Life and works of Thales

thales-of-miletusThales, a prominent figure in Ancient Greek history, was born in the coastal city of Miletus around 624 BC. Little is known about his early life, but it is believed that he came from a noble family with ties to Phoenician merchants. Growing up in this bustling port city would have exposed Thales to diverse cultures and ideas from an early age.

Education played a significant role in shaping Thales’ intellectual pursuits. He traveled extensively throughout Egypt and Babylonia, studying geometry, astronomy, and philosophy. These experiences broadened his knowledge and influenced his groundbreaking theories on nature and the universe.

Thales’ thirst for knowledge led him to become one of the Seven Sages of Greece, revered for his wisdom and contributions to mathematics and science. His teachings laid the foundation for future generations of philosophers and scientists to expand upon his revolutionary ideas.

Thales of Miletus, often regarded as the first Western philosopher and scientist, left a lasting impact on Ancient Greece that reverberates through the annals of history. His groundbreaking ideas and theories paved the way for future generations of philosophers and scientists to explore the mysteries of the universe.

From his early life in Miletus to his profound contributions to philosophy and science, Thales’ legacy endures as a testament to human curiosity and intellectual pursuit. His theories on the origin of the universe laid the foundation for further scientific inquiry, influencing thinkers like Anaximander and Pythagoras.

Even today, Thales’ influence can be seen in modern scientific thought and philosophical discourse. By challenging conventional beliefs and seeking rational explanations for natural phenomena, he exemplified a spirit of inquiry that continues to drive innovation and discovery.

As we look back on the legacy of Thales in Ancient Greece, we are reminded of the power of human intellect to shape our understanding of the world around us. His enduring contributions serve as a timeless reminder that curiosity, reason, and wonder are essential aspects of what it means to be truly human.

Theories on the Origin of the Universe

Have you ever pondered the mysteries of the universe? Thales, an ancient Greek philosopher, believed that water was the fundamental substance from which everything originated. He theorized that all things were derived from water, suggesting a deep connection between this element and the creation of life.

Thales’ theory challenged conventional beliefs at his time, sparking debates and discussions among other philosophers. His unique perspective paved the way for future scientific inquiries into the origins of our vast cosmos.

While some may find it difficult to comprehend how water could be at the core of existence, Thales’ bold hypothesis showcases his innovative thinking and willingness to explore beyond traditional boundaries. The notion that such a simple element could hold profound significance in explaining the universe is both intriguing and thought-provoking.

As we continue to unravel the complexities of our world, Thales’ theories serve as a reminder of how one individual’s curiosity and imagination can shape our understanding of reality.


The key element

Thales tried to explain the origin of the World by inductive research, setting myth aside. He hypothesized that the primary element, the beginning and basis of the Universe, must be one of the four basic elements. Therefore, he observed carefully and saw that in Nature the element which is clearly superior and advantageous over the others was “water”. From this fact, he assumed that water must have been the basic element of the beginning of the Universe, the essential component of all things.

First, therefore, as the bearer of the theoretical Greek spirit, which is not content with ascertaining and memorizing the data but seeks the theoretical explanation and justification of the facts, gave the concept of “principle”, which since then has been a basic term of the world’s scientific intellect.

He formulated the opinion that the multifaceted world of natural phenomena has a unity and comes from a single creative common natural principle and cause, which according to him was water: “And Thales of Miletus and Pherecydes the Syrian are the beginning of all things that exist, the moreover, Pherecydes calls for Chaos, as he is chosen instead of Hesiod, so to speak [Theogony 116], that is, Chaos first occurred [Achil. import 3,3, 28 Maas]’. Which means: Thales of Miletus and Pherecydes the Syrian posit as the beginning of all things water, which Pherecydes also calls Chaos, naturally taking it from Hesiod, who says: Truly, first Chaos was created.

