Pi, and other half-grasped concepts

If my mobile phone camera can’t take a photo of the back of my phone (to show my instagram followers the beauty that is my brand new red phonebox-styled phone cover), does the back of my mobile phone really exist?

Apart from such important conundrums as these, I’ve been at least ankle-deep recently in the structure of the universe, stretching the boundaries of my minuscule brain (‘minuscule’ not in fact being spelled ‘miniscule’, however more appropriate that spelling seems – who knew?*) with research surrounding the link between mathematics and music, nature and numbers.

Let’s talk about pi.

Pi is an irrational number, but a good-ish, (rational) approximation of it is 22/7. Anyone who’s anyone knows that pi is a mighty useful ratio in the realm of circles (basically, throw pi at a radius, a diameter and a circumference and you’ve got all manner of areas and volumes – OK, I’m being lazy here but I feel no need to patronise anyone with the basic school-learnt formulae, though I could obviously have written them out in the time I spent writing this sentence. Nevermind), let alone that it was the crucial ratio needed by those ancient Egyptians who saw fit to build the pyramids, the role it plays in Einstein’s field equation which describes the curve of spacetime’s effect on gravitation interaction, which contributes to the General Theory of Relativity; that, under ideal conditions, the sinuosity of a meandering river approaches pi; that its digits march a senseless procession towards infinity as it describes the rings of Saturn, ripples in water, the pupil of an eye, and that it plays a part in describing the knowability of the universe’s very particles in Quantum Theory’s Uncertainty Principle.

Here’s a cool thing or two, though: 3 octaves in music span exactly 22 notes of a musical scale, each of which contain 7 intervals. The 8th note of an octave (the repeated do of the do-ra-me-fa-so-la-ti-do, sung at double the frequency – an octave higher – is a base note repeated four times in three octaves) represents a kind of transcendence – the whole thing; the major scale octave; made of its seven intervals.

Have you ever tried to sing beyond that penultimate (seventh) note, the ‘ti’, without simply repeating the base note, ‘do’, or another of the previous tones in the run? Imagine a musical scale that went on forever, up and up, with new, strange notes for every step – an infinity of new invention. In the fantastic realm of reality, beyond that initial ‘ti’, you are just singing versions of the same seven intervals (granted, you may throw in some sharps or flats) within that original scale, but at different heights. You are re-discovering versions of before.

The law of octaves fastens itself, too, to colour: the three primary colours, the seven fundamental splashes along the spectrum; the eighth note being the combination of all (the octavic whole); the transcendence in light; the white ray.

Anyway, I would hate to give the impression that this is all well within my grasp, but as a fan of such patterns and sources of cosmological wonderment, I wish I could spend a year or so studying physics.**

Apparently, there have been brilliantly frivolous studies into the world’s ‘favourite number’ and 7 reigns high as the most popular (understandably; it is the best), followed then by 3, 8 and 4 in that order (some other funky poll-sters entered ‘infinity’, ‘i – the imaginary unit’ and ‘1.618 – the golden ratio’). It is interesting that these numbers are said to form the basis of much of the universe’s structure, including the genetic coding of which we are all constructed. Is an awareness of the basic significance of certain numbers ‘ingrained’?

*Auto-correct knew.
**It’s a bit like (but not at all like) the way I woke up the other day absolutely adamant that I was going to be a singer-songwriter. (I hope it’s never too late to have several lives at once.)