Scientific Improvements of the Arabic Empire Essay

This essay has a total of 2448 words and 18 pages.

Scientific Improvements of the Arabic Empire

The Scientific Improvements of the Great Arabic Empire.

Numbers… 1,2,3,4… a lot of people take them for granted, however do most of

them think about how these numbers came to be? These numbers were introduced to the

Western world by the Arabs. Among this, the Arabic Empire made a lot of tremendous

improvements in the field of scientific knowledge.

By being open-minded and tolerant towards other cultures and science the Arabic

Empire made great and numerous improvements in the field of science, realizing its

importance. Furthermore they sought out the scientific knowledge of other cultures,

improved on it, and introduced it to the West. This was an essential step and will have

great impact on the world forever.

As much as the Arabs did, they didn’t start from scratch. There was much work

done before them, the most prominent by the ancient Greeks and the Hindus. The Greeks

had great minds, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes – who is believed to be more like

a modern scientist than anyone else. These people were the greatest of their time. They

made a great deal of discoveries, improved the science. Each and every one of them had

thousands of students, and what? Archimedes discovered , did anyone else know about

this? Europe was in the hunters-gatherers stage, and would be tribal for a long time.

The Greeks could have made even more improvements if they knew what the

Hindus were doing. Plus it can be easily seen that the government didn’t care and didn’t

approve of science. Socrates was the first great scientist. Plato was his student. In 399

B.C.E. Socrates was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was officially

charged with corrupting the youth and worshipping false gods. Plato ran away and for a

long time was in fear of execution.

The Hindus made a lot of improvements in algebra. They made the decimal

number system we use today and much more. But again, who knew? “ … efflorescence

which reached its first glory under the Gutpa dynasty and was further enriched… at a

time when most of Europe was culturally in limbo.” (McLeish 115) Hindus welcomed

science, but not fully realizing its importance, didn’t spread it.

It was only the Arabs who fully realized what they were doing and spread it.

“Baghdad and Cordoba, the Eastern and Western Caliphates… [were] like the two

terminal points of a gigantic intercontinental system… between which the intellectual

current… flowed… through the superconductive cable of a single Arabic language… The

flow was from East to West because – to carry on the metaphor – in general the Orient

was the transmitter and the West was the receiver.” (Words by Karl Menninger, Mcleish

137) Everything was important and accepted form the smallest to the biggest discoveries.

The Arab contributions are called “The Renaissance of Number and Science.”

From the very beginning, unlike previous governments such as the Greeks, Arab

governments welcomed and sought science. The second Abbasid Caliph, Al – Mansur,

put much effort into searching out and bringing “men of science” to the caliphate. The

third Caliph, Harun al – Rashid, not only wanted, but ordered that a collection of Greek

scientific works was made, the fourth, Al – Mamun, created a “House of Wisdom”. Here

all of the great scholars worked together. A lot of progress was made and a lot of Greek

works translated. Another thing Al – Mamun did was that he set up a large astronomical

observatory in Baghdad in 829. (Mason 96) In this observatory observations were made

by Al – Battani – the greatest astronomer of the caliphate.

“About this time, Al – Khwarizmi, died c.835, introduced Indian numerals and

Indian Methods of calculation to the Muslim world, though his algebra was inferior to

that of the Hindus.” (Mason 96) Yes, the numbers that we use today were introduced to

the world. This is a pure example of the Arabs seeking out science. “ For example, the

people of Mohenjo Daro, an Indus Valley civilization of some 5000 years ago (2550-

1550 B.C.E.) used a simple decimal system, and had methods of counting, weighing and

measuring far in advance of their contemporaries in Egypt, Babylon or Mycenaean

Greece”(McLeish 115) This was used in India in the 20th century before the Common

Era. Alexander the Great conquered India in the 4th century B.C.E., nothing was adopted

even though this system by the 4th century B.C.E. was far more advanced and clearly

easier to use. The Roman Empire who succeeded the Greeks took the science from them.

Their number system was clumsy and had many problems. The number 1997 was

represented as MCMXCVII, what about a number such as 1,234,567? Try dividing

CXLIV by XXIV. Also a bad number system prevented the Greeks (being very good in

Geometry) make improvements in algebra. Pythagorus, even though he calculated the

value of  had great difficulty with decimals.

However, India then, was a part of the Arabic Empire. And the Arabs sought out

their science. Since Al – Khwarizmi died in 835 C.E. this was relatively early in the

Empire. As much as the Muslims were tolerant towards Jews and Christians they didn’t

like pagans – idol worshippers. The Hindu religion has many Gods. So since this was

relatively early, not a lot of the Hindus converted to Islam. There was no love to lose

between them. The relation was bad, so there was no flow of science between the two.

The Arabs would have to go and seek out the science.

Al – Khwarizmi organized and explained this system of numbers and the way the

operations are done upon it in his book “The book on Addition and Subtraction by Indian

methods”. (Mason 96) He made multiplication and division tables. He also dealt with

fractions, decimals and powers – quadratic equations, linear equations. He knew that

some equations have negative roots but never talked about it because it wasn’t practical

in real life. Furthermore he also introduced the binary and hexadecimal systems which

are now used in computers. (McLeish 138 - 48)

“ Of all the early Arabian astronomers the greatest and justly the most famous was

without doubt Abu ‘Abdallah al – Battani”. (Ronan 208) Al – Battani was Muslim but

came from a family of the Sabian religion and kept some of its beliefs. The Sabian

religion is an ancient Mesopotamian religion and has astral theology and star lore (as

defined in Ronan 208). This again shows the tolerance, seeking out and appreciation of

great scientists. In the studies of Al – Battani you again can see the seeking out of

science. His reputation rests largely on his “Kitab al – Zij or Book of Astronomical

Tables”. Before writing this book he studied the Greek observations of the stars

extensively. He also studies the observations made before him by the Hindus and

previous Arabs. He found a lot of mistakes in them, “ … led him to try to improve

theories about celestial motions and the inferences drawn from them based on new

observations, just as Ptolomy had done using the observations of Hipparchos.” (Ronan

208 - 09) He invented a lot of useful instruments for measuring sizes and distances of

celestial objects such as the “Triquetum”. Also the Greeks, Ptolomy, came close to

trigonometry but it was actually Al – Battani who adopted the sine and cosine ratios

which made the creation of the astronomical tables much easier. (Ronan 224)

Even though the 9th through the mid 10th centuries were times of revolutionary

improvements, the late 10th through the early 12th centuries were just as important.

During this time improvements were made on previous discoveries of the Arabs as well

as of course the Greeks. This was very important, because it shows that the Arab empire,

unlike the Greeks, welcomed science and, unlike the Hindus, realized its importance.

The dawn is here; arise my lovely one,
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