The Truth About Pi

Smoking sheesha in Luxor, Egypt

Smoking sheesha in Luxor, Egypt

My idea of having a great time: smoking sheesha in Egypt, wearing my favourite T-shirt (ThinkGeek.com). The print on the shirt consists of the first 4,493 digits of the number Pi in the shape of the symbol itself. In my view, the number Pi, not the number 42 as some have proposed, symbolises the ultimate truth of the universe. Let me explain why.

On the way back from Egypt I watched The Oxford Murders. In this movie, the question whether mathematics is the underlying truth of the world is discussed between the two main characters. Martin, a student played by Elijah Wood, said:

“Things are organised following a model, a scheme, a logical series. Even the tiny snowflake includes a numerical basis in its structure. Therefore, if we discover the secret meaning of numbers, we will know the secret meaning of reality.”

But is Martin correct? Can all philosophical questions and truths be expressed in mathematics? Will we eventually calculate our way out of ethical dilemma’s? Can we improve our understanding of Shakespeare by expressing his prose in formal language?

To be or not to be

I tend to agree with Professor Martin Seldon, played by John Hurt in the same movie:

“Since man is incapable of reconciling mind and matter he turns to confer some kind of entity on ideas because he can not bear the notion that the purely abstract only exists in our brain.”

With this in mind, why does the number Pi reflects the ultimate truth about the universe?

Pi is an irrational and transcendental number and the digits of which it is composed comprise an infinite array of random numbers. Even after calculating billions of digits, there does not seem to be any pattern in the arrangement of the digits. It is this lack of any pattern, the absence of logic, that illustrates the structure of the universe itself.

Pi is an artificial structure of our mind, not something existing in reality. Nature doesn’t care about perimeters and diameters, although it might seem that the ubiquitous nature of Pi seems to suggest differently.

Pi is an important number in physics and is included in many formulas. This implies to me that there is something inherently random in the structure of reality.

However, we perceive our environment in discrete terms. Common sense mathematics does not include irrational numbers such as Pi. We think in whole numbers and fractions. This is reflected in the fact that in ancient cultures, Pi was perceived to be a fracture, such as 22/7. This is the value that I use in my own calculations as it is accurate enough for almost all computations.

But the number Pi is ubiquitous in mathematics and physics. We rely on an irrational numbers such as Pi and e in much of our modeling of reality. What does this say about the structure of reality? I do not have an answer on this, but for me, the existence of irrational numbers shows the great divide between common sense and our scientific description of the world.

Pyramidology or pyramidiot?

pyramidologyOne of my favourite past times is reading different theories about the Egyptian pyramids. I am collecting books on this topic from every available perspective—from the factual archaeological approach, to the, sometimes outlandish, alternative approaches.

An interesting spin-off of this phenomenon is the debate between the rational scientists and the proponents of alternative theories, between the Egyptologists and pyramidologists.

Some scientists refer to alternative theories as Pyramidiocy. I agree that the majority of pyramidological theories is based on speculation and unwarranted arguments. The scientists are, however, missing an important point. There is more to pyramidology than meets the eye. The ongoing disenchantment of the world and the decrease of organised religion causes people to search for meaning outside the normal parameters. The Egyptian pyramids, and many other ancient archaeological sites, are a great vehicle for meaning.

They are enigmatic for many reasons: they are enormous structures, built with perplexing accuracy, built by a civilisation that did not have access to modern technology and that left no writing behind regarding their construction and function.

Because historiographical methodology is not able to provide any certain truth about events from the past, there is a lot of room for alternative explanations. While the Egyptologists, for example, are convinced that the pyramids were tombs, pyramidologists point out that there is no evidence to prove this fact. From a methodological point of view, pyramidologists are justified in denying this. Just because there is an artifact inside the pyramid of Khufu that looks like a sarcophagus does not mean that it is a necessary truth that it is a tomb. History can only deal in likelihoods, not in absolute truth.

It is essential for the pyramid to be a vehicle for meaning that the Egyptologists are proven ‘wrong’. Egyptological explanations can not provide meaning because it deals in historiographical, not philosophical truth. Egyptology as a science is necessary rational and dry and stays away from speculation. Pyramidology uses the vacuum created through this exsanguated approach by developing theories that go beyond science. The pyramids thus become a vehicle for meaning, rather than just a huge ancient tomb.

Pyramidology has been around for a while, but has been no more prolific than the second half of the last century. It is an interesting cultural phenomena and scientists should not waste their time on deciding truth or falsity of these theories, but investigate the broader philosophical perspective.