Knuth's 25th Christmas Lecture - Pi And The Art Of Computer Programming
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 23 December 2019

What could be better in the holiday season than a little bit of Pi mixed in with some tradition and Donald Knuth. Find out what Pi has to say about computer programming.

Donald Knuth has delvered the so-called Christmas Tree lectures at Stanford for more than two decades but having exhausted the topic of branching structures has dropped the "Tree" reference.

This year's Xmas lecture was going to have a slightly different title, a reference to Robert Pirsig's famous Zen-related book


but it was changed at the last minute to "Pi And The Art of Computer Programming". This reflects the fact that the talk is inspired by a Martin Gardner book on numbers where the fictional Dr. I. J. Matrix says that the digits of Pi, “when properly interpreted,” actually convey the entire history of the human race!" Well perhaps, but only when "properly" interpreted.

Knuth goes on to explain some intersting interpretations. Then he turns to the even more interesting question of why Pi occurs in places that you might not suspect it to - things that appear to have very little to do with circles like the approximation to the factorial. From here Knuth goes on to explain why he uses Pi as an example and what it looks like in different bases.

There then follows a mediation on the role of puzzles in provoking people to become computer scientists. Then a puzzle, Sudokuand back to the dancing links of last year's lecture and a generalization to the digits of Pi.

Notice that in this case the title is best interpreted as relating to Knuth's almost legendary book rather than the subject area and it's about fun and puzzles rather than deep universal mysteries - or is it?



More Information

Computer Musings 

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