Sunday, June 18, 2006

the squaring of the circle

On the night of Saint Andrew I found the Squaring of the Circle, at the end of the lamplight and of the night and of the paper I was writing on.

-- Leonardo da Vinci

From a placard in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition (cause everyone’s gotta ride that DaVinci Code wave).

I thought this line (albeit in translation) had such a lovely poetry about it -– the insight found at the very end of the line, after a night’s (week’s? month’s?) labor -– out of lamp oil, out of paper, out of time –- and then the answer comes.

It has a little bit of tragedy to it too: If in fact Leonardo did find the answer that night to the squaring of the circle –- “using a finite compass and straightedge construction to make a square with the same area as a given circle” -- it was lost with the other 80% of his notebooks that were also lost (goddamit).

According to Wikipedia (O great fount of all knowledge that can be retrieved with just a click) it can't be done: “A solution of the problem of squaring the circle by compass and straightedge demands construction of the number [the square root of π], and the impossibility of this undertaking follows from the fact that π is a transcendental number — that is, it is non-algebraic and therefore a non-constructible number. If one solves the problem of the quadrature of the circle, this means one has also found an algebraic value of π, which is impossible.”

Oh well. A girl can dream (of poetry and brilliant men).

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