A Slice of Pi

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mikhael Skoutelsky
Staff Writer


On the 14th of March, the annual Pi Day happened. The day celebrating the infinite number has passed, and as such, it is time to give it the remembrance it deserves. So, what exactly is this number? Pi, or π, represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Most are familiar with its first three digits (3.14). However, the number itself is far from new. Its first documented history goes back to around 4000 years ago. In fact, the first civilization to realize that such a ration exists for the circle were the Babylonians. They used to calculate the diameter of a circle by tripling its circumference. As such, they thought that the value of pi was exactly 3.

However, the term pi was only invented during the 1700s. Specifically, a mathematics teacher named William Jones first used the term pi in 1706, in his book Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, or A New Introduction to the Mathematics. Before he coined the term, pi itself was referred to as “the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference”. It was impossible at the time to represent it in numerical terms because, until then, there were only approximations as to its true value. However, Jones realized that the number was infinite, and could never be truly represented in numbers. He thus used pi, a word derived from the Greek word for “circumference” to express this ratio.
Therefore, π not only represents a ratio, but also the impossibility to represent this ideal number.

Its first documented history goes back to around 4000 years ago. In fact, the first civilization to realize that such a ration exists for the circle were the Babylonians. They used to calculate the diameter of a circle by tripling its circumference. As such, they thought that the value of pi was exactly 3.
However, the term pi was only invented during the 1700s. Specifically, a mathematics teacher named William Jones first used the term pi in 1706, in his book Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, or A New Introduction to the Mathematics. Before he coined the term, pi itself was referred to as “the quantity which, when the diameter is multiplied by it, yields the circumference”. It was impossible at the time to represent it in numerical terms because, until then, there were only approximations as to its true value. However, Jones realized that the number was infinite, and could never be truly represented in numbers. He thus used pi, a word derived from the Greek word for “circumference” to express this ratio.
Therefore, π not only represents a ratio, but also the impossibility to represent this ideal number.

Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 07 on December 4th, 2019