The Circle: A Paradigm for Paradox

Reza Sarhangi and Bruce D. Martin
Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science (1998)
Pages 93–112


The ultimate desire of mankind is to identify wholeness, to grasp the essence of being, to be integrated with the harmony, perfection, patterns, and cycles of the material, metaphorical and metaphysical worlds. This desire motivates us to explore the realms of fact and fancy, logic and metaphor, reason and emotion, to capture the whole of being in one part, to see it, hear it, feel it, and enjoy it in everyday life. The circle is an object of nature, an idealization of pure mathematics, and a symbol or framework we use to understand and describe our world. The circle exists independently of human thought, as ripples in a pond, or the appearance of the sun and moon, or the shape of the iris of an eye. In mathematics, we choose to define a circle as the places at a constant distance from a center, usually in two dimensions. In this article, we look back at world history and the varied uses of the circle: literal and literary, physical and poetical, mathematical, metaphorical and mystical.