Avicenna was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant thinkers and writers of the Islamic Golden Age. Of the 450 works he is known to have written, around 240 have survived, including 150 on philosophy and 40 on medicine. His most famous works are The Book of Healing – a philosophical and scientific encyclopedia, and The Canon of Medicine – a medical encyclopedia which became a standard medical text at many medieval universities and remained in use as late as 1650.
In 1973, Avicenna’s Canon Of Medicine was reprinted in New York. Besides philosophy and medicine, Avicenna’s corpus includes writings on astronomy, alchemy, geography and geology, psychology, Islamic theology, logic, mathematics, physics and poetry.
Abu Ali al-Hussain Ibn Abdallah Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was born in 980 A.D. at Afshana near Bukhara. The young Bu Ali received his early education in Bukhara, and by the age of ten had become well versed in the study of the Quran and various sciences. He started studying philosophy by reading various Greek, Muslim and other books on this subject and learnt logic and some other subjects from Abu Abdallah Natili, a famous philosopher of the time.
While still young, he attained such a degree of expertise in medicine that his renown spread far and wide. At the age of 17, he was fortunate in curing Nooh Ibn Mansoor, the King of Bukhhara, of an illness in which all the well-known physicians had given up hope. On his recovery, the King wished to reward him, but the young physician only desired permission to use his uniquely stocked library.
On his father’s death, Bu Ali left Bukhara and traveled to Jurjan where Khawarizm Shah welcomed him. There, he met his famous contemporary Abu Raihan al-Biruni. Later he moved to Ray and then to Hamadan, where he wrote his famous book Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb. Here he treated Shams al-Daulah, the King of Hamadan, for severe colic. From Hamadan, he moved to Isfahan, where he completed many of his monumental writings. Nevertheless, he continued travelling and the excessive mental exertion as well as political turmoil spoilt his health. Finally, he returned to Hamadan where he died in 1037 A.D.
Stories are attributed to Avicenna. It is known that he examined his patients remotely, by a thread or string that was between the community of people and his home. People tried to test him, put a cat under a woman’s veil and put thread’s head in cat’s leg. Abu Ali wrote a prescription according to the habit and when they opened it, they saw that they should give it five soft meats and two mice to eliminate the cause. There are many treatments in many chronicles and traumatic conditions that Avicenna guessed by looking at the patient and thought of the pale face, which, for example, dies in a few hours or minutes.
Books and Contributions
He was the most famous physician, philosopher, encyclopedist, mathematician and astronomer of his time. His major contribution to medical science was his famous book al-Qanun, known as the “Canon” in the West. The Qanun fi al-Tibb is an immense encyclopedia of medicine extending over a million words. It surveyed the entire medical knowledge available from ancient and Muslim sources. Due to its systematic approach, “formal perfection as well as its intrinsic value, The Qanun superseded Razi’s Hawi, Ali Ibn Abbas’s Maliki, and even the works of Galen, and remained supreme for six centuries”. In addition to bringing together the then available knowledge, the book is rich with the author’s original contribution.
His important original contribution includes such advances as recognition of the contagious nature of phthisis and tuberculosis; distribution of diseases by water and soil, and interaction between psychology and health. In addition to describing pharmacological methods, the book described 760 drugs and became the most authentic materia medica of the era. He was also the first to describe meningitis and made rich contributions to anatomy, gynecology and child health.
His philosophical encyclopaedia Kitab al-Shifa was a monu- mental work, embodying a vast field of knowledge from philosophy to science. He classified the entire field as follows: theoretical knowledge: physics, mathematics and metaphysics; and practical knowledge: ethics, economics and politics. His philosophy synthesizes Aristotelian tradition, Neoplatonic influences and Muslim theology.
Ibn Sina also contributed to mathematics, physics, music and other fields. He explained the “casting out of nines” and its application to the verification of squares and cubes. He made several astronomical observations, and devised a contrivance similar to the vernier, to increase the precision of instrumental readings. In physics, his contribution comprised the study of different forms of energy, heat, light and mechanical, and such concepts as force, vacuum and infinity. He made the important observation that if the perception of light is due to the emission of some sort of particles by the luminous source, the speed of light must be finite. He propounded an interconnection between time and motion, and also made investigations on specific gravity and used an air thermometer.
In the field of music, his contribution was an improvement over Farabi’s work and was far ahead of knowledge prevailing else- where on the subject. Doubling with the fourth and fifth was a ‘great’ step towards the harmonic system and doubling with the third seems to have also been allowed.
Ibn Sina observed that in the series of consonances represented by (n + 1)/n, the ear is unable to distinguish them when n = 45. In the field of chemistry, he did not believe in the possibility of chemical transmutation because, in his opinion, the metals differed in a fundamental sense. These views were radically opposed to those prevailing at the time. His treatise on minerals was one of the “main” sources of geology of the Christian encyclopaedists of the thirteenth century. Besides Shifa his well-known treatises in philosophy are al-Najat and Isharat.