pi (fwd) off topic for rp-ml but of interest to engineers etc.

From: John Dickinson dickijk@bille.ppc.engga.uwo.ca)
Date: Wed May 06 1998 - 16:50:59 EEST

Here's one for you all that gave me a shiver and a laugh.

-((Insert standard disclaimer here))-|----- Arthur Wellesley -------------- 
John Kenneth Dickinson               |      Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)
Grad. Student Mech. Eng. U.W.O.      |  "There is no mistake;
now: dickijk@bille.ppc.engga.uwo.ca  |   there has been no mistake; 
                                     |   and there shall be no mistake."

---------- Forwarded message ---------- > >> HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA engineers and mathematicians in this high-tech > >> city are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legistature > >> narrowly passed a law yesterday redefining pi, a mathematical constant > >> used in the aerospace industry. The bill to change the value of pi to > >> exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson (R, > >> Crossville), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing campaign > >> by members of the Solomon Society, a traditional values group. > >> Governor Guy Hunt says he will sign it into law on Wednesday. > >> > >> The law took the state's engineering community by surprise. "It would > >> have been nice if they had consulted with someone who actually uses > >> pi," said Marshall Bergman, a manager at the Ballistic Missile Defense > >> Organization. According to Bergman, pi is a Greek letter that > >> signifies the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. > >> It is often used by engineers to calculate missile trajectories. > >> > >> Prof. Kim Johanson, a mathematician from University of Alabama, said > >> that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be changed by > >> lawmakers. Johanson explained that pi is an irrational number, which > >> means that it has an infinite number of digits after the decimal point > >> and can never be known exactly. Nevertheless, she said, pi is precisly > >> defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, plus as many more digits as you > >> have time to calculate". > >> > >> "I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and > >> it is time for them to admit it," said Lawson. "The Bible very > >> clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the alter font of Solomon's Temple > >> was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was > >> round in compass." > >> > >> Lawson called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be > >> calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact answer > >> could harm students' self-esteem. "We need to return to some absolutes > >> in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say that the font was > >> thirty-something cubits. Plain reading says thirty cubits. Period." > >> > >> Science supports Lawson, explains Russell Humbleys, a propulsion > >> technician at the Marshall Spaceflight Center who testified in support > >> of the bill before the legislature in Mongtomery on Monday. "Pi is > >> merely an artifact of Euclidean geometry." Humbleys is working on a > >> theory which he says will prove that pi is determined by the geometry > >> of three-dimensional space, which is assumed by physicists to be > >> "isotropic", or the same in all directions. > >> > >> "There are other geometries, and pi is different in every one of them," > >> says Humbleys. Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is > >> Euclidean, he says. He points out that a circle drawn on a spherical > >> surface has a different value for the ratio of circumfence to > >> diameter. "Anyone with a compass, flexible ruler, and globe can see > >> for themselves," suggests Humbleys, "its not exactly rocket science." > >> > >> Roger Learned, a Solomon Society member who was in Montgomery to > >> support the bill, agrees. He said that pi is nothing more than an > >> assumption by the mathematicians and engineers who were there to argue > >> against the bill. "These nabobs waltzed into the capital with an > >> arrogance that was breathtaking," Learned said. "Their prefatorial > >> deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute contraposition to > >> the legislature's puissance." > >> > >> Some education experts believe that the legislation will affect the way > >> math is taught to Alabama's children. One member of the state > >> school board, Lily Ponja, is anxious to get the new value of pi into > >> the state's math textbooks, but thinks that the old value should be > >> retained as an alternative. She said, "As far as I am concerned, the > >> value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open to all > >> interpretations." She looks forward to students having the freedom to > >> decide for themselves what value pi should have. > >> > >> Robert S. Dietz, a professor at Arizona State University who has > >> followed the controversy, wrote that this is not the first time a state > >> legislature has attempted to redifine the value of pi. A legislator in > >> the state of Indiana unsuccessfully attempted to have that state set > >> the value of pi to three. According to Dietz, the lawmaker was > >> exasperated by the calculations of a mathematician who carried pi to > >> four hundred decimal places and still could not achieve a rational > >> number. Many experts are warning that this is just the beginning of > >> a national battle over pi between traditional values supporters and the > >> technical elite. Solomon Society member Lawson agrees. "We just want > >> to return pi to its traditional value," he said, "which, according to > >> the Bible, is three."

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