rags like “The New Yorker.” Infinite! What does that mean? The infinite is inconceivable in any sort of practical terms. A sheet of paper as large as the known universe printed on with 10-point Times New Roman typeface is thought not to be big enough to contain all the decimal places of Pi.

Last night I thought, piffle.

Westerners have known since the ancient Greeks that Pi is equal to 22 sevenths, or three and one seventh. Twenty-two divided by seven gives us 3.14 (and on probably to infinity).


I can see why it’s an interesting question to mathematicians, and I can see why an engineer would want more than two decimal places in order to get a job done with minimal accuracy. But I still say, stuff and nonsense.


What is one third? 1/3. 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = 3/3 = 1. Right? Well, no, not according to the people who are worrying about “solving” the last decimal place of Pi. According to them, in order to add 1/3 plus 1/3 plus 1/3, we must first divide one by three. Which gets us point-three-three-three-three-on-unto-infinity. “.3333333 . . . “ And if you add .3(infininity) to .3(infinity) to .3(infinity), you get point-nine-nine-nine-nine-on-unto-infinity.

Which is not equal to one!

Math -- eck. So abstract. It’s problem is -- apples and oranges. Heraclitus said, you can’t step into the same river twice. Because it is constantly changing. In that respect, we’re all rivers, every last one of us and every last blessed little bit of whatever in the entire one-line-poem that is the universe. Meaning, we’re all constantly changing. I’m not the same as I was when I began writing this sentence -- I’ve expended energy, I’ve lost mass, and I’ve gained mass too as dust has landed on me. I’ve changed. Because “Time Changes Everything” (great Bob Wills song), there is no identity, there is no equality. Math (as pitifully as I understand it), by positing identity, by positing stability, ignores the truth of Heraclitus and the relentlessness of time.

And THEN, on its OWN TERMS (which I don’t understand), it tries to pass off as true these absurd things like 1 = .99999999(infinity). Intuitively and practically, 1/3 plus 1/3 plus 1/3 DOES equal One, NOT .99999(infinity).

SO, if you read about someone setting a new record for “solving” decimal places of Pi, take this into consideration. It’s still equal to three and one seventh, and westerners have known that for thousands of years already.

(Any mathematicians who by chance may be reading this are welcome to e-slap some sense and understanding into my ignorant arrogant head.)
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