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Philosophy and Mathematics

Philosophy and Mathematics

How much do you know about the so-called “father of science”? Rather than relying on traditional myths, the Greek philosopher Thales sought to explain natural phenomena through critical observation and the development of theory.  Stuff That Matters! shows how his work has influenced various branches of mathematics, physics and other scientific areas.

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Originally shared by The Daily SciTech

Thales of Miletus, the father of science and natural philosophy 

Although this can be fairly argued, Thales of Miletus is usually regarded as the father of science. Also hailed as the first ever philosopher in the western hemisphere by Bertrand Russel, Thales was indeed a notable figure, without whose achievements, the journey of science and philosophy would have taken a serious toll (it might not have begun that early, had it been not for him). 

Thales was born in Ionia, in the 7th century BC, and he founded what was known as the Ionian school of thought, that produced many other notable early thinkers, including Anaximander and Anaximenes. 

Thales’s contributions to scientific thought 

The early Greeks obviously lacked the scientific method that has been the tool of trade for us modern admirers of science. Thought, especially critical thinking, was serious in its infancy back in the time of Thales. That’s why, although his ideas might appear too novice to most modern humans, he was still the one who breathed life into science and philosophy. 

1. Natural cause hypothesis Before Thales, all natural phenomena were thought to be the side-effects of some supernatural phenomena going on in the realm of the unseen gods and demons. However, Thales was the first person to put forward what is known as the natural cause hypothesis, which states that whatever we see all around us, are actually results of one or more underlying natural processes or causes. This also gave rise to the deductive reasoning, which enabled Thales to build certain early hypotheses of science. 

The natural cause hypothesis gave rise to natural philosophy, aka the early form of physics. 

2. The primal element: One of the most cherished notions of modern particle physics, fairly regarded as the greatest branch of science by many (including me), is to find the primary substance, the ultimate particle which constitutes everything. Modern M Theory introduces the nation of vibrating filaments of energy or strings, to account for the sheer diversity of particles in the standard model of particle physics today. 

However, even before Democritus and Leucippus who championed the early versions of the atomic hypothesis, Thales is known to have regarded water as the primary substance. This, he concluded, by observing that all living organisms need water to live, and water seems to be more abundant than land mass.

This was wrong, though, but it started the journey of finding the primary substance, and till this day that’s continuing. 

3. Naturalism: The philosophy of naturalism developed as a result of Thales’s idea that everything has a natural cause. For example, he is said to have remarked that magnets have life, but most probably, by life, he refers to something that would be analogous to the modern term property (in its scientific sense). 

Everything, according to Thales, is the result of something else. This sets forth the world in motion. It was truly the beginning of scientific thought with Thales. 

4. Mathematics as a branch of science: Prior to Thales, mathematics was used in many other parts of the world, including the ancient Babylon and the Rigvedic era in India. However, in the west at least, Thales was the first to fully use mathematics to predict natural events. It is rumoured that Thales had visited Egypt in his youth, and from there he learned the knowledge of mathematics and proto-astronomy. 

The first use of mathematics to predict natural events by Thales was a solar eclipse in 585 BC. This established a crucial idea, that mathematics is the science capable of describing the nature, although it would stay rather underdeveloped and crude for a long time, at least since the Renaissance. 

He also used mathematics to measure the heights of pyramids and other structures, which further emboldened this idea. 

5. Thales’s theorem of mathematics: Well, this is pretty basic, and is known to most of us. But Thales was the first to formulate it mathematically, that the angle opposite to the diameter of a circle is always a right angle. 


The intellectual legacy of Thales continued with his disciples, the Ionian school of thought produced other brilliant thinkers as well. Even the Italian school of thought was influenced by him, arguably. 

Although this can be debated as to whether refer to Thales as the Father of science, I believe we can (and should_ argue in his favour.

Sources and reference 


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