"This idea of a construction in steps that gets closer and closer to

pi is a delightful idea, certainly new to me."
Martin Gardner

THE NUMBER PI
© 1997. Iterate. All rights reserved
In the mansions of mathematics today there is no room for one
who still thinks about the most famous problem of all time squaring the circle. For one hundred and ten years
mathematicians have been convinced that the nearly four
thousand year old problem of squaring the circle is
sufficiently understood and that it is insoluble. With a
prickliness perhaps betraying some lingering anxiety, anyone
who wastes further time on the puzzle is regarded as
mathematically incompetent.

Quietly demurring from this starkly intimidating judgment
stands ancient Greek civilization itself. They were an
extraordinary people, naming whole branches of knowledge
we venerate. Hardly the kind to waste their time on a fool's
errand. One can only marvel at the work of Apollonius of
Perga (247 - 205 BC) on conic sections. What impelled this

great mind to master such an obscure subject that would
have no utility for eighteen hundred years. And then we move
forward and study Isaac Newton's (1642 -1727) Principia
Mathematica (1687) and realize that he could not have made
his discoveries about centripetal forces if he did not have the
principles of the ellipse, parabola and hyperbola with which
to build on Johannes Kepler's (1571-1630) interpretation of
Tycho Brae's (1546 -1601) naked eye measurements of the
motions of the planets. And that Kepler himself first needed
Apollonius' conics to derive his laws of planetary motion
from Brae's data. From this rich perspective, the instinct that
prompted the ancient Greek mathematicians to study conics
becomes even more remarkable.

Then when we learn that it was the challenge of squaring the
circle which gave birth to the original interest in conics,
something warns us to be more careful about dismissing as
fruitless any matter the greatest of the Greeks found
intellectually important, but instead strive to reexamine and
adjust our own idea of it.

According to historians, leading mathematicians in Greek
antiquity would "occupy" themselves with this geometrical
problem, known as the "quadrature". What it involves,
essentially, is constructing an ideal square with an area equal
to that of a given circle (where the radius of the circle is one,
an area equal to pi) and doing so in a finite number of
operations using only a straight edge and a compass. A

practically identical problem is the rectification of the circle:
Constructing an ideal straight line equal in length to the
circumference of the circle.

Beginning with Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650), advances in the
methods of coordinate geometry enabled mathematicians to
translate any geometrical problem into an equivalent algebra
problem involving only numbers and their relations. It was
thereby established that a geometric problem can be solved
with a ruler and compass in a finite number of steps only if its
algebraic equivalent depends on a number that can be
obtained from a whole number by addition, subtraction,
multiplication, division or extraction of square roots. There
are numbers that are beyond algebraic, or transcendental;
these cannot be the root of any algebraic or constructible
equation. In 1882 it was proved by Lindemann (1852 -1939)
that pi is such a number. Therefore constructing the long
sought for square by means of a finite number of Euclidean
operations alone is impossible. Further pursuit of this
problem - exactly as it has been defined by the historians - is
without question a dead end. But it was a successful failure
indeed. Those who chronicle the "completed" history of the
problem recount the instances where this doomed approach
to pi down through the centuries was nevertheless responsible
for important achievements in the development of
mathematics.

Problems, too, can evolve. The problem of squaring the circle has
passed into an ageometric one of understanding the mystery
of pi, seeking some hidden pattern in pi, some design, some
relationship never noticed between the circle and its area the
square. This is no dead end. A man who has been called the
most knowledgable mathematician in 100 years occupied
himself with a mail-order supercomputer calculating pi to
2.26 billion decimal places, looking for a system. The
mathematical intuition that fosters this dedication must be
the same as that which drew the ancient Greek scholars to
this, even then, age old subject. That the Greeks lacked the
essential numeration system of positional decimal notation,
let alone calculators, needed to observe pi in this way argues
all the more eloquently for the importance of instinct in these
matters.

