Kleroterion – The Athenian’s Solution to Corruption

7 min read



A kleroterion was a randomization device (a lottery system) used by the Athenian cities during the period of democracy to select citizens to the city council, to most state offices, and to court juries. Athenians were aware of the risks of corruption; they knew that a judge could be bribed but not a crowd, so they used to form big juries (500 people) that were randomly selected shortly before the trial. For that reason each citizen brought his personal ID (a piece of wood or bronze called pinakion), that a justice officer slotted it into a kleroterion, a machine generating randomness.

Kleroterion on display museum

The kleroterion was simple to operate. Holes in the stone (slots), cut in several vertical lines, held the ‘tokens’ (pinakia) of each potential judge. A wooden tube was held in place next to the lines of tokens. A series of white and black balls were put into a funnel at the top of the wooden tube and allowed to percolate down its length. At the bottom, they were stopped by a crank- driven device. The crank was turned, and one ball dropped out. If the ball was black, the first row of pinakia was removed, and their owners were dismissed. If the ball was white, the first row of tickets remained in place, and their owners were judges for the day. Another ball was released, another row of candidates dismissed or accepted, and so on. At last the final ball was dropped and the trial began.

That was the first application of randomness in politics. Athenian democracy was based on the concept of isonomia (equality of political rights) and this complex allotment machine was their way to ensure that the positions on the ruling committees that ran Athens were fairly allocated. But what is randomness?


In ancient history, the concepts of randomness and chance were intertwined with that of fate. Pre-Christian people along the Mediterranean threw dice to determine fate, and this later evolved into games of chance. There is also evidence of games of chance played by ancient Egyptians, Hindus and Chinese, dating back to 2100 BC. The Chinese of 3000 years ago were perhaps the earliest people to formalize odds and chance.


According to Wikipedia randomness is the lack of pattern or predictability in events. A random sequence of events, symbols or steps has no order and does not follow an intelligible pattern or combination. In fact, randomness is the quality of having no apparent order. Individual random events are by definition unpredictable, but in many cases the frequency of different outcomes over a large number of events (or “trials”) is predictable. In this view, randomness is a measure of uncertainty of an outcome. But does randomness really exist in our world?

According to the textbooks of biology, large molecules (for example proteins) were initially formed on the primordial earth randomly; a theory that nowadays has its limitations. In fact, scientists have calculated the probability of success of the formation of a protein made up of 150 amino acids exclusively to the blind interactions of chemistry. It came out that the probability of success on ancient earth of getting a properly folded protein chain of one-handed amino acids joined by peptide bonds was one chance in 10164. This means that, on average, you would need to construct 10164 chains of amino acids to expect to find one that is useful. Considering now that the age of the earth is estimated to be 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years, in this timeframe only 1058 failed attempts could have taken place.

In order to run this simulation, it has been hypothesized that the entire supply of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen was available to form all the complete sets of amino acids used to build proteins. Moreover, it has been hypothesized that the amino acids in this primordial earth were protected from UV rays and chemical contamination (highly unlikely back then) and that each protein will self assemble in one second. Furthermore, for this simulation, they took for granted that they knew in advance that a “correct” sequence of the protein had to be found during the simulation and that somehow implies determinism or super-determinism, the exact opposite of randomness.

To make us understand how long it takes to wait for 10164 failed attempts in this simulation, scientists have built a hypothetical bridge that spans the diameter of the observable universe, a distance of years. Then they placed an amoeba – a single-celled organism carrying one atom on its back – on one end of the bridge traveling at the breakneck speed of one foot per year.

So, according to this simulation while we are waiting for one protein to form by chance in the prebiotic soup, the amoeba moving at a just one foot per year and carrying one atom per trip, will transport the entire universe atom by atom more than 56 millions times. That’s how long it will take to build one functional protein randomly.

Of course, proteins are only a part of this story, so the probability that the right sequenced molecules formed just randomly the first cell is next to impossible. In fact, we have no idea how the basic set of molecules (carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins) were made and how they could have coupled into the proper sequences, and then transformed into the ordered assemblies until there was the construction of a complex biological system, and eventually to that first cell. So if randomness is excluded, does determinism plays a role? Was the first protein, or the first cell or the first organism predetermined, pre-designed to happen? And if the idea of determinism in our physical world has been ruled out by the famous double-slit experiment (the cornerstone of modern physics) – that is initiating the era of the free will – what is really going on?


Nature is filled with examples of complex behaviors that arise spontaneously from relatively simple elements. Researchers have even coined the term “emergence” to describe these puzzling manifestations of self-organization, which can seem, at first blush, inexplicable. Emergence is a process where apparent randomness can give rise to complex and deeply attractive, orderly structures, and events that can’t be predicted or explained on the basis of previous terms. Where does the extra injection of complex order suddenly come from? Scientists are just beginning to understand why and how these phenomena emerge without a central organizing entity.

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own. These properties or behaviors emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole.

In 1999 the economist Jeffrey Goldstein defined emergence as: “the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems”.

An example to consider in detail is an ant colony. The queen ant does not give direct orders and does not tell the ants what to do. Nobody is technically “in charge”, and yet somehow the ants manage to behave in astonishingly complex ways, quickly determining the shortest distance to a nearby food source and shifting roles among the colony members in response to changing needs. Despite the lack of centralized decision-making, ant colonies exhibit complex behavior and have even demonstrated the ability to solve geometric problems.

