March 14 of each year is Pi Day, founded in 1988 by Larry Shaw and supported by a 2009 resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those of us who use the date format like 3/14 can match up the digits with the first three significant digits of Pi, 3.14. I’m a number geek who enjoys a bit of silly fun with things like this.
This year brought a special treat because we could fit in more digits, aligning with the date 3/14/15. But wait, there was more! We could also determine the actual Pi hour, minute and second. So at 9:26:53 on that morning we had lined up the first ten significant digits of Pi, 3.141592653.
The Pi Moment
Astounding! But there are even more digits, and tinier bits of time! So, the actual Pi instant (Central Daylight Time) occurred within the 53rd second at 589 milliseconds, 793 microseconds, 238 nanoseconds (am I the only Bozo on this bus?), 462 picoseconds and additional minutiae. Twenty-two significant digits so far. You can take it further if you like. Others certainly have.
After writing out the Pi instant for myself, I prepared to celebrate and then moved on to other work. I tend to become very involved and focused on my work, so the next time I looked at the clock, it was 11:30 a.m. I had missed the Pi moment completely! Aagh! It is a good thing I had not invested in party hats, whistles and fireworks, let me tell you! The magical Pi instant had passed by me unbeknownst.
There is No “Now”
Reflecting back on the experience now, I’ve come to a personal transformational epiphany. It is disappointing and depressing, because it alters fundamentally the way I see the world. It strips away my rose colored glasses.
Here is why. I have always tried to live my life consciously and deliberately in the here-and-now. In this case I prepared ahead for the event and reflected upon it after its passing, but I had no awareness of it in the present. I see now that the time interval’s length would not have mattered. I would never have had an awareness of the Pi instant in the here-and-now. I could never have had. It was impossible, too short. My experience illustrates that there is a future and a past, and a silent conversion between the two as time passes. But there is no “now.”
I stole that phrase from Justin Sheehy in his article “There Is No Now” published in the Communications of the ACM, May 2015. But it is true. Justin emphasizes that this is a crucial concept in software development for network operations among worldwide distributed nodes that absolutely must be synchronized with very, very accurate clocks. Our global interconnectedness depends upon this realization and its diligent application. That is to say, you can’t trust your smart phone without it, even if you cannot see it in action. We must all be in synch, lest the moment escape us.
Hold onto your hat though! Phi Day is 1/6/18, celebrating the Golden Ratio at 03:39 in the morning (plus or minus, of course). The calculation is left as an exercise for the reader.