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November 2nd, 2012

Ibn Al-Haytham: “The first true scientist”

In connection with their series History of the World by Andrew Marr, the BBC asked for “suggestions for often overlooked moments in world history”, and published the top 10 suggestions.

See this link.

The suggestion ranking number 3 is “3. Alhazen and his work on optics”. He is described as the first true scientist because he seems to have been the first to use the scientific method. I quote:

Ibn al-Haytham was born in about 965 in what is now Iraq, and is regarded by some by some as the real father of the scientific method, predating Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes in the 17th Century.

Al-Haytham was the first to disprove the theory that we see objects by rays of light emitted from our eyes, realising instead that we see because light enters our eyes.

No other scientist before him had used maths to prove this process, says Prof Jim Al-Khalili from the University of Surrey.

“When the great scientific revolution took place in Europe, science had advanced so much that people forgot it was built on previous knowledge.”

Al-Haytham was part of the golden age of Arabic science, and while Europe was stuck in the Dark Ages, he filled the gap, says Al-Khalili.

The above item also refers to an article entitled The First True Scientist.

I looked up more information about him and found two interesting in scientific journals about the use of his discoveries even now:

Ibn al-Haytham and the origins of computerized image analysis (Conference paper in 2007 at the International Conference on Computer Engineering & Systems; website of

The remarkable Ibn al-Haytham (The Mathematical Gazatte, March 1992).

(Note: If you have problems reaching these links, please let me know.)

In the first paper above, it is stated in the abstract (bolding is mine):

“Haytham made intellectual contributions that subsequently were incorporated throughout the core of post-Medieval Western culture. His seminal work on the human vision system initiated an unbroken chain of continuous development that connects 21st century optical scientists with the 11th century Ibn al-Haytham. The noted science historian, David Lindberg, wrote that “Alhazen was undoubtedly the most significant figure in the history of optics between antiquity and the seventeenth century.” Impressive and accurate as that characterization is, it significantly understates the impact that al-Haytham had on areas as wide-ranging as the theology, literature, art, and science of Europe.”


I wonder how many Muslims, let alone non-Muslims, had heard of him.

One Response to “Ibn Al-Haytham: “The first true scientist””

  1. This is a great link. I have to admit that I take some personal satisfaction at the inclusion of Ibn al-Haytham, the subject of my 2007 biography Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, in this list. When my book was on press, I saw a Science Channel promo in which Stephen Hawking–the smartest guy in the world, right?–was saying that Galileo was the first true scientist because he was the first person to conduct experiments to test hypotheses. Long before Jim al-Khalili’s article, my book laid out the case for Ibn al-Haytham as the first true scientist. Did my little book change the way historians have begun to portray the Muslim contribution the scientific method and the Renaissance? When I wrote my book, no one in the West or in translation was calling Ibn al-Haytham the first modern scientist.