Ibn Seena (Avicenna)

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Abd All?h ibn S?n? (Persian/Arabic: ??? ??? ?????? ??? ??????? ???
?????); (born c. 980 near Bukhara, Khorasan, died 1037 in Hamedan), also
known as Ibn Seena and commonly known in English by his Latinized name
Avicenna (Greek A?????????), was a Persian polymath and the foremost
physician and philosopher of his time. He was also an astronomer,
chemist, geologist, Hafiz, logician, paleontologist, mathematician,
physicist, poet, psychologist, scientist, Sheikh, soldier, statesman,
teacher and Islamic theologian.

Ibn S?n? wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of
which around 240 have survived. In particular, 150 of his surviving
treatises concentrate on philosophy and 40 of them concentrate on
medicine. His most famous works are The Book of Healing, a vast
philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, and The Canon of Medicine,
which is a standard medical text at many Islamic and European
universities. The Canon of Medicine was used as a text-book in the
universities of Montpellier and Louvain as late as 1650. Ibn S?n?
developed a medical system that combined his own personal experience
with that of Islamic medicine, the medical system of the Greek physician
Galen, Aristotelian metaphysics (Avicenna was one of the main
interpreters of Aristotle), and ancient Persian, Mesopotamian and Indian
medicine. He

Ibn S?n? is regarded as a father of early modern medicine, and clinical
pharmacology particularly for his introduction of systematic
experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology, his
discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases, the
introduction of quarantine to limit the spread of contagious diseases,
the introduction of experimental medicine, evidence-based medicine,
clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, efficacy tests, clinical
pharmacology, neuropsychiatry, risk factor analysis, and the idea of a
syndrome, and the importance of dietetics and the influence of climate
and environment on health. He is also considered the father of the
fundamental concept of momentum in physics, and regarded as a pioneer of
aromatherapy for his invention of steam distillation and extraction of
essential oils. He also developed the concept of uniformitarianism and
law of superposition in geology.

George Sarton, an author of the history of science, wrote in the
Introduction to the History of Science:

“One of the most famous exponents of Muslim universalism and an eminent
figure in Islamic learning was Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna
(981-1037). For a thousand years he has retained his original renown as
one of the greatest thinkers and medical scholars in history. His most
important medical works are the Qanun (Canon) and a treatise on Cardiac
drugs. The ‘Qanun fi-l-Tibb’ is an immense encyclopedia of medicine. It
contains some of the most illuminating thoughts pertaining to
distinction of mediastinitis from pleurisy; contagious nature of
phthisis; distribution of diseases by water and soil; careful
description of skin troubles; of sexual diseases and perversions; of
nervous ailments.”


He was born in Persia around 980 in Afshana, in Bukhara province, his
mother’s home, a small city now part of Uzbekistan. His father, a
respected Ismaili scholar of Balkh, an important town of the Persian
state of Khorasan a part of Afghanistan, was at the time of his son’s
birth the governor in one of the Samanid Nuh ibn Mansur’s estates. He
had his son very carefully educated at Bukhara. Ibn Sina himself was a
Twelver Shia. Ibn Sina’s independent thought was served by an
extraordinary intelligence and memory, which allowed him to overtake his
teachers at the age of fourteen. As he said in his autobiography there
wasn’t anything which he hadn’t learned when he reached eighteen.

Ibn S?n? was put under the charge of a tutor, and his precocity soon
made him the marvel of his neighbours; he displayed exceptional
intellectual behaviour and was a child prodigy who had memorized the
Qur’an by the age of 10 and a great deal of Persian poetry as well. He
learned Indian arithmetic from an Indian greengrocer, and he began to
learn more from a wandering scholar who gained a livelihood by curing
the sick and teaching the young. He also studied Fiqh (Islamic
jurisprudence) under the Hanafi scholar Ismail al-Zahid.

