Today, 3-14, is Pi Day. I have missed the preferred time of celebration of the “mathematical mystery” – 1:59.
For Hoosiers, there is no better way to celebrate pi than to consider what might have been. In 1897, the House passed HB 246-1897:
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.
Basically, the House of Representatives was seeking to legislate the value of pi. Among other things, the bill specified that “the ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four” which is to say “5/4 divided by 4”, which is to say “3.2.” After the House passed the bill 67 to 0, it was referred to the Senate Committee on Temperance which reported it favorably to the full Senate. Fortunately, Purdue mathematics professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo was in town lobbying the the legislature and was able to explain the bill to members of the Senate and that it was incorrect. Like all truly fun bills, this one died in the Senate when Senator Hubbell moved to postpone consideration of the bill indefinitely. Senator Hubbell was quoted as saying, “the Senate might as well try to legislate water to run up hill as to establish mathematical truth by law.”
Of course, we should not laugh too much at the benighted souls of the 19th century. We have our own band of unreflective legislators and constituents who would seek to legislate medical truths (also see here) by law.
But I digress. For more information on Indiana’s Pi legislation, check out this page, from everybody’s favorite economist, Larry DeBoer.
You know, 5/4 divided by four isn’t any 3.2 … it’s more like 0.312 (a not-hideous approximation to one-tenth of pi).