Monday, June 22, 2009
A Message From Ibn Al-Haytham
Ibn al Haytham - The First Scientist - Alhazen
Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham was the first person to test hypotheses with verifiable experiments, developing the scientific method more than 200 years before European scholars learned of it—by reading his books.
Born in Basra in 965, Ibn al-Haytham first studied theology, trying unsuccessfully to resolve the differences between the Shi'ah and Sunnah sects. He then turned his attention to the works of the ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians, including Euclid and Archimedes. He completed the fragmentary Conics by Apollonius of Perga. He was the first person to apply algebra to geometry, founding the branch of mathematics known as analytic geometry.
A devout Muslim, Ibn al-Haitham believed that human beings are flawed and only God is perfect. To discover the truth about nature, he reasoned, one had to eliminate human opinion and allow the universe to speak for itself through physical experiments. "The seeker after truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them," he wrote, "but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration."
In his massive study of light and vision, Kitâb al-Manâzir (Book of Optics ), Ibn al-Haytham submitted every hypothesis to a physical test or mathematical proof. To test his hypothesis that "lights and colors do not blend in the air," for example, Ibn al-Haytham devised the world's first camera obscura, observed what happened when light rays intersected at its aperture, and recorded the results. Throughout his investigations, Ibn al-Haytham followed all the steps of the scientific method.
Kitâb al-Manâzir was translated into Latin as De aspectibus in the late thirteenth century in Spain. Copies of the book circulated throughout Europe. Roger Bacon, who is sometimes credited as the founder of modern science, wrote a summary of it entitled Perspectiva (Optics).
Ibn al-Haytham conducted many of his experiments investigating the properties of light during a ten-year period when he was stripped of his possessions and imprisoned as a madman in Cairo. How Ibn al-Haytham came to be in Egypt, why he was judged insane, and how his discoveries launched the scientific revolution are just some of the questions answered in Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, the world's first biography of the Muslim polymath known in the West as Alhazen, Alhacen, or Alhazeni.
Midwest Book Review calls Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist a "fine blend of history and science biography." Booklist concurs, praising Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist as a "clearly written introduction to Ibn al-Haytham, his society, and his contributions." Kirkus Reviews touts the book as "an illuminating narrative...of a devout, brilliant polymath." Children's Literature adds, "Steffens deftly weaves an overview of Muslim history into this biography."
In a new series from the BBC, Science and Islam: The Empire of Reason, physicist Jim Al-Khalili of the University of Surrey takes viewers on a journey through the Middle East, across North Africa, to Spain to tell the story of the dramatic advances in learning that emerged in the Muslim world between the eighth and fourteenth centuries.
In this segment, Al-Khalili describes Ibn al-Haytham’s development of a revolutionary methodology that used “true demonstrations,” or experiments, to test hypotheses—a discipline we now call science. See it for yourself.