I’m just finishing up The Grapes of Math, truly one of the most fun reads I’ve had in awhile. I’ve been struck by many anecdotes within it (and a few formulas… I don’t understand all of the formulas!), but today is the right day to share a bit from the chapter on circles. It’s 6.28 today, after all.
6.28 is 3.14 (π) times two. It is the circumference to radius ratio. And there’s a whole group of mathemeticians who think it’s a much more representative and useful number to work with, Pi-day celebrations be damned.
I find their argument pretty convincing. But what do I know about math? Literally almost nothing. What I found inspiring about this story was that despite the fact that everyone learns Pi and talks about Pi and uses Pi (I guess?), there are people who think the system is wrong, and want to move to a different system.
Hartl encourages young mathematicians to replace pi with Tau in their work. A start would be to preface all papers with “For convenience, we set t=2π.” He warns that the fight will be long because the foe is so powerful, beneficiery of centuries of propaganda. “Some conventions, though unfortunate, are effectively irreversible,” he writes. “But the switch from the to t can…happen incrementally; unlike a redefinition, it need not happen all at once.”
This is so inspiring! Is the for-profit scholarly publishing system more entrenched than π? No way! Am I mixing apples and self-driving cars? Kind of. But I really like collecting these stories of (even potential) monumental shifts.