And what of their obsolete straight edge and compass, now
discarded in the continuing quest to fathom pi? Someone said
there are no insoluble problems, only misunderstood
problems. So it may be with "squaring the circle". Invariably
when the problem is referred to the term "squaring" the
circle is used. Does this perhaps suggest an intrinsic tension
with the notion of a fixed square and a finite number of
steps? Does it invite consideration of a process, of something
dynamic, continuing, animated? Let us suppose the nature of
the problem has indeed been mistaken in a key respect. That
of course pi is a never-ending ratio of the way across a circle
to the way around it, and will not be captured in a fixed
square constructed by the stipulated means. Let us suppose

that the true point of the ancient problem, instead, is to use
undivided ruler and compass as instruments to examine pi by
constructing a dynamic square, one that mirrors the
unending decimal expansion of pi. To track pi and express it
in the form of a square with straight edge and compass. We
find to our fascination that there is such a square. It may be
said to vibrate.
Where would one begin to construct a theoretical square whose
area follows along with the area of a forcing circle in the
unending decimal dance of pi? One promising starting point
will be found in the famous golden section of Eudoxus (c. 408355 BC), which Kepler ranked as one of the two great
treasures of geometry, after the theorem of Pythagoras.
Illustration 1.
If we draw a line from the golden section C to the point D in
Eudoxus' 1:2 right triangle, we may use that line CD as the
semidiameter of an interesting square. Illustration 2. The area
of the square will of course be one-half the square of twice the
semidiameter, or 3.1671845 - not all that bad a starting
approximation of pi, actually. We need a reference point.
Imagine a perfect pi amounting to exactly 3.125. The semidiameter C'D of a square of area 3.125 in this construction
would start to the right of the golden section point, at .75 on
the base of the 1:2 right triangle, compared to the section
point east of it at .7639320. Let us call these values "base
amounts", referring to the base of the right triangle CBD that
we use to determine the length of the semidiameter of the
sought for square. It will be seen that the difference between

these two points -measuring .0139320 - is the gulf in which pi
reverberates throughout infinitesimal eternity.

Now let this small distance - .0139320 - be the hypotenuse of an
inverted 1:2 right triangle, constructed with straight edge and
compass as in Proposition 12 of Euclid's Elements.
Illustration 3. Henceforth, it is possible to follow the
successive decimal expansion of pi, each time marking off a
more exact base amount or starting point for the
semidiameter of the pursuing square, merely by manipulating
the 1:2 right triangle form in one of four basic ways. Through
operations constructible with a straight edge and a compass and a calculator to give the decimals of pi and confirm the
length of the segments being marked off - one can arrive at
ever more accurate base amount locations for the terminus of
the oscillating, note-like semidiameter.

Only the first two steps need to be explained in order understand
the rest. In the first step, Illustration 4, we draw an altitude fg
to the hypotenuse of the east-facing 1:2 right triangle. This
marks one-fifth of the hypotenuse, gc'. We double that (hc')
to get two-fifths - .0055728 - and this is added to the right
hand limit of .75 to arrive at our third base amount - .
7555728. This one step already gives us pi of 3.1417, more
accuracy than Archimedes (287 - 212 BC) achieved using his
method of exhaustion involving inscribed and circumscribed
hexagons of 96 sides. The addition here, .0055728, serves as
the hypotenuse for the next 1:2 right triangle in the series.

It is necessary to reduce the size of the square. To do so, we face
the inverted 1:2 right triangle west, meaning that we are
subtracting from the base amount and the area of the square
so determined. This alternating pattern, east - west, add subtract, accounts for the ever diminishing yet unending
vibration in the square. We drop an altitude and mark off a
similar 1:2 right triangle one-fifth the size. Then (moving out
from the center line in the drawing) mark off one-half of that
smaller triangle, and one-half again, and yet a third time.
Finally, we swing the altitude of the last triangle down upon
the hypotenuse, recalling the first step in Eudoxus' original
construction. This marks the next base amount, which gives
us pi of 3.141592 - probably more accuracy than any earthly
engineering application would ever require. (The decrement
will form the first hypotenuse in the next step.)

From here on, the appropriate manipulation of the 1:2 right
triangles is shown in the drawing (Illustration 5). In 42
east/west operations (79 steps in all) we have pi to 35 decimal
places. It looks like a series of semaphore signals. (Best to
print Illustration 5.)

The idea of an alternating infinite series of plus and minus terms
approaching pi is not new. The simple series pi/4 = 1/1 - 1/3 +
1/5 - 1/7 + 1/9 . . . is named for Leibniz (1646 - 1716), although
it was known earlier. Histories of this problem have reported

no suggestion by Leibniz or others of such a plus/minus
formula for a dimension of a square (or any other figure)
whose area approaches pi, however. There is also the matter
of speed of convergence. As noted, the second step in the
method discussed here (Illustration 6. gives a formula
approaching the square root of [pi/2 - 1] ) yields pi correct to
six decimals.
In the Leibniz series you would have pi to only 3 correct decimal
places after seven thousand alternate steps. The series
[pi - 3]/4 = 1/(2 x 3 x 4) - 1/(4 x 5 x 6) + 1/(6 x 7 x 8) . . .
gives pi to 6 decimals in about 110 steps. The series
[pi/6] = [square root 1/3] . [1/(30 x 1) - 1/(31 x 3) + 1/(32 x 5)
- 1/(33 x 7) + 1/(34 x 9) . . .]
gives 6 places in only 13 steps. But neither do these latter two
series relate to any square. They may be said to play
hopscotch back and forth over pi, but no geometric image is
imparted.

