Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ars Longa, but Pi is Even Longa

If you were to assign letters of the alphabet to combinations of digits, and were to do this for all human alphabets, syllabaries, and ideograms, then you could fit any written character in any language to a combination of digits in pi. According to this system, pi could be turned into literature. Then, if you look far enough into pi, you would probably find the expression "See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet!" a billion times in a row. Elsewhere, you would find Christ's Sermon on the Mount in His native Aramaic tongue, and you would find versions of the Sermon on the Mount that are pure blasphemy. Also, you would find a dictionary of Yanomamo curses. A guide to the pawnshops of Lubbock. The book about the sea which James Joyce supposedly declared he would write after Finnegan's Wake. The collected transcripts of The Tonight Show rendered into Etruscan. Knowledge of all Existing Things by Ahmes the Egyptian scribe. Each occurrence of an apparently ordered string in pi, such as the words "Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate/That Time will come and take my love away," is followed by unimaginable deserts of babble. No book and none but the shortest poems will ever be seen in pi, since it is infinitesimally unlikely that even as brief a text as an English sonnet will appear in the first [10 to the 77th power] digits of pi, which is the longest piece of pi that can be calculated in this universe.

--"The Mountains of Pi," by Richard Preston, The New Yorker, March 2, 1992, p. 63.

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