The 'first true scientist' ... - Page 2 - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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End of Roman society, feudalism, rise of religious power, beginnings of the nation-state, renaissance (476 - 1492 CE).
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By Kropotkin
#13503283
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.


With all due respect to the article's author and his enthusiasm for science and history, this seems like typical dead white male bashing. So we've ascertained that many centuries before Descartes and Bacon an Arab scientist developed what we now call the scientific method. That's interesting for historical reasons. For scientific purposes, however, that's irrelevant unless Bacon, Descartes or Newton had read his work. Was Ibn al-Haytham available to them? The article doesn't clarify that. Most likely these European scientists arrived at the same findings independently, and that's important to take into consideration.

History concerns itself with chronology, order, A to Z. But science, and the arts and philosophy for that matter, are about who influenced who, not who discovered what first. As a student of literature I know that Tolstoy invented the stream consciousness before James Joyce, but I also know stream of consciousness is universally used today because of Joyce's influence on 20th century literature.

So unless someone proves that Newton, Bacon and Descartes were aware of Ibn al-Haytham, he will be nothing but an historical anecdote, a new footnote to add in future updated histories of Western science, and not the giant whose shoulders Newton sat on.
By Smilin' Dave
#13503786
Kropotkin wrote:With all due respect to the article's author and his enthusiasm for science and history, this seems like typical dead white male bashing. So we've ascertained that many centuries before Descartes and Bacon an Arab scientist developed what we now call the scientific method. That's interesting for historical reasons. For scientific purposes, however, that's irrelevant unless Bacon, Descartes or Newton had read his work. Was Ibn al-Haytham available to them? The article doesn't clarify that. Most likely these European scientists arrived at the same findings independently, and that's important to take into consideration.

Guessing at Private's motives (some time later...), I would suggest that the reason this was raised was political. It is common to deride Arabs etc. as backward, primitive and specifically that there are few scientists (the most recent permutation of this is the lack of Arab Nobel prize winners). In effect, this was motivated by 'Arab bashing' instead of a desire to engage in 'dead white man bashing'. Thus it doesn't necessarily matter who followed who at all, being first is the point of the 'game'. You see, assuming that they arrived at the same conclusion independently, then the lesson the OP apparently intended was that al-Haytham was first because he was 'better'.

So unless someone proves that Newton, Bacon and Descartes were aware of Ibn al-Haytham, he will be nothing but an historical anecdote

Really if you want to lay down the law on this, you should be more flexible. A more important matter than 'who was first' or 'who influenced who' be the question of what influence they each had on society as a whole. The idea that the only relevant information is 'who influenced who' seems a bit odd. After all why do we bother remembering the deadend fields of study that influenced nobody?
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By Kropotkin
#13504377
You see, assuming that they arrived at the same conclusion independently, then the lesson the OP apparently intended was that al-Haytham was first because he was 'better'.


I see historical circumstances playing a role in this supposed race, namely Europe's religious obscurantism that atrophied scientific curiosity, inventigation and progress for several centuries. It's interesting that as Europe became secular and the Arab countries plunged into religious fundamentalism, the roles were inverted.

The idea that the only relevant information is 'who influenced who' seems a bit odd.


What else matters in scientific progress? Progress is that, moving forward, leap by leap, building on what existed before. If Bacon, Descartes and Newton didn't know of the existence of Ibn al-Haytham's work, it matters nothing for Western science. There existed, for instance, a scientist contemporary of Isaac Newton who influenced him, if we can believe John Gribbin's History: A Science. Robert Hooke was his name but many today have not heard of him; Newton did, knew his work, used it, stole from it. When Newton famously said that he stood on the shoulder of giants, he was mocking Hooke, who was of small stature, implying that he owed Hooked nothing. Newton, as Gribbin says, was a nasty piece of work.

Hooke is a good example of important forgotten scientists who deserve to be rehabilitated. He was important for the progress of Western science. Now I maintain my question: was Ibn al-Haytham influential at all? I don't have problems in him being rightfully given his due as the first; I just ask, what value does being the first have by itself, when his knowledge didn't influence anyone, and what he discovered had to be rediscovered?
By Smilin' Dave
#13504576
What else matters in scientific progress? Progress is that, moving forward, leap by leap, building on what existed before.

Histories dominated only by 'big names' or by an overall narrative of 'progress' are just as distorted as those that you deried as 'dead white man bashing'. By the metric you seem to be using Robert Hooke isn't particularly important, since he only influenced Newton, who influenced everybody else.
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By Kropotkin
#13504670
In my view, Robert Hooke is important, since we can establish an influence over Newton, who is considered the father of modern physics. People who've had influence deserve to be mentioned. Since I've mentioned Robert Hooke in reference to John Gribbin's History: A Science, which I've enjoyed very much, I don't see how you can claim that I want history to be just about the big names.