As a teenager, he was greatly troubled by the Metaphysics of Aristotle,
which he could not understand until he read al-Farabi’s commentary on
the work. For the next year and a half, he studied philosophy, in which
he encountered greater obstacles. In such moments of baffled inquiry, he
would leave his books, perform the requisite ablutions (wudu), then go
to the mosque, and continue in prayer (salah) till light broke on his
difficulties. Deep into the night he would continue his studies, and
even in his dreams problems would pursue him and work out their
solution. Forty times, it is said, he read through the Metaphysics of
Aristotle, till the words were imprinted on his memory; but their
meaning was hopelessly obscure, until one day they found illumination,
from the little commentary by Farabi, which he bought at a bookstall for
the small sum of three dirhams. So great was his joy at the discovery,
thus made by help of a work from which he had expected only mystery,
that he hastened to return thanks to God, and bestowed alms upon the

He turned to medicine at 16, and not only learned medical theory, but
also by gratuitous attendance of the sick had, according to his own
account, discovered new methods of treatment. The teenager achieved full
status as a qualified physician at age 18, and found that “Medicine is
no hard and thorny science, like mathematics and metaphysics, so I soon
made great progress; I became an excellent doctor and began to treat
patients, using approved remedies.” The youthful physician’s fame spread
quickly, and he treated many patients without asking for payment.

His first appointment was that of physician to the emir, who owed him
his recovery from a dangerous illness (997). Ibn Sina’s chief reward for
this service was access to the royal library of the Samanids, well-known
patrons of scholarship and scholars. When the library was destroyed by
fire not long after, the enemies of Ibn Sina accused him of burning it,
in order for ever to conceal the sources of his knowledge. Meanwhile, he
assisted his father in his financial labours, but still found time to
write some of his earliest works.

When Ibn Sina was 22 years old, he lost his father. The Samanid dynasty
came to its end in December 1004. Ibn Sina seems to have declined the
offers of Mahmud of Ghazni, and proceeded westwards to Urgench in the
modern Uzbekistan, where the vizier, regarded as a friend of scholars,
gave him a small monthly stipend. The pay was small, however, so Ibn
Sina wandered from place to place through the districts of Nishapur and
Merv to the borders of Khorasan, seeking an opening for his talents.
Shams al-Ma’aeli Kavuus, the generous ruler of Dailam and central
Persia, himself a poet and a scholar, with whom Ibn Sina had expected to
find an asylum, was about that date (1052) starved to death by his
troops who had revolted. Ibn Sina himself was at this season stricken
down by a severe illness. Finally, at Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, Ibn
Sina met with a friend, who bought a dwelling near his own house in
which Ibn Sina lectured on logic and astronomy. Several of Ibn Sina’s
treatises were written for this patron; and the commencement of his
Canon of Medicine also dates from his stay in Hyrcania.

Ibn Sina subsequently settled at Rai, in the vicinity of modern Tehran,
(present day capital of Iran), the home town of Rhazes; where Majd
Addaula, a son of the last Buwayhid emir, was nominal ruler under the
regency of his mother (Seyyedeh Khatun). About thirty of Ibn Sina’s
shorter works are said to have been composed in Rai. Constant feuds
which raged between the regent and her second son, Shams al-Daula,
however, compelled the scholar to quit the place. After a brief sojourn
at Qazvin he passed southwards to Hamadan where Shams al-Daula, another
Buwayhid emir, had established himself. At first, Ibn Sina entered into
the service of a high-born lady; but the emir, hearing of his arrival,
called him in as medical attendant, and sent him back with presents to
his dwelling. Ibn Sina was even raised to the office of vizier. The emir
consented that he should be banished from the country. Ibn Sina,
however, remained hidden for forty days in a sheikh Ahmed Fadhel’s
house, until a fresh attack of illness induced the emir to restore him
to his post. Even during this perturbed time, Ibn Sina persevered with
his studies and teaching. Every evening, extracts from his great works,
the Canon and the Sanatio, were dictated and explained to his pupils. On
the death of the emir, Ibn Sina ceased to be vizier and hid himself in
the house of an apothecary, where, with intense assiduity, he continued
the composition of his works.

