For years together, Pi (π) revelled in its own glory. From being revered as one of the most important numbers in mathematics to having an unexpectedly significant impact on the culture world-wide, the fame only bloated. Enchanted by its enigma, people paid tribute in books, music and movies. Many softwares were created to calculate its accurate value. The crowning moment was when its devotees came together and dedicated a day to it. 14th March came to be known as Pi day.
Pi’s world rumbled when a certain anti-pi propagandist rose in 2001. Robert Palais dared to say, “I know it will be called blasphemy by some, but I believe pi is wrong”, in his article titled ‘Pi is wrong’. A research professor of mathematics in the University of Utah, Palais conspired to overthrow norms and give way to a ‘pi’ with three legs.
Pi may have dismissed the attempt as a solitary insurgency but Palais gradually gained disciples. The intricate web of internet poured concrete into the movement and it was in 2010 when pi was faced by its strongest competitor yet, ‘Tau (τ)’. Born of the same Greek parents, ‘tau’ had always wanted the preferential treatment meted out to pi. As pi went on to conquer one peak after the other, tau had to be content with being just a niche favourite. But since 2010, it finally had its own day too, 28th June was now ‘Tau’ day.
‘Tau’ was finally in the limelight and it did not wish to let it go away so easily. It decided to provoke rebels into ardent campaigning. Then, a physicist named Michael Hartl, proposed to use tau refer to the constant 2π. He went further to frame ‘The Tau Manifesto’, a website listing advantages of tau, in a bid to overthrow the autocracy of pi. He was joined by another non-believer Kevin Houstan, a mathematician from the University of Leeds.
“Mathematicians don’t measure angles with degrees but with radians. There are 360 degrees in a circle. Similarly, there are 2 π radians in a circle. So ¼ of circle gives π/2 radians. Similarly, ¾ of a circle gives 3π/2 radians and 1/6th of circle gives π/3 radians. On the other hand, using tau we 1/4th of circle gives τ/4 radians and ¾ of circle gives 3τ /4 radians and so on. It couldn’t be easier. Similarly, it helps replace Euler’s formula as remembering e^iτ=1 is much easier than e^iπ=−1. There’s simplicity in its utility.” These were the words of Houstan’s that were immortalized by his video campaign.
Will tau replace pi? Probably not. It would involve rewriting many textbooks. Besides, it’s hard to heartlessly take away a constant from life. However, discontent might brew and whirl itself into a large scale war, because as of now, tau seems to be in no mood to back down.
A 20 year old media student from Mumbai, he has been writing fiction and non-fiction since 4 years. His other interests include reading, critique, photography and trekking.