Thales of Miletus
The great thinker Thales of Miletus is often referred to as the world’s first philosopher. His thought processes and questions about the world reflected a new way of thinking, that had not been replicated before his time. He is thought to have been the first person to have explained phenomena through natural observations, rather than relying on the supernatural to explain occurrences. Thought to have originated in the Greek Ionian city Miletus, which is now located in present day Turkey, his work shifted the path of thinkers to a more scientific approach. He is often credited as creating the first hypotheses. According to Aristotle, Thales believed that the earth was floating on water. He used this idea to detail the reasoning for earthquakes. While obviously incorrect, the mere attempt at justifying the world without using mystical or supernatural reasoning was important enough of a feat. He is believed to have written two philosophical works, “On the Solstice”, and “On the Equinox”. That being said, neither of the two works, along with all other written works by Thales have survived. In the time in which he lived, there were many other civilizations in proximity to him. Most people however had difficulty traveling to, or communicating with the foreign lands. Thales was believed to have frequently traveled, and because of this he gained new ideas that seemed monumental to the people of Greece. While normal and accepted in one area, because of the lack of accessibility many ideas were much more profound in different areas. This likely contributed to his fame, as it was easier to please certain people that were not aware of global ideas. He is said to have visited Egypt, which provided him with astronomical knowledge previously unknown to the Greeks. In addition, he studied the Babylonian lunar cycle. With sources such as these, as well as his own thought processes, Thales was able to predict the year of a solar eclipse, or so it is thought. Like a lot of ancient history, there is some debate as to whether he truly predicted it, or if it was merely a lucky guess. The method that he used was not replicated, so he was only able to predict it once, if at all. It has been confirmed that an eclipse occurred in the year he apparently predicted, which was discovered using modern methods. Many people believe that it was simply a lucky guess, or that it was just an achievement attributed to him because of his prestige. In addition to his philosophical and astronomical achievements, he was also well known as a mathematician. Some of his theories and postulates included the idea that a circle’s diameter bisects the circle itself, and that a triangle inscribed in a semi-circle always has at one right angle. Once again however, simply because of his fame and prominence, it is thought possible that some of these achievements were not actually his.