Thales of Miletus was an illustrious pre-Socratic Greek mathematician, astronomer and a philosopher. Even Aristotle regarded him as the first philosopher in Greek tradition. Furthermore, he was the first scholarly figure in the Western world to be involved in scientific philosophy.
The early philosophers used mythology to explain worldly phenomena but Thales was the first one to break away from that tradition. He employed scientific hypothesis and theories to explain natural occurrences instead of myths. According to Aristotle, Thales hypothesized the origin of all nature and matter to be water. His mathematical endeavors include the use of geometry to calculate the heights of pyramids. He is the first true mathematician about whose mathematical discoveries, historians feel fairly certain.
Thales was born in Miletus around 620 BC in a Phoenician family. It is one of most popularly believed account of his life. While others believe that he emigrated to Miletus with his parents afterwards. Thales was primarily an engineer and was aware of the existence of lodestone. He also came up with an ingenious idea to determine the length of enormous pyramids back in that age by comparing the length of shadow cast of an average human being compared with a pyramid.
Furthermore, the anecdotal record of Thales life suggests that he was a businessman as well. There is a story attached to his name how he became rich by predicting weather during an olive harvest. Thales was also involved in political affairs of defense of Anatolia’s Ionians against Persia. Moreover, he is credited for predicting the solar eclipse of 585 BC. He also calculated the equinoxes and solstices in a year. Plutarch noted in his account of Thales that an extant work called Astronomy was his effort.
Thales ventured into scientific and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena while his contemporaries relied upon Greek myths to support their theories. They would associate natural calamities to supernatural whims. However, Thales hypothesized that earthquakes occur because the Earth is rocked by the waves of the water on which it floats. The explanation was of course far from the truth but it is his non-stereotypical beliefs that paved way for scientific reasoning. He was also of the view that all matter was alive because of the movement of iron due to magnetic field and all that moved contained life.
He was recognized for his work in geometry and inventive employment of it. He held theoretical and practical both command over the subject. Thales described the method of using seked (slope) in geometry, which is a measure of the angle. Also he used trigonometry to measure the distances of ship at sea. In elementary geometry there are two theorems of Thales. One with the triangle inscribed in a circle is known as Thales’ triangle. The other theorem is named Intercept Theorem with the circle’s diameter as one leg. Thales observed that Egyptian drew two intersecting lines and through the vertical measurement they made sure the equal angles.
His cosmology thesis was his most renowned philosophical work. Aristotle is credited for noting his observations on Thales’ work in Metaphysics, which states that the originating source of all nature is one substance that is water. However, Aristotle did not share his opinion on the subject. Thales’ another strange hypothesis was his idea that the Earth is a flat object floating on the surface of water.