Meanwhile, he had written to Abu Ya’far, the prefect of the dynamic city
of Isfahan, offering his services. The new emir of Hamadan, hearing of
this correspondence and discovering where Ibn Sina was hidden,
incarcerated him in a fortress. War meanwhile continued between the
rulers of Isfahan and Hamadan; in 1024 the former captured Hamadan and
its towns, expelling the Tajik mercenaries. When the storm had passed,
Ibn Sina returned with the emir to Hamadan, and carried on his literary
labours. Later, however, accompanied by his brother, a favourite pupil,
and two slaves, Ibn Sina escaped out of the city in the dress of a Sufi
ascetic. After a perilous journey, they reached Isfahan, receiving an
honourable welcome from the prince.

The remaining ten or twelve years of Ibn S?n?’s life were spent in the
service of Abu Ja’far ‘Ala Addaula, whom he accompanied as physician and
general literary and scientific adviser, even in his numerous campaigns.

During these years he began to study literary matters and philology,
instigated, it is asserted, by criticisms on his style. He contrasts
with the nobler and more intellectual character of Averroes. A severe
colic, which seized him on the march of the army against Hamadan, was
checked by remedies so violent that Ibn Sina could scarcely stand. On a
similar occasion the disease returned; with difficulty he reached
Hamadan, where, finding the disease gaining ground, he refused to keep
up the regimen imposed, and resigned himself to his fate.

His friends advised him to slow down and take life moderately. He
refused, however, stating that: “I prefer a short life with width to a
narrow one with length”. On his deathbed remorse seized him; he bestowed
his goods on the poor, restored unjust gains, freed his slaves, and
every third day till his death listened to the reading of the Qur’an. He
died in June 1037, in his fifty-eighth year, and was buried in Hamedan,

Avicennian science

Medicine and pharmacology

Though the threads which comprise Unani healing can be traced all the
way back to Claudius Galenus of Pergamum, who lived in the second
century of the Christian Era, the basic knowledge of Unani medicine as a
healing system was developed by Hakim Ibn Sina in his medical
encyclopedia The Canon of Medicine. The time of origin is thus dated at
circa 1025 AD, when Avicenna wrote The Canon of Medicine in Persia.
While he was primarily influenced by Greek and Islamic medicine, he was
also influenced by the Indian medical teachings of Sushruta and Charaka.

About 100 treatises were ascribed to Ibn Sina. Some of them are tracts
of a few pages, others are works extending through several volumes. The
best-known amongst them, and that to which Ibn Sina owed his European
reputation, is his 14-volume The Canon of Medicine, which was a standard
medical text in Europe and the Islamic world up until the 18th century.
The book is known for its introduction of systematic experimentation and
quantification into the study of physiology, the discovery of contagious
diseases and sexually transmitted diseases, the introduction of
quarantine to limit the spread of infectious diseases, the introduction
of experimental medicine, clinical trials, neuropsychiatry, risk factor
analysis, and the idea of a syndrome in the diagnosis of specific
diseases, and hypothesized the existence of microrganisms. It classifies
and describes diseases, and outlines their assumed causes. Hygiene,
simple and complex medicines, and functions of parts of the body are
also covered. In this, Ibn S?n? is credited as being the first to
correctly document the anatomy of the human eye, along with descriptions
of eye afflictions such as cataracts. It asserts that tuberculosis was
contagious, which was later disputed by Europeans, but turned out to be
true. It also describes the symptoms and complications of diabetes. Both
forms of facial paralysis were described in-depth. In addition, the
workings of the heart as a valve are described.

The Canon of Medicine was the first book dealing with experimental
medicine, evidence-based medicine, randomized controlled trials, and
efficacy tests, and it laid out the following rules and principles for
testing the effectiveness of new drugs and medications, which still form
the basis of clinical pharmacology and modern clinical trials:

1. “The drug must be free from any extraneous accidental quality.”

2. “It must be used on a simple, not a composite, disease.”

3. “The drug must be tested with two contrary types of diseases, because
sometimes a drug cures one disease by Its essential qualities and
another by its accidental ones.”

