Cracking the Code in Plato

by Anna Blanch on June 30, 2010

Papyrus bookscrollA Science Historian at The University of Manchester has announced that he has cracked “The Plato Code” – the long disputed secret messages hidden in the great philosopher’s writings.

Via The University of Manchester:

Plato was the Einstein of Greece’s Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy’s findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought.

Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a ‘harmony of the spheres’. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The paper being referred to is Plato’s Forms, Pythagorean Mathematics, and Stichometry and the link provides a .pdf along with further information about Jay Kennedy’s argument. There is even a quick introduction for non scholars.In so far as the implications, the University of Manchester suggests:

Dr Kennedy’s findings are not only surprising and important; they overthrow conventional wisdom on Plato. Modern historians have always denied that there were codes; now Dr Kennedy has proved otherwise. He adds: “This is the beginning of something big. It will take a generation to work out the implications. All 2,000 pages contain undetected symbols.”

Kennedy himself goes further and claims

“This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation.” This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.

“There was no Rosetta Stone. To announce a result like this I needed rigorous, independent proofs based on crystal-clear evidence. “The result was amazing – it was like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself. “Plato is smiling. He sent us a time capsule.”

So what exactly do the codes show?:

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion. “Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Dr Kennedy, at Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences explains. “In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

And how did he do it? Kennedy is not giving anything away quite yet:

“It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.

It’s almost an Indiana Jones type exclamation of the excitement of it all. The press release from Manchester described Kennedy in the following terms:

Dr Jay Kennedy has degrees from Princeton and Stanford. He worked at the University of Notre Dame and Cambridge University before moving to the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Manchester. Before becoming a teacher, he worked on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, in Tokyo as a translator, and in Baghdad at the National Computer Centre.

It seems that Kennedy is being portrayed as a renaissance man-scholar of sorts. Kennedy does go onto indicate the kind of textual analysis involved (as one would expect):

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato’s writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text – at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato’s entire symbolic system. Dr Kennedy, a researcher in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, says: “As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments.”

Why would Plato encode messages into his texts?

However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure – it was for his own safety. Plato’s ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato’s own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

All of this begs the question for me, how much does this really change the way we read Plato?

Image: University of Manchester
Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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  • pgepps

    Um…not at all? except that now someone is being given a microphone to breathlessy repeat the most banal of statements without benefit of relevant background and context?

    "Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics."

    1) this was not even a new "important idea" in Newton's time. It was the idea that the mathematized reality could make empirically verifiable predictions that was being explored. This writer doesn't seem to understand what "astronomy" meant to the medieval scholar.

    2) this was neither an original claim with Plato, nor "hidden" in Plato's works. cf. just one example:

    "But at a certain point — so says this hypothesis about the chronology of the dialogues — Plato began to use his works to advance ideas that were his own creations rather than those of Socrates, although he continued to use the name “Socrates” for the interlocutor who presented and argued for these new ideas. The speaker called “Socrates” now begins to move beyond and depart from the historical Socrates: he has views about the methodology that should be used by philosophers (a methodology borrowed from mathematics), and he argues for the immortality of the soul and the existence and importance of the forms of beauty, justice, goodness, and the like. (By contrast, in Apology Socrates says that no one knows what becomes of us after we die.) Phaedo is often said to be the dialogue in which Plato first comes into his own as a philosopher who is moving far beyond the ideas of his teacher (though it is also commonly said that we see a new methodological sophistication and a greater interest in mathematical knowledge in Meno)." ( )

    "The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God."

    …again, pretty much anyone who's even done a junior-high level of reading someone's summary of an excerpt of the Cave knows this. Nothing "surprising" or "new" here–not as a reading of Plato, and *certainly* not as some sort of fresh relationship of science and religion. Pretty sure the "religion : feeling :: science : knowing" theme has been played a few kajillion times in the past few centuries. Banalities all.

    I mean, really. If Plato could tell us whether Newton or Leibniz invented calculus first, now *that* would be a discovery….

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