Miletus: Let's Get Rational
Trip Start Feb 08, 2008
154Trip End Sep 11, 2009
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What I do remember is being tremendously disappointed at Miletus. Not by Miletus; but at Miletus. For Miletus is, almost more than any other of these archaeological sites in western Asia Minor (Turkey), where western thought as we know it began. Where the differentiation between the ideas of faith and rationality were divided. Where the modes of thinking between the East and the West began to part. I was disappointed because not more was made of the place. Nor do I have many photographs. Except for my view from the ancient acropolis for the place not much else was unique to my view, and which can't be found elsewhere.
I thought Miletus was not well nor fully excavated; that which has been, not well maintained. I was aggravated by thoughts of all the Turkish men sitting around Turkey doing nothing but sitting by, and, likely as not, smoking cigarettes. But, there you see my prejudices creeping in. Miletus is on Turkish land. And why should they care? Also, visually, aside from the theater, it is not really a very impressive collection of architectural remnants like other places. It's the idea of Miletus.
Miletus was the home of Thales who is generally thought of as the first scientist. That is a big deal. Especially for the heritage of Western thought. I'm not so smart myself. Not prepared to write an essay on this matter. I just walk these places, read this stuff, and try to think about it a little bit. And come to an appreciation. So, I'll bail out and have others speak. (Most of this is from Wikpaedia).
One of the principal inhabitants of Miletus was Thales. Thales lived around the mid 620s–547 BC and was born in the city of Miletus. Miletus was an ancient Greek Ionian city on the western coast of Asia Minor (in what is today the Aydin Province of Turkey) near the mouth of the Maeander River.
Before Thales, the Greeks explained the origin and nature of the world through myths of anthropomorphic gods and heroes. Phenomena such as lightning or earthquakes were attributed to actions of the gods.
In contrast to these mythological explanations, Thales attempted to find naturalistic explanations of the world, without reference to the supernatural. He explained earthquakes by hypothesizing that the Earth floats on water, and that earthquakes occur when the Earth is rocked by waves.
In the long sojourn of philosophy on the earth there has existed hardly a philosopher or historian of philosophy who did not mention Thales and try to characterize him in some way. He is generally recognized as having brought something new to human thought. [My added emphasis]. Mathematics, astronomy and medicine already existed. Thales added something to these different collections of knowledge to produce a universality, which, as far as writing tells us, was not in tradition before, but resulted in a new field, science.
Thales had a profound influence on other Greek thinkers and therefore on Western history. Some believe Anaximander was a pupil of Thales. Early sources report that one of Anaximander's more famous pupils, Pythagoras, visited Thales as a young man, and that Thales advised him to travel to Egypt to further his philosophical and mathematical studies.
Looking specifically at Thales' influence during the pre-Socrates era, it is clear that he stood out as one of the first thinkers who thought more in the way of logos than mythos. The difference between these two more profound ways of seeing the world is that mythos is concentrated around the stories of holy origin, while logos is concentrated around the argumentation. When the mythical man wants to explain the world the way he sees it, he explains it based on gods and powers. Mythical thought does not differentiate between things and persons and furthermore it does not differentiate between nature and culture. The way a logos thinker would present a world view is radically different from the way of the mythical thinker. In its concrete form, logos is a way of thinking not only about individualism, but also the abstract.
Well, that's one of the reasons I think Miletus is a place to make a big deal of. But it isn't. If you visit the site unguided there is nothing to so mark this important place. Nor do I know how much of this is brought out in guided tours.
But, you know, life goes on . . . .