Original Article


, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 421-435

First online:

Pi on Earth, or Mathematics in the Real World

  • Bart Van KerkhoveAffiliated withCentre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel Email author 
  • , Jean Paul Van BendegemAffiliated withCentre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

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We explore aspects of an experimental approach to mathematical proof, most notably number crunching, or the verification of subsequent particular cases of universal propositions. Since the rise of the computer age, this technique has indeed conquered practice, although it implies the abandonment of the ideal of absolute certainty. It seems that also in mathematical research, the qualitative criterion of effectiveness, i.e. to reach one’s goals, gets increasingly balanced against the quantitative one of efficiency, i.e. to minimize one’s means/ends ratio. Our story will lead to the consideration of some limit cases, opening up the possibility of proofs of infinite length being surveyed in a finite time. By means of example, this should show that mathematical practice in vital aspects depends upon what the actual world is like.