What I want is people to understand that being the first is a spurious achievement if that doesn't lead to any anything else. Without Hooke, in spite of his being unknown today, Western science would have been different. Ibn al-Haytham may have made important discoveries, but if in the West no one read them, they mean nothing to the history of Western sicence.
By bradleysteffens
#13507978
Ibn al-Haytham's work was not a historical dead-end. As I describe in my book, Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, Ibn al-Haytham's methodology was well known thoroughout Europe, starting in the mid-thirteenth century when his Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) was translated into Latin as De aspectibus. This was a very influential book, both before and after it was published by Risner in 1572. We know that Roger Bacon, who promoted experimental science, read the book, because he wrote a summary of it entitled Perspectiva. In it, Bacon refers to the author of De Aspectibus as "the author" and "the physicist." Bacon repeats some of Ibn al-Haytham's experiments step-by-step and sometimes word for word.

After the invention of the telescope, an atlas of the moon was published with a frontispiece that featured an engraving of two scientists--the two pillars of science at that time--Galileo, holding his telescope, and Ibn al-Haytham, wearing a turban and holding a geometrical drawing. That atlas features a prominent crater named Alhazen, a Latinized version of Ibn al-Haytham's name (al-Hasan). An asteroid also was named after Alhazen.

To read a couple examples of Ibn al-Haytham's experiments in his own words, take a look at fifth chapter of my book, which I have posted on my website beginning http://www.ibnalhaytham.net/custom.em?pid=673906. Or, better yet, check out Dr. A.I. Sabra's translation of The Optics and read the experiments yourself. There can be no doubt that this was science. The translation of this book into Latin almost two hundred years after it was written not only kicked off the scientific revolution in Europe, but the Renaissance itself.

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By Xbow
#13546911
I've heard that Issac Newton may have said words to the effect that what pleased him the most in his life was destroying Gottfried Leibniz reputation. And Issac apparently rather enjoyed seeing counterfeiters swing on the end of a rope when he was Master of the Mint. He was a more than interesting character.
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By Potemkin
#13546951
I've heard that Issac Newton may have said words to the effect that what pleased him the most in his life was destroying Gottfried Leibniz reputation. And Issac apparently rather enjoyed seeing counterfeiters swing on the end of a rope when he was Master of the Mint. He was a more than interesting character.

I believe he once said that he took great pleasure in breaking Leibniz's heart (over the dispute as to who had priority in the invention of calculus).

But to be fair to Newton, the counterfeiter whom he famously had hanged, William Chaloner, was himself a pretty nasty piece of work. In his early career, he used to pretend to be part of secret workers' organisations agitating for political reform and greater political freedoms (regarded as sedition at that time, which carried the death penalty); as soon as enough hapless workers joined his fictitious 'organisation', he would inform on them all to the authorities and collect the reward money. Chaloner sent more than a few men to the gallows himself. It was a rougher time than now.
By Xbow
#13547019
Potempkin wrote:But to be fair to Newton, the counterfeiter whom he famously had hanged, William Chaloner, was himself a pretty nasty piece of work. In his early career, he used to pretend to be part of secret workers' organisations agitating for political reform and greater political freedoms (regarded as sedition at that time, which carried the death penalty); as soon as enough hapless workers joined his fictitious 'organisation', he would inform on them all to the authorities and collect the reward money. Chaloner sent more than a few men to the gallows himself. It was a rougher time than now.

Thats a fascinating Anecdote thanks for sharing it. And I'm not knocking Newton one little bit, In my mind he was one of the most brilliant men in history bar none. He was a master at everything from mathematics to finance and even alchemy. Its hard to imagine anyone achieving so much expertise in so many areas. I understand that his notion of action at a distance across and empty volume of space was somehow related (however tenuously) to his alchemical research. No doubt about it he was a giant and also a many faceted character.
Kropotkin wrote:So unless someone proves that Newton, Bacon and Descartes were aware of Ibn al-Haytham, he will be nothing but an historical anecdote, a new footnote to add in future updated histories of Western science, and not the giant whose shoulders Newton sat on.

I agree because I believe that the main cultural exchange between the Muslim world and Europe was in the form of musket fire, cannon balls and arrows in Newton's time. Wasn't it at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 that the Ottoman expansion into Europe was finally halted? Newton would have been in his early 40's by that time so was it likely that Newton Bacon and Descartes had access to Ibn al-Haytham's work? My question is were their translated versions of his work available in Greek and Latin in Netwon's time? Apparently Ibn al-Haytham was known in Europe as 'the second Ptolemy' six hundred years before Newton was born but is that a reason to believe that Newton and his contemporaries were influenced by Ibn al-Haytham's work?
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