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**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

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