4. “The quality of the drug must correspond to the strength of the
disease. For example, there are some drugs whose heat is less than the
coldness of certain diseases, so that they would have no effect on

5. “The time of action must be observed, so that essence and accident
are not confused.”

6. “The effect of the drug must be seen to occur constantly or in many
cases, for if this did not happen, it was an accidental effect.”

7. “The experimentation must be done with the human body, for testing a
drug on a lion or a horse might not prove anything about its effect on

An Arabic edition of the Canon appeared at Rome in 1593, and a Hebrew
version at Naples in 1491. Of the Latin version there were about thirty
editions, founded on the original translation by Gerard de Sabloneta. In
the 15th century a commentary on the text of the Canon was composed.
Other medical works translated into Latin are the Medicamenta Cordialia,
Canticum de Medicina, and the Tractatus de Syrupo Acetoso.

It was mainly accident which determined that from the 12th to the 18th
century, Ibn S?n? should be the guide of medical study in European
universities, and eclipse the names of Rhazes, Ali ibn al-Abbas and
Averroes. His work is not essentially different from that of his
predecessor Rhazes, because he presented the doctrine of Galen, and
through Galen the doctrine of Hippocrates, modified by the system of
Aristotle, as well as the Indian doctrines of Sushruta and Charaka.[45]
But the Canon of Ibn S?n? is distinguished from the Al-Hawi (Continens)
or Summary of Rhazes by its greater method, due perhaps to the logical
studies of the former.

The work has been variously appreciated in subsequent ages, some
regarding it as a treasury of wisdom, and others, like Averroes, holding
it useful only as waste paper. In modern times it has been mainly of
historic interest as most of its tenets have been disproved or expanded
upon by scientific medicine. The vice of the book is excessive
classification of bodily faculties, and over-subtlety in the
discrimination of diseases. It includes five books; of which the first
and second discuss physiology, pathology and hygiene, the third and
fourth deal with the methods of treating disease, and the fifth
describes the composition and preparation of remedies. This last part
contains some personal observations.

He is ample in the enumeration of symptoms, and is said to be inferior
in practical medicine and surgery. He introduced into medical theory the
four causes of the Peripatetic system. Of natural history and botany he
pretended to no special knowledge. Up to the year 1650, or thereabouts,
the Canon was still used as a textbook in the universities of Leuven and

In the museum at Bukhara, there are displays showing many of his
writings, surgical instruments from the period and paintings of patients
undergoing treatment. Ibn S?n? was interested in the effect of the mind
on the body, and wrote a great deal on psychology, likely influencing
Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Bajjah. He also introduced medical herbs.

In Muslim psychology and the neurosciences, Avicenna was a pioneer of
neuropsychiatry. He first described numerous neuropsychiatric
conditions, including hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare,
melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.

Avicenna was also a pioneer in psychophysiology and psychosomatic
medicine. He recognized ‘physiological psychology’ in the treatment of
illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating
changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as an
anticipation of the word association test attributed to Carl Jung.
Avicenna is reported to have treated a very ill patient by “feeling the
patient’s pulse and reciting aloud to him the names of provinces,
districts, towns, streets, and people.” He noticed how the patient’s
pulse increased when certain names were mentioned, from which Avicenna
deduced that the patient was in love with a girl whose home Avicenna was
“able to locate by the digital examination.” Avicenna advised the
patient to marry the girl he is in love with, and the patient soon
recovered from his illness after his marriage.

