Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller

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Annoying science fiction device detected

I started reading John Brunner's Meeting at Infinity. Early on in the book we encounter that hoary old bit of science fiction nonsense, the inconstant π:
Pi, it seemed, was invariant. However, certain deductions from curved-space mathematics indicated conditions under with it would assume values different from the familiar 3.1416. It would remain an irrational number of course. But the physical conditions for altering its value could be described.
So the guy creates a machine that creates an area where the value of π is different, and this turns out to be a way to reach alternative universes whose history differs from Earth's proportionately to the difference between its value of π and ours.

I think that this sort of thing comes from a misunderstanding of noneuclidean geometry (or, I suppose, a desire to annoy mathematicians). There are geometries where if you measure the circumference of a circle and divide it by the diameter you'll get a number other than 3.14159265... This doesn't change the value of the number π, though, and it has nothing to do with π's irrationality. It makes about as much sense to posit a universe where 2 has a different value.


Tags: brunner, math, science fiction

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