Why Was Pi Invented?
Date: 04/10/2003 at 05:49:07 From: Katharine Subject: Pi - why was it even invented?? Dr. Math, I don't understand why pi was invented in the first place. I know the history of it but why did they even want to invent it?
Date: 04/10/2003 at 08:47:43 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Pi - why was it even invented?? Hi, Katherine. There are usually several ways to interpret a "why" question, so I'll suggest several answers. First, pi simply represents an observation about circles. If you measure the circumference and diameter of a lot of circles, you will find that the ratio is always the same. When something this significant is discovered, we want to be able to talk about it and make use of it. Since that ratio is not some simple number like 1/2 or 75, it's useful to name it, in order to be able to talk about it. For instance, this makes it easier to discuss the relation between the circumference and area of a circle - that both can be calculated using pi. Second, pi is very useful. It allows us to do calculations such as finding the diameter of a tree by measuring its circumference, or finding the surface area of the earth, by doing nothing more than multiplying or dividing by pi. Third, we could get along just fine without pi, if we wanted to continue discussing math the way the ancient Greeks did. We could say things like "the area of a circle is the same as that of a triangle whose base is the same as the circumference of the circle, and whose altitude is the radius of the circle." (Bet you didn't know that!) But since the invention of algebra, we find it much easier to write the same thing as a formula: A = pi r^2 (which is the same as what I just put in words because the area of that triangle is 1/2 C r, or 1/2 * 2 pi r r, which is pi r^2). This makes calculations much easier, and is easier to write. Finally, pi turns out to be important in many other ways. Trigonometry uses it constantly (pun not intended); it turns up in probability, series, and physics, among other places. If you have any further questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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