Avicenna’s legacy in classical psychology is primarily embodied in the
Kitab al-nafs parts of his Kitab al-shifa’ (The Book of Healing) and
Kitab al-najat (The Book of Deliverance). These were known in Latin
under the title De Anima (treatises “on the soul”). The main thesis of
these tracts is represented in his so-called “flying man” argument,
which resonates with what was centuries later entailed by Descartes’s
cogito argument (or what phenomenology designates as a form of an

In the The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna dealt with neuropsychiatry and
described a number of neuropsychiatric conditions, including
melancholia. He described melancholia as a depressive type of mood

In 1070, Abu Ubayd al-Juzjani, a pupil of Ibn S?n?, claimed that his
teacher Ibn S?n? had solved the equant problem in Ptolemy’s planetary

The study of astrology was refuted by Avicenna. His reasons were both
due to the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than
empirical and also due to the views of astrologers conflicting with
orthodox Islam. He also cited passages from the Qur’an in order to
justify his refutation of astrology on both scientific and religious


In chemistry, steam distillation was described by Ibn S?n?. The
technique was used to produce alcohol and essential oils. The latter was
fundamental to aromatherapy.

As a chemist, Avicenna was one of the first to write refutations on
alchemy, after al-Kindi. Four of his works on the refutation of alchemy
were translated into Latin as:

• Liber Aboali Abincine de Anima in arte Alchemiae

• Declaratio Lapis physici Avicennae filio sui Aboali

• Avicennae de congelatione et conglutinatione lapifum

• Avicennae ad Hasan Regem epistola de Re recta

In one of these works, Ibn S?n? discredited the theory of the
transmutation of substances commonly believed by alchemists:

“Those of the chemical craft know well that no change can be effected in
the different species of substances, though they can produce the
appearance of such change.”

Among his works refuting alchemy, Liber Aboali Abincine de Anima in arte
Alchemiae was the most influential, having influenced later medieval
chemists and alchemists such as Vincent of Beauvais.

In another work, translated into Latin as De congelatione et
conglutinatione lapidum, Ibn Sina proposed a four-part classification of
inorganic bodies, which was a significant improvement over the two-part
classification of Aristotle (into orycta and metals) and three-part
classification of Galen (into terrae, lapides and metals). The four
parts of Ibn Sina’s classification were: lapides, sulfur, salts and

Earth sciences

Ibn S?n? wrote on Earth sciences such as geology in The Book of Healing,
in which he developed the concept of uniformitarianism and law of
superposition in geology.[34][57] While discussing the formation of
mountains, he explained:

“Either they are the effects of upheavals of the crust of the earth,
such as might occur during a violent earthquake, or they are the effect
of water, which, cutting itself a new route, has denuded the valleys,
the strata being of different kinds, some soft, some hard… It would
require a long period of time for all such changes to be accomplished,
during which the mountains themselves might be somewhat diminished in


In physics, Ibn S?n? was the first to employ an air thermometer to
measure air temperature in his scientific experiments.[58]


????¤?¤?$??????mayl to as being proportional to weight times velocity, a
precursor to the concept of momentum in Newton’s second law of
motion.[61] Ibn S?n?’s theory of mayl was further developed by Jean
Buridan in his theory of impetus.

In optics, Ibn Sina reasoned that the speed of light is finite, as he
“observed that if the perception of light is due to the emission of some
sort of particles by a luminous source, the speed of light must be
finite.”[62] He also provided a sophisticated explanation for the
rainbow phenomenon. Carl Benjamin Boyer described Ibn S?n?’s theory on
the rainbow as follows:

“Independent observation had demonstrated to him that the bow is not
formed in the dark cloud but rather in the very thin mist lying between
the cloud and the sun or observer. The cloud, he thought, serves simply
as the background of this thin substance, much as a quicksilver lining
is placed upon the rear surface of the glass in a mirror. Ibn S?n? would
change the place not only of the bow, but also of the color formation,
holding the iridescence to be merely a subjective sensation in the

Avicennian philosophy

Ibn S?n? wrote extensively on early Islamic philosophy, especially the
subjects logic, ethics, and metaphysics, including treatises named Logic
and Metaphysics. Most of his works were written in Arabic – which was
the de facto scientific language of that time, and some were written in
the Persian language. Of linguistic significance even to this day are a
few books that he wrote in nearly pure Persian language (particularly
the Danishnamah-yi ‘Ala’, Philosophy for Ala’ ad-Dawla’). Ibn S?n?’s
commentaries on Aristotle often corrected the philosopher, encouraging a
lively debate in the spirit of ijtihad.

