Monday, March 14, 2016

Pi Day

March 14 is Pi Day.  Those who have some familiarity with basic arithmetic will know that pi is a mathematical constant - a ratio, in fact - whose value is approximated to 3.14.  So 14/3 (or 3/14, as the Americans write it), today, is pi day.

Interestingly or coincidentally, it is also the birthday of Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest genius who ever lived. 

The New Yorker has published, among many illuminating articles, a very humorous questionnaire on the occasion: Diagnostic Exam: Do You Have Math Anxiety?  A sample question:

What is a hypotenuse? 
(a) A very graceful hypot. 
(b) An overweight chanteuse. 
(c) The  French word for profound boredom.
Mathematics is often assumed to be a scary monster.  Actually it can be sheer fun if we learn to exercise our logical faculty properly.  Most people don't want to think - that's the simple truth.  Mathematics calls for some abstract thinking also which is assumed to be boring or even scary.  Hence many give up maths.  In other words, they give up logical thinking.  And they run after frauds like godmen and miracle workers.  

There's so much irrationality in our world today in spite of all the progress that we are making  with the help of science and technology which are founded on mathematics.  We want the benefits of rational thinking.  We have no shame in accepting the contributions of rational thinkers when it suits us.  But when it comes to our petty notions about many things which are nothing more than superstitions, we cling tenaciously to inanities.  

That's why Pi Day is important.  We have to bring some basic maths into our lives.  Some simple rational thinking.  

A concluding question adapted from The New Yorker:

What do you do when you travel to a foreign country and need to figure out the currency?
(a) I ask, “How much is that in real money?”
(b) I ring up my godman's receptionist.
(c) I demand nationalism and seek to convert my country's currency as the international currency. 


  1. Loved the last one!! :)

    Happy Pi Day to you too!!

    1. Math can be fun too :) Have a fun-filled Pi Day.

  2. :) you beat me to it, last year I did write a blog on this.

    1. Morning mail from New Yorker reminded me, Sharmila.

  3. Teaching math has become a bone of contention - how do we teach math correctly? Do we make kids memorize tables, or do we teach them to think? Do we follow traditional methods of teaching or do we apply methods that are confusing to parents but ok to kids? Many Indian friends have made their kids learn their tables. While I was wondering what I should do with my son who hasn't yet 'achieved' that fete, my son comes home and tells me the solution to a multiplication sentence and asks me to give him another one. I try him and he solves that. I ask him how he did it and he tells me the logic his teacher has taught. Do I boast that he knows the tables now....:D? Not really. But I am happy he is understanding the method.

    1. A very interesting question from you, Sunaina (as usual, I must add).

      Teaching math requires entirely different strategies according to the level. At the elementary level, it is important to teach the primary tables to the child. Basic addition and multiplication should be part of the child's primary skills. You can't do away with rote learning here.

      The logical skills develop gradually. No child will enjoy learning geometry unless he learns to employ logical skills. When he comes to algebra, abstract thinking and analytical skills also become necessary. The real skill of the teacher lies in developing those skills and it is not a very easy job. But it need not be a Herculean task either.

      I understand that teachers often fail in ensuring that the pupil knows the fundamentals required for the particular concept. For example, before teaching factorisation a teacher should ensure that the pupil knows basic arithmetic of addition and multiplication as well as employing those skills to divide numbers into their possible factors.

      At the higher levels, the challenges are very demanding simply because a lot of fundamental concepts have to be understood by the pupil before getting into the complexities involved.

  4. An interesting post and discussion here:) By the way, I wish many people read this post and ponder over the virtues of logical and critical thinking.

    1. As far as I have understood, people don't want to think. They want others to do that job for them. That's why we have so many religion-related problems these days.

  5. What a great post! I laughed out loud at option c of the hypotenuse question :)

    1. The credit should go to the New Yorker.

      Glad you liked it.


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