Mathematicians have had no success searching for a pattern
throughout more than 2 billion decimal digits of pi. The
straight edge and compass no longer play any role at all in
this modern quest. The kind of method discussed here offers
a different vantage point for observing pi. It reintroduces the
classical straight edge and compass, redefining the problem
of squaring the circle to avoid Lindemann's dead end.

Perhaps it will yield something interesting, maybe even some
tool needed for solution of a scientific problem. A
mathematical explanation of why 4 relations of the 1:2 right
triangle can be arranged in an alternating series to approach
square root (pi/2) - 1 would be intrinsically valuable.

Finally, a thought about proportion. If the line AB in Illustration
2 was the distance light travels in one thousand years, the
increment subtracted in the last step in the series in
Illustration 6 would be near the scale of the subatomic
particle known as the quark. Yet we have barely begun to
express pi with straight edge and compass. The prospect
recalls a passage from the Pensees of Blaise Pascal (16231662):
But, to offer him another prodigy equally astounding, let him
look into the tiniest things he knows. Let a mite show him in
its minute body incomparably more minute parts, legs with
joints, veins in its legs, blood in the veins, humours in the
blood, drops in the humours, vapours in the drops; let him
divide these things still further until he has exhausted his
powers of imagination, and let the last thing he comes down
to now be the subject of our discourse. He will perhaps think
that this is the ultimate of minuteness in nature. I want to
show him a new abyss. I want to depict to him not only the
visible universe, but all the conceivable immensity of nature
enclosed in this miniature atom. Let him see there an infinity
of universes, each with its firmament, its planets, its earth, in
the same proportions as in the visible world, and on that
earth animals, and finally mites, in which he will find again

the same results as in the first; and finding the same thing yet
again in the others, he will be lost in such wonders, as
astounding in their minuteness as the others in their
amplitude. For who will not marvel that our body, a moment
ago imperceptible in a universe, itself imperceptible in the
bosom of the whole, should now be a colossus, a world, or
rather a whole, compared to the nothingness beyond our
reach? Anyone who considers himself in this way will be
terrified at himself, and, seeing his mass, as given him by
nature, supporting him between these two abysses of infinity
and nothingness, will tremble at these marvels. I believe that
with his curiosity changing into wonder he will be more
disposed to contemplate them in silence than investigate them
with presumption.

x = ( sqrt 5 - 2)2
Sqrt [pi/2 - 1] = 0.75 + [x . 50] /10 1 - [x . 51.5] /104 + [x . 52] / 107

- [x . 51] / 108 + [x . 52 ]/ 1010 - [x . 52 ]/ 1011 + [x . 51 ] / 1011

- [x . 50] / 1011 + [x . 52] / 1013 - [x . 50 ]/ 1012 + [x . 52] / 1014

- [x . 50] / 1013 + [x . 51] / 1014 - [x . 51.5] / 1015 + [x . 52 ]/ 1017

- [x . 51.5] / 1017 + [x . 50 ] / 1017 - [x . 51] / 1018 + [x . 52] / 1019

- [x . 52 ] / (2 . 1020) + [x . 50 ]/ 1020 - [x . 52] / 1022 + [x . 50] / 1021

- [x . 51] / 1022 + [x . 52] / 1023 - [x . 51] / 1023 + [x . 52] / 1024

- [x . 50] / 1023 + [x . 52 ] / 1025 - [x . 52 ] / 1026 + [x . 51 / 1026

- [x . 50 ] / 1026 + [x . 52] / 1029 - [x . 50 ] / 1028 + [x . 52] / 1031

- [x . 50] / 1030 + [x . 50] / 1031 - [x . 52] / 1033 + [x . 50 ] / 1032

- [x . 52] / 1034 + [x . 52] / (2.1034) - [x . 52] / (2.1035)