In the medieval Islamic world, due to Avicenna’s successful
reconciliation between Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism along with
Kalam, Avicennism eventually became the leading school of Islamic
philosophy by the 12th century, with Avicenna becoming a central
authority on philosophy.

Avicennism was also influential in medieval Europe, particular his
doctrines on the nature of the soul and his existence-essence
distinction, along with the debates and censure that they raised in
scholastic Europe. This was particularly the case in Paris, where
Avicennism was later proscribed in 1210. Nevertheless, his psychology
and theory of knowledge influenced William of Auvergne and Albertus
Magnus, while his metaphysics had an impact on the thought of Thomas


Scarcely any member of the Muslim circle of the sciences, including
theology, philology, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and music, was
left untouched by the treatises of Ibn S?n?. This vast quantity of works
– be they full-blown treatises or opuscula – vary so much in style and
content (if one were to compare between the ‘ahd made with his disciple
Bahmanyar to uphold philosophical integrity with the Provenance and
Direction, for example) that Yahya (formerly Jean) Michot has accused
him of “neurological bipolarity”.

Ibn S?n?’s works numbered almost 450 volumes on a wide range of
subjects, of which around 240 have survived. In particular, 150 volumes
of his surviving works concentrate on philosophy and 40 of them
concentrate on medicine. His most famous works are The Book of Healing,
a vast philosophical and scientific encyclopaedia, and The Canon of

Ibn S?n? wrote at least one treatise on alchemy, but several others have
been falsely attributed to him. His book on animals was translated by
Michael Scot. His Logic, Metaphysics, Physics, and De Caelo, are
treatises giving a synoptic view of Aristotelian doctrine, though the
Metaphysics demonstrates a significant departure from the brand of
Neoplatonism known as Aristotelianism in Ibn S?n?’s world; Arabic
philosophers have hinted at the idea that Ibn S?n? was attempting to
“re-Aristotelianise” Muslim philosophy in its entirety, unlike his
predecessors, who accepted the conflation of Platonic, Aristotelian,
Neo- and Middle-Platonic works transmitted into the Muslim world.

The Logic and Metaphysics have been printed more than once, the latter,
e.g., at Venice in 1493, 1495, and 1546. Some of his shorter essays on
medicine, logic, etc., take a poetical form (the poem on logic was
published by Schmoelders in 1836). Two encyclopaedic treatises, dealing
with philosophy, are often mentioned. The larger, Al-Shifa’ (Sanatio),
exists nearly complete in manuscript in the Bodleian Library and
elsewhere; part of it on the De Anima appeared at Pavia (1490) as the
Liber Sextus Naturalium, and the long account of Ibn Sina’s philosophy
given by Muhammad al-Shahrastani seems to be mainly an analysis, and in
many places a reproduction, of the Al-Shifa’. A shorter form of the work
is known as the An-najat (Liberatio). The Latin editions of part of
these works have been modified by the corrections which the monastic
editors confess that they applied. There is also a ???? ??????
(hikmat-al-mashriqqiyya, in Latin Philosophia Orientalis), mentioned by
Roger Bacon, the majority of which is lost in antiquity, which according
to Averroes was pantheistic in tone.


Corbin, Henry (1993 (original French 1964)). History of Islamic
Philosophy, Translated by Liadain Sherrard, Philip Sherrard. London;
Kegan Paul International in association with Islamic Publications for
The Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 167-175. ISBN 0710304161.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein; Oliver Leaman (1996). History of Islamic
Philosophy. Routledge. ISBN 0415131596.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2006). Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the
Present: Philosophy in the Land of prophecy. SUNY Press. ISBN

Von Dehsen, Christian D.; Scott L. Harris. Philosophers and religious
leaders. Greenwood Press. ISBN 1-5735-6152-5.

•Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2007). “Avicenna”. Encyclopedia Britannica
Online. Retrieved on 2007-11-05.

“Islam”. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (2007). Retrieved on

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