Southern Voice: Millie Kirkland

Pi Day celebrations may bring back nostalgic memories from middle-school math celebrations in which recitations were made and contests held for the most digits memorized. People ate pie, and all was well. While the holiday may no longer be an annual celebration for you, today — 3/14 — we can pay a little tribute to pi by looking at a lesson it has to offer.

Pi day

The neverending digits of pi can all be wrapped up in one symbol. Image: Mararie via Flickr CC

3.1415926535897932 … If it has been a little while since your math classes, here’s a quick refresher on the number itself. Pi is an irrational number, with no exact value nor known number of digits, represented by the symbol π . Despite this, people attempt to calculate it, and the record number of digits found is 30 trillion. If we will never know its value, what is the high level of interest surrounding this frustratingly incomputable, mathematical constant?

Mathematically speaking, pi is a naturally occurring phenomenon and appears whether we like it or not because it is intrinsically tied to circles and their measurements. We will never know the exact, rational, circumference of a circle—merely that it is 2*pi*radius.

What can the non-mathematical world learn from an irrational number? Pi teaches us to come to terms with the patterns of nature.

Life is unexpected, unpredictable and chaotic.

The lesson from pi is to find reason within the unreasonable. Pi is irrational. It is a product of nature, and as we know, nature is not always so easily explained. Mathematician Steven Strogatz writes, “The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. … [The digits] go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle”.

How can it be that something so seemingly simple, a circle, is the creation of a number so complex that there is no true accurate representation?

Scientists cannot locate the order in pi. They cannot prove it goes on forever, yet they are nowhere close to seeing where it ends. There truly is no order to it, but where in life is there ever order? When does life follow a yellow brick road?

The number is completely chaotic while simultaneously so contained. Trillions of digits can be wrapped up so nicely in one Greek symbol: π. There’s something comprehensible amidst the incomprehensible. The fear that comes from never knowing is somehow lessened by this simplification. When mathematicians approach pi not as an infinite series of digits but rather as one number, it is a much simpler quantity with which they can work. You can rationalize the irrational.

We can apply this technique to our own lives as well. Life is a string of unexpected moments. Come to terms with this! Recognize that nature is not in your control. By coming to terms with the chaos—finding the “delight in disorder” that Robert Herrick so eloquently describes—perhaps you can find a little peace.

So, with the spring on the horizon, look up. See the infinite sky above and all the mysteries it holds, and be happy. You’re living and breathing today, and your life is beautiful. Yes, there is so much you don’t know, but there’s so much you do.

Happy Pi Day!

Born and raised in Nashville, Millie Kirkland is a senior at the Harpeth Hall School. Between keeping up with school work and after-school activities, she makes time for the things she loves with the people she loves: good food, long runs, yoga, adventures, and cooking. She is passionate about languages and cultures which stems from time studying abroad both in Madrid, Spain and Santiago, Chile.