The End Of Pi

A clock face with the number pi

I don’t mean to be a downer, but Saturday the world is going to end.

Don’t worry. It will happen sometime in the morning between 9:26 and 9:27, so we can still sleep in and maybe have a cup of coffee before we cease to exist. I can’t function without coffee.

For those of you who failed geometry or routinely miss trains, Saturday March 14th, 2015 is officially pi day. It is the date for which the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, the number known as pi, is most faithfully represented on the Julian calendar. Thus the number 3.141592653 will occur on 3/14/15 at 9:26 and 53 seconds.

Not to worry. If you miss the first end of the world, you can catch the second showing at 9:26 pm. After that you will have to wait a century.

Obviously the end will occur three hours later for our friends on the west coast.

Personally speaking, the end of the world couldn’t come at a worse time for me. I have a lot more important things to do on Saturday than to sit through an apocalypse. I was hoping to get my hair cut. And who's going to pick up the dry cleaning?

But I am getting ahead of myself. Here is the problem.

Pi is what is known as an irrational number. Sort of like taxes. It goes on forever. It cannot be written as a simple fraction and, expressed as a decimal, it has no end.

People with very large brains and little else to do have memorized pi to thousands of digits. Large computers powered by nuclear reactors working overtime have calculated pi to trillions of digits. And still no end.

Which is where extinction of the universe comes in. At some point between second 53 and second 54 after the hour of 9:26 on Saturday, time must pass through pi. But if pi expressed as a decimal of time goes on forever, it cannot be reached.

Thus we have a fateful paradox which, by my own reckoning, must signify the end of time. Trust me. I have seen Back to the Future more than once. I know how disruptions to the space-time continum work.

Still, knowing that the end is near doesn’t give me much time to enjoy myself without consequence. Oh sure I can share a few final days with my family and guiltlessly run up my credit card to the limit, but then what?

And what do I pack?

I should have planned better. Maybe made a few reservations someplace. But you know, the kids still have school and I have to work and there are all of those little things to do. After all, life doesn’t stop just because the world is going to end.

If you are reading this right now in the day or two before pi armageddon, you are probably wondering why I don’t just stop complaining about the days I have left and do something productive. Like maybe save the universe or something.

The truth is, I don’t have much use for long numbers like pi. I don’t calculate the area of perfect circles much. OK, ever. I am an 80/20 kind of guy. 3.14 is close enough for me and my calculator if I ever need it.

So if pi goes on forever, what difference does it make to me? What do I care if time as we know it ends? I mean besides all the stuff about not existing anymore.

And besides, what am I supposed to do? Run my own calculations to come up with the last digit? Really? That is how I am going to spend my last days? Doing long division?

I don’t think so.

I am not really a betting man, particularly when it comes to guessing numbers over a trillion digits, but I am reasonably sure that if pi is finite, it ends in a number between 0 and 9.

So I am going to say . . . 7. Pi is a really large number that ends in 7. Yes, that’s it.

No wait . . . 5! It ends in 5! Yes, I am pretty sure. That is my guess, 5.

Or is it 3?

OK, here it is. pi is a really big number that ends in 5. Since pi is finite time will pass right through Saturday morning March 14th unscathed and I will still be able to get to the hardware store before it closes.

So now, let’s go back to the future. If you are reading this and pi day is behind us, I am happy to report that I just saved all of humanity and discovered one of the deep mysteries of the universe.

But of course, if you are not reading this, well there is really no need to thank me for anything.

Enjoy!