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What does a solar eclipse and Donald Trump teach about knowledge?

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2017 | Firm News

President Donald Trump looks up toward the Solar Eclipse on the Truman Balcony at the White House on August 21, 2017.

During the solar eclipse August 21, 2017, President Donald Trump stepped onto the White House balcony with his wife and his son Barron, and he looked up at the sun.  He pointed up at the eclipse and looked directly at it with his eyes unprotected.  An aide shouted a warning that he should not look at the sun. Nevertheless, he persisted.  In so doing Trump displayed his ignorance, no, his refusal to heed warnings from science.

After all, science has taught us the danger of looking at a solar eclipse without eye protection.  In an article entitled,  “Can you really go blind staring at a solar eclipse?,” CNN’s Ashley Strickland writes:

“The retina may translate light into an electrical impulse that the brain understands, but one thing it can’t translate to your brain is pain. So even if you’re excited about the eclipse and think one brief glimpse at the sun before it completely hides behind the moon is worth it — it’s not. There’s no internal trigger that is going to let you know that you’ve looked at the sun for too long. Any amount of looking at it is too long.  Even the smallest amount of exposure can cause blurry vision or temporary blindness. The problem is, you won’t know whether it’s temporary.”

Trump clearly did not learn the practical benefits of science as taught by Thales of Miletus (who by the way predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC.).  Aristotle (in part XI of Book 1 of his ‘Politics’) relates the tale.

Thales was a man of science who looked at the sky and studied the movements of the wind and the stars.  Critics complained he was a man who literally had his head in the clouds.  “ Why do you heed him?” they would say, “ he  only questions the good of riches and worldly pleasures because he cannot get them. He is like the fox in the fable – he only calls the grapes sour because they hang way out of his reach.”

However, there came a time for Thales to silence his critics.  Thales put a deposit during the winter on all the olive-presses in Chios and Miletus, which would allow him exclusive use of the presses after the harvest. Because the harvest was in the future, and nobody could be sure whether the harvest would be plentiful or not, he was able to secure the contracts for a very low price. In fact, we are informed that there was not one bid against him. From the olive press owners’ point of view, they were protecting themselves against a poor harvest by earning at least some money up front regardless of how things turned out.

Thales’ bet paid off, big time. The harvest was excellent and there was heavy demand for the presses. Thales held the monopoly and was able to rent them out at a huge profit. Thales knowledge of astronomy and weather allowed him to be an expert forecaster of a good harvest making an enormous profit.

Thales had silenced his critics. Never again should anyone suggest that learning could not reap practical benefits.  Moreover, Thales demonstrated that those who seek knowledge are not necessarily too foolish to succeed in worldly affairs. “Thus he showed the world that philosophers can easily be rich if they like, but that their ambition is of another sort”, wrote Aristotle.