06 July 2017

Was Pythagoras an anti-Semite?

Breaking news:

Archaeologists flying buzzard-drones over the desert in the environs of Alexandria in Egypt have discovered new Greek papyri which, they claim, are the first to be securely identified as stemming directly from Pythagoras himself (6th century BCE) or his school. The spectacular find has a disturbing feature, however. It brings the numeral 7 into connection with a saying common in Kroton at the time used to curse the Jews, to the effect of telling them to go to Hades seven times. Leading figures from the New York intellectual scene are out of countenance about these new revelations about Pythagoras' anti-Semitic views.

Columbia University has set up a committee to investigate the implications of Pythagoras' thinking being anti-Semitically infected. Some professors are already calling for Pythagoras' teachings to be banned. A close re-examination of Pythagoras' theorem itself is already underway. This famous theorem about the squares of the sides of a right-angled triangle may itself have anti-Semitic connotations. The Professor of Pure Mathematics at Göttingen University has pointed out that a right-angled isosceles triangle is already one half of the six-pointed Israelite star, and that halving was attributed to femininity rather than the stalwart, indivisibly phallic one.

The consequences of this anti-Semitism hidden in Pythagoras' theorem are immeasurable, not to say, mind-boggling, since the theorem is an elementary building block not only for all geometry. Trigonometry, differential calculus, n-dimensional linear vector spaces, topology, Riemann manifolds are just a few of the innumerable areas of today's mathematics that rely on Pythagoras' theorem. Without these branches of mathematics, in turn, there would be no Newtonian laws of motion, no Maxwellian laws of electro-magnetism, no Einsteinian relativity theory, no Heisenbergian quantum mechanics. In short, the scientific foundations of the West would collapse.

Nevertheless, there are vociferous cries from many quarters demanding that the West make a clean break with Pythagorean thinking, thus disinfecting the anti-Semitism contaminating the roots of Western thought. One political scientist has proposed that Pythagoras' theorem be treated as a literary form rather than as mathematics. Some passengers have already started refusing to board aircraft and trains, and numerous instances of abandoned cars with notes of moral disgust stuck on their windscreens have been reported. Subscribers are cancelling contracts with their internet service providers. Despite these alarming nascent disruptions to our technological way of life, ethicists are calling for the moral high ground to be reclaimed, no matter what the cost. The West, they assert, cannot afford to be associated with Pythagoras, who has now turned out to have been unmasked as a proto-Nazi.

From the other side, many reputable scientists are calling for calm, pointing out that the wondrous efficiency and efficacy of modern techno-science are great achievements whose neutrality is evidenced by the fact that even most Jews living today have embraced technology. They warn against throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Note: This blog post must be read as a continuation of my recent cycle of posts, starting with Russell & Heidegger.

1 comment:

  1. A helpful analogy that would have social media abuzz with indignation should it ever get out.