Thursday, July 9, 2009

Social Aspects of Science: No Pie Please

I never know when to expect something curious to happen with respect to mathematics and science in my everyday life, but I keep my eyes open, and this morning was one of those special times that makes me think.

I was walking in the front door of my gym where I planned to do some spinning and running and maybe some weights (a fairly typical workout for me these days). There is usually one or more friendly greeters at the front desk and today there was Kyle (a very nice guy and fellow blogger in the NBA realm) and Sandy (the person who runs the child care room). Today I was wearing my Pi-Day T-shirt (see www.piday.org for observance on the next March 14) which has a large Pi symbol on the front. Sandy immediately recognized me and beamed with a big smile on her face and said "Oh, oh, that's a Japanese character on your shirt, what does it mean?" As I started to look quizzical, Kyle jumped in and added "No, that's Pi, you know 3.2 and a whole lot of 3's and 1's afterward. I'm a nerd so I know that." Sandy replied in her own defense, “But I’m close, it looks like a Japanese character!”

As I made my way to the locker room to get ready for my workout, I reflected on the exchange in the lobby. OK, Sandy is a young 21 year old woman who presumably graduated high school and maybe had some college. Do you mean to tell me she never saw the Pi symbol before? Incredible! Wearing that shirt all this time, I just assumed everyone that saw it would think I'm a math-guy. Now it seems that I might have been taken for Japanophile. Incredible again!

As for Kyle, at least he was on the right track, but I would think that anyone who knew the Pi symbol would know the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter out to at least two decimals places, 3.14. But maybe I expect too much of people!

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