Pherekydis the Syrian (6th century BC) was a philosopher and astronomer, a contemporary of Thales and Anaximander. It is remembered that he had written in Ionian dialect a treatise, which can be attributed with the title “On the seven parts of the great whole”, for this reason it was known as Heptamychus, where he describes that the world consists of aspects, in each of the which is also found by a god. These seven aspects or divisions in order were: infinite space, the crystal sphere of the plain stars, the sphere of the planets, the sphere of the Sun, the sphere of the Moon, the Earth, and all that is under the Earth.

Thales’ cause seems to have been supported by Hippo the Philosopher from Metapontia or Rhegius, a city of Numidia in North Africa, which is why he is referred to internationally as Hippo Regius.
Hippo, whose name is mentioned in the comedy of Cratinus “Panoptai”, was a physician-physiologist and it seems that he was clearly influenced by the diagrams of Thales, since he considered the liquid element to be the principle of everything, but generally and vaguely. He also maintained that nothing exists in the World except the things that come under our perception. So the gods that are worshiped were great men of the past or heroes, whom the people deified.

Aristotle despises the theories of Hippo Regius and mocks him for the inferiority of his thoughts, even calling him an atheist. This is exactly what Simplicius (6th century AD), Neoplatonic philosopher and commentator on Aristotle, confirms, who in his commentary mentions the following: “Thales and Hippo Regius, the tryst and atheist of events, called water the principle of phenomena according to the sense being advanced to this (Siml. Physica 23, 22)”, which means: Thales and Hippo Regius, who seems to have been an atheist, said that the principle is water, led to this conclusion by the phenomena that fall under the our perception. Returning to the views of the leader of the Ionian School, we can say that Thales advocated that everything consists of water, i.e. that water was the natural cause of all things.

Water, then, beyond any divine intervention, was for the great philosopher the essential component of all things, and all natural beings were mutations of this original matter. So water symbolized for the Milesian sage the primary essence from which all forms of matter emerged and to which they always returned.

The effort of the Ionian School and especially of Thales of Milesius to formulate the first philosophical system is described by Aristotle in his work “After the Natural Sciences” (A 3, 983 b 6). common natural principle and cause is water, and all natural beings are created as transformations of this primordial “element” by condensation or dilution. Water is the “element”, which expanding by evaporation creates the air, while by its contraction and condensation it produces the earth (soil), which is confirmed, as he says, by the appearance of alluvium in the rivers. The processes of condensation and dilution were the first opposites, from which the theory of opposites was born and created, which are the original causes of movement, since primordial water is at the same time the beginning of movement.

The soul and the universe

As is known, Thales discovered magnetism and electricity, from the attractive properties of the stone magnet and electricity (amber): “But even inanimate souls are repelled by magnetism and electricity. And the principle of the elements is water” (Schol. Platonis in remp. 600 A [aus Hesych]). On the occasion, however, of the attractive power of the magnet and electricity, which is invisible, he proclaimed that the “soul” also had this very quality: “let him and the soulless impart soul, presuming from the stone of the magnet and the electret” ( Aristotle On the Soul A 2, 405a 19).

The Milesian sage considered primordial matter (water) as a carrier of energy “[and at the beginning of all things water existed (27)]” and taught that the Universe was full of “souls”, i.e. units of energy. He imagined the “soul” as a source of energy and movement: Thales was the first to reveal the soul as an immobile nature or car (Aet. IV, 2,1 Dox. 386a, 10). Which means: Thales was the first to say that the soul is a physical substance that is in eternal motion or produces motion by itself.

This was a completely pioneering point of view, since the great philosopher combined mental phenomena or the essence of the soul with movement! The entire Universe, according to Thales, was of water origin and had a hemispherical shape. Its interior was full of air, while its hollow surface was made up of the sky, at the level of whose base was the immobile Earth, which he considered to be solid and floating on water: “floating as wood or something like that” (floating as wood or something similar).

Indeed, according to Aristotle (Peri Uranou B, 294a, 28-34) Thales argued that the Earth had a flattened shape and floated on the waters. Of course, Aristotle, commenting on the opinion of Thales, argues that in order for his positions to be correct, there had to be support both for the Earth, which was supported by the waters, and for the waters, since it is not in the nature of water to it stands meteoro; therefore, it too had to be supported somewhere. Extending his reasoning, he states that air is lighter than water and correspondingly water lighter than Earth. Therefore, how is it possible for the lighter – in this case water – to subdue the heaviest – in this case Earth (On Heaven B, 294b, 1-4).

