Avicenna (2010)

Paul Fischer
Portfolio: PAUI 1

Sir Isaac Newton is known for his famous three laws, in which he is said to have laid the foundation of inertia, momentum, and gravity. In fact, over 700 years earlier, there was an Arabian physicist, Ibn Sīnā, who is considered the father of momentum as well as laying the groundwork for inertia. In addition to his work in physics, Avicenna, as he is usually called by Europeans, held the position of one of the most influential Arabian scholars for over a thousand years.

In the 900’s, as Europe struggled through the dark ages, Arabian scholars rescued and improved upon vast numbers of classical work. The resulting renaissance brought algebra and geometry to new levels. Avicenna was a part of this explosion of knowledge; as a Persian living at the turn of the millennia, his books were still used by European universities in 1650. His influence in many fields is immeasurable. 

The complicated theory of motion he drew up in his Book of Healing is almost the same as Newton’s theory of inertia, but hundreds of years earlier. Avicenna held that motion came from an inclination, which was a force given to an object and could only be dissipated by outside forces such as air resistance. In a vacuum, he predicted, an object would continue onward forever until stopped. The synergy of the Islamic golden age and Aristotelian and other Greek ideas are evident: his work on inertia went on to become the basis of the theory of impetus, which attempts to explain the resistance of projectiles against gravity.

Continuing with this idea, he also attempted to connect velocity with an object’s mass. His work on this has made the Persian acknowledged the father of the theory of momentum. Later Latin texts also claim he saw that the only source of heat was from moving objects.

While he did understand that the speed of light was finite, he was pretty wrong with his ideas on optics, providing an incorrect theory on the source of rainbows at one point.
Avicenna.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 17 May. 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/45755/Avicenna>.

Skip to toolbar