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Tag: Physics

May 30, 2013 Posted by tahir in Books

New Release: Three Essays


I’m very pleased to share with you the release of these three essays. Those who have read Eye Spy will be especially interested in the essay on cannibalism. They are all currently available online as individual purchases, and the three essay bundle will be available very soon.

The Legacy of Arab Science 

The Kumbh Mela: The Greatest Show on Earth 

Cannibalism: It’s Just Meat 


Forthcoming projects...

I’m often asked about what I’m working on. Here’s a sneak peek into what’s in the works at the moment:

Scorpion Soup (In Production)

A story within a story, the book is inspired by The Arabian Nights in its use of a frame tale. One story leads to another, taking the reader down through numerous levels. The idea is derived partly from my fascination for The Arabian Nights, as well as my love for my grandfather’s book THE GOLDEN PILGRIMAGE — in which fellow travellers to and from Mecca relate their own tales.

Hannibal Fogg and the Supreme Secret of Man (In Production)

An epic work of fiction, I wrote Hannibal Fogg back in 2009, with the intention of creating a character that would satisfy my obsession for the obscure, the fantastic, and all the places I had been to but never really spoken of.

The House of Wisdom (In Production)

Having lectured on the legacy of Arab science, I have taken every opportunity to draw attention to the extraordinary contribution that Arab science from the Abbasid era — the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam — has played in the development of Occidental know how and science. Named after the Bayt al Hikma, The House of Wisdom is a fast-paced thriller that considers the roles of Arab science from the great polymaths of the Abbasid age.



As Astronomy developed so in tandem did mathematics and geometry. The great Arab polymaths changed the world in which live by their mastery of mathematics.

1.                               Without doubt the most important breakthrough was the language of mathematics: the introduction of ‘Arabic’ numerals from India, and their use for the first time of a decimal point.

2.                               Introducing Zero to mainstream mathematics was the other massive breakthrough: so enormous that we can hardly grasp its importance… the idea of representing nothing with a symbol.

3.                               In the ninth century Persian polymath al-Khwarizmi gave us Algorithms, which form the basis of most computer programming… indeed our word ‘Algorithm’ is derived from his name.

4.                               Al-Khwarizmi is credited with writing the first book on Algebra as well. It’s title was The Compendious Book on calculation by Completion and Balancing, and was published about 820 AD.

5.                               Arab mathematics honed the work of the Greeks, the Romans as well as that of South Asia. And this work was channelled directly into Europe through Islamic Spain and, with time, made available to the great minds of the Renaissance.



Astronomy II

The corrections and original breakthroughs in astronomy were eventually absorbed into the works of Copernicus and the Renaissance astronomers. The greatest Arab achievements in the fields included:

1.                               The Arabs distinguished between astronomy and  astrology for the first time. And astrology was regarded as a key science by the Abbasids.

2.                               Milky Way: Al-Biruni (Persian astronomer 11th century) proposed that the Milky Way was a collection of nebulous stars.

3.                               Ibn Bajjah (Avempace, 12th c.) concluded that the Milky Way was a vast collection of stars but appeared to be a continuous entity, because of the effect of refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t until 1610 that Galileo studied the Milky Way with a telescope and discovered it was composed of a huge number of faint stars.

4.                               Arab astronomy developed numerous pieces of equipment for measuring angles, such as quadrants… and importantly, astrolabes. These were used for measuring the distance of celestial bodies above the horizon, as well as in determining latitude.





Just like the Classical world before and the so called Renaissance Men after, the golden age of Islam was championed by polymaths, whose works rival those of Aristotle, Da Vinci or Newton.

The Arab polymaths arrived in the Renaissance under their Latinised names. For example,

1.    Ibn Sina was Avicenna

2.    Ibn Bajjah was Avempace

3.    Ibn Hayyan was Geber

4.    Ibn Rushd was Averroes

5.    Al-Kindi was Alkindus

6.    Ibn al-Haytham was Alhazen

They were so important because they used breakthroughs in one area to push forward knowledge and understanding in another. Indeed, ‘Polymathy’ is a method that has almost been lost in the West, and is only now being rediscovered – so called ‘interdisciplinary’ study. (e.g. Stanford University’s new Bio-X Program, which brings together biologists, computer scientists, medical scientists and engineers, who learn from each other’s fields). The scientists and Polymaths from the golden age worked on areas of science which are familiar to us all, and are still being studied in schools and universities today, with the same scientific method.



Correcting Misconceptions

The Arab polymaths corrected a great deal of Classcial misconceptions, e.g. the Greek idea that light is emitted from the eye. The 10th century physicist al-Haytham (Latinised to Alhazen) correctly stated that light bounces off an object in straight lines before striking the eye. He developed for first camera obscura – which centuries later enabled photography. Alhazen first devised the ‘method of proof’ too, stating that theories had to be verified in practice, a key element from modern science practice, which was missing from the classical world. Abbasid scientists also introduced what we would call peer review and academic citations, unknown before their time.



The Arab Contribution

In the sciences, the Arabs took Classical work and breakthroughs and refined them, as well as developing their own fields of study from scratch. Their contribution was profound, and is often sidelined or completely forgotten in the Occident. And very often it was centuries ahead of its time. For example: The Arabs under the Abbasids and others constructed the first hospitals and lending libraries, gave the first academic degrees, and treated mental patients with music (more than a millennia before our idea of music therapy); they invented the fountain pen (because a tenth century Sultan wanted a pen that would write when he was ready), the camera obscura, water clocks, hydraulics, decryption of codes, and soap. 

They wrote about the concept of evolution, environmentalism, classification (mineral, animal, vegetable), scientific method and peer review… and refined all sorts of other things that are so key to our world, like paper as we have seen, the ‘Indian numbers’, and the massive mathematical breakthrough of ZERO.

They made contributions in almost all the sciences: mathematics, botany, chemistry, psychology, philosophy, engineering, physics, agriculture, astronomy, metallurgy, medicine and zoology.


April 24, 2009 Posted by tahir in Travel

All Change

The kind of miracles often performed by Indian Godmen rely on a knowledge of chemicals, physics, and the environment, a kind of layer of information which many of us take for granted. Just as I am fascinated by the illusions conjured by these Godmen, I am also deeply interested in the science that makes them possible. Or, rather, I’m preoccupied by the history of that science, and how it came about.

Over the next few days, I’m going to write some notes — nothing too heavy — on how the science we all rely on every day (the very same that the Godmen rely on too) came to us all through Arab society, predominantly from the Abbasid era. I have touched on this before in my blog, by have long wanted to devote a little more time to it, so excuse me while I indulge myself…