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Ibn Sina: Medicine & Modern Science

Did you know that the Persian scholar of medicine, Ibn Sina (980-1037) suspected some diseases were spread by microorganisms.


To prevent human-to-human contamination, he came up with a method of isolating people for 40 days.


We explore Ibn Sina & his impact on modern science…

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Ibn Sina, also known to the Latin West as Avicenna, was a Persian polymath and one of the most influential Islamic philosophers, physicians, and scientists of the medieval period. He was born in 980 CE in present-day Uzbekistan and passed away in 1037 CE in Iran.


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Ibn Sina's medical works had a profound impact on European medicine. His most renowned work in medicine is "The Canon of Medicine" (Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb), considered one of the most influential medical texts in history. It consists of five books & covers a range of medical topics.


Copy of "The Canon of Medicine" (Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb) Aga Khan Museum

 

"The Canon of Medicine" compiled the medical knowledge of the time and remained a standard medical textbook in Europe and the Islamic world for centuries.


First page of the introduction to the first book (Arabic manuscript, 1597).


Image credit Wikipedia

 

The "Canon of Medicine" was translated into Latin and served as a fundamental medical text in European universities during the Middle Ages. It greatly influenced the development of medical education and practice in Europe.


A Latin commentary on Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine by Italian physician Gentilis de Fulgineo, 1477. Welcome LIbrary.

 

Ibn Sina classified diseases into different categories based on their symptoms and provided detailed descriptions of various ailments. His approach to classification and diagnosis influenced medical practice for centuries.


A doctor visits a patient in a 14th-century Persian miniature. Austrian National Library. Photograph by Bridgeman/ACI

 

Ibn Sina emphasised the importance of observation and clinical experience in medicine. He advocated for physicians to closely observe their patients and document their findings systematically.


Drawing of viscera, Avicenna’s ‘Qanun fi al-Tibb’ (Canon of Medicine) Welcome Images

 

Ibn Sina made significant contributions to pharmacology and therapeutics. He documented hundreds of drugs and their effects, including their proper dosages and potential side effects.


Ibn Sina introduced the concept of a clinical trial in medicine. He emphasised the importance of testing treatments on patients and carefully observing the outcomes to determine their effectiveness.


Ibn Sina described various surgical techniques, including the removal of bladder stones, cauterization, and techniques for suturing wounds. His descriptions of surgical instruments and procedures were highly influential.

Ibn Sina recognized the importance of mental health and described various psychological disorders in his works. He discussed the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and dementia.


Ibn Sina's ideas on disease prevention and public health were ahead of his time. He emphasised the importance of personal hygiene, clean water, proper nutrition, and environmental factors in maintaining good health.


A postcard depicting Ibn Sina, from Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Santé

 

Ibn Sina contributed to the understanding of infectious diseases. He recognised the contagious nature of certain diseases and discussed the importance of quarantine and isolation to prevent their spread.


A miniature depicting Ibn Sina, anonymous and undated, from Wikimedia Commons

 

Ibn Sina's work had a lasting impact on Western medicine. His ideas and writings were translated into Latin and became influential during the Renaissance, shaping the development of medical education and practice in Europe.


Ibn Sina also made notable contributions to philosophy, particularly in the areas of metaphysics, ethics, and the philosophy of mind. He developed a philosophical system that integrated Aristotelian and Neoplatonic ideas with Islamic thought.


An inscription of Ibn Sina on a silver vase, from Ibn Sina’s Mausoleum, via Wikimedia Commons

 

In addition to his medical & philosophical works, Ibn Sina also made significant advancements in other fields. He wrote extensively on astronomy & developed theories on the nature of celestial bodies. His contributions to mathematics include developments in algebra & geometry.


Ibn Sina's works had a lasting impact on both Islamic and European intellectual traditions. His ideas and writings were widely studied and debated, and he continues to be revered as one of the most important figures in the history of Islamic scholarship and scientific inquiry.


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Sources of Inspiration & Information


Books:

  1. "The Life of Ibn Sina: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation" by Dimitri Gutas

  2. "Avicenna" by Lenn E. Goodman

  3. "Ibn Sina's Remarks and Admonitions: Physics and Metaphysics: An Analysis and Annotated Translation" by Shams C. Inati

  4. "Ibn Sina's Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb: An English Translation" by William Osler

  5. "The Metaphysics of Ibn Sina (Avicenna): A Critical Translation-Commentary and Analysis of the Fundamental Arguments in Avicenna's 'Kitab al-Ilah al-Mutawazi' (The Book of the Pointers Towards the Deity)" by Michael E. Marmura

Articles:

  1. "Avicenna (Ibn Sina): Persian Physician and Philosopher" by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (available in the journal "Islamic Sciences")

  2. "Ibn Sina (Avicenna)" by G. A. Russell (available in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

  3. "Ibn Sina (Avicenna): His Life and Works" by M. M. Sharif (available in the Islamic Culture Journal)

  4. "Ibn Sina on the Soul" by Thérèse-Anne Druart (available in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

  5. "Ibn Sina's Argument from Gradation and the Possibility of an Onto-theological Proof" by Robert Wisnovsky (available in the Journal of the History of Philosophy)




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