Max Cohen begins his search with three base assumptions:
- Mathematics is the language of nature.
- Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
- If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge.
Hence Cohen’s hypothesis that he can chart the influence of “patterns of nature” on phenomena as diverse as the cycling of disease epidemics, the dimensions of the “golden ratio” and, most importantly to the plot of Pi, the fluctuations of the stock market (see the entry on Economics for the genesis of the idea that “natural laws” govern the behaviour of financial markets). The world is “a vast network screaming with life”, its human systems of thought and expression an extension of this “natural organism”. Max’s former tutor and mentor Sol Robeson (Margolis) abandoned his own search for the secret of mathematical regularity – “We see the simplicity of the circle, we see the maddening string of numbers” – and is full of dire prognostications about Icarus and flying too close to the sun. Young girl downstairs Jenna (Lao) and concerned next-door neighbour Devi (Shoaib) are there, it seems, to symbolize both the “Holy Wisdom” or “Shekinah” – the aspect of God later defeminized by mainstream Christian thought as the “Holy Spirit” – and the fellow-feeling Max brushes aside in his obsessive quest for truth. He must leave the world of the human to enter the world of the real and it is clear that there may be a terrible cost to doing so.