The Universe, according to the Milesian sage, was unborn and indestructible, able to transform itself, just as it happens with the various forms of energy.

Accordingly, in accordance with his views on water as the primordial element, Thales, like other Ionian sages, believed that the Universe was a vast mass of water, on which floated the Earth which had the shape of a huge circular disk. That is, the Earth was likened to a flat surface, which floated on the universal waters, the center of our planetary system and the Universe in general.

Astronomical observations

Despite all the above, we note that many scholars of Thales’ work consider that he was the first to accept the sphericity of the Earth. They base this opinion on the fact that Thales was the first European astronomer to successfully predict a solar eclipse (Herodotus I 74, 20). Thus, their very correct question immediately arises: If Thales really was the first to correctly interpret the solar eclipse, how did he do this by accepting that the Earth is a flat disk? From his prediction above, he should – according to them – consider the Earth to be spherical!

Let us also recall that the great astronomer Thales was the first to scientifically systematize the archaic knowledge on Astronomy, the mother of today’s sciences. In addition to his other key discoveries, he was the first to calculate the obliquity of the ecliptic – Dercylides mentions Oenopides of Chios: “Eudimus relates in the Astrology, that Oenopides [c. 41, 7] he was the first to find the arrangement of the zodiac and the occasion of the great one, and the eclipse of the sun and the period according to his ways, as no equal ever happens” (Dercellides ap. Theon. Smyrn. astr. 198, 14 H) . Which means: Eudimus in his book “Astrologies” relates that Oenopides was the first to find how the zodiac forms a zone, as well as the time cycle (period) of the great one. While Aetius tells us otherwise, since he claims that it was a discovery of Pythagoras.

He was also the first, according to Aetius, to point out the heterophot of the Moon, arguing that its light comes from the Sun, and the first to give, again according to Aetius, the explanation for when a solar eclipse occurs: “Thales was the first to eclipse the sun of the moon above him perpendicularly, whose nature is earthy” [Aet. II, 24, 1 (D. 353)]. That is: Thales first said that an eclipse of the Sun occurs when the Moon, which has a similar composition to that of the Earth, enters vertically below it.

Thales discovered the solstices (the solstices) and that the period between the solstices is always the same, and he also calculated the difference in the time periods between the solstices and the equinoxes. Also, as the pseudo-Plutarch mentions: “Thales was the earth, but the stars were burning” [Aet. II, 13, 1 (D. 341)], ie: Thales was the first astronomer to express the opinion that the stars have similar constituents to those of the Earth.

Thales the Pioneer

The late Professor of Astronomy at the University of Athens Dimitrios Kotsakis (1976), on the occasion of this reference by Plutarch, writes characteristically in his book “The Pioneers of Science and the Genesis of the World”: “That is, (Thales) accepted that the various stars of the universe consist of these elements, from which the Earth is also composed. This fact was discovered in the 19th century, when with the help of the spectroscope and the application of Kirchhoff’s laws of spectral analysis, the chemical unity of the universe was demonstrated.

Because in the simple stars we find those chemical elements, which we meet on our planet. This opinion of Thalitos is considered the most brilliant inspiration of this great sage by the distinguished Greek astronomer E. Antoniadis in France” (Athens, 1976, p. 20).

Finally, it is worth mentioning the fact that, according to Diogenes Laertius (3rd century AD), Thales calculated – values that are certainly not valid today – that the diameter of the Sun is 1/720 of the (apparent) orbit of around the Earth and that the diameter of the Moon is again 1/720 of its orbit around the Earth: “And first the size of the sun (of the solar cycle as well as the size of the moon); of the lunar seven hundred and twentieth part unthinkable by you. the first and the last of the month trikada he said” (Diog. Laert. Philosophers’ Lives I, 22). The scientist Thales participated in the long journeys made by the immovable merchants of Miletus to Persia, Egypt, Assyria. Tradition states that he traveled to Egypt, discussed with the Egyptian priest-astronomers, met and studied the Pyramids, in which – according to Diogenes Laertius (Philosopher’s Lives I, 27) – he measured the height from their shadow.

