restricted access Chapter 4 The Annotated Pi Files
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Chapter 4 The Annotated Pi Files Darren Aronosky’s π (1998) is an excellent, dark movie. Featuring a clever script, very good acting, and plenty of beautiful mathematics, this is a mustsee cult movie, and a great source for mathematical movie clips. The story is of the brilliant mathematician Max Cohen, played by Sean Gullette. Max is struggling to discern a pattern behind the numbers that make up the stock market. Along the way, he comes across some of mathematics ’ icons: π, the Fibonacci numbers, and the golden ratio. Max also gets mixed up with the numerology of Jewish mysticism. In fact, the answer to Max’s question seems to be hidden in a 216-digit number that his new religious friend believes to be the name of God. The number seems to be the key to everything, with the power to wreak havoc: Max’s computer Euclid repeatedly crashes while analyzing patterns that supposedly conceal the number; Max suffers debilitating migraine attacks; and Sol Robeson, Max’s former PhD advisor, suffers two strokes, the second leading to his death. Finally, Max resorts to drilling into his brain, to eradicate all traces of the number. (Well, we told you the movie was dark.) Here we give an annotated version of the story, told through the mathematical scenes and screenshots. 4.1 Max the Mathematician 0:02 This scene introduces Max as someone who is brilliant with numbers. As Max leaves his apartment, the excited young Jenna runs up to him. JENNA: Max! Max! Can we do it? MAX: Jenna. JENNA: Three hundred and twenty-two times four hundred and eighty-one. [Jenna types it into her pocket calculator.] MAX [instantly]: One hundred fifty-eight thousand, one hundred two. Right? JENNA: Right! 53 54 4 The Annotated Pi Files Actually there is a mistake here. Jenna should have said 322 × 491 instead of 322 × 481, according to the director’s shooting script, and in order to get the answer in the movie.1 Max heads down the staircase and Jenna screams after him. JENNA: Okay, seventy-three divided by twenty-two. MAX [instantly again]: Three point three one eight one eight one eight . . . [73 22 = 3.3181818 . . .]. Here, Max’s voice trails off as he walks down the stairs, “one” on one step and “eight” on the next. It is a poetic portrayal of the infinite decimal expansion of this number. 4.2 Mathematics Is the Language of Nature 0:03 MAX [voiceover]: Restate my assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers . 3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: the cycling of disease epidemics, the wax and wane of Caribou populations, sunspot cycles, the rise and fall of the Nile. So what about the stock market? The universe of numbers that represents the global economy. Millions of human hands at work. Billions of minds, a vast network screaming with life, an organism, a natural organism. My hypothesis: Within the stock market there is a pattern as well, right in front of me, hiding behind the numbers. Always has been. This elegantly summarizes Max’s approach to his research which, according to him, is number-theoretic in nature. Later, it degenerates into (what is in the real world) numerology. Sixteen minutes into the commentary, director Darren Aronofsky remarks upon the math in the movie: “So, all this math stuff is real stuff. Fibonacci is a real dude or was a real dude and the golden spiral was real, we did not make it up for the film. It is just a lot of plagiarism from the Bible, from math text books, from Pythagoras, we kind of stuck it all together.” 4.3 Pattern in Pi 0:10 Max is playing Go with Sol, his former advisor. 1 The director’s shooting script includes deleted scenes, containing more math. At the time of writing, this script was freely available from various websites. Highly recommended reading. 4.3 Pattern in Pi 55 SOL: You haven’t taken a single break. MAX: I’m so close. SOL: Have you met the new fish my niece bought me? I named her Icarus. After you, my renegade pupil. You fly too high, you’ll get burned. The more I see you, the more I see myself thirty years ago. My greatest pupil published at sixteen, PhD at twenty. But life isn’t...


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