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10 Golden Age Philosophers, and Why You Should Know Them
We can all rattle off a few Greek philosophers to win a trivia prize, but how many Golden Age philosophers are you familiar with? Here's a primer.
If challenged to name ten philosophers in ten seconds, some of us might make it to ten. Most of us could possibly hit seven. Of those, the majority are likely to be ancient Greek figures with the remainder more modern, western ones. If a non-western name is to be offered it is likely to be one of the extremely famous thinkers of Asia, such as Confucius, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Sun Tzu. How many of us would produce an Islamic or Arabic thinker as an example?
This is a shame, as the Golden Age (8th century – 13th century) in the Middle East produced some of the most important thought in human history. It is through these thinkers that the west was able to regain access to the thought of Aristotle and Plato. Of the stars that have proper names in common usage, most of them have the names given to them by Middle-Eastern astronomers. We use the numeral system they devised, including the zero. They set the standard for the scientific method for hundreds of years. It is impossible to fully understand western thought without understanding the ideas of these thinkers.
Here are ten of the most underrated and under-appreciated philosophers from the Middle-East, ordered by date.
1. Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī 854 CE – 925 CE
Famed doctor, chemist, and philosopher. First person to describe smallpox and measles as separate diseases. Developed a metaphysical system, based on Plato, which described the universe as consisting of five elements; God, time, place, soul, and matter. Author of the first book on pediatrics.
"I have written 20,000 pages (in small print), moreover I spent fifteen years of my life – night and day – writing the big collection entitled Al Hawi. It was during this time that I lost my eyesight, my hand became paralyzed, with the result that I am now deprived of reading and writing. Nonetheless, I've never given up."
2. Saadia Gaon 882 CE – 942 CE
Rabbi who lived during the golden age of Islam in the various centers of the Abbasid Caliphate. Known for work on Hebrew Linguistics, translations of hebrew texts into Arabic, Jewish law, and preventing a schism in Judaism by means of simple argument. Appointed as the first foreign head of an Academy in Sura. Combined Hebrew and Greek thought.
"The composition of poems remind(s) man of his state of frailty, wretchedness and toil."
3. Yahya ibn Adi 893 CE – 974 CE
Logic theorist and doctor based in Tikrit in modern Iraq. Produced dozens of translations of Greek philosophy into Arabic. A Christian, he was able to use his philosophical knowledge to produce defenses of Christian theology grounded in classical thought.
"Many a dead man lives on through knowledge."
4. Avicenna 980 CE – 1037 CE
Persian Polymath that is often regarded as the single greatest thinker of the Islamic Golden age. Author of 450 books, one of which was a standard medical text until 1650. Refined the scientific method past that of his philosophical idol, Aristotle. Wrote on Astronomy, Chemistry, Geology, Religion, Logic, Mathematics, Physics, and even wrote poetry. His commentaries and translations of Aristotle went on to influence European thought during the Enlightenment.
"The world is divided into men who have wit and no religion and men who have religion and no wit."
5. Sohrevardi 1154 CE – 1191 CE
Persian Philosopher. Founder of the Islamic school of Illuminationism. Built a metaphysics and Islamic school based largely on Platonic ideas, later went on to write dozens of books on philosophy, mysticism, and their relation to Islam.
"Whoever knows philosophy and perseveres in thanking and sanctifying the Light of the Lights, will be endowed with royal glory."
6. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi 1149 CE – 1209 CE
Scientist, Philosopher, and Theologian. Proposed several possible models of the cosmos including a multiverse model. Wrote “Tafsir Al-Kabeer”, The Great Commentary, on the Qur’an which is still often referenced. Wrote additional books on logic and medicine, in addition to other topics.
"The arguments of the philosophers for establishing that the world is one are weak, flimsy arguments founded upon feeble premises."
7. Kâtip Çelebi 1609 CE – 1657 CE
Ottoman historian and geographer. Wrote a bibliographic encyclopedia with 14,500 entries. Wrote extensively on Islamic law, ethics, and theology in addition to history and geography. Primary source for social change in the 16th and 17th century ottoman empire – including the introduction of coffee to the empire.
"With the coming of the period of decline, the winds of knowledge stopped blowing."
8. Dara Shikoh 1615 CE – 1659 CE
An Indian prince with a life befitting a drama, Dara was executed for being on the losing side of a succession struggle after the illness of the Emperor of Mughal Empire. Despite his short life, he was able to find the time to work on the mystical underpinnings common to both Hindu and Islamic thought. Writing several books and translating several Sanskrit classics for later study by other Islamic scholars. A library established by him is still in use by the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.
"And whereas I was impressed with a longing to behold the Gnostic doctrines of every sect and to hear their lofty expressions of monotheism and had cast my eyes upon many theological books and had been a follower thereof for many years, my passion for beholding the Unity, which is a boundless ocean, increased every moment."
9. Muhammad Abduh 1849 CE – 1905 CE
Egyptian scholar, jurist, reformer, and philosopher. A founder of the school of Islamic Modernism, and theorist of the application of liberal thought to Islamic nations. Exiled from Egypt by British authorities for using his newspaper to advocate independence. Argued that many western ideas had roots in Islamic thought.
"I went to the west and saw Islam, but no Muslims. I went to the east and saw Muslims, but not Islam."
10. Fatema Mernissi 1940 CE – 2015 CE
Moroccan Feminist and sociologist. Studied the history of Islamic thought and the role of women in it, publishing works suggesting that the condition of women in Islamic countries is not in line with statements that can be proven to be the thought of Muhammad. Author of the work Beyond the Veil.
"When a woman thinks she is nothing, the little sparrows cry. Who can defend them on the terrace, if no one has the vision of a world without slingshots?"
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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