Pythagoras: “Was He a Mathematician or a Cosmologist?”

Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who lived in the sixth century and founded a movement known as the Pythagorean society. His contribution to mathematics, music, cosmology and astronomy has been recognized by many in the modern world. But it’s in the area of religion and philosophy that Pythagoras influence has been felt most.
For some time now, scholars have argued on the best way to classify Pythagoras. There is a school of thought that believes he should be known first as a mathematician before any other thing. Another school of thought believes that Pythagoras shone more in the area of cosmology and so should be regarded as a cosmologist. While both sides of the divide have facts to back up their cause, we wonder if it is possible to come to a logical conclusion on who Pythagoras is.
Before we answer this important question in this article, we will look at his roles as a mathematician and cosmologist separately:
Pythagoras and Mathematics
When asked to describe Pythagoras, most people will refer to him as a mathematician. And in reality, this description cannot be farther from the truth. Pythagoras contribution to mathematics cannot be overemphasized. In fact, we owe much of what we know in mathematics to the foundation laid down by Pythagoras and his followers. Pythagoras looked for different ways to apply the concept of mathematics in our everyday lives. This approach was seen in his belief that all things we know could be reduced to number relations. Also, this idea stemmed from his observations in mathematics, astronomy, and music. He observed that vibrating strings only produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the length of the strings are whole numbers. He later found out that he could apply these ratios to other instruments.
Furthermore, Pythagoras believed that every number has its peculiarities, strengths, and weakness.  For instance, he valued 10 as a complete number because it was gotten from adding the first four digits together i.e. 1+2+3+4. He noticed that these digits form a perfect triangle when they are written in dot notation. He also had an interest in the abstract idea of proof, the concept of number or triangle and the principles of mathematics.
His most famous work was the geometry theorem. Pythagoras became the first to prove this theory that had been in existence for 1000years and was known to the Babylonians. Pythagoreans valued geometry because they believed it to be the most prominent form of mathematics as it can be used to explain the physical world.
Pythagoras and Cosmology
As a cosmologist, Pythagoras applied his mastery of the mathematical science to study the physical universe. He developed and propagated a form of sophisticated cosmology that was radically different from the general views that existed at that time. A part of his brand of cosmologist firmly believed that earth had the shape of a sphere and was located at the center of the cosmos. Similarly, he was among those who first claimed that all the planets revolved around the sun. Pythagoras also maintained that all the stars and planets had a spherical shape because the sphere is a perfect solid figure.
In addition, Pythagoras and his followers were of the opinion that all the planets, stars, and even the sun rotated around a central fire that could not be seen with the human eyes. Illustrating this idea, he drew ten round objects that were moving around the central fire. The ten objects included a counter-earth which was there to bring the number of spherical bodies to a perfect ten. This idea became the basis for illustrating the movement of spatial bodies in a circle.
Pythagoras also assumed that while the heavenly bodies rotated around the central fire, they emitted musical sounds which he called “the harmony of spheres.” The reason why humans cannot hear the sound is that we are already used to it from childhood. The only way we can hear the music is if something goes wrong in the cosmos. For Pythagoras, music, cosmos, and number were not only related, but they were also intertwined with each other. To the Pythagoreans, cosmos was music and music was number.
Mathematician, Cosmologist or Both?
To answer this question, we need to go back to ancient Greece. While the modern society regards Pythagoras as a mathematician and a cosmologist among other roles, this was not so in ancient Greece. Evidence has shown that even though Pythagoras was famous in ancient Greece, his fame was not based on him being a mathematician or cosmologist. None of the famous Greek personalities e.g. Plato or Aristotle acknowledged Pythagoras’ contributions to the study of cosmology.  As a matter of fact, Aristotle who devoted a section of his book, Metaphysics, to cosmology had no idea of the Cosmo theory propagated by Pythagoras and his followers.
This incident was not peculiar to cosmology, as it was also seen in mathematics. Early archeological evidence had no mention of Pythagoras feats in mathematics or even his famous theorem. Even the eminent Greek mathematicians of his time did not regard him as a colleague.
Could this mean that all the claims allegedly attributed to Pythagoras were false?
We will have to return to ancient Greece again. Unlike the accounts of other Greek mathematicians, no records of Pythagoras writings survived to this day. While most ancient Greek scientists still have their writings in publication, there is nothing to indicate that Pythagoras developed most of the inventions attributed to him.
Most of the works of Pythagoras are believed to have been reconstructed from hearsays and sources without credible or infallible proofs. Many of the works attributed to him may have also been the accomplishments of other people. The only reference to him from Plato painted him as the founder of a new religious way of life, not as a scientist or mathematician.
Final Verdict
Pythagoras was mysterious and an enigma during his days and even now. The controversy surrounding his person will continue to rage on for years to come. Lastly, to the question of if Pythagoras is a mathematician, cosmologist, or both? The answer is none.
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