The first thing I would like to say before I start this paper on Thales is that when dealing with ancient Greek mathemetitions, any “facts” you may uncover are really just educated guesses. The reason for this is, because all records back then were kept on cuneiform tablets. These tablets just did not hold up well over time, and were destroyed before anyone could really make a lasting, permanent record of his life and studies. (2) With this being said, let me share with you some of my findings on the Greek mathematition known as Thales of Miletus. (2)
Thales of Miletus was a seventh century B.c. materialist philosopher as well as a great mathematicion. (1) His date of birth and date of death are guessed at between 540B.C. to around 620B.C. (2) This guess at his life time was based off of the 585B.C. eclipse. (2) This eclipse was used, because he was said to have predicted its arrival.(2) He was half Phoenician, and also considered the founding father of Greek mathematics by most Greek traditions.(4) He was not only the first person to receive credit for his mathematical discoveries, but was also considered the first of Greece’s seven wise men.(2) The seven Wise Men were a group of Greek Philosoophers and mathematicians who were considered the best in their field of study. (2) ONe common false belief is that he taught Pythegoras.(2) This was just not the case, because Pythegoras was born at least fifty years after Thales.(2) He was also the chief representative of the Ionian school of mathematics.(2) In his spare time he was rumored to have held one of many different types of jobs. Some of the jobs he might have held are: Making a fortune off of olive presses, being a salt merchant, a stargazer, a defender of celibacy, or a farsighted statesman.(2)
Now that I have introduced him as a person, lets dive into more of his mathematics history and discoveries. He was really the first person to think of mathematics in terms of ideal notions clarified by the application of human reason, and isolate basic facts about mathematical notions and attempt to come up with less self-evident theorems by using logic alone.(3) He was also credited with bringint rational organization and logical structure to geometry.(2) He was also much more focused on practical uses for mathematical inquirey.(4) A prime example of this would be when he masured the pyramids of Egypt by observing the lengths of their shadows when they were equal to the shadow of a vertical stick.(2) His most well known work would be the Theorom of Thales. In this theorem he stated that an angle inscribed into a semicircle is a right angle. The only thing wrong with this theorem was the name. This particular theorem was actually used around a millenium earlier by the Babylonians.(2) The title of the Theorem of Thales stuck though, because no one could really prove otherwise.(2) There just was not a really good way to keep records back then. He did really make a name for himself though by demonstrating “his” theorem of Thales. His demonstrations made him recognized as the first true mathematician.(2) Soon after these demonstrations, he received credit for four more theories. These theories were: a circle is bisected by a diameter, the base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal, the pairs of vertical angles formed by two intersecting lines are equal, and finally if two triangles are such that two angles and a side of one are equal respectively to two angles and a side of the other, then the triangles are congruent.
In conclusion, I would like to restate a few key facts about Thales of Miletus, first, he was a very well educated, and dedicated man. Second, he was very influential in the development of mathematics especially geometry. Third, he was a very versatile man given all the different things he would do for a living. Finally, even though there is a serious lack of solid proof of his accommplishments, I still feel he deserves the credit he gets and more. It really is a shame that I needed to do this paper just to know who he was. A man of this importance should have his story told in high school, along with the actual problems in mathematics. It would definately give mathematics more personality, and make it a lot more interesting, if we knew more about it’s history. Not just Thales, but everyone important to the development and history of mathematics.
1. Aleksandrov, A.D., Komogorov, M.A, and Lavrent’ev, M.A.— Mathematics it’s content methods and meaning. Volume One. Dorset Press New York; 1990.
2. Boyer, Carl B, A history of mathematics. John wiley and sons; 1989
3. Paulos, alan B., Beyond Numeracy; Ruminations of a numbers man. Alfred A Knopf New York; 1991
4. Hogben, Lancelot, Mathematics in the Making, Rathbone books limited, london: 1990