The Impact of Alhazen's Optics on How We See the World
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Al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham (Latin name, Alhazen) (d. 1040 CE), scientist, copyist and teacher, was famous during the European Renaissance as an innovative scientist in the field of physics, and especially optics—the theory of vision. His major work Kitab al-Manazir (The Book of Vision), overcame the Greek notion that human sight resulted when the eyes projected rays onto objects. Ibn Haytham combined experiments on the behavior of light and optical illusions with geometric proofs, and his calculations and diagrams aided in making accurate magnifying lenses. The Latin translation of his work on optics and his critique of Ptolemy influenced medieval European scientists like Roger Bacon in developing the scientific method. The Book of Vision was printed in Basel in 1572, and it influenced mathematicians such as Kepler, Descartes, and Huygens.The image on the left shows proofs and diagrams from the Arabic translation of the Conics of Apollonius, transcribed and drawn by Ibn al-Haytham himself. On the right is an engraving from the frontispiece of Selenographia, a 1647 description of the moon by Johannes Hevelius, showing Ibn al-Haytham and Galileo as two scientists who explored nature by means of rational thought. Ibn al-Haytham holds a geometrical diagram representing Reason, and Galileo holds a telescope respresenting Observation, both approaches to knowledge being keys to scientific discovery. The excerpt from Ibn al-Haytham’s work describes his attitude toward received knowledge and contribution to the scientific method.
Sabra, Abdelhamid I. “Ibn al-Haytham | Harvard Magazine Sep-Oct 2003.” http://harvardmagazine.com/2003/09/ibn-al-haytham-html. Image credit: Photomontage by Bartek Malysa. Frontispiece courtesy of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library (Typ 620.47.452F) of MS Aya Sofya, no. 2762, Aya Sofya library, Istanbul.
How to Cite This Page
"Muslim Journeys | Item #173: The Impact of Alhazen's Optics on How We See the World", January 17, 2018 http://bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/items/show/173.
Alhazen, Arabic, astronomy, Cairo, Egypt, Europe, Galileo, Iberian Peninsula, Ibn Haitham, Islamic science, optics, Persia, physics, printing, Renaissance, scientific revolution, Spain, telescope, translation