Two minutes of the crowd’s “Wows” and lingering, echoed awe. Who would believe a black sun if not witnessed in person? You can make it what you will – from fantasy to science – but you can’t dim our wonder.
Four friends and I witnessed the Great American Solar Eclipse with several thousand other pilgrims in Stapleton, Nebraska, last week. Funny how such an event can build instant unity in a community. I like solar eclipses. A partial eclipse in Huntsville, Texas, 30-plus years ago is memorable for the sun arcs on the sidewalk and along the wooden fence outside my apartment – just like those that occurred here.
Eclipses are important for another reason, too. An eclipse predicted by Thales of Miletus, that has been back-dated to May 28, 585 B.C., marks the starting date for Greek philosophy – the onset of scientific thinking in the West. According to James H. Breasted in The Conquest of Civilization, as recounted by Milton C. Nahm in Selections from Early Greek Philosophy, Thales’ predictions was: “’probably the most fundamentally important step ever taken’ in human thinking because he interprets the prediction as Thales’ proclamation that the movement of the ‘heavenly bodies were in accordance with fixed law….The gods were thus banished from control of the sky-world where the eagle of Zeus had once ruled.’”
Picking up on the significance of Thales’ prediction from W. T. Jones in the first volume of his History or Western Philosophy, we read: “It is almost impossible to exaggerate the long-range importance of this shift in point of view….As long as the causes of events were attributed to the will of the gods, a science of meteorology, for instance, was impossible….
“With Thales we reach an altogether different level of explanation, one from which an advance in natural knowledge is possible. From now on, there are indeed theories – public assertions, not private fantasies. That is, there are statements about the world that are open to criticism, revision or rejection on the basis of their internal consistency and the empirical evidence.”
Unfortunately, today, we are faced with Oklahoma’s own Scott Pruitt and too many others who embrace scientific knowledge for profit while denying scientific results that threaten their nickels.
The Seven Sages of ancient Greece includes about a dozen people from various lists. But, all of the lists begin with Thales. Among the various stories attached to Thales over the centuries include his ability to determine the height of the Great Pyramid by establishing the time of day when his shadow was the same height as he was.
My favorite Thales story is also applicable to my recent outing, which included some time in the Black Hills. He was said to be walking along one night admiring the stars when he stumbled on uneven ground and took a tumble or maybe fell into a well – much to the delight of a passing milkmaid. (Milkmaids were always witnessing such things back then.)
I call this situation Thales’ Dilemma, and it is a constant concern for a hiker such as I to secure secure footing while appreciating the beauty around me.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)