Written by IainB

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

image for Circles or Squares? Mathematicians debate the big question.
pie can be square

The big debate in mathematics at the moment is the (sometimes violent) discussion over which is more perfect, the circle or the square.

Squarely in the Circle camp, is mathematician, Stephen Pille.

"The circle has long been considered the perfect shape," said Ste Pille. "It has one side, endlessly circling. The circle is so perfect that it is used to indicate togetherness and unity. You get writers' circles, round tables and circles of friends. Squares on the other hand, are angular, jarring even. It is an insult to call somebody a square."

"This is nonsense," said Ian Cline, the rotund proponent of the square. "The circle is irrational. The calculations for it involve pi, a truly irrational number. The square is the perfect shape. Every side identical, every angle ninety degrees. True perfection. Topologically speaking, it is the most useful shape for tessellates. You can stack squares, you cannot stack the same volume of circles as easily. People refer to circles negatively. You endlessly circle, meaning you never get anywhere."

Both camps have been producing a flurry of papers with dense, complex mathematical proofs showing how more perfect their shape is compared to the other. The argument has split the mathematical community, and threatens to spill into other disciplines, with biologists tending to favour the circle as a more biological phenomenon, whilst chemists are shouting the beauty of the square. Organic chemists are staying out of the argument.

At stake for the ultimate perfect shape is very little. As neither shape is all that important. But mathematicians like a good argument.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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