I'm wondering whether it is known whether the 227 days in Life of Pi symbolical is for pi or that the symbolism I see (as a mathematician :)) is pure coincidence.

I think that it is symbolic for pi because pi ~ 22/7, which is quite well-known.

6 Answers 6


Probably symbolic.

I found this interview with Yann Martel, from which two of his answers in particular jumped out at me:

  • I chose the name Pi because it's an irrational number (one with no discernable pattern). Yet scientists use this irrational number to come to a "rational" understanding of the universe. To me, religion is a bit like that, "irrational" yet with it we come together we come to a sound understanding of the universe.

  • I wanted an Indian animal. At first I had an adolescent Indian elephant. But that was too comical. Then a rhino, but rhinos are herbivores and didn't see how I could keep a herbivore alive for 227 days in the Pacific. So finally I settled on what now seems the natural choice, a tiger.

The first quote tells us that the author had the concept of rationality and irrationality, and the connections as well as the contrast between them, in his mind while writing the book. This sounds similar to the rational approximation 22/7 for the irrational number pi, and makes it more likely that this was indeed an intentional reference.

The second quote suggests that the length of time was somehow significant. Why, instead of changing the animal to one more likely to survive for 227 days, did Martel not instead change the time period to one a rhino was more likely to survive?

Which brings me to (IMO) the most compelling argument: why specify the number of days at all? It seems quite strange and unrealistic that Pi or anyone else would even be able to keep track of the days during that surreal voyage; "several months" would surely be a more reasonable way of describing the period. But no, it's stated as exactly two hundred and twenty-seven days. Why bother to give a precise number at all, unless it's somehow significant? And given that it's significant, exactly what its significance is then becomes obvious, tying in with the title and the name of Pi.

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    His definition of "irrational" is so wildly wrong that it makes me like the book less. I doubt he understands the relationship between the rational approximation and the real number, and that "irrational" has nothing to do with "irrationality". It's just frustrating to see him build what he seems to think of as a significant symbol on a bit of math he doesn't understand. Mar 24, 2017 at 20:22
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    @JoshuaEngel I think you are taking him too literally... he is a writer after all. He is playing on the words "irrational" and "rational", knowing well that the mathematical context of the words is quite different from the everyday context.
    – WalkerDev
    Mar 25, 2017 at 1:08
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    @JoshuaEngel It’s not as if the terms rational number and irrational number are coincidences. The ancient Greeks who defined them were quite obsessed with “reason” (ratio in Latin), and they objected strongly to the lack of a defined pattern in these numbers, hence the term. The findings that π and √2 are irrational were very controversial in those days, largely on philosophical grounds that they can’t or shouldn’t be, that this somehow contradicts the rationality they believed existed in nature for an “impossible” number to correspond to such fundamental values.
    – KRyan
    Mar 25, 2017 at 16:35
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    @KRyan, I'm aware of the etymological connections, but I'm not sure that the author is. The quote (and admittedly, I have only that one quote to go on) implies that he seems to think that the number pi itself is "crazy" for not having a pattern (although it does). The tone also implies that he thinks 22/7 is pi, which is the kind of thing you learn in second grade, but suggests he never learned anything more. Which perhaps hits his target audience, who has the same level of understanding, but it grates on my ears. Mar 26, 2017 at 17:24
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    @JoshuaEngel Even if the author understood better what an irrational number was, he needed to give an extremely brief and simple definition for the sake of those who didn't. A more rigorous definition would have taken too long or left too many people not understanding his real point about the religion thing. Also, he never directly comments on 227’s relation to π, so I don’t see any indication that he thinks π = 22/7. I think there is room here to give the man considerably more credit than you are.
    – KRyan
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:30

If this is a coincidence, it's one hell of a coincidence.

This is one of those situations in which Chekhov's gun is your friend. If it weren't significant, why would the author have mentioned a specific number of days? While some books do get into gritty details like that with no particular stated reason - many fantasy books, for example - Life of Pi isn't that kind of book. It's pretty safe to assume that if the author makes a point of a seemingly arbitrary number, it's not really arbitrary at all.

So 227 days is almost definitely from 22/7, which is approximately pi.


It's highly doubtful that it was a coincidence. Most of the sources I looked at on the internet acknowledge that it was intentional, although in the book, Pi is named for the French word for swimming pool. However, the fact that he is named after 3.141592.... (close to 22/7) does at many new facets to his character. I think the 227 days on the boat adds to the metaphor of the infinite, the allegorical figure that Pi is and all he represents.

I could not find a quote by the author, so I think this is up to the individual reader. However, it doesn't seem like this could be a coincidence.


If we look at it from a more spiritual level, 227 being a reference to the 227 rules of the Pāṭimokkha for Buddhist monks, as Pi is a hermit during his life in the Pacific, 227 could also be referencing Psalm 143: “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” This is due to it being the 227th page of the Book of Psalms in some editions (use with caution).

The 227th digit of pi is 4, symbolising the 4 people Pi lost during his time in purgatory (his parents, his brother Ravi and Richard Parker). However, most significantly, Pi and 22/7 most likely reference Buddha’s rebirth doctrine and the cycle of karma and samsara. Hence, Life of Pi describes a life of death and rebirth, asserting that while beings undergo endless cycles of rebirth, there is no changeless soul that transmigrates from one lifetime to another.


ALT+227 on the keypad = π

Although I do not doubt that there may be some link between 22/7 being an approximation of pi and the title of the story, another simpler explanation is that in order to get the π as text (other than searching through font settings and symbols) is to use the ALT+227 combination.

No doubt the author would have needed to discover this considering his book uses that very same symbol on the cover. Coincidence? I personally feel it's more likely that 227 was chosen for that exact reason and not the "almost pi" equation.

As for why the ALT+Keypad combinations happen to have pi at 227, no doubt the original creators intentionally placed it there, and then set the rest of the Greek alphabet around it. Again, seems a bit too on the money for it to have been otherwise.


The fraction 22/7 was often used as an approximation to pi, and is often used when first teaching children the basics of geometry and arithmetic, so it seems pretty certain that Yann Martel put in this bit of numerology on that basis.

Yann's rationale for choosing Pi as the name of his protagonist, whilst interesting in describing his creative thought process, and symbolic of his way of seeing the world, seems at odds with the mathematical understanding of pi. Whilst pi is often called 'irrational' and has no discernible pattern in its digital expansion, this isn't the best way to understand pi; it's better and more simply understood from its definition as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which on the basis of geometric reasoning is easily seen to be an invariant of any circle - this is the sensible and rational way of looking at it. It's probably safe to say that pi was described as 'irrational' because it was not a fraction, that is as a ratio of two finite numbers; in fact it is - it's a ratio of two infinite integers (to make this actually precise one has to use the theory of limits, nevertheless the idea is easily understood).

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    All of this is correct up to the very last part: it's not a "ratio of two infinite integers", because there's no such thing as an infinite integer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Dec 22, 2018 at 14:42

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