A broader example of emergent properties in biology is viewed in the biological organization of life. Individual atoms can be combined to form molecules such as polypeptide chains, which in turn fold and refold to form proteins. Then these proteins interact together and with other molecules to achieve higher biological functions and eventually create an organism. At the highest level, all communities in the world have their human participants interact to form societies, and the complex interactions of these meta-social systems form the stock market. Interestingly, when groups of human beings are left free they tend to produce spontaneous order, rather than the meaningless chaos often feared. This has been observed in society at least since Chuang Tzu in ancient China. Whenever there is a multitude of individuals interacting, order emerges from disorder!

Spooky as emergence can seem, a formal understanding of it might be within reach. So, do we have a scientific explanation for emergence?

Emergence Theory

Emergence theory is a new physics model currently being developed by a Los Angeles based team of scientists. At the root of Emergence theory’s is a concept that all of reality is made of information. What is information? Information is meaning in the form of symbolism. A language or code provides this information conveying symbolism; in fact, these scientists believe a geometric language exists in the form of geometric symbolism, literally everywhere.

All languages and codes are groups of symbols that convey meaning and the various possible arrangements of these symbols are governed by rules. The language user makes free-will choices regarding how to arrange the symbols (free will) in order to produce meaning, but always according to the rules (determinism). In this concept, the existence of information must, therefore, imply a “chooser” or some form of consciousness, in order for the information to be actualized.

A central feature of our reality behaving geometrically is that all fundamental particles and forces in nature can transform into one another (through a process called gauge symmetry transformation) in a manner that corresponds precisely to the vertices of the 8D polytope of a crystal, called the E8 lattice. However, since we do not appear to live in an 8D universe they believe the answer is in the language and mathematics of quasicrystals. A quasicrystal is an aperiodic, but not random pattern, and in any given dimension is created by projecting a crystal (a periodic pattern) from a higher dimension to a lower one. So, is life a shadow of an object existing in a higher dimension? Apparently yes according to the emergence theory.

In fact, emergence theory focuses on projecting the 8D E8 crystal to 4D and 3D at a certain angle and forming a 3D quasicrystal that has one type of proto-tile: a 3D tetrahedron.


In our 3D quasicrystalline reality, each tetrahedron is the smallest indivisible possible 3D shape (3D pixel of reality) that can exist, and the length of each of its edges is the Planck length (the shortest possible length known in physics). These 3D pixels combine with one another according to specific, geometric rules, to populate all of space. These tetrahedra they act as a binary language: in any given moment each tetrahedron can be chosen by the code operator (or some form of consciousness) to be either “on” or “off.” If it is “on,” it can be in one of two states: “rotated left” or “rotated right.”

In this 3D tetrahedron model consciousness is viewed as both emergent and fundamental. In its fundamental form consciousness exists inside every tetrahedron/pixel in the 3D quasicrystal reality in the form of something they call viewing vectors. Think of viewing vectors as micro-scale observersin the traditional quantum mechanical sense. These observers actualize reality by making ultra-fast Planck scale choices about the binary states of the pixels (on, off, left, right) at every moment in time. This fundamental, primitive, yet highly sophisticated form of consciousness steers the patterns on the quasicrystalline point-space toward more and more meaning. And eventually, that primitive consciousness expands into higher degrees of order such as nature and life as we know it.

To put it differently, according to the emergence theory the spontaneous order that emerges from the apparent disorder of a multitude of “things” (interacting with each other) is just the result of a code and an observer. This code (information) is geometric and the 3D tetrahedron is just a letter, where the observer/reader is “consciousness” in a way not fully understood because no one knows exactly what “consciousness” is.

Going back now to the origins of life and the formation of the first molecule: according to the emergence theory it’s specifically the laws of physics inside this geometric code (reality) that cause electrons and quarks to self organize (emergence) into 81 stable atoms, and from there self organize to molecules and from there into a human consciousness, an ocean of 37 self organized trillion living cells (a network), and always following the same rules that dictate the structure of our geometric reality.


More than two thousand years ago the kleroterion was used to produce randomness in ancient Athens while randomly selecting state officials to run the city of Athens. By doing so Athenians were making sure that corruption was excluded from the state. Two thousand years later we have just begun to understand the existence of apparent randomness in our 3D geometric reality, and in particular why apparent chaos produces spontaneous order in this geometric reality. Considering all the above, is that mean that randomness produced by the kleroterion was just a “key” in order to unlock the geometric code of our reality and “produce” in an unbiased way crowd wisdom to run the city of Athens? Apparently, yes…… So nowadays, as corruption corrodes the fabric of our society undermining people’s trust in political and economic systems, in institutions and leaders, every decentralized but most importantly “unbiased” emergent system that uplifts crowd wisdom, is more likely our way out of corruption.

Marina Alamanou Marina has a PhD in molecular and cellular biology and has strong experience in academia, startups and multinationals. She loves science and the sea.

2 Replies to “Kleroterion – The Athenian’s Solution to Corruption”

  1. This was a wonderful read Marina. It reminds me of my favorite book Flatland, a Romance of Many Dimensions. I’d love to learn more about emergence since I do a lot of work with crowdsourcing. Keep up the great work!

  2. Hi Marc, I’ve read the book and I really liked it! Ok, emergence and crowdsourcing for the next article 🙂 have a nice day

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *