Plato's Secret Music: Science and the Divine

12:35 AM James 2 Comments

According to a recent NPR report, historian and philosopher of science Jay Kennedy has discovered a hidden musical code embedded in the writings of Plato.  NPR is not the only news organization to report on Kennedy's findings.  However, the report concludes with some interesting comments from Kennedy, on what he thinks the implications are for science and religion.

In his research, Kennedy discovered there was a reference to music every twelfth line of Plato's manuscripts.  He also knew that ancient Greek music was based on a twelve-note scale, instead of the eight-note scale we use today.  Thus, he reasoned that the pattern found in Plato's writings was not merely a coincidence.  Rather, it was put there deliberately.

Music is mysterious and beautiful; it is also mathematical.  The Pythagoreans - followers of the philosopher-mystic-mathematician Pythagoras - believed math, and consequently music, held divine status.  They literally worshiped numbers.  Kennedy proposes that Plato was a closet Pythagorean, and that he wanted to convey this divine message to discerning readers by embedding a secret code in his writings.

The idea that math holds divine status is still around today.  Recall the comments from Stephen Hawking, discussed in my previous post, when he said, "What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature" (i.e. the mathematical laws of physics).  Judging from his comments, I suspect Hawking may be a modern day Pythagorean.  In fact, this view seems increasingly popular among those who want to reconcile science and religion, without allowing room for belief in a personal God.  Hence, Kennedy's remarks:
'Plato's philosophy shows us one way to combine science and religion,' Kennedy says.  'The culture wars we're having today — about evolution for example — see science and religion as two polarized opposites.  Plato's hidden philosophy shows us that he combined an emphasis on mathematics with an emphasis upon beauty, music, art and divinity.  The founder of western culture, in fact wanted us to combine science and religion.'
Kennedy sounds hopeful that promoting the Pythagorean view might help calm the war between evolutionists and creationists.  Given the politicized nature of the debate however, I can't see many creationists being soothed by the suggestion that God is simply a math equation.  Nevertheless, Kennedy's research touches on a larger body of historical facts, which, if taken seriously, could change the way we think about the relationship between science and religion.

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  1. Glad you posted this. I found this article interesting as well, because science and religion haven't always been as seemingly at odds with one another as they are today. During the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment, for instance, the works of Bach, Kepler and Isaac Newton, were held as exemplars of God's supreme design. Kepler's 'Muisca Universalis' , in fact, shared some interesting parallels with the Pythagoreans..

    From Wiki: "The central set of "harmonies" was the musica universalis or "music of the spheres," which had been studied by Pythagoras, Ptolemy and many others before Kepler"

    An important distinction that Kennedy makes is when he indicates in the quote you've shared that this is one possible way to reconcile science and religion, though surely not the only way. But, were the Pythagoreans really worshipping numbers, or simply the ideals for which these numbers and forms stood - ie, representations of the absolute, perhaps a deity (the platonic One), though not necessarily a personal God. Early Christianity is said to have been influenced by Neo-Platonism (essentially Platonism), and therefore may share certain characteristics with the thought of Plato and the Pythagoreans. An intriguing parallel to this ageless/modern debate can be found in the example of the Cambridge Platonists - men of God and Science:

  2. I have some of Plato's books somewhere around my house. I have yet to read them, but am feeling inspired by this article.

    I've heard that music and math are connected. Despite being a musician myself, I am not very good with numbers beyond long division. Perhaps it's because I have no technical training. That, or I really am just math dumb :p