Before taking this class I have never even heard of this man’s name before; which I find really surprising seeing as I am a math major. Thus, if I were to ask myself that question I would fall into the answer category of only being able to name math concepts over mathematicians. Therefore, I found this man interesting because I didn’t know anybody other than Pythagoras that used the idea of triangles; thus, I decided to research into him further.
Thales of Miletus came 30 years before Pythagoras did and 300 years before Euclid did. The work Thales did throughout his life has benefited both Pythagoras and Euclid’s discoveries. Yet, maybe 5% of the world population knows who this man is! (my estimated opinion).
Thales whole outlook on mathematics was to use geometry to solve real-life problems. He understood similar triangles and right triangles and used that in practical ways. For instance, Thales could measure the height of the pyramid using the shadows. He would use the pyramid shadow and his own shadow at the moment when his own shadow was equal to his height. He used the fact that they made a right triangle because he created a scenario with two equal “legs” which created a 45-degree right triangle; which he knew were all similar. Then he used the fact that the pyramids shadow measured from the center of the pyramid was equal to its height. Thus, he used a triangle to figure out the height of pyramids. A cool fact about his finding is that the math he used in this problem is used in present-day trigonometry. This is crazy because I’m surprised his name wasn’t mentioned in any of my trigonometry classes.
Thales is also credited for discovering a method of measuring the distance to a ship from the sea. The reason he decided to approach this was due to an enemy warship dropped anchor off the coast of Miletus, where Thales is from. Again, Thales used triangles, there similarities, and their angles created to figure out the distance. This benefited the country because they could tell whether a boat was coming to trade or to battle.
These two findings struck me as interesting once I thought about them more. As I think back to my elementary school days and even substitute teaching in a classroom students come upon story problems all the time. Most often than not the students use the same strategy like how Thales solved the height of the triangle or the ship to shore. We were taught to create a right triangle to find the distance relationship or ratio between the objects given. For example, a common used math problem deals with either trying to find the height of a tree, its shadow, a wall, or the wall’s shadow using other information given. (A diagram is shown to the right).
Thales’ biggest accomplishment in the math world would be his theorem, known as Thales’ Theorem. Thales’ Theorem is about geometry. It states that if three points are on a circle where the line between two of those points is the diameter, then the angle at the remaining point created a 90-degree angle. As a result of these findings Thales has been known as the first true mathematician and the first known person to make a discovery and get credit for it.
There are many other math aspects that Thales has been attributed. For example, he discovered that a circle is bisected by any of its diameters, he found that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal, he knew that when two straight lines cut each other the vertically opposite angles are equal, and he figured out that two triangles are equal in all respects if they have two angles and one side respectively equal.
Taking a look back at everything Thales accomplished in his mathematics life; the facts state he was just as successful as Pythagoras or Euclid. My opinion is that Thales set the foundation, in a sense, for Pythagoras and Euclid to discover their mathematical ideas. Now if anyone would ask me to describe a mathematician I can answer them stating this man’s name and his contributions.