Friday, March 21, 2008


Pythagoras (530/570 B.C.-???)


By Richard E. Noble

Pythagoras, more than anything else, seems to have been a religious leader. He started a secret society and neither he nor any of its members wrote any books about it. Everything we have on Pythagoras is a hand me down from somebody else; Plato and Aristotle in particular. If we say that Jesus was interested in morals and Moses was interested in laws and Buddha in sociology, Pythagoras was interested in numbers. He was the mathematician and scientific mind of the religious right of his day.
Pythagoras was an Ionian Greek, born on the island of Samos between 530 B.C. and 570 B.C. Everybody seems to have an estimate of when he was born but no one seems to care very much about when or if he ever died. I will presume that he did die at some time. But, as with all religious leaders, Pythagoras started a movement that lived centuries beyond his personal life span. What we know or understand of the movement today may or may not be representative of Pythagoras, as with the other religious leaders. But, nevertheless, he gets the blame or the credit depending on your point of view.
Many writers credit Plato's mysticism and "theory of ideas" and the Demiurge to Pythagoras, others add Euclid's geometry, many add Copernicus, Kepler and Tycho Brache's cosmologies, and some even go so far as to include Einstein and Relativity. I don't know about you, but I would like to see either Plato or Pythagoras sit on one of Plato's "real" chairs. Honestly, to me, this guy sounds like another religious wacko.
He supposedly advised his followers not to eat meat or beans, not to walk in the main street of town, not to stand on your nail clippings, not to draw pictures in ashes and don't sit on a bushel.
With numbers he really went into orbit. Numbers were fundamental and real. They represented shapes - hence, our notions today of numbers to the square or the cube. He brought his mathematics and numbers into his religion and took his religion into his politics. I don't know what his politics were but they must have been serious because other folks killed, burnt and chased his followers out of Kroton in southern Italy, and then out of Italy entirely. We could only be so lucky if a similar attitude was taken towards such religious wackos in our society today.
He also connected his numbers to music. He felt that the planets and all the moving bodies in space were making music. We can't hear it because we are so much conditioned to this celestial noise that we no longer notice it. He believed in the "soul" and in its transmigration. He once counseled a friend to stop beating his dog, because he heard in its yelping the voice of an old friend. I can understand the logic in the transmigration of souls but then why the emphasis on the contemplation and meditation and perfection of our own divine transmigrating soul? I mean, if you are going to be a dog or a rat in your next life, what's to think about?
Copleston states that Pythagoras was more interested in establishing a "way of life" rather than a cosmology. Thus Copleston considers him more a religious leader than a philosopher. So, if religion is looking for "the way", and philosophy is looking for "the how", who or what is interested in the "why", I wonder?
Oh Ya, let's not forget a square + b square = c square.