It is the shame of the modern day that the denial of science and the burden of evidence which underpins it has become the default setting of many who regardless use the fruits of that science to spread their dangerous ignorance among their followers. We live in an age of marvels undreamt of in earlier days, but many who carry in their pockets supercomputers with global reach could do with filling their gaping cakeholes with a bit of Humble Pi.
Yet with carefully conducted research and unsupported rhetoric reported on an equal basis by the media, how can those on the sidelines who are not conversant in science and so reliant on accurate reporting hope to form an informed and unbiased opinion, especially when even those who are versed in the subject have been known on occasion to… make errors.
Returning to the Edinburgh Fringe after the success of such shows as Your Days Are Numbered where he and Timandra Harkness explored the statistical probabilities of death by various causes common and spectacular, “recreational mathematician” Matt Parker takes a selection of these numerical non-sequiturs in his new show Humble Pi, conducted over approximately three kiloseconds at the Pleasance Dome.
Revealing just how significant mathematics is in our daily lives and underlining the importance of checking your figures – or perhaps just asking someone competent to do the calculation in the first place – Parker arrives on stage in a burst of animated laser light, though perhaps aptly the preview show required a restart of the systems even before introduction was complete; still, if it’s good enough for the FAA’s advice on the Boeing 787, why not?
That moment emphasising how reliant we are on technology and how fallible reliant systems can be, the focus of Humble Pi is “the greatest maths mistakes ever, fun for the audience, less so for those involved,” and while many are harmless, the fallacy of the claims of McDonald’s McChoice meal or the impossible two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object in official signage, it is astonishing that other (lack of) oversights have not ended in major loss of life.
Manic, sweaty and hugely entertaining, Parker is not the traditional image of a former maths teacher, his exuberant style as incongruous as Ghandi launching a nuclear strike, and through diagrams, animations and archive footage he captures (and sometimes divides) the audience’s attention, but if there is any lesson to take away it is that any attempt to move out of the globally accepted metric system will be a backwards step into folly and possible catastrophe.