Last month, I noted the 15th anniversary of Wikipedia with a column (here it is) devoted in part to an article about the so-called Feynmann point, a sextet of 9’s in a row that can be found 762 digits into the decimal expansion of pi.
The six 9s are sometimes called the “Feynman point” after physicist Richard Feynman, who was something of a jokester. He once said in a lecture that he would like to memorize several hundred digits of pi so he could say them out loud and end the recitation with “nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on,” suggesting in a tongue-in-cheek manner that the nines continue endlessly, which would mean pi is a rational number. Since pi is, of course, irrational, that would be a pretty good joke by the standards of mathematics humor.
But there’s a problem: As was discovered by several Wikipedia editors, Feynman probably didn’t say it.
The article notes investigation by some editors, including me, which cast great doubt on Feynman’s role in the name. (Our best bet: The story comes from Douglas Hofstadter of “Godel, Escher, Bach” fame.)
With this is hand, the name of the Wikipedia article has since been changed to “Six nines in pi,” and Hofstadter’s column has been referenced.
Cool, eh? Well, as of this writing, the name of the article has been changed back to “Feynman point,” so I’m now wrong.
However, the ruling has been contested on the field and a discussion has ensued about whether to keep that name or switch it back, so maybe I’ll be right again soon. (I have voted in favor of moving it back, adding “Although ‘s”ix nines in pi’ sounds like one of those weird names for dishes you find on Chinese-restaurant menus in the US, it’s a more accurate name.”)
With an open-to-everybody site like Wikipedia, nothing is ever set in stone.