The Plato Code [Updated]

So, Dan Brown has been pipped to the post by a science historian, one Dr. Jay Kennedy. Kennedy has discovered a code in the works of Plato that reveal that Plato anticipated the scientific revolution long before those blasted Enlightenment figures, yadda yadda yadda.

The paper he has published contains such gems as:

Stichometric analyses find unexpected evidence for Pythagoreanism in the dialogues themselves, and thereby develop a pregnant argument made by Sayre.

and:

Since intentions are, strictly speaking, inaccessible, we can at best enumerate candidate motivations.

Finding codes in ancient works is a, well, not respected activity, but a common one, especially when people want to confirm a certain hypothesis they hold dear. Most researchers fail, in these circumstances, to attempt to falsify their hypotheses. They find enough relevant similarities between the work they are decoding and the explanatory hypothesis that such a code should be present to bolster their claim but, and this is important, they often ignore (by simply not looking for) the relevant dissimilarities.

Now, admittedly, I have not read the paper fully and it may well turn out that Dr. Kennedy has actually found proof of a deep and hidden Pythagorean code in the works if Plato, but even if he has, the Burden of Proof still rests upon him to provide further evidence of his extraordinary claim.

I really must get back to work. Really.

Update: I’ve now had a chance to look over the paper and it’s not quite the breathless argument that, for example, the University of Manchester and Slashdot made it out to be. The methodology looks good and the analysis is interesting. I’m still suspicious about the explanatory hypothesis at its heart, if only because the claim that codes exist in texts is easy to claim but hard to ever properly substantiate (without an admission from the texts’ author) and, thus, I await the reply articles I suspect will be published in the wake of Kennedy’s paper to see what the rest of his peer group thinks of his novel thesis.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for your early response! Actually p. 19 of
    the paper (see pdf) does argue the theory is falsifiable — by
    showing that ancient imitations of Plato’s work don’t have
    the underlying structure. All scholars know that Plato
    was a sophisticated numerologist. The only surprise here
    is that he built numerological or Pythagorean structures into
    his writings. Jay

    1. Yes, I’ve actually had a chance to briefly look over the paper and it’s not what the press release the University of Manchester made it out to be (or the Slashdot summary). I’m so rusty in my Ancient Greek now that I doubt I could go back to the original text to appraise your claims, but the actual toolset and description of the methodology seems sound enough; I suspect I’m a bit suspicious of the explanatory hypothesis that is in use. I imagine there will be a few reply articles in response to your paper and it will be interesting to see what your peers agree with and what they don’t.

      I’m amending the original post, by the way, to reflect my causal read of the piece.

  2. Doesn’t sound like very good scholarship to me, though I haven’t read it, obviously. However, experience shows that Plato is, unfortunately, a golden boy for fringe ideas and bloated hypotheses. Why anyone would deem it either useful or possible to read the mind of someone who’s been dead for over two millennia based upon historical text is beyond me.

    1. Actually, I’ve looked over the paper and it’s not quite the breathless “I’ve discovered a deep and dark secret” argument that Slashdot and the University of Manchester press release make it out to be. The article is in a respectable journal and I know some of the people Kennedy thanks at the beginning of the piece. I haven’t read it deeply enough to know whether I agree with his findings (and, whilst I know the literature, it’s been too long since I translated any Ancient Greek to do any real analysis of the texts myself), but the tools he’s used to generate the data are sound in principle; it’s the explanatory hypothesis which is in use which is likely to be questioned. I suspect there will be at least one reply to the article in the near future, and that will be interesting.

      1. Yes, you’re quite right of course. As I said, I haven’t read the paper so I am being very unfair to Dr Kennedy – my apologies. It may very well be the cynic in me knee-jerking. Discovering codes in ancient texts is not utterly implausible, and he may well be on to something, but I am used to hearing such claims from sources which are neither respectable or honest. As it would be above my head to grapple with the content, perhaps at some point in the future some of his work, or a review of his work, might be put up here?

        1. Indeed. Actually, I’m quite curious to see whether sources like Slashdot (or the University of Manchester) will provide notice of such things. I might talk to some of the members of my Department about Kennedy’s central thesis and get some feedback on its plausibility.

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