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The Tao of Pi: Introducing Yoganomics

Pakua by Benoît Stella, modified.

Pi is the relationship between a circle and it’s diameter. Sounds simple. But it’s not really a simple fact that the diameter fits into the circumference 3.14 times — that will not quite do it, will it! — There’s a snag. All those decimals in a tangle: 3.141592653… and on and on and on and will they ever let go! Murphy’s law of land and sea advises us that if something can snag, it will snag. A rope round a protrusion, even in calm weather, an electric lawnmower cord on a smooth rock, we have our favorites.

Something obtuse about natural law seems to invite things to snag on things. And so I will venture the thought that, in spite of the trouble, it might be a good thing. Without this unruly attraction, what could connect? Not that everything that connects need be called a “snag,” but the point is that the snag was not the destination. We had someplace in mind, some objective that was presumed more snag-less.

The surprising thing about pi is that we are alerted against thinking the circle is perfect, that it will come clean. The decimals of pi are a string of red warning lights. Endlessly imperfect! That the circle will not close absolutely is re-enumerated in all sorts of ways, no matter how we pull on it — but it does get our attention. It’s got traction.

In the absence of perfection, the circle connects with things; it snags many things in the real world and in the imagination. But it can be unsnagged if we find where it connects, so we can stop pulling on more decimals, stop counting pi and be aware of something else. How many decimals must we endure before we cave and admit that there are no absolutely perfectly symmetrical circles, no absolutes at all, in fact, in the absence of any perfectly straight lines for diameters? Pi calls out echoingly that infinity is a snag, mathematically as well as otherwise. It is snagging the loftiest physicists. Where the rubber meets the road, pi provides useful traction when viewed realistically. Experimental science has not found any pure symmetry in nature, at all. Walk outside and find me just one thing that does not imperfectly imply circularity.

Just when you think you can identify symmetry in a flower, in a leaf, there is a snag, one of the petals is askew, and that is a beautiful thing — nature’s true balance. Another beautiful aspect of pi is its call to democracy. We can share the democratic pi in a balanced way by getting inspired by nature’s gifts. How does the circle snag democracy? The number pi snags the mind into the natural world, in spite of our presumptions and with no need to be familiar with the snagger. Individuals are brought together, not into a monoculture of symmetrical banality, but into a potential flourishing of character, one and all.

This notion of a dancing, changing, balancing polarity in circles is of course not new, and is renewable in time. The ancient understanding of the polarities of the Tao have long been applied to relationships of a circle, where Yin and Yang move round each other. So do not be snagged by an illusion of some ideal symmetry in the famous Yin-Yang symbol! As the I Ching, the Book of Changes, foretells in the natural cycles of the lines of its well-weathered hexagrams, absolutes are overturned, preemptively snagged, I would add. The connections between the seasons and the livelihood of the people had deep and long-recognized roots in the planet, way before it was widely known to be round.

The vital questions of how to live and behave as humans among the forces of nature, what is right and wrong and what works and what fails in life; these issues have long focused the mind as it developed. Does nature have a moral compass? Should we follow it? If so, how? But these questions have begun to look dated, and we have become jaded. We need to be snagged by more democratic pi all round! Yoganomics opens up opportunities for further exploration, puns included.

Catching Up

This blog has lain fallow. It’s been over eight years since I posted the text below the line at the end of this update on yoganomics. Having decided it was just an experiment of my late twenties, I’ve since reconsidered and rewritten the book — forty years later. To say “reconsider” means crediting my wife, Ramona, who reminded me that the original attempt had been worthwhile — to find nature’s moral compass for the economy — now more than ever. And, she added, if I didn’t fix it, the ideas contained, some of them wild enough already, might become feral. Reluctantly, in my late sixties, I had a look at what I had written, back in the late seventies, wondering if it was now altogether too late already. It is difficult to know to what extent one is the product of one’s time and place, how culture-bound one might be, and to what extent one has got free. Ideas I had discarded with that book as foolish now showed up in retrospective context as not only foolish but entrenched, going back beyond the spontaneous regeneration of “self-righting” markets even unto the ancient Wu wei of “effortless action,” or what I had subtitled “pure motion.” Money “just happens.” That said, there is more to Wu wei than the many facile interpretations, not that mine was even conscious. So I was part of something greater, a bigger fool than I even thought, though strangely comforted not to be alone. So I set about making amends with the tools well honed (say I) in Unicycle, the Book of Fictitious Symmetry and Non-Random Truth (Nature’s Democratic Pi). Yoganomics, the book, might even provide an introduction, a warning in 369 sutras to approach your unicycle with care, especially, like me, if you knew that already.

In color inside and out, includes some artwork.

Now available most everywhere, July 2020.

April 2012 post:

Googling “yoganomics,” there are more and more pages, some with elaborate sites and registered trade marks that are not mine. I am owning up here to having written a book entitled Yoganomics, back in 1979. When a few years later the word “Reaganomics” was being bandied about, I was taken aback. Economics had not yet achieved such humanizing syllables, which would be reconfigured again and again. Obamanomics has got to be the best. Reaganomics was certainly a coincidence, anyway; Yoganomics was still unpublished, back then. In a way I wish it still were. I got it backwards. But it did help me to organize my thoughts.

At Amherst College I had become interested in how the narrow parameters of the economics I was studying seemed to be particularly Western, and I began to look for other cultural values that might highlight new opportunities to view the field. I took some courses and read up on some aspects of the East.

After graduation, my first real job was as an auditor with what was then Price Waterhouse & Co., UK, at the south end of London Bridge. I studied contract law and wondered just when and how a price was really agreed. I got a closer feel for that elusive “elasticity” (or inelasticity) of the intersecting demand and supply curves when I joined the marketing team of the French computer manufacturer, Logabax. Yoganomics was basically just a list — a cascade — of ideas gathered to date, in the summer of ’79.

Since college I had become increasingly impressed by Yoga, especially from the day I stubbed out my last cigarette and never felt the slightest desire for another. After all the years of fighting this addiction, embracing it, and fighting it again, it just stopped. There is of course a smoking story that goes with this event, but not here; fact is, the more I looked for a reason for what seemed a miracle, the more the idea of “substituting behavior” or “changing life style” seemed a likely explanation. Even so, I’m not much of a yogi; shamefully, perhaps, I took what yoga had to offer and ran. I do run back now and then and combine it with other exercises and then Mediterranean food.


So I just wanted to ramble on a bit about yoganomics, since it seems to proliferate, and I don’t know any of the folks involved in whatever has become of the word. I hope they’ve got it the right way round. Hi folks :=) Also, the book, long out of print, sometimes shows up with Unicycle on the immortal Internet. Maybe I should write Yoganomics, the Prequel, and Yoganomics, the Sequel. But when I figured out that the premise of Yoganomics was backwards, I was finally on the road, with Unicycle. Yoganomics inadvertently highlighted our predilection for the paradox of absolutes. Unicycle provides a new solution to an ancient conundrum that is afflicting us today.

One more thing. Yoganomics: Pure Motion and the Law of Economic Erosion was eventually published with illustrations by Justin Williams. The artwork made it all worthwhile. I highly recommend Logicomix, btw, where the comic book idea as applied to an intellectual subject succeeds beyond all absolutes.

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