Although not a physician the great Islamic physicist Ibn al Haytham Alhazen 965

Although not a physician the great islamic physicist

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of the eye and the anatomy and physiology of vision. Although not a physician, the great Islamic physicist Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen, 965– 1040 ) worked in Egypt and wrote on eye diseases. His Optics is only the best known and most influential of a series of Islamic scientific works—many with an experimental approach—concerned with vision, refraction, the camera obscura, burning mirrors, lenses, the rainbow, and other optical phenomena. Physicians enjoyed high public regard, and many Muslims who made scientific and philosophic contributions earned their living as court physicians or court-appointed administrators and legal officials. For example, Averroës (Ibn Rushd, 1126–98 ), known as “The Commen- tator” on Aristotle, worked as a court physician and religious jurist in Spain. The Islamic polymath Avicenna (Ibn S¯ın¯a), renowned as the “Galen of Islam,” accepted patronage as a physician in various courts in order to pursue philosophy and science. The noted Jewish philoso- pher and savant Moses Maimonides (Musa ibn Maymun, 1135–1204 ) acted as physician to the sultan at Cairo. In a word, court patronage provided institutionalized positions where physician-scientists could master and extend the secular sciences, and court positions afforded a degree of insulation from the dominant religious institutions and the supremacy of religious law in Islamic society at large. Closely associated with courts and the patronage of rulers, a highly developed tradition of Islamic alchemy involved many scientists. Al- chemy ranked among the sciences, being derived from Aristotle’s mat- ter theory. In the search for elixirs of immortality, Islamic alchemy also seems to have been influenced by Chinese alchemy, and it likewise sub- sumed work on mineralogy, which showed Indian and Iranian influ- ences. Alchemy was a secret art, and adepts attributed some 3 , 000 alchemical texts to the founder of Islamic alchemy, the ninth-century figure J¯abir ibn Hayy¯an, known as “Geber” in the Latin West. On one level, no doubt the one most appreciated by patrons, the transforma- tion of base metals into gold and the creation of life-giving elixirs rep- resented the goals of alchemy. To many practitioners, however, Islamic alchemy became a highly intellectual endeavor that primarily involved the spiritual refinement of the individual alchemist. In pursuing their science, Islamic alchemists invented new equipment and perfected new techniques, including distillation. Residues of Islamic alchemy remain in Arabic-derived terms, such as the word alchemy itself, alcohol, alkali, and alembic. Indeed, in such terms as algebra, azimuth, algorithm, and a host of others, the language of science to this day maintains the lin- guistic imprint of Arabic and the history of Islamic science. The sheer institutional density of Islamic science accounts for some THINKING AND DOING 112
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of its achievements and characteristics. Scholars and scientists staffed schools, libraries, mosques, hospitals, and especially observatories with their teams of astronomers and mathematicians. The opportunities and
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