Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Math Government News

111 Years Ago, Indiana Almost Legislated Pi 379

Posted by kdawson
from the squaring-the-circle dept.
I Don't Believe in Imaginary Property writes "On February 5, 1897, 111 years ago today, the Indiana legislature very nearly passed a bill 'introducing a new mathematical truth,' that would have erroneously established pi as the ratio 'five-fourths to four' or 3.2. The story explaining the rationale behind the bill and how they were prevented from legislating it when a real mathematician intervened is quite interesting, because the man who discovered the 'new mathematical truth' wanted to charge royalties, which could have made pi the first form of irrational property."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

111 Years Ago, Indiana Almost Legislated Pi

Comments Filter:
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:25AM (#22318916)
    How _could_ they even think about committing such an act. Everybody knows that pi = 3. It's in the Bible, after all.


    Then again, maybe I'll patent 22/7 as a good way to approximate pi. I heard that intellectual property is all the rage nowadays.

    • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arotenbe (1203922) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:45AM (#22318990) Journal

      Then again, maybe I'll patent 22/7 as a good way to approximate pi.
      The scary thing is that you could probably actually get the patent with 339/108.
    • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by frup (998325) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:05AM (#22319066)
      thats because pi to 4 decimals is 666/212 so therefore anything close real pi is of course the devils work. (I can't believe I just stumbled on something more accurate than 22/7 by accident while trying to make a real lame joke)
    • by notabaggins (1099403) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:05AM (#22319068)

      Then again, maybe I'll patent 22/7 as a good way to approximate pi. I heard that intellectual property is all the rage nowadays.
      Hm... no, you need a process. Those are what all the cool corporations do. Patent the process of "dividing two, common whole numbers for the purpose of usefully approximating the ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle". Then make sure the steps described take up at least three pages. Oh and use a lot of impressive sounding words for things. Never say something like "pencil", say "graphite based, portable diagrammatic device rated at two on the graphite integrity scale". Things like that. The USPTO seems really impressed when they haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jesus_666 (702802)

        Patent the process of "dividing two, common whole numbers for the purpose of usefully approximating the ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle".
        That will get shot down immediately. You need to prefix it with "a computational device used for" and turn it into a software patent.
    • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:5, Informative)

      by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:24AM (#22319164) Homepage

      Everybody knows that pi = 3.
      Only when your circles have six sides. (Hint: regular hexagons have a circumference/diameter ratio of exactly 3...)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by westlake (615356)
      Everybody knows that pi = 3. It's in the Bible, after all.

      3 is "close enough" if you are working with primitive hand tools and haven't the need or resources for monumental architecture and engineering.

      • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:5, Informative)

        by mskfisher (22425) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:50AM (#22319286) Homepage Journal
        It was better than close:
        http://www.khouse.org/articles/1998/158/ [khouse.org]

        The Hebrew alphabet is alphanumeric: each Hebrew letter also has a numerical value and can be used as a number.
        There was an embedded code - a word that was written strangely:

        The common word for circumference is qav. Here, however, the spelling of the word for circumference, qaveh, adds a heh (h).
        ...
        This indicates an adjustment of the ratio 111/ 106, or 31.41509433962 cubits. Assuming that a cubit was 1.5 ft. this 15-foot-wide bowl would have had a circumference of 47.12388980385 feet.
        This Hebrew "code" results in 47.12264150943 feet, or an error of less than 15 thousandths of an inch!
        It gives an error of 0.00265%. Quite remarkable.
        • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by It'sYerMam (762418) <thefishface@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @09:21AM (#22320304) Homepage
          Numerology wins you no points. If you translate "No God" by a=1, b=2 etc then you get the string of numbers 14157154, which is actually found in pi at the about the 142 thousandth digit. What does this mean? Nothing.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by agrippa_cash (590103)
            Au contrair. You get 1, the irreducable minimum and 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything.
        • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by saforrest (184929) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @10:29AM (#22321270) Homepage Journal
          It gives an error of 0.00265%. Quite remarkable.

          Quite remarkable indeed. One might even call it special pleading.

          The q has a value of 100; the v has a value of 6; thus, the normal spelling would yield a numerical value of 106. The addition of the h, with a value of 5, increases the numerical value to 111.

          Hebrew letters have associated numerical values, that's well known. For the purposes of the argument I'll accept that these letters have the cited values.

          But exactly how did they come up with this particular formula? Given three numbers [A,B,C] what methodology tells them to interpret the combination as the ratio (A+B)/(A+B+C) and not, say, A+B+C or A+B*C, or (A+B)/(A+C)? I don't think there is such a methodology, and I think this means that they will pick whatever formula works for the occasion.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @11:55AM (#22322360)

          qaveh, adds a heh (h).
          ...
          an error of less than 15 thousandths of an inch!

