His full name was Abu Ali Al-Hussein Ibn Abdullah Ibn Sina. He was a native Tajik of
Khorasan, and born in the city of Balkh in the year 980 A.D. Avicenna of Balkh is regarded as
the most famous and influential philosopher-scientist of his time. He is particulary known for his
contributions in the field of Aristotelian philosophy and medicine.
He spent his childhood in the city of Balkh and received his basic education from his father. He
was tremendously benefitted from the company of the outstanding masters who were gathering
in his father's house for meeting and intellectual discourse. He was a precocious child with an
exceptional memory that helped him throughout his life. By the age ten he had already
memorized the Quran and were well versed in Arabic. Noting his outstanding abilities and desire
to learn, his father brought him to the city of Bukhara. It was the time of great Samanids and
Bukhara was one of the important centers of cultural activities. He studied under the guidance of
many teachers and continued for a few years in his own self education. His access to the rich
royal library of Samanids proved very helpful in his education. This access to the royal library
was awarded to him because of successful treatment of Samanid prince Nuh Ibn Mansur. By the
time he reached age twenty-one he had already become an accomplished physician and had
mastered all the knowledge of his time.
During this time Avicenna's way of life was greatly changed that lasted to the end of his life. His
father died and Bukhara the capital of Samanids was captured by Mahmoud of Ghazna and a
period of instability began. However, he had a few short periods of tranquility in this great time
of hardship and turmoil. His the power of his intellect and concentration was such that he
continued his intellectual works with remarkable consistency and continuity and was not
influenced by the outward disturbances.
He wandered in different cities of Khorasan and made his livelihoods as a physician. But due to
lack of sufficient economic and social support he left for the court of Hamadan (a city in Iran).
In Hamadan, he became a physician at the court of Shams- ad-Dawlah a prince of Buiyd and
enjoyed the favor of the ruler to a great extend. He was not only a physician but was also
involved in administrative works as a Vizier. During the day he was busy with his physician and
administrative duties but during the night kept busy writing his works and continued discussions
with his students. When Shams ad-Dawlah, the ruler of Hamadan, died in 1022 A.D. Avicenna
faced a period of hardship which included imprisonment. Even in prison he never stop writing.
His great physical strength enabled him to carry out a program that would have been
unimaginable for a person of a feebler constitution. He spent the last fourteen years of his life in
a relative peace in a city called Isfahan (in Iran) at the court of Ala ad-Dawlah. Avicenna was
highly respected by him and his court.
He completed his two major works and wrote most of his 200 treaties in Isfahan. Those two
famous works are The Book of Healing (Kitab-e-Shafa) and the Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi
at-tibb). The Book of Healing is probably the largest work of its kind written by one person. This
book treats logic, the natural sciences including psychology, the quadrivium (geometry,
astronomy, arithmetic and music) and metaphysics. His thought in this work was influenced by
Aristotle, other Greek influencess and Neoplatonism. His system was based on the conception of
God as a necessary existent, that is in God alone, what he is and existence that he is, coincide.
There is a gradual multiplication of beings through a timeless emanation from God as a result of
his self-knowledge. He classified the entire fields of knowledge into: theoretical knowledge:
physics, mathematics, and metaphysics; and practical knowledge: ethics, economics and politics.
His other book, The Canon of Medicine, is the most famous single book in the West as well as
East. It is an immense systematic encyclopedia based on his own experience and on achievement
of Greek physicians of the Roman era. This book was translated and remained supreme in the
West for six centuries. This book is rich with his own original contributions which includes the
recognitions of the contagious nature of diseases such as phthisis and tuberculosis. He asserted
that diseases can be spread by the means of water, air and soil. The Canon, besides listing 760
kinds of drug, describes pharmacological methods and became the most authentic materia
medica of the time. He described meningitis and made rich contributions to anatomy,
gynecology and child health.
His Kitab al-isharat wa at-tanbihat (Book of Directives and Remarks) describes the mystic's
spiritual journey from the beginnings of faith to the final stage of direct and uninterrupted vision
of God. He also wrote a book Lisan al-'arab (The Arabic Language). It was rather a response to
an authority on Arabic philology who criticized him that he was not well versed in Arabic.
Avicenna spent three years studying the Arabic Language and composed this book which
remained in rough draft until his death.
Avicenna contributed to many field of knowledge including mathematics, physics, music. He
described the "casting out of nines" and its application to the verification of square and cubes.
He made many astronomical observation and devised an instrument similar to vernier for
increasing the precision of measurement readings. In physics, he studied the different forms of
energy, heat, light and concepts such as force, vacuum and infinity. He asserted an
interconnection between time and motion and also investigated on specific gravity. In the field
of music, he improved on Farabi's work and was far ahead of knowledge prevailing else-where
on the subject. In the field of chemistry he did not believe in the possibility of chemical
transmutation which was prevailing at the time. He believed the metals differed in a
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State University of New York Press, 1974.
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Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Vol. 2. Westminister, Md.: Newman Press, 1955.
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Morain, Lloyd L. "Avicenna: Asian Humanist Forerunner." The Humanist 41 (March/April, 1981): 27-34.
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