Ibn al-Haytham and His Influence on Post-Medieval Western Culture


Marshall 490
845 N. Park Ave Room 490
Tucson , AZ


Fri, 02/26/2016 - 3:00pm to Tue, 05/24/2022 - 6:12pm

Join The School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and CMES for our Spring 2016 Colloquium Series

Charles M. Falco is a Professor of Optical Sciences; Professor of Physics; UA Chair of Condensed Matter Physics

Born in Basra in 965 AD [354 AH], but doing most of his work in Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, Ibn al-Haytham (Latinized as Alhazen or Alhacen) wrote nearly one hundred works on topics as diverse as poetry and politics.  For nearly four hundred years his treatment of a particular geometry of reflection from flat and curved surfaces has been known as "Alhazen's problem," and today al-Haytham is primarily known for his writings on geometrical optics, astronomy, and mathematics.  However, as I will discuss, with his landmark seven-volume Kitāb al-Manāzir [Book of Optics], published sometime between 1028 [418 AH] and 1038 [429 AH], al-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 what remains an unbroken chain of development that connects 21st century optical scientists with our 11th century intellectual progenitor, 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, our recent discoveries show that it significantly understates the impact that al-Haytham had on areas as wide-ranging as the theology, literature, art, and science of Europe.   


Charles Falco is a Fellow of four science and engineering societies, has published more than 275 scientific manuscripts, co-edited two books, has seven U.S. patents, and given over 400 invited talks at conferences, research institutions, and cultural organizations in 32 countries.  However, recently he and the world-renowned artist David Hockney found major European artists as early as Jan van Eyck c1425 used optical projections in creating portions of their work.  Three international conferences have been organized around  these discoveries, and recognition for them includes the 2008 Ziegfield Lecture Award from the NAEA, the Dwight Nicholson Medal from the APS, and a presentation in the opening ceremony of the 2015 United Nations 'International Year of Light'.  Pursuing even earlier documentation of the use of optics resulted in new discoveries that have revealed Ibn al-Haytham's contributions to broad areas of European culture.