          Good thing they didn't add a lol.

      • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:4, Informative)

        by STrinity (723872) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @11:14AM (#22321952) Homepage
        The Bible says that a well 10 cubits across will have a circumference of 30 cubits. An error of almost one and a half cubits is not "close".
      • Re:Blashphemy ! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @04:02PM (#22325492)
        'God' is "close enough" if you are working with a primitive understanding of the world and the universe and have no interest in actual reality.
    • by SharpFang (651121)
      D'oh. Everyone knows pi seconds is one nanocentury.
    • by Gandalf_Greyhame (44144) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:15AM (#22319406) Journal
      Mathematician: Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.
      Engineer: Pi is about 22/7.
      Physicist: Pi is 3.14159 plus or minus 0.000005
      Computer Programmer: Pi is 3.141592653589 in double precision.
    • pi == ip ? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Evil Pete (73279)

      You just know it doesn't make sense.

  • by Ignis Flatus (689403) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:32AM (#22318946)
    Introduced by Record
    IN THE SENATE
    Read first time and referred to
    committee on Temperance, February 11th, 1897
    Reported favorable February 12th, 1897
    Read second time and indefinitely postponed February 12, 1897


    sounds to me like they just never got a Round Tuit
  • by Cracked Pottery (947450) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:34AM (#22318952)
    There was an attempt to outlaw i and it's use in mathematical equations. Lawmakers who objected to its use complained that it wasn't real and their constituents required too much imagination to accept it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by SlashWombat (1227578)
      This must be why engineers use "j" instead of "i" in their "figuring".
    • Re:In Kansas... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KefabiMe (730997) <garth@NospaM.jhonor.com> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:10AM (#22319088) Journal

      There was an attempt to outlaw i and it's use in mathematical equations. Lawmakers who objected to its use complained that it wasn't real and their constituents required too much imagination to accept it.

      What's really sad is I don't know if that's a joke or if it's informative.

      I mean, and I'm 100% serious here... It could go either way. I have no clue!

    • by clickety6 (141178) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:05AM (#22319362)
      if we're making bad puns, don't forget the story of Polly Nomial and Curly Pi

      Once upon a time pretty little Polly Nomial was strolling across a field of vectors when she came to the edge of a singularly large matrix.

      Now Polly was convergent and her mother had made it an absolute condition that she must never enter such an array without her brackets on. Poll however, who had changed her variables that morning and was feeling particularly badly behaved, ignored these conditions on the ground that they were unnecessary, and made her way amongst the complex elements.

      Rows and columns enveloped her on both sides. Tangents approached her surface; she became tensor and tensor. Quite suddenly two branches of a hyperbola touched her at a single point. She oscillated violently, lost all sense of directrix and went completely divergent. As she reached a turning point she tripped over a square root which was protruding from the erf and plunged headlong down a steep gradient. When she was differentiated once more she found herself alone, apparently in a non-Euclidian space.

      She was being watched however. That smooth operator, Curly Pi, was lurking inner product. As his eyes devoured her curvilinear co-ordinates, a singular expression crossed his face. Was she still convergent, he wondered. He decided to integrate at once.

      Hearing a vulgar fraction behind her, Polly turned round and saw Curly Pi approaching with his power series extrapolated. She could see at once by his degenerate conic and his dissipative terms that he was bent on no good.

      "Eureka" she gasped.

      "Ho Ho" he said, "what a symmetric little polynomial you are. I can see you're absolutely bubbling over with secs."

      "Oh Sir", she protested, "keep away from me, I haven't got my brackets on."

      "Calm yourself, my dear," said our suave operator, "your fears are purely imaginary."

      "i,i," she thought. "Perhaps he's homogeneous then."

      "What order are you," the brute demanded.

      "Seventeen", replied Polly.

      Curly leered. "I suppose you've never been operated on yet", he said.

      "Of course no," Polly exclaimed indignantly. "I'm absolutely convergent".

      "Come, come," said Curly, "lets off to a decimal place I know and I'll take you to the limit".

      "Never" gasped Polly.

      "EXCHLF" he swore, using the vilest oath he knew. His patience was gone. Coshing her over the coefficient with a log until she was powerless, Curly removed her discontinuities. He started at her significant places and began smoothing her points of inflection. Poor Polly, all was up. She felt his digit tending to her asymptotic limit. Her convergence was gone for ever.

      There was no mercy, for Curly was a Heavyside operator. He integrated by partial fractions. The complex beast even went all the way round and did a contour integration. What an indignity. To be multiply connected at her first integration. Curly went on operating until he was absolutely and completely orthogonal.

