Physics in medieval Islam

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Physics in medieval Islam began with understanding metaphysics and physics of the Greeks during the expansion of the Islamic empire and slowly developed into the many fields associated with modern physics. Many of the figures associated with physics in the Golden Age of Islam, between 750-1258 A.D., were familiar with the Greek thinkers and the Near East thinkers that followed these Greek thinkers, such as Aristotle, Ptolemy and Neoplatonism.[1] During this period, Islam was encouraging thinkers to find knowledge because the scientific spirit was not opposed to the religious aspect of their lives.[2] Many thinkers from this period, such as Al-Farabi, Abu Bishr Matta, Ibn Sina, al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham and Ibn Bajjah, had written their own books on metaphysics or written interpretations of Aristotle's Metaphysics.[3] These works and the important commentaries on them were the wellspring of science during the Medieval period. They were translated into Arabic, the lingua franca of this period. Fields of physics studied in this period include optics, mechanics (including statics, dynamics, kinematics and motion), and astronomy.

Physics and metaphysics[edit]

Islamic scholarship had inherited Aristotelian physics from the Greeks and during the Islamic Golden Age developed it further, especially placing emphasis on observation and a priori reasoning, formulating crude forms of the scientific method. With Aristotelian physics, physics was seen as lower than demonstrative mathematical sciences, but in terms of a larger theory of knowledge, physics was higher than astronomy; many of whose principles derive from physics and metaphysics. [4] The primary subject of physics, according to Aristotle, was motion or change; there were three factors involved with this change, underlying thing, privation, and form. [5] In his Metaphysics, Aristotle believed that the Unmoved Mover was responsible for the movement of the cosmos, which Neoplatonists later generalized as the cosmos were eternal. [6] Al-Kindi argued against the idea of the cosmos being eternal by claiming that the eternality of the world lands one in a different sort of absurdity involving the infinite; Al-Kindi asserted that the cosmos must have a temporal origin because traversing an infinite was impossible. [7]

One of the first commentaries of Aristotle's Metaphysics is by Al-Farabi. In "'The Aims of Aristotle's Metaphysics", Al-Farabi argues that metaphysics is not specific to natural beings, but at the same time, metaphysics is higher in universality than natural beings.[8]

Optics[edit]

One field in physics, optics, developed rapidly in this period. By the ninth century, there were works on physiological optics as well as mirror reflections, and geometrical and physical optics.[9] In the eleventh century, Ibn al-Haytham not only rejected the Greek idea about vision, he came up with a new theory.[10] He believed that light was reflected upon different surfaces in different directions, thus causing different light signatures for a certain object that we see. It was certainly a different approach than what was previously thought by Greek scientist such as Euclid or Aristotle, who believed light was emitted by either our eyes or by the object to our eyes. He explains this in his book "Book of Optics".[11] Ibn al-Haytham, with this new theory of optics, was able to study the geometric aspects of the visual cone theories without explaining the physiology of perception.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Classical Arabic Philosophy An Anthology of Sources, Translated by Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. pg. xix
  2. ^ Bakar, Osman. The History and Philosophy of Islamic Science. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1999. pg. 2
  3. ^ Al-Khalili, Jim. "The 'first true scientist'". Archived from the original on 4 January 2009. Retrieved 4 January 2009. 
  4. ^ Dallal, Ahmad. Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History. New Haven:Yale University Press. pg 57
  5. ^ Classical Arabic Philosophy An Anthology of Sources, Translated by Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. pg xxi
  6. ^ Classical Arabic Philosophy An Anthology of Sources, Translated by Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. pg xxii
  7. ^ ibid.
  8. ^ Classical Arabic Philosophy An Anthology of Sources, Translated by Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. pg.79
  9. ^ Dallal, Ahmad. Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. pg. 38
  10. ^ Dallal, Ahmad. Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History. New Haven:Yale University Press. pg 39
  11. ^ Lindberg, David C. (1976). Theories of Vision from al-Kindi to Kepler. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-48234-0. OCLC 1676198 185636643. 
  12. ^ Dallal, Ahmad. Islam, Science, and the Challenge of History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010. pg. 39