Ibn al Haytham - The First Scientist - Alhazen - Ibn al Haitham - Alhacen  
Arabic for Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al Haytham, the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Ahazen, Ahacen, or Alhazeni.

Cover of Ibn al Haytham - First Scientist by Bradley Steffens, the world's first biography of the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Alhazen, Alhacen, Alhazeni.

    "A fantastic book, written in a 
brilliant manner."
Haitham Hamad

"A great read."
Brian Francis Neary    

"Steffens has the unique ability
of a storyteller that makes the reading of his book as
interesting as a spy thriller
, unfolding the events in Ibn
al-Haytham’s life like the clues being discovered by a forensic detective
Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America 

Ibn al-Haytham - First Scientist

Chapter Five - Page 2

At some point, Ibn al-Haytham came up with a new way to test and prove the facts about optics. How did this breakthrough occur? One clue emerges from the text of The Book of Optics: it is a very solitary book. In it Ibn al-Haytham describes dozens of experiments, but only one—an experiment using a wooden block drilled with two holes to let light into a room—calls for the use of an assistant. The rest of the experiments are designed to be carried out by one person. The objects used in the experiments are few and simple: bare walls, stopped-up windows, screens, lamps, and tubes. The entire work has feeling of having been composed in an empty room. Perhaps it was. It is possible that the world’s first camera obscura was a prison cell in Cairo.

Ibn al-Haytham left no record of what he did for the years that al-Qifti says he was under house arrest. If, as al-Qifti says, al-Hakim took away Ibn al-Haytham’s possessions, the Iraqi scholar would not have had any of the books he brought to Egypt. As a result, he would not have been able to write his long-deferred commentary on the Almagest or commentaries on any other books. If he was not allowed to go outside, he would not have been able to observe enough of the night sky to write about astronomy. He would, however, have been able to watch the sky lighten at dawn, observe shafts of sunlight cut through his room in the afternoon, and ponder the light given off by an oil lamp in the evening. It is possible that Ibn al-Haytham realized how to conduct “true demonstrations relating to all objects of vision,” as he describes his task in The Book of Optics, during his long imprisonment. If his guards allowed him to have writing materials, he may have written some or all of The Book of Optics during his confinement in Cairo.

Ibn al-Haytham begins The Book of Optics by discussing the two theories of vision that had been circulating since the time of the ancient Greeks. The first theory, advanced by Aristotle and his followers, whom Ibn al-Haytham calls “the physicists”—states that “vision is effected by a form which comes from the visible object to the eye.” The second theory, primarily advanced by Ptolemy and Euclid, whom Ibn al-Haytham calls “the mathematicians,” states that “vision is effected by a ray which issues from the eye to the visible object.” “These two notions,” Ibn al-Haytham wrote, “appear to diverge and contradict one another if taken at face value.” He continues:

Now, for any two different doctrines, it is either the case that one of them is true and the other false; or they are both false, the truth being other than either of them; or they both lead to one thing which is the truth….That being the case…and because the manner of vision has not been ascertained, we have thought it appropriate that we direct our attention to this subject as much as we can, and seriously apply ourselves to it, and examine it, and diligently inquire into its nature.

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