Sunday, February 19, 2023


Ibn Sina (ابن سینا), commonly known in the West as Avicenna, was a Persian polymath who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians, astronomers, philosophers, and writers, and the father of early modern medicine. Avicenna was born in c. 980 in the village of Afshana in Transoxiana near Bukhara to a family of Persian stock. Avicenna was first schooled in the Quran and literature, and by the age of 10, he had memorized the entire Quran. He was later sent by his father to an Indian greengrocer, who taught him arithmetic. Afterwards, he was schooled in Jurisprudence by the Hanafi jurist Ismail al-Zahid. Some time later, Avicenna's father invited the physician and philosopher Abu Abdallah al-Natili to their house to educate Avicenna. Together, they studied the Isagoge of Porphyry and possibly the Categories of Aristotle as well. After Avicenna had read the Almagest of Ptolemy and Euclid's Elements, Natili told him to continue his research independently. By the time Avicenna was eighteen, he was well-educated in Greek sciences. Although Avicenna only mentions Natili as his teacher in his autobiography, he most likely had other teachers as well, such as the physicians Abu Mansur Qumri and Abu Sahl al-Masihi.

At the age of seventeen, Avicenna was made a physician of Nuh II. By the time Avicenna was at least 21 years old, his father died. In c. 1014, Avicenna went to the city of Ray, where he entered into the service of the Buyid ruler Majd al-Dawla and his mother Sayyida Shirin, the de facto ruler of the realm. In 1015, during Avicenna's stay in Hamedan, he participated in a public debate with Abu'l-Qasim, as was custom for newly arrived scholars in western Iran at that time. The purpose of the debate was to examine one's reputation against a prominent local resident. The debate became heated, resulting in Avicenna accusing Abu'l-Qasim of lack of basic knowledge in logic, while Abu'l-Qasim accused Avicenna of impoliteness. Not long afterwards, Avicenna shifted his allegiance to the rising Buyid amir Shams al-Dawla which allegedly was due to Abu'l-Qasim also working under Sayyida Shirin. The Buyid court in Hamedan, particularly the Kurdish vizier Taj al-Mulk, suspected Avicenna of correspondence with Ala al-Dawla, the ruler of Isfahan and uncle of Sayyida Shirin. As a result Avicenna was imprisoned in the fortress of Fardajan, outside Hamedan for four months, until Ala al-Dawla captured Hamedan, thus putting an end to the reign of Sama al-Dawla, Shams al-Dawla's son and successor.

While he was imprisoned Avicenna wrote his famous "floating man"; a thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality and immateriality of the soul. Avicenna believed his "Floating Man" thought experiment demonstrated that the soul is a substance, and claimed humans cannot doubt their own consciousness, even in a situation that prevents all sensory data input. He concluded that the soul is a perfection, independent of the body, and an immaterial substance.

Avicenna was subsequently released, and went to Isfahan , where he was well received by Ala al-Dawla. During the brief occupation of Isfahan by the Ghaznavids in January 1030, Avicenna and Ala al-Dawla relocated to Khuzestan. In 1037, while Avicenna was accompanying Ala al-Dawla to a battle near Isfahan, he was hit by a severe colic, which he had been constantly suffering from throughout his life. He died shortly afterwards in Hamedan, where he was buried.

Avicenna wrote extensively on early Islamic philosophy, especially the subjects logic, ethics and metaphysics. Avicenna initiated a full-fledged inquiry into the question of being, in which he distinguished between essence and existence. He argued that existence must be due to an agent-cause that necessitates, imparts, gives, or adds existence to an essence. To do so, the cause must be an existing thing and coexist with its effect. Avicenna made an argument for the existence of God that there must be a "necessary existent", an entity that cannot not exist.

Avicenna produced many written works. He authored a five-volume medical encyclopedia; The Canon of Medicine. It was used as the standard medical textbook up to the 18th century. The Book of Healing is a scientific and philosophical encyclopedia written by him that he most likely began to compose in 1014, completed it around 1020, and published it in 1027. This work is Avicenna's major work on science and philosophy, and is intended to "cure" or "heal" ignorance of the soul. Despite its title, it is not concerned with medicine. Avicenna wrote an attack on astrology in which he disputed the power of astrology to foretell the future. He believed that each planet had some influence on the earth, but argued against astrologers being able to determine the exact effects. Avicenna was first to derive the attar of flowers from distillation and used steam distillation to produce essential oils such as rose essence, which he used as aromatherapeutic treatments for heart conditions. He explicitly disputed the theory of the transmutation of substances commonly believed by alchemists. Avicenna's most important Persian work is the Danishnameye Alai "the Book of Knowledge for [Prince] 'Ala ad-Daulah”. Avicenna created new scientific vocabulary that had not previously existed in Persian. The Danishnameh covers such topics as logic, metaphysics, music theory and other sciences of his time. Almost half of Avicenna's works are versified. His poems appear in both Arabic and Persian.

Avicenna is buried at the Mausoleum of Avicenna located at Avicenna Square, Hamedan. It was built in 1952, replacing an older building dedicated to Avicenna which was destroyed in 1950. The design of its dome is inspired by the shape of the Gonbad Kavoos Tower. The facade of the tomb is of hard stone with three wide steps that lead to the porch where there are ten stone columns. Each of these columns depict a century from the time of the birth Avicenna until present date. The main area is square in shape and consists of twelve base pillars. There is also a library with a number of manuscripts at the mausoleum.


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