ILLUSTRATION 6

APPENDIX

5.572809000084121436330532507489505823
0.75+5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10 -3
0.7555728090000841214363305325074895058
6.230589874905363384128150929074305948
0.7555728090000841214363305325074895058 - 6.230589874905363384128150929074305948 . 10-5
0.7555105031013350678024892509981987627
1.393202250021030359082633126872376455
0.7555105031013350678024892509981987627 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-7
0.7555106424215600699055251592615114500
2.786404500042060718165266253744752911
0.7555106424215600699055251592615114500 - 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911. 10-9
0.7555106396351555698634644410962451962
0.7555106396351555698634644410962451962 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-10
0.7555106397744757948655674770045085089
0.7555106397744757948655674770045085089 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-11
0.7555106397605437723653571734136821776
0.7555106397605437723653571734136821776 + 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-12
0.7555106397633301768653992341318474439
0.7555106397633301768653992341318474439 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-13
0.7555106397627728959653908219882143906
0.7555106397627728959653908219882143906 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-13
0.7555106397629122161903929250241226539
0.7555106397629122161903929250241226539 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-14
0.7555106397628564881003920838097593486
0.7555106397628564881003920838097593486 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455. 10-14
0.7555106397628704201228922941133501749

0.7555106397628704201228922941133501749 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-15
0.7555106397628648473138922099919138444
0.7555106397628648473138922099919138444 + 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-15
0.7555106397628676337183922520526320097
0.7555106397628676337183922520526320097 - 6.230589874905363384128150929074305948 . 10-16
0.7555106397628670106594047615162935969
0.7555106397628670106594047615162935969 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-17
0.7555106397628670245914272617265971877
0.7555106397628670245914272617265971877 - 6.230589874905363384128150929074305948 . 10-18
0.7555106397628670183608373868212338036
0.7555106397628670183608373868212338036 + 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-19
0.7555106397628670189181182868296459472
0.7555106397628670189181182868296459472 - 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-19
0.7555106397628670186394778368254398754
0.7555106397628670186394778368254398754 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-19
0.7555106397628670187787980618275429113
0.7555106397628670187787980618275429113 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455/2 . 10-20
0.7555106397628670187718320505774377595
0.7555106397628670187718320505774377595 + 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-22
0.7555106397628670187723893314774461716
0.7555106397628670187723893314774461716 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-22
0.7555106397628670187722500112524440686
0.7555106397628670187722500112524440686 + 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-23
0.7555106397628670187723057393424449098
0.7555106397628670187723057393424449098 - 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-23
0.7555106397628670187722778752974444892
0.7555106397628670187722778752974444892 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-23
0.7555106397628670187722918073199446995
0.7555106397628670187722918073199446995 - 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-24

0.7555106397628670187722890209154446575
0.7555106397628670187722890209154446575 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-24
0.7555106397628670187722904141176946785
0.7555106397628670187722904141176946785 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-25
0.7555106397628670187722898568367946701
0.7555106397628670187722898568367946701 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-25
0.7555106397628670187722899961570196722
0.7555106397628670187722899961570196722 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-26
0.7555106397628670187722899822249971720
0.7555106397628670187722899822249971720 + 2.786404500042060718165266253744752911 . 10-27
0.7555106397628670187722899850114016720
0.7555106397628670187722899850114016720 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-28
0.7555106397628670187722899844541207720
0.7555106397628670187722899844541207720 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-29
0.7555106397628670187722899844680527945
0.7555106397628670187722899844680527945 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-30
0.7555106397628670187722899844624799855
0.7555106397628670187722899844624799855 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-31
0.7555106397628670187722899844626193057
0.7555106397628670187722899844626193057 - 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-32
0.7555106397628670187722899844625635776
0.7555106397628670187722899844625635776 + 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-33
0.7555106397628670187722899844625691504
0.7555106397628670187722899844625691504 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-33
0.7555106397628670187722899844625677572
0.7555106397628670187722899844625677572 + 5.572809000084121436330532507489505823 . 10-34
0.7555106397628670187722899844625683145
0.7555106397628670187722899844625683145 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455 . 10-34
0.7555106397628670187722899844625681752

0.7555106397628670187722899844625681752 + 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455/2 . 10-34
0.7555106397628670187722899844625682449
0.7555106397628670187722899844625682449 - 1.393202250021030359082633126872376455/2 . 10-35
0.7555106397628670187722899844625682379
***
2 . (0.7555106397628670187722899844625682379 2 + 1)
3.14159265358979323846264338327950288