Mountains of Pi Trivial?

Archimedes developed the polygonal approach to approximating π.

How embarrassing. A sentence below contains a disagreement, an error, of tense.

Evidently it was published that way owing to (my) poor proofing. I’m posting it today in honor of pi. International Day of Pi. …Also coinciding with an almost infinity of snow flakes coming our way. If we survive (for not having stocked up on pie), there will be mountains of infinitely patterned six-sided flakes to shovel and haul.


I’ve been reading “The Mountains of Pi” (from the literary nonfiction book), by Richard Preston. About the Chudnovsky Brothers. They were calculating digits of pi, and they said to Preston, “you mustn’t,” meaning, don’t write about us: We aren’t interesting. Aroostook County—even some Mainers have kidded—write about that? Where’s the interest? But these Chudnovsky protests made Preston think he was really onto something. To these brothers numbers were perfection, beautiful, more complex, and more actual than any physical matter. It reminds me about what the fine-artist Nancy Jacob said of the Angel she and her friends saw in Pennsylvania. Paraphrasing to the best of my recollection: “It was inhuman, more like a mathematical formula.” And this also brings to mind the weird or frightening concentric circular beings of CS Lewis’ narrative in Perelandra. And of Ezekiel’s wheel within the wheel. I always thought of pi—how many times a circle’s diameter will fit around its periphery—as 3.14. But in reality the approximation is “unfathomable. No apparent pattern is expressed for the intellect as its expansion proceeds … forever. Even though this phenomenon comes from precision of numbers, it seems to me evidence for God’s irrational aspect (if aspect is the word—maybe a quality (one of multitudes) is a better word). Divinely irrational, concomitant with divine rationality.

Gregory Chudnovsky reminds me of Johannes Kepler in the method of his working. Kepler said he recorded all of his mistakes as would a New World Explorer. Gregory’s apartment is dense with works, papers; his theories and discoveries scattered throughout, mixed in with a lot of research and some odd bits like Kipling. And this Chudnovsky may be onto something: it wasn’t until Newton that Kepler’s laws of planetary motions were unearthed from the ponderous mass of his scriptural circuitry, full also of blind alleys (to thoroughly mix the metaphor). The ratio of the circumference to the diameter cannot contain God. This is why many scientists are able to believe in God—because they know pi is, and cannot be found (here paraphrasing Preston on pi). Chudnovsky has said mathematicians claim the (eventually) disclosed triviality of mathematical findings—given that small findings tend to take an inordinate amount of time and work to achieve.

Since pi stands for periphery in English, it conjures peripheral vision, with which things are glimpsed indirectly. And some things are invisible except to this side vision. Some stars are invisible to direct sight, which registers colors, but some starlight is gathered in the eye’s corners instead. Turn to focus on it and that star—has vanished. This has always fascinated me and I have fictionalized it. And it is elsewhere in Maine Metaphor.

But still, Preston says, the brothers aren’t sure what God is trying to say by this.

I’m thinking…maybe?— “Boys, I am not trivial.”?



Used with permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers


As I found on Wikipedia,

Sir Isaac Newton was ashamed to confess how many figures he carried his computations for pi.

2 responses

  1. Well, if I spent some time to dissect it I’m sure I would find your error of tense, but I would rather not cut up this beautiful pie. :). Good luck with the snow, batten down the hatches and wrap up in a blankie. Spring is coming….right??


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