Plato and Mathematics: An apt quotation from Lancelot Hogben


“Plato's exaltation of mathematics as an august and mysterious ritual had its roots in dark superstitions which troubled, and fanciful puerilities which entranced, people who were living through the childhood of civilization, when even the cleverest people could not clearly distinguish the difference between saying that 13 is a 'prime' number and saying that 13 is an unlucky number. His influence on education has spread a veil of mystery over mathematics and helped to preserve the queer freemasonry of the Pythagorean brotherhoods, whose members were put to death for revealing mathematical secrets now printed in school books. It reflects no discredit on anybody if this veil of mystery makes the subject distasteful. Plato's great achievement was to invent a religion which satisfies the emotional needs of people who are out of harmony with their social environment, and just too intelligent or too individualistic to seek sanctuary in the cruder forms of animism.”

Lancelot Hogben, Mathematics for the Million (1971)

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