      When Polly got home that evening her mother noticed that she was truncated in several places. But it was too late to differentiate now. As the months went by, Polly increased monotonically. Finally, she generated a small but pathological function which left surds all over the place until she was driven to distraction.

      The moral of the story is this: If you want to keep your expressions convergent, never allow them a single degree of freedom.
      • Slander! (Score:4, Funny)

        by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @12:11PM (#22322574) Homepage Journal
        Concerned readers of the rather lurid tale above may rest assured that its scandalous contents are entirely false.

        Mr. Pi is a well known and well respected number in the mathematical community, who despite its irrational tendencies, has won the hearts of all decent magnitudes with its transcendental nature. A nature one might add, which intrinsically prevents it from appearing at the roots of any finite order equation, let alone one of only seventeenth order.

        Mr. Pi is a good friend to many highly respected mathematical families such as the Trigonometric Functions and the Elliptic Functions. It is also known for its generous community work, appearing in many Geometrical texts and Physics equations, and in general is known far and wide for not holding itself above the common constant, despite its fame and status.

        Mr. Pi has been known for years as a wonderful role model and teacher for polynomials of a small degree, particularly for second order equations. It has opened up worlds of possibility and inspired these young equations for many years, and it would be a great shame if this false, cruel and libelous fiction caused an end to those efforts.

        I urge readers to reject and condemn this utterly false, malicious and libelous insult upon a good member of the mathematical community. We must not abandon the rigor and scruple that our community is renowned for, and succumb to emotive reasoning. The reader may be assured that however rational their coefficients, seventeenth order equations are known to come across irrational roots, of any multiplicity, all by themselves!
    • Kind of like the attempt in Kansas to declare the use of the "term one million years BC" as a religious hate crime since it shows religious intolerance. Like the "N" word the "M" word was very hurtful to the faithful given there was no one million years BC and there can't be a one million years AD since the Rapture is around the corner. When asked about one billion years the response was "now you're just being silly."
  • by QuickFox (311231) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:37AM (#22318964)

    would have erroneously established pi as the ratio 'five-fourths to four' or 3.2.
    What's wrong with that? It's fairly close to the truth, much closer than many of the current federal administration's views on reality. And far less disastrous.
    • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:41AM (#22318974)
      And far less disastrous.

      Apparently, you haven't imagined yet what many engineering projects would be like if they assumed that pi = 3.2.

      • by QuickFox (311231) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:49AM (#22319000)
        I'm sure every sane engineer would look at that 3.2 and decide that, for reasons related to what's practical and works well, the exact 3.20000000 can't be used with full precision, instead a rough approximation is needed, say 3.14159265 or thereabouts.
        • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:14AM (#22319102)
          I'm sure every sane engineer would look at that 3.2 and decide that, for reasons related to what's practical and works well, the exact 3.20000000 can't be used with full precision, instead a rough approximation is needed, say 3.14159265 or thereabouts.

          ... and not too long ago, there was an article about engineers supposedly having a terrorist mindset. I think we could add "Criminally adulterating the legislated value of pi" to the list of possible terrorist acts.

      • by biased_estimator (1222498) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:13AM (#22319678)
        And do you know what the really scary part is? I had an engineering buddy back in undergrad (at the University of Michigan, not exactly a terrible engin school) vociferously argue with me that pi was exactly 22/7. I asked him if he know what an irrational number is--he said yes. I asked him if he accepted that pi is an irrational number--he said yes. I asked him how pi could be exactly 22/7 if it is irrational... What an exhausting conversation that was. It turns out that pi wasn't the only irrational part of that conversation.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @05:44AM (#22318986)
    ... if your laws contain text like this:

    "It is impossible to compute the area of a circle on the diameter as the linear unit without trespassing upon the area outside of the circle to the extent of including one-fifth more area than is contained within the circle's circumference, because the square on the diameter produces the side of a square which equals nine when the arc of ninety degrees equals eight."

