The first scientist, Thales
The first scientist, Thales
  • 조송현 조송현
  • 승인 2021.02.14 16:26
  • 업데이트 2021.02.14 22:01
  • 댓글 0
이 기사를 공유합니다

The re-reading of the 'The Universe-View Odyssey' in English (3)
Thales [Source : Wikipedia]

The first philosopher and scientist was Thales (640-546 BC). Born in the Aegean Sea of Milletos, he discovered how to measure the height of the pyramid while traveling through Egypt and predicted solar eclipse. He also had knowledge of astronomy and weather, such as constellations needed for sailing.

Plato's writings suggest how extraordinary Thales was. Plato wrote in his epistemological book Theaitetos as follows:

'There is a joke that is said to have been said by a clever and witty Thracian maid when Thales fell into a well while looking at the stars in the sky. She said Thales was too eager to see him floating in the sky to see him at her feet.’

Aristotle's Politics contains the following.

'Thales was criticized for his poverty. Because poverty proved the futility of philosophy. One year, Thales was convinced of a good harvest of olives the following year, using meteorological knowledge. He booked a large number of Olive milking machines for Miletos and Kios. In summer, sudden and simultaneous demand arose. Thales released all the previously promised milking machines at a high price. Having made a lot of money, he proved that philosophers can make a lot of money if they want, but they just don't want to.’

The above anecdote resonates even in this era when students are concentrated in practical studies that make money and the 'non-moneyable' humanities and natural sciences are shunned immediately. At that time, people who study Basic Studies like philosophy and mathematics had a hard time make live as today.

Thales was given the title of the first philosopher because he opened a new realm of reason. He explored the nature of things. In other words, he thought deeply about what all things are made of or what the basic elements of things make up. So he comes up with the answer, 'the one' or 'the water' that makes up all the materials. Thales had shifted the basis of reason from mythological grounds to scientific exploration.

Why did Thales conclude that the element of matter is water? This question can be inferred from the fact that he traveled to Egypt and Babylon, which were then advanced academic countries, when he was young. Coincidentally, in Egyptian and Babylonian myths, all things are said to have originated from water. The two civilizations formed against the backdrop of the river and flourished.

There is a saying that Egyptian civilization is a gift from the Nile. As such, it is no wonder that the Nile River (water) was considered the source of all matter to Egyptians. Mesopotamian and Babylonian civilizations also flourished in the 'Fertile Crescent' formed by the Tigris Euphrates River. The blessing of the river (water) was no different from Egypt.

The great flood that fertile the land was both a great gift from heaven and a disaster. So people had to prepare for the flooding. They would have had to predict the timing of the flood, measure the land behind the flood, and needed civil engineering work to measure it. That's why mathematics and civil engineering technology were developed early in Egypt. It is well known that the word 'geometry' means measuring land. Before Thales' visit, it was said that not only the myth that the source of all things was water, but also mathematics, civil engineering, and astronomical observation techniques had been developed.

It is also said that in Egypt, the cube table was written and used in the third equation solution, and that the Pythagorean theorem was already known and applied. In addition, in the field of mathematics and astronomy, Babylon was more advanced than Egypt. Greek intellectuals have learned and accepted such advanced studies. Pythagoras, who is about 50 years younger than Thales, also learned math by traveling to Egypt and Babylon. The origins of Greek philosophy (science) were Egypt and Babylon.

So why have mathematics and science since then declined relatively in Egypt and Babylon and developed in Greece? Philosopher Emmanuel Kant's next words suggest the answer to this question. "The Greeks identified the nature of things. In other words, he tried to recognize the world as a rational unity by identifying the substance and revealing the meaning of the number."

In short, the Greeks pursued a unified knowledge system. It goes without saying that this has become the basic driving force behind the development of philosophy and mathematics.

Pre-Greek civilizations Egypt and Babylon had a mathematical system that went beyond simple arithmetic calculations, such as complex accounting and structural calculations of buildings. They saw math as a means of solving real problems. In Egypt and Babylon, we discovered the laws of geometry while solving specific real-life problems such as land surveying and civil engineering, and passed on to valuable prescriptions.

However, mathematics that developed so early did not develop further. Why would he do that? Generations of these prescriptions always gave the right answer, so no one would have considered the logical validity of the equations they were using. The only thing that mattered to them was the fact that the calculations made under the prescription fit well with the actual situation, and There was no need to take issue with why they gave the right results.

On the other hand, the Greeks were meant to play in the world of ideas and super-realism. Of course, leaving every daily works to the slaves. Plato's 'Idea' philosophy has come to dominate European ideas beyond Greek philosophy, reflecting the ideological constitution of Greece and Europeans as much as Plato's genius. The Greeks especially treated mathematics as special. In other words, reason was thought to be refined by mathematical methods.

Mathematics was not just for technical problems, but also a basic skill to access all studies. At that time, it was common knowledge in Greece that 'Those who do not know mathematics cannot do philosophy' and 'God thinks mathematically.' It is said that mathematics was their rational thought, the logos itself. Therefore, in Greece, calculation is called logistike, and it is said to have distinguished it from noble mathematics such as geometry.

The excessive metaphysical attitude toward mathematics has also hindered the development of science that requires experimentation and quantitative analysis. However, it is no wonder that modern science was born and scientific revolution took place in the West, which has a spirit of exploration of the essence of things and a tendency to value mathematics. This is because natural phenomena and mathematical laws are inextricably inseparable.

Attempts to explain natural phenomena mathematically have led to the birth and development of natural science, especially physics.