[permaculture] BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | The 'first true scientist'

Dick Pierce dickpiercedesigns at gmail.com
Mon Jan 5 10:33:25 EST 2009

The History of Science "from Outside of the Bun." Great article, important
topic, and a curious coincidence. I just happened to be [re-]reading about
al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham (known as "Alhazen" to the West) last night - it
must be indoor/armchair Permaculture for many of us this time of year. The
article below is right on. I am reading a great book by Amherst College
Professor, Dick Teresi, "Lost Discoveries, the Ancient Roots of Modern
Science - from Babylonians to the Maya." I would highly recommend it.

It describes well the 1000 years or so when my European ancestors were in
the primitive, crude, brutal Dark/Middle Ages and the Middle East and Arabs
were having a fine time preserving/advancing/using science. And it also goes
back to the Sumerians (where the Greeks got a lot of their stuff) and the
Bible got the root of its story of Noah (via the Epic of Gilgamesh) and
swings wider to include China, India, Oceania, and America. It is full of
good ancient, indigenous, non-Western science 500 to thousands of years
before the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. A good re-titling might
be "While We Were Sleeping."

To me, this subject area is humbling - modern science and its Anglo
predecessors did not invent/discover everything, did not and do not have all
the answers, and owe a great debt of humble gratitude to these many, many
other folks. The ancients and indigenous have given us great gifts of
science, but they were mixed, debated, and improved by philosophy and
spirituality. It was easy to see and talk about the three together. Today,
Permaculture, as a philosophy, does a good job of putting science/technology
together with practical, old-school, local techniques, and fits very
comfortably with many types of spirituality. To me this is a "Road That Must
Be Travelled." in our future and Permaculture education and demonstration is
the best vehicle I know of to make the journey.

My wish for 2009, this decade, this century is to bring a more humble
Science together with Spirituality and Philosophy, bringing Religion along
if necessary and well-behaved. It would also be great if each could study a
bit of the others' history and ideas while the discussions are starting up.
I really believe that Permaculture and Permaculturists can make a major
contribution here. My vision of today is: Science, a boat without a rudder;
Philosophy, a navigator without a boat; Religion, a rudder without a boat,
and all are high and dry but near an ocean of Spirituality. Perhaps together
there would be a "Boat That Would Float."

Thanks for the catalyst, Lawrence. Happy Permaculture New Year to all.

Dick Pierce

On Mon, Jan 5, 2009 at 1:41 AM, Lawrence F. London, Jr. <lflj at intrex.net>wrote:

> http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7810846.stm
> Page last updated at 22:18 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009
> E-mail this to a friend         Printable version
> The 'first true scientist'
> By Professor Jim Al-Khalili
> University of Surrey
> Artist's impression of al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham (BBC)
> An artist's impression of al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham
> Isaac Newton is, as most will agree, the greatest physicist of all time.
> At the very least, he is the undisputed father of modern optics,­ or so we
> are told at school where our textbooks abound
> with his famous experiments with lenses and prisms, his study of the nature
> of light and its reflection, and the
> refraction and decomposition of light into the colours of the rainbow.
> Yet, the truth is rather greyer; and I feel it important to point out that,
> certainly in the field of optics, Newton
> himself stood on the shoulders of a giant who lived 700 years earlier.
> For, without doubt, another great physicist, who is worthy of ranking up
> alongside Newton, is an Iraqi scientist born in
> AD 965 who went by the name of al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham.
> Most people in the West will never have even heard of him.
> As a physicist myself, I am quite in awe of this man's contribution to my
> field, but I was fortunate enough to have
> recently been given the opportunity to dig a little into his life and work
> through my recent filming of a three-part BBC
> Four series on medieval Islamic scientists.
> Modern methods
> Popular accounts of the history of science typically suggest that no major
> scientific advances took place in between the
> ancient Greeks and the European Renaissance.
> But just because Western Europe languished in the Dark Ages, does not mean
> there was stagnation elsewhere. Indeed, the
> period between the 9th and 13th Centuries marked the Golden Age of Arabic
> science.
> Great advances were made in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics,
> chemistry and philosophy. Among the many geniuses
> of that period Ibn al-Haytham stands taller than all the others.
> Prism (BBC)
> Ibn-al Haytham conducted early investigations into light
> Ibn al-Haytham is regarded as the father of the modern scientific method.
> As commonly defined, this is the approach to investigating phenomena,
> acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and
> integrating previous knowledge, based on the gathering of data through
> observation and measurement, followed by the
> formulation and testing of hypotheses to explain the data.
> This is how we do science today and is why I put my trust in the advances
> that have been made in science.
> But it is often still claimed that the modern scientific method was not
> established until the early 17th Century by
> Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes.
> There is no doubt in my mind, however, that Ibn al-Haytham arrived there
> first.
> In fact, with his emphasis on experimental data and reproducibility of
> results, he is often referred to as the "world's
> first true scientist".
> Understanding light
> He was the first scientist to give a correct account of how we see objects.
> Jim Al-Khalili (BBC)
> It is incredible that we are only now uncovering the debt that today's
> physicists owe to an Arab who lived 1,000 years ago
> Prof Jim Al-Khalili
> He proved experimentally, for instance, that the so-called emission theory
> (which stated that light from our eyes shines
> upon the objects we see), which was believed by great thinkers such as
> Plato, Euclid and Ptolemy, was wrong and
> established the modern idea that we see because light enters our eyes.
> What he also did that no other scientist had tried before was to use
> mathematics to describe and prove this process.
> So he can be regarded as the very first theoretical physicist, too.
> He is perhaps best known for his invention of the pinhole camera and should
> be credited with the discovery of the laws
> of refraction.
> He also carried out the first experiments on the dispersion of light into
> its constituent colours and studied shadows,
> rainbows and eclipses; and by observing the way sunlight diffracted through
> the atmosphere, he was able to work out a
> rather good estimate for the height of the atmosphere, which he found to be
> around 100km.
> Enforced study
> In common with many modern scholars, Ibn-al Haytham badly needed the time
> and isolation to focus on writing his many
> treatises, including his great work on optics.
> An unwelcome opportunity was granted him, however, when he was imprisoned
> in Egypt between 1011 and 1021, having failed
> a task set him by a caliph in Cairo to help solve the problem of regulating
> the flooding of the Nile.
> While still in Basra, Ibn al-Haytham had claimed that the Nile's autumn
> flood waters could be held by a system of dykes
> and canals, thereby preserved as reservoirs until the summer¹s droughts.
> But on arrival in Cairo, he soon realised that his scheme was utterly
> impractical from an engineering perspective.
> Yet rather than admit his mistake to the dangerous and murderous caliph,
> Ibn-al Haytham instead decided to feign madness
> as a way to escape punishment.
> This promptly led to him being placed under house arrest, thereby granting
> him 10 years of seclusion in which to work.
> Planetary motion
> He was only released after the caliph's death. He returned to Iraq where he
> composed a further 100 works on a range of
> subjects in physics and mathematics.
> While travelling through the Middle East during my filming, I interviewed
> an expert in Alexandria who showed me recently
> discovered work by Ibn al-Haytham on astronomy.
> It seems he had developed what is called celestial mechanics, explaining
> the orbits of the planets, which was to lead to
> the eventual work of Europeans like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton.
> It is incredible that we are only now uncovering the debt that today's
> physicists owe to an Arab who lived 1,000 years ago.
> Professor Jim Al-Khalili presents Science and Islam on BBC Four at 2100GMT
> on Monday 5, 12 & 19 January
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