Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14, i.e. 3-14. Indiana, however, once came close to celebrating it on 3-20 exactly.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The text of the 1897 bill doesn’t come out and say it directly, and it gives several different derivations of pi, none of which are consistent with each other. Values include pi = 3.2, pi = 4, and pi = 16√2 / 7 ≈ 3.23. Who would have thought the mathematical crank who came up with it didn’t check his work?

The intro of the bill is also interesting, and tends to get overlooked in discussions about it:

A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897.

The crank behind the bill apparently planned on trying to collect royalties on the “correct” value(s) of pi, after giving Indiana a royalty-free license. Of course, this is nonsense, since you can’t copyright, trademark, or patent a fact, so there’s no way you can compel anyone to pay you royalties for it. Passing a bill to grant a state royalty-free access to a fact that isn’t even true is completely stupid in two independent ways.

Needless to say, it passed the Indiana House unanimously before getting shelved in the Indiana Senate, demonstrating the cluelessness of Indiana’s elected officials in both mathematics and intellectual property law. If not for the intervention of a Purdue mathematics professor, Indiana students today might be making funny-shaped circles to comply with state law.

The whole ordeal made the Indiana government a laughingstock, and since then all state governments have been careful to consult with experts before taking action to reject basic facts. Oh, wait.

One Response

  1. Ironically this too place a full 15 years after Lindelman proved pi to be transcendental.

    Goodwin’s bill (not to be confused with Godwin’s law) actually claimed to resolve all three of the ancient ruler and compass construction problems, i.e., doubling the cube, trisecting the angle, and squaring the circle. All of these were shown to be impossible. The impossibility of the last and immediate corollary of Lindelman’s result.

    Contrary to what the folksongs tell, it was Lambert who had shown before Lindelman that pi is irrational, i.e. that is doesn’t stop or repeat in any way.

Comments are closed.