Math and Irony

The famous Basel problem is an infinite series of the form:

It was first posed by the Italian mathematician Pietro Mengoli in 1644. It went unsolved for almost one hundred years in spite of the attempts of some of the biggest names in mathematics of that era. It was none other than the preeminent Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler who, at the young age of 28 in around 1735, provided an exact answer to the infinite sum. That answer is:

π2/6and in decimal form this gives 1.644934 to six decimal places.

What I found to be very curious about this problem and its history is that the first 4 digits of the answer that Mengoli and many others were trying so hard to obtain are also those of the Gregorian calendar year in which Mengoli posed the problem for the first time, namely, 1644.

Perhaps due to the arbitrary nature of the calendar involved, no one seems to point this out. But I found this to be very ironical and worth sharing.

Serkan Zorba


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