Finally, the famous poet Callimachus of Cyrene (4th century BC) mentions that Thales classified the stars into constellations with the help of which the Phoenicians traveled the seas: the carriage was said to be parked by the asterisks or rich Phoenicians” (Iambic poems 1, 52) {Callimach. Iamb. [fr. 94] (s. oben I 67, 18.68, 16), Pap. Oxyrrh. VII 33 vgl. Pfeiffer Callimachi frag. nuper. Rep. S. 43ff}.

Thales discovered the phenomenon of light particles being attracted by frictional electricity, hence the whole phenomenon was called frictional electricity. From this property of the electron, a new force is discovered, the electric force, or to be precise, a new dynamic field around the electron, the electric field. This comes after the friction of electricity, which thus acquires the property of attracting light bodies.

Precisely this property is that phenomenon we call electricity. And all this without of course the great sage suspecting that he was revealing the nature of lightning and opening the gates for one of the biggest fields of modern Physics. In any case, Thales of Miletus with his pioneering studies, with his deep contemplative spirit and with his thorough observations, emerged as the founder of the natural sciences and, as Eusebius characteristically mentions: “Thalis of Miletus is said to be the first natural scientist to be born” (Rev. Chronicles a. bei Cyrill. c. Iul. I p. 12).

The definition of Matter

If we try to find in special studies or in specialized books the definition of the concept “matter”, we will see that today matter is considered the substance from which bodies are built and which is felt by humans through a series of its properties, such as mass, weight and its shape.

From the previous definition, the philosophical composition of the concept “matter” is evident, which essentially constitutes the undefined, in its total extent, a phenomenon whose infinitely limited aspect is given to us by the awareness of some of its individual properties, such as that of mass.

The first person who had the acumen to connect the concept of matter with philosophy was, as we have already mentioned, Thales of Miletus and after him the other Greek philosophers of the classical period.

The trigger for this connection was the obvious change in the form of material bodies, which created the philosophical view of the existence of a more general universal essence, a cosmic matter, from which all sensible bodies were formed and to which they returned when they completed their cycle their wear and tear. For Thales this cosmic matter, the primordial element, was – as we have already mentioned – water.

From then on, the identification and definition of this cosmic matter formed the basis of the natural philosophy of the Ionian School, whose representatives differ only in terms of defining the nature of this primary essence.

Contributions to Philosophy and Science

Thales, one of the prominent figures in Ancient Greece, made significant contributions to both philosophy and science during his time. He was known for being the first philosopher in Western tradition and is often considered the father of Greek philosophy.

In terms of philosophy, Thales sought to understand the fundamental principles that govern the natural world. He believed that water was the primary substance from which all things originated, a concept that laid the groundwork for future philosophical inquiries into the nature of reality.

Thales’ scientific endeavors were equally groundbreaking. By studying astronomy and geometry, he made important discoveries about celestial bodies and mathematical relationships. His emphasis on using reason and observation to explain natural phenomena paved the way for modern scientific inquiry.

Thales’ dual pursuits of philosophy and science helped shape our understanding of the world around us and continue to inspire thinkers across disciplines today.

Influence on Future Philosophers and Scientists

Thales, known as one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, left a lasting impact on future philosophers and scientists through his innovative ideas and contributions to various fields. His emphasis on seeking natural explanations for phenomena rather than relying solely on myth or superstition influenced thinkers like Anaximander and Pythagoras.

Thales’ belief that water was the fundamental substance in nature sparked further debate and exploration into the essence of matter. This notion laid the groundwork for later scientific inquiries into the composition of elements. His deductive reasoning methods also paved the way for logical thinking in philosophy and science.

By encouraging critical thinking and observation-based reasoning, Thales inspired generations of scholars to question traditional beliefs and seek empirical evidence to support their theories. His legacy continues to inspire modern-day researchers in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding about the world around us.