09 October, 2009

Origins of Arab Scientific Inquiry

The title of this post may be a little misleading, but there is a reason for it. There are two sources that can be considered the origins of the Muslims/Arabs quest for knowledge: Ptolemy's Megale Syntaxis - or the Almagest as it is called in the West, and Brahmagupta's siddhanta . As astrology and astronomy were hugely popular and relied upon by Muslims, and especially the caliph, both of these texts were highly translated, researched, refined, and improved upon. These texts, rather the experimentation of the writings held within, led to further advances in scientific knowledge such as time-keeping, map-making, and mathematics. One of the greatest Arab mathematicians, al-Khwarizmi, discovered simple arithmetic, improve upon trigonometry - by discovering cosine, tangent, cotangent, secant, and cosecant from the Hindu sine, and quadratic equations - or algebra through the study of these texts.

Simply put, the diving board of Ptolemy and Brahmagupta was in place and the Arabs, specifically al-Khwarizmi, sprung from this board into deeper waters of understanding within the sciences. This deeper understanding soon spread throughout the rest of the world and gave us many of the mathematics and sciences we now use.

Side note: In school we often wonder what use algebra will have for us in the "real world". A few years ago, Charmin came out with a campaign for it's double size rolls - X + X = 2X. If that's not using algebra in the "real world", I don't know what is!!! I just wish I could find a picture of it.

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