Better Than Fiction: Cracking Plato’s Code

Plato (c428-c348 BC) Greek philosopher. Portrait bust.

Secret codes with messages from the past.  From ancient scriptures to modern currency, bestselling novels and blockbuster movies have painted the picture of coded messages with secrets from the past hidden in plain sight. The idea that one of the great thinkers of the past may have hidden codes in his writings can’t help but capture your imagination.  What could be revealed by such a code? A code like the one that has been found in the pattern and structure of the writings of Plato, the man who could arguably be called the founding father of science and western culture (1,2).

While studying Plato’s writings, Dr. Kennedy, a professor with the University of Manchester with a  specialty in the history and philosophy of mathematical physics, found a musical structure embedded in Plato’s dialogs. The structure divides each dialog into twelve parts, each corresponding to a musical note in a twelve-note scale, and is similar to the scales produced by an instrument known as a monochord, which was important to Pythagorean traditions.   Dr. Kennedy believes that this structure supports the belief of early scholars such as Aristotle that Plato’s philosophy was in essence Pythagorean in nature (3).

If you are like me, you remember learning the Pythagorean theorem in math classes, and you have read only a small sample of Plato’s writings (most likely part of  Republic). And you might wonder what is so significant about Plato having a Pythagorean-like philosophy?   Mathematics is hardly controversial is it?

Pythagoras (6th century BC) Ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher, shown drawing in sand his theorem on right-angled triangle. Stipple engraving 1833

Consider the world as Plato knew it. At the time that Plato lived, it was well “known” that the Greek gods controlled the world. Plato’s teacher, Socrates, was executed as a result of his vocal disapproval of the current moral and political trends in Athens. The new insight into Plato’s writings that Dr. Kennedy’s discoveries gives us, suggests that Plato recognized centuries before anyone else that natural world was governed by mathematical laws.

When you think that this was 2,000 years before  Bruno, Galileo and Newton,  it is hardly surprising that Plato revealed his beliefs only in code.

References

  1. Kennedy, J.B (2010) Plato’s Forms, Pythagorean Mathematics, and Stichometry.  Apeiron
  2. University of Manchester (2010, June 29). Science historian cracks the ‘Plato code’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 8, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/06/100628111846.htm
  3. J. Kennedy’s Personal pages. New Research on Plato and Pythagoras: Latest Developments (accessed July 8, 2010)
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Kelly Grooms

Scientific Communications Specialist at Promega Corporation
Kelly earned her B.S. in Genetics from Iowa State University in Ames, IA. Prior to coming to Promega, she worked for biotech companies in San Diego and Madison. Kelly lives just outside Madison with her husband, son and daughter. Kelly collects hobbies including jewelry artistry, reading, writing, photography and knitting. She would like to be an avid runner, as evidenced by her growing collection of running gear and her single half-marathon finishers t-shirt.

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