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Ibn al-Haytham Founds Experimental Physics, Optics, and the Science of Vision

1011 to 1021

Under house arrest in Cairo, Egypt, between 1011 and 1021, Iraqi Muslim scientist Ibn al-Haytham (Latinized as Alhacen or Alhazen) wrote The Book of Optics (Arabic: Kitab al-Manazir‎; Latin: De aspectibus or Opticae Thesaurus: Alhazeni Arabis,)  a seven-volume treatise on optics, physics, mathematics, anatomy and psychology.

"The book had an important influence on the development of optics, as it laid the foundations for modern physical optics after drastically transforming the way in which light and vision had been understood, and on science in general with its introduction of the experimental scientific method. Ibn al-Haytham has been called the "father of modern optics", the 'pioneer of the modern scientific method,' and the founder of experimental physics, and for these reasons he has been described as the 'first scientist.'

"The Book of Optics has been ranked alongside Isaac Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as one of the most influential books in the history of physics, as it is widely considered to have initiated a revolution in the fields of optics and visual perception. It established experimentation as the norm of proof in optics, and gave optics a physico-mathematical conception at a much earlier date than the other mathematical disciplines of astronomy and mechanics.

"The Book of Optics also contains the earliest discussions and descriptions of the psychology of visual perception and optical illusions, as well as experimental psychology, and the first accurate descriptions of the camera obscura, a precursor to the modern camera. In medicine and ophthalmology, the book also made important advances in eye surgery, as it correctly explained the process of sight for the first time" (Wikipedia article on Book of Optics, accessed 04-23-2009).

Translated into Latin by an unknown scholar at the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th, Alhazen's Book of Optics enjoyed great reputation and circulated by manuscript copying to the few who could understand it during the Middle Ages. It was first edited for print publication by the German mathematician Friedrich Risner and issued  as Opticae thesaurus. . . libri septem, nunc primum editi . . . item Vitellonis Thuringopoloni libri X in Basel by Episcopus in 1572.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1027.

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