“The world rests on water” is a philosophical idea suggested byThales of Miletus. Thales was an ancient Greek philosopher. He isacknowledged as the originator of natural philosophy. Thales ideasdemonstrate that he was a man of many interests. He researched ondifferent “areas of knowledge, philosophy, history, science,mathematics, engineering, geography and politics” (O’Grady 1).The main source of these ideas is Aristotle. Among his contributions,Thales came up with his idea about earth’s support. In thefollowing discussion, I argue in defense of Thales’ idea.
Aristotle informs us that Thales envisioned water as a cosmicprinciple (Adamson 7). Thales, by introducing such a philosophy,believed that the earth rests on water due to his “observation thatthe nourishment of all creatures is watery, and that the warmthitself emerges from water, and exists thanks to it” (Korczak 45).Thales is said to have likened the earth to a piece of wood placed inwater, which would end up floating. The philosopher derived his ideafrom an analysis of the biological principles in nature.Biologically, Thales observed that any form of life depends on waterto survive (Rusu 1). For instance, when water is removed from aplant, it eventually dies. The same case applies to human beings andanimals. These creatures must drink or use water to survive.
The second biological basis of Thales idea was that seeds aremoisture. He claimed that seeds were the major source of life (Rusu1). Hence if they were moist it could only imply that they wereresting on water. Last, the philosopher linked heat to moisture.Heat, in his argument referring to the sun as well as the moon, ismade from moisture (Rusu 1). In addition, he argued that heat waskept alive by moisture which was founded on his observation of therelationship between oceans and heavenly bodies. Thus, Thalesconcluded that since all forms of life have a biological connectionto water, the same applies for our universe (Rusu 1).
There are many arguments that support Thales hypothesis. Thearguments explain how and why he made the assumption. O’Grady (1)argues that Thales may have generated his idea from observing shipsat the port of Miletus. Since the philosopher likens the earth’sposition to wood floating on water, his idea of the world wassomething that floats. Having come from Miletus, he had a lot ofopportunity to monitor the movement of ship. Thales noted thatdespite the ship carrying heavy loads, they still managed to float onwater (O’Grady 1). This probably explains his idea of somethingfloating in water like a piece of wood, considering that ships thenwere mainly made of wood.
The philosopher visualized the possibility of similarities betweenearth and the ships he observed. Both objects shared the quality offloating, also known as buoyancy. It hence appears that Thales’philosophical idea was authenticated by critical observation of theship, in addition to reasoned considerations (O’Grady 1). In hisobservations, it seems that he concluded that water was the mainreason that the ship did not sink. Possibly resulting in the ideathat if water was able to hold the shift for long journeys, the sameapplies for earth. Thales must have likened water to somethingstatic, making it possible for earth to rest upon.
O’Grady (1) also suggests that, Thales may have visited floatingislands resulting in his theory, “Thales could have visited thenear-by Reed Islands. He might have considered such readily visibleexamples to be models of his theory”. The image of a floatingisland is indeed a good example of how earth may rest on water. Anisland refers to a piece of land, which is enclosed by water.However, the piece of land is able to sustain vegetation and at thesame time people can live on an island. Such an assessment comparesan island to other parts of the universe. Hence, Thales could haveobserved that if it was possible for islands to float in water, thenwater had the capacity to hold earth, in the similar manner, whichsubstantiates his hypothesis.
The idea is connected to “various Pre-Socratics thought that thematerials of the world is made of, were formed out of thecondensation or rarefaction of other materials” (Adamson 7).Thales, by observing the significance of water in sustaining the lifeof animals, plants and human beings, or residues left due to waterevaporation, made the conclusion that everything derives from water(Adamson 7). Thales seems to have observed that everything he cameinto contact with was linked to water. He as well appears to haveconnected the fact that plants, people and animals needing water tosurvive means that they indeed rest on the water. Considering thatthese are some of the components found in earth, his hypothesis couldbe true.
Another argument supporting the hypothesis is because water is theonly material principle. Water is the only substance capable oftransforming from gas to liquid to solid (Gregory 63). Thales mayhave then reasoned that all gases come from water, the same withliquids and solids, declaring “water as basic” (Gregory 63). Thisimplies that no other substance has the ability to alter phases ofmatter, except water. As a result, it is capable of altering in thesame way to support life, or the universe.
Adamson, Peter. ClassicalPhilosophy: A History of Philosophy withoutAny Gaps.Oxford: Oxford University Press,2014. Print.
Gregory, Andrew. ThePresocratics and the Supernatural: Magic, Philosophy and Science inEarly Greece. London:Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.Internet resource.
Korczak, Andrzej. Why the Water? The Vision of the World by Thalesof Miletus. Warsaw University of Life Sciences, (2013): 43-52. http://dergipark.ulakbim.gov.tr/neuifd/article/viewFile/5000125300/5000115131
O’Grady, Patricia. Thales of Melitus. Internet Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy, 2016. Web. 9 Mar. 2016. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/thales/#H6>
Rusu, Livia. How Thales of Miletus Changed the World. Science, 23Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2016. <http://www.zmescience.com/other/science-abc/thales-milet-changed-world/>