Saturday, July 02, 2005

Pi on You!

"A Japanese mental health counsellor has broken the world record for reciting pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, from memory. Akira Haraguchi, 59, managed to recite the number's first 83,431 decimal places, almost doubling the previous record held by another Japanese." BBC News (July 2, 2005)

I suppose one might justifiably call this a useless recreation. Or does the exercise promote mental health?

But it's my job here to talk about evidence.

The mental health counselor's exercise is even more impressive than the feat of multiple games of blindfold chess played by some chess masters: the numbers that Mr. Haraguchi remembered conform to no order and do not make any (discernible) sense within some larger scheme or order.

How did Mr. Haraguchi do it? I don't know. (I suppose he practiced a lot. And no doubt he has a great deal of patience.) In any event, Mr. Haraguchi's success does suggest that we academics ought to take care before being seduced by the siren song of heuristics that supposedly simplify complex problems of evidence to levels that ordinary mortals can manage. (I'm all for strategies and mnemonic devices that make problems more memorable. See P. Tillers, Picturing Factual Inference in Legal Settings (2005). But I'm against strategies that wipe out important detail.)

Well, perhaps we don't really need Mr. Haraguchi's example to ward off such seduction. Have any trial lawyers or trial judges been seduced by the siren song of simple heuristics? (I regret that I was unable to sustain this alliteration to the end.) Where? When? How?

"In 1947 Miguel Najdorf broke the world record for blindfold chess by taking on 45 opponents simultaneously at Sao Paolo, Brazil. The display started at 8 pm on January 24, 1947 and finished at 7:30 pm on January 25. He won 39 games, drew 4 games, and only lost 2 games." Bill Wall, Blindfold Chess
  • Mmm ... [Tillers thinking] ... Do you suppose that extraordinarily powerful computers were somehow implanted within the skulls of Haraguchi and Najdorf?
    :-)
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