Heterodoxology an essential blog for anyone interested in the occult sciences in the Early Modern Period has an interesting first report on a paper from the Manchester University researcher J. B. Kennedy claiming to have found a Pythagorean sub-text in the works of Plato. I must admit that I’m very sceptical about what I have read so far but will reserve judgement until I have read the paper for myself. However Heterodoxology links to a couple of journalistic reports on the paper that contain a claim that make my toes curl up.
The Guardian offers the following:
Plato is revealed to be a Pythagorean who understood the basic structure of the universe to be mathematical, anticipating the scientific revolution of Galileo and Newton by 2,000 years.
Scientific Blogging offers us this:
Kennedy says the hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important concept – that nature is written in the language of mathematics.
These few lines contain so much crap that I’m not really sure where to start. The earliest generation of heavyweight historians of science in the 20th century claimed that the scientific revolution came about because, during the Renaissance, Neo-Platonic philosophy replaced Aristotelian philosophy, emphasising that this was a mathematical Pythagorean Neo-Platonism and not the ethical or religious Parmenidean Neo-Platonism characteristic of the 3rd century CE. The theory here is that far from anticipating the scientific revolution the Pythagorean Plato triggered it, a theory that I largely reject. So what please is supposedly new here?
Also the gap between the very mystical assumption of the Pythagoreans that the natural numbers are the building blocks of the universe and the mathematisation of physics that took place in the 17th and 18th century is a chasm against which the Grand Canyon dwindles into total insignificance.
Finally, at least the Guardian deigned to mention Galileo alongside Newton although both sources ignore Kepler who posited a mathematical God and a geometrical universe before both of them, not to mention the many mathematicians in the 15th and 16th centuries who worked under the same assumption but Scientific Blogging manages to combine the name of Newton with, perhaps, the most often quoted line that Galileo ever wrote (even if it’s only a paraphrase).
3 responses to “Don’t you just love journalists?”
Was wondering when you would pick up on this story. I decided not to mention the press release stories because, I must admit, they have very little connection with the claims actually advanced and argued for in the paper. There’s nothing about the scientific revolution in it, for example.
That said, it is still a controversial piece of argument, but more for its method than for its claim: that Plato was a Pythagorean. The historical arguments employed to support the stichometric analysis seem rather solid (although necessarily circumstantial). Nevermind how it will all turn out, I look forward to the scholarly reception.
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