MathemadnessJune 4, 2006
I am not a mathematician, but I once wrote a silly song about pi. That, presumably, is the reason why Reddivari Sarva Jagannadha Reddy, an Indian zoology teacher whom I do not know, keeps sending me articles in which he argues that pi equals 3.1464466… rather than the universally accepted value of 3.14159…. His latest mailing arrived this week, and it’s a doozy: a self-published 228-page book, “The Untold Story of the True Value of Pi,” containing over 50 distinct “proofs” supporting the value of 3.1464466….
Part of me admires Reddivari Sarva Jagannadha Reddy for his earnest and enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, and part of me wants to believe that his work has some merit. But another part of me — the part that isn’t as nice — is inclined to dismiss him as a freak.
So what should we do when encountering someone like Reddivari Sarva Jagannadha Reddy? Options include (A) avoidance, (B) polite acknowledgment, (C) concise unilateral rebuttal, and (D) patient give-and-take. (D) has the advantage of conceding that I might learn something from the man if I give him a chance to explain himself. Still, given his extreme confidence that pi equals 3.1464466…, and my extreme confidence that it equals 3.14159…, what are the odds that either of us could change the other’s mind? Why waste his time and mine on a conversation that seems destined to go on and on without resolution, like the digits of an irrational number? Then again, how can we expect to change anyone else’s mind about anything if we are unwilling to listen to those who disagree with us?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think the questions are important.
If you’re reading this, Mr. Reddy, I hope you’ll forgive my patronizing tone. I bet you’re dead wrong about pi, but I may learn something from you yet.