In the beginning was the Word?
Many say the language of the universe is mathematics, but the language of mathematics is not necessarily numbers. Numbers are a shorthand for words. In quantum mechanics collapsed waveforms is the term for a relationship between particles and their waveforms, in which particles, or indeed any combination of particles (atoms, molecules, chemical and organic compounds, even you) are seen as the focus or point of action of the energy waves involved. In the same way numbers and equations are like the collapsed waveforms of the huge quantity of words that might otherwise be needed to describe them. It is a good analogy. For many mathematical concepts the number of words would be as infinite as the cosmic extent of particle waveforms.
Pi (π), the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, is one such mathematical concept. Written as a decimal it extends to an infinite number of decimal places, of which the first thirty two are as below:
Should you have any need to remember this, some time ago I came across a mnemonic for the first dozen or so places. I changed and extended it to thirty-two before getting bored. The number of letters in each word is the number at each decimal place.
I sing a scale excelling,
in mystic voice and magic spelling,
sublimest strains incarnate.
Art in its measures will reveal
an angel’s song for the carousel,
and in eternal harmonies dwell,
Feel free to add more of your own.
The idea of numbers being a shorthand for words is not a difficult concept, after all without words how could we explain what numbers are to children? But there may be more to them than that. Pi is far more than the simple relationship of a circle to its diameter.
Are numbers and equations
the collapsed waveforms of words?
And is pi’s definition
the circling of the birds
round and wide above the hills?
or the volume of a drop of water from the rills
rolling down to plop into shining highland ghylls?
Then the circle of the sphere
and the rolling of a tear
when a sobbing child cries, ‘Why!’
and the Earth around the Sun in perihelion,
and the wide, wide width of tears is pi.
The quick birds’ wheeling cry,
and the crying tears of pain,
and the earth around the sun,
and the round drops in the rain,
and the signs of endless sky,
the music of the spheres,
and the circle of the years,
tell us why.
Birds circling round their prey
know the distance from their nest,
and swooping down from sky,
sharp claw and shining eye,
returning straight and high,
the circle and the swoop,
the short returning loop,
and the gather of the storm
round the centre still at rest
say more to you and I
than the radius and the circle
that are pi.
How I wish I could enumerate pi easily, since all these bullshit mnemonics prevent recalling any of pi’s sequence more simply. – Petrr Brigham.
Thank you for your comment. I agree, the fun of this was in the doing of it but it is useless for remembering pi as it takes too long to translate it back. If you find it hard to remember a sequence of numbers try breaking the string into three-line ‘verses’ of five numbers and memorise the lines of each ‘verse’. One helpful way (for some) is to have ten rhyming mental pictures for the ten digits: i.e 1 gun, 2 shoe, 3 tree, 4 door etc. Make five digit pictures for each three line verse. It also helps to start from the end and work backwards. There is more to it than this simplified description but good luck!
I actually use the Major System mnemonic for remembering large strings of numbers. There’s no other system as efficient as it aside from auditory mnemonic system. However, you need to have great talent for remembering sounds and rhythms to do the auditory system…
Also, the first comment that I made was also one of these “verses” for remembering pi.
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Ah! You got me – I missed that. Good work.
Great! Please can I send the mnemonic poem to be printed in the the Cadenza newsletter? (with your blog address of course!)…it only goes to members and friends of Cadenza but I think it is very apt and folk would like it! Can’t wait to try it out as a party trick…
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By all means – as they are a choir perhaps they could set it to music! Thanks.
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