RE: pi (fwd) off topic for rp-ml but of interest to engineers et

From: Brock Hinzmann (
Date: Wed May 06 1998 - 22:43:09 EEST

A cubit is the length of the arm from the tip of the middle finger to the
elbow. Given the likely physical stature of Hiram of Tyre, the lead
engineer on that project, Solomon's Temple was any where from 180 to 220 inches
(457.2 to 558.8 cm) across by 540 to 660 inches (1371.6 to 1676.4 cm)
around (assuming Lawson meant 30 cubits in circumference and not 30 cubits in
diameter). If Hiram subcontracted the work to two different engineers
(let's call them Jachim and Boaz), the Temple's shape could have been
anything from a perfect circle to something resembling the outline of a
watermelon. So who cares what pi is?

Brock Hinzmann
Technology Navigator

John Dickinson <John Dickinson wrote:
>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
>Grad. Student Mech. Eng. U.W.O. | "There is no mistake;
>now: | there has been no mistake;
> | and there shall be no mistake."
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>> >> HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- NASA engineers and mathematicians in this
>> >> city are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legistature
>> >> narrowly passed a law yesterday redefining pi, a mathematical
>> >> used in the aerospace industry. The bill to change the value of pi
>> >> exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson
>> >> Crossville), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing
>> >> 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
>> >> have been nice if they had consulted with someone who actually uses
>> >> pi," said Marshall Bergman, a manager at the Ballistic Missile
>> >> Organization. According to Bergman, pi is a Greek letter that
>> >> signifies the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its
>> >> It is often used by engineers to calculate missile trajectories.
>> >>
>> >> Prof. Kim Johanson, a mathematician from University of Alabama,
>> >> that pi is a universal constant, and cannot arbitrarily be changed
>> >> lawmakers. Johanson explained that pi is an irrational number,
>> >> means that it has an infinite number of digits after the decimal
>> >> and can never be known exactly. Nevertheless, she said, pi is
>> >> defined by mathematics to be "3.14159, plus as many more digits as
>> >> have time to calculate".
>> >>
>> >> "I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational,
>> >> 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
>> >> was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it
>> >> round in compass."
>> >>
>> >> Lawson called into question the usefulness of any number that
cannot be
>> >> calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact
>> >> could harm students' self-esteem. "We need to return to some
>> >> in our society," he said, "the Bible does not say that the font was
>> >> thirty-something cubits. Plain reading says thirty cubits.
>> >>
>> >> Science supports Lawson, explains Russell Humbleys, a propulsion
>> >> technician at the Marshall Spaceflight Center who testified in
>> >> of the bill before the legislature in Mongtomery on Monday. "Pi is
>> >> merely an artifact of Euclidean geometry." Humbleys is working on
>> >> theory which he says will prove that pi is determined by the
>> >> 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
>> >> says Humbleys. Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is
>> >> Euclidean, he says. He points out that a circle drawn on a
>> >> surface has a different value for the ratio of circumfence to
>> >> diameter. "Anyone with a compass, flexible ruler, and globe can
>> >> for themselves," suggests Humbleys, "its not exactly rocket
>> >>
>> >> 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
>> >> 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
>> >> the legislature's puissance."
>> >>
>> >> Some education experts believe that the legislation will affect the
>> >> 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
>> >> 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,
>> >> value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open to all
>> >> interpretations." She looks forward to students having the freedom
>> >> 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
>> >> legislature has attempted to redifine the value of pi. A
legislator in
>> >> the state of Indiana unsuccessfully attempted to have that state
>> >> the value of pi to three. According to Dietz, the lawmaker was
>> >> exasperated by the calculations of a mathematician who carried pi
>> >> 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
>> >> technical elite. Solomon Society member Lawson agrees. "We just
>> >> to return pi to its traditional value," he said, "which, according
>> >> the Bible, is three."

For more information about the rp-ml, see

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Tue Jun 05 2001 - 22:45:32 EEST