Living through this phase of the corona virus pandemic means being bombarded with all sorts of advice, instructions, rules and laws to ‘keep us safe’. These edicts, we are told, are ‘led by science’ or ‘follow the science’. It made me think about what it means when words are said to follow the science. It can’t be easy to find words that follow the science unswervingly, it must almost impossible for the politicians who choose the words not to be influenced by their feelings, prejudices and temperament.

The poem in this blog is based on science, not the emerging scientific knowledge and epidemiology of the newly hatched ever-evolving covid-19 virus but on the ancient study of arithmetic: in particular on the value of pi, often written as the Greek letter π. 

The value of pi has been studied for at least 4000 years by ancient Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese mathematicians. For more history see https://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/history-of-pi. There’s even a Welsh dimension to this history: the Greek letter π was first used to denote the ratio between the diameter and circumference of a circle by a Welsh mathematician called William Jones (1675-1749) https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/meet-farm-boy-wales-gave-world-pi-william-jones

The value of pi is 3.142592 …. etc., you may remember from school that it goes on and on without end; to refresh your memory on the mathematics try https://www.mathsisfun.com/numbers/pi.html

I’ve used the first 36 numbers of the π sequence (3.1415 926 5358 97 93238 46264 338 32795 0288) to determine the length of the words in this blog’s poem. As pi begins with 314 the first word has 3 letters, the second 1 and the third 4 letters and so on. I solved the problem of zero by substituting O.                

And I sang a motet,  
untangled my spirit  
where the sheep gathered.  
Intricate notions,  
uncertain and no way obedient,  
turn random in simple song  
and woe, ruthless  
but in modular synchrony, moves,  
O, to piercing melodies.   

Anne Bryan  

This poem was not written with any meaning in mind, you can interpret the words in any way that feels right to you.  (Dare I say that it’s tempting to do that with the rules and edicts as well). 

The sheep in The Song of π remind me of the aria ‘Sheep may safely graze’ by JS Bach which I remember singing in school and so I wanted to illustrate the poem with an image of sheep. But even though there are around 10 million sheep in Wales, I find I don’t have a suitable photo. 

At the moment the covid-19 rules in Wales say no-one should travel more than 5 miles from home so I can’t drive to the hills to photograph sheep. Instead I offer the image of Welsh Black cattle grazing in the lovely landscape of mid Wales in a pre-pandemic Springtime.      

3 thoughts on “LED BY SCIENCE”

  1. Thanks Anne. That was such a pleasure to read. The concept of the words of the poem following pi numbers is delightfully clever and amazing. So interesting and enjoyable and a perfect photo even without travelling.

  2. Great fun! How about the Pascal triangle? I have been very busy of late using it to relate the number of observable fermions to the number of fields that they can interact with, and the dimensions of space they inhabit. As far as I know it has no Welsh connections.

    1. Thanks Doug, the Pascal triangle is very interestingl, Pascal is an amazing fellow and I find it intriguing that in Iran his triangle is called the Khayyam triangle, in India Yang Hui’s triangle, and in India it’s credited to Pingala, and that, unexpectedly, many mathematicaians associated with the triangle also composed poetic or philosophical works. i feel a blog coming on, but it may take me some while to work on it so it may not be the next one.

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