Exploring Nature/ Discovering the Elements
In the Western/European tradition the first philosophers/scientists originated in the Greek speaking world around the 7th or 6th century BCE. Often called the “father of Western philosophy” Thales, from Miletus, looked at the world around him and wondered what everything really was. Was there a basic “stuff” that was the foundation of everything? Was everything one or many? is there a logic or pattern or meaning to the world?
Rather than appealing to the pantheon of capricious gods, Thales formulated the first theoretical model of the world. Everything is made up of water, he claimed. At first glance, this is preposterous. Water is just a small part of the earth, even if oceans cover a huge percentage of the globe. How can everything be water? It certainly does not look, feel or appear to be such!
But here is the genius of the Greeks. Looking beyond or beneath appearances, Thales–from what little we can gleam from the fragments left for us today–thought about nature and saw the uniformity and connection among all things. Water… So what does everything need to live? Up to 60% of the human body is water and the brain, 70%. (See this linkfor more information.) Water appears in three forms,–solid as ice, gas as vapor or cloud, and liquid as, well, water.) Water surrounds us and provides life to the planet. Water comes from the sky and returns to it. On a cool morning, everything has a sheen of dew on it.
From the whirling chaos of a spirit inhabited world, Thales offered us a scientific theory obtained through careful observation but more so reflection on what surrounds us. Appearances may be be truthful, he and the following “Pre-Socratic” philosophers claimed.
Here science as a search for deciphering the patterns and stuff of nature and philosophy as sustained reflection and search for truth were born. Later in our semester we will encounter these early philosophers in their own words.