    Not that other countrys' are any better, I suppose

  • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:20AM (#22319124)

    There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about. -- John von Neumann
    How could anything be more perfectly apt for this article?
  • As a Hoosier (DEF: born and currently a resident of Indiana), I confidently assure you that they would gleefully pass the bill today. Anyone objecting would be branded a pi-denier. [insert boring local politics]

    No politician wants to be the one refusing to give our poor and homeless their much needed pi.
  • by PinkyDead (862370) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:23AM (#22319156) Journal
    This happened 111.19 years ago, you must remember to include the leap years.
    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      This happened 111.19 years ago, you must remember to include the leap years.
      You forget Indiana's days are a bit longer. About (3.2-Pi)/Pi longer.
  • They would have been behind their time literally, at least when they tried to make a pendulum clock! using T=2 *Pi * Sqrt(l/g) they would have produced a pendulum which was too long and therefore slow.
  • The new Pi (Score:3, Funny)

    by Grech (106925) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:34AM (#22319208) Homepage
    One can only assume the proposal was made by Bloody Stupid Johnson.
  • Even better! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sykil (770490)
    Apparently, the bill's main purpose wasn't to establish a value of Pi, but to provide a method to square the circle [wikipedia.org]. Doubly retarded! Also, why do we need LEGISLATION of squaring the circle? What political significance does this hold, other than the fact that politicians can't math?
  • by williegeorgie (710224) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @07:11AM (#22319388)
    I hope we read this in about 100 years.... About 100 years ago, the Dover Pennsylvania school board very nearly succeeded in enforcing 'introducing a new scientific truth,' that would have erroneously established intelligent design as a rational alternative to evolution. The story explaining the rationale behind the idiocy is best described by the federal judge who prevented the school board from ....
  • Indiana (Score:5, Funny)

    by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage AT praecantator DOT com> on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @08:19AM (#22319710) Homepage
    Perhaps in another century or so they'll be able to decide on a time-zone.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @10:21AM (#22321112) Homepage
    I'd like to file a motion that we observe this 111th anniversary as the centennial. The number 100 is more convenient and aesthetically pleasing.
  • by jc42 (318812) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @10:28AM (#22321258) Homepage Journal
    My favorite part of the bill is the final line, which reads:

    And be it remembered that these noted problems had been long since given up by scientific bodies as insolvable mysteries and above man's ability to comprehend.

    This, along with the rest of the math in the bill, makes it clear that the authors were the sort that only "believe" in rational numbers. Of course, by that time mathematicians already had a pretty good hold on the rest of the real numbers, and there wasn't any mystery at all about the existence of numbers that weren't the ration of two integers. The only real mystery here is why they preferred the approximation 3.2 rather than 3.1. Not that either is good enough for engineers, who routinely used 3 places as the minimal precision if you don't want to be laughed out of the room.

    One of my favorite bits of mathematical humor is the many cases where they have taken criticisms and turned them into terminology. Thus, when it was realized that numbers like e and pi couldn't be written as ratios of integers, there were a lot of dummies who didn't accept this, and attacked the rationality of the people who did. The response of mathematicians was to say, in essence, "Hey, they call us irrational; that's a good word. Let's call the numbers that our critics believe in as 'rational', and the numbers that they don't believe in as 'irrational'. They'll be happy, and we'll have handy words for talking about these two kinds of numbers."

    It happened again when people started talking about square roots of negative numbers (and engineers found practical uses for them in the real world). There were the usual criticisms, to the effect that negative numbers don't have square roots, and it's stupid to talk about things that don't exist. The natural (;-) reaction of the mathematicians was to first be bemused by the very idea that any kind of numbers have any sort of real existence. Then they adopted the critics' words as terminology, with 'real' numbers the sort that the critics accepted, and 'imaginary' numbers the kind that produced negative numbers when multiplied by themselves. That must have really played with the critics' minds. "Oh, you want to talk about real numbers; that's room 12A, just along the corridor. We're talking about imaginary numbers here. Stupid git."

    Of course, there's the even more basic concept of 'natural' numbers, i.e., positive integers. It's clear from most most languages' words for numbers that most people historically have only dealt with this sort of number. Even today, many US high-school kids have a certain resistance to the idea that they have to learn about fractions, which strike them as 'unnatural' and pointless. So mathematicians adopted 'natural' as a subtle jab at the irrational attitude of the ignorant masses.

    At least this bill's authors had enough understanding to accept rational numbers as real, though they classified irrational numbers like pi as "insolvable mysteries". It is sad (and funny) that as late as 1897 this sort of ignorance could actually make an appearance in a legislative body and apparently be taken as anything but a lame joke.

    There have been other bills like this in the past, though as far as I've read, none of them has ever actually been passed, or even voted on. Anyone know of a case where one reached a vote?

  • by tompaulco (629533) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @01:51PM (#22323762) Homepage Journal
    I don't mind giving ownership of Pi to some clever patent lawyer. But no sneaking using a mathematical symbol. We need to know the EXACT value they want to patent. So they would first have to write down ALL the digits before I would be willing to hand over the patent.
    In fact, I propose that we begin this process right now. Something as widely used as Pi is sure to bring in billions. We need to get ALL the lawyers busy writing down the digits of Pi immediately.

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein

Working...