Pythagoras

Pythagoras of Samos left his native Aegean island in about 530BC and settled in the Greek colonial city of Croton, on the southern coast of modern Italy. Although the date of his birth is not certain, he was probably by that time about forty years old and a widely experienced, charismatic figure.

In Croton, he had a significant impact as an influential teacher; he taught a doctrine of mathematical unity in the universe, believed in reincarnation, became an important political figure, made dangerous enemies and eventually had to flee to another coastal city, Metapontum, in 500BC, where he died. 


During his thirty years in Croton, some of the men and women who gathered to sit with him began to ponder and investigate the world. While experimenting with lyres and considering why some combination of string lengths produced beautiful sounds and others did not, Pythagoras, or others who were encouraged or inspired by him, discovered that the connection between the lyre string lengths and human ears are not arbitrary or accidental. The ratios that underlie musical harmony make sense in a remarkably simple way. In a flash of extraordinary clarity, the Pythagoreans found that there is a pattern and order hidden behind the apparent variety and confusion of nature and it is possible to understand it through numbers.

Tradition has it that, literally and figuratively they fell to their knees upon discovering that the universe is rational. The Pythagoreans embraced this discovery to the extent of allowing numbers to lead them, during and after Pythagoras’ lifetime, to some extremely far-sighted notions about the world and the cosmos being governed by mathematical laws. Although many people know Pythagoras only in connection with the so-called Pythagorean theorem, which he and his students proved, the pillars of our scientific thinking and tradition, which is the belief that the universe is rational and that there is unity in all things, and that numbers and mathematics are a powerful guide to the truth about nature and the cosmos, hark back to the thinking of this legendary scholar and his followers.

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