Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

The Legend of Hippasus

There was once an ancient Greek geometer named Hippasus who belonged to the Pythagorean Brotherhood. The Pythagoreans were a school of philosophers who held a special reverence for numbers and proportion. To these men, mathematics was more than just a method for quantifying and describing the world around them. The Pythagoreans held that numbers, themselves, were divine things, worthy of awe and worship. Relationships between these numbers– what we would now think of as a “proportion” or “ratio” of numbers– were intensely studied, as these proportions were thought to hold the secrets of the cosmos. If one were to divide a string according to some specific ratios, he could produce beautiful music. If one compared the proportions of two legs of a triangle, he could come to understand the remaining leg. Nothing in existence was more beautiful to the Pythagoreans than the discovery of these proportions and the properties they endowed.

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Basics of Epistemology

Pretend, for a moment, that someone has just made a claim, and you are trying to decide whether or not that claim is true. How do you go about evalutating their assertion? How do you decide if that person is right or wrong? How do you know the truth?

Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. It is the area of philosophy which attempts to create methodologies for discerning truth from falsehood. So, for example, if I were to claim, “I am wearing a green shirt,” how could you verify or disconfirm my statement? Well, if you’re in the room with me, you could simply look at my shirt. However, what if you’re not in the room with me? You might place a phone call to someone who IS with me, and ask them– but how would you know that this new person was telling the truth, and not lying?

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Introduction

In 588 BC, a young man from Samos made his way to the Olympic Games with the goal of winning the youth division in boxing. However, when registering, the officials told the young man that he was too old to compete amongst the boys. Spectators and competitors began to mock the Samian for his long hair and purple robes, accusing him of effeminacy for attempting to compete with the younger boys. Undeterred, the young man signed to fight with the adult boxers. Despite the derision which he had suffered from the crowd, Pythagoras won bout after bout, and was crowned victorious at the 48th Olympiad.

According to the ancient historian Diogenes Laertius, this was the self-same Pythagoras of Samos who would go on to found the Brotherhood, a unique school of philosophers in Greek history. The Pythagoreans were incredibly well-respected, and their work influenced that of all the great philosophers who would follow them– including the famous trio of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Music and mathematics played especially important roles, to the Pythagoreans.  These fields informed their philosophy, while their philosophy simultaneously inspired their musical and mathematical discoveries.

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