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Al-Jazari (wikipedia.org)
286 points by kdavis on Sept 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments



Can anyone recommend books on the cross-cultural history of mathematics? I've found these:

1) Georges Ifrah, "Universal History of Numbers", http://www.amazon.com/Universal-History-Numbers-Prehistory-I...

"the first complete account of the invention and evolution of numbers the world over ... Dubbed the "Indiana Jones of numbers," Georges Ifrah traveled all over the world for ten years to uncover the little-known details of this amazing story. From India to China, and from Egypt to Chile, Ifrah talked to mathematicians, historians, archaeologists, and philosophers."

2) Paul Calter, "Squaring the Circle: Geometry in Art & Architecture", http://www.amazon.com/Squaring-Circle-Geometry-Art-Architect...

"the combination of the subject knowledge of design, architecture, art, geometry, philospohy, music theory, and mathematics ... Calter includes the basic lessons and explanations of a regular Geometry course in his book, but then he interweaves an integrated classical curriculum (based on deductive reasoning)"


You'd certainly find something to interest you in the Ascent Of Man documentary series, although it covers many other areas.

Cosmos was based on it. Potentially the greatest television programme ever IMO.


Thanks for the pointer. Civilization looks good too.


http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8350.html Princeton Companion to Mathematics


slightly OT, but I've enjoyed N J Wildberger's lectures on History of Math:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW8Cy6WrO94&list=PL55C7C83781...

It's a good coverage of fundamental theorems in Math with well balanced historical touch.


The Islamic Golden Age is pretty fantastic, not the first time I heard about it and usually a cause of pride among my muslim friends (and for good reason).

Too bad we're witnessing the Islamic Dark Ages right now.


To use strokes so broad that any historian would like to harm me... what happened was basically that the Islamic world came up against the Crusades, and with Catholics murdering them with terrible savagery, they decided to seal themselves off from the world. And in that seclusion they missed out on the most important development in human history - The Enlightenment. Possible the greatest achievement of The Enlightenment was driving a wedge between religion belief and beliefs about the material world. Prior to The Enlightenment, these two things were the same thing - a concept which is VERY difficult for people from post-Enlightenment cultures to understand. Seeing gravity as an expression of a gods will? Thinking it sensible to look for religious explanations to solve mechanical problems? No belief in an afterlife, but belief that the material world was a thing skin over the supernatural world which actually controlled everything? These things just don't make sense to post-Enlightenment folks.

Those ideas are absolutely and totally required to support the idea of coexistence of peoples of different faiths. Otherwise, religious ideas about eternity and salvation trump any concerns. There is nothing which can outweigh the importance of eternity. And in their isolation, concerns for eternity (and self preservation) consumed the Islamic world. The division between modern 'moderate' Islamists and 'fundamentalist' Islamists is this exact divide solved by The Enlightenment.

And the outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion. People are going to have to choose to believe that their religious beliefs are "just religious" and have no serious relevance to the material world (the exact notion their religion decries as the ultimate heresy) and join the modern world... or cling to their pre-Enlightenment system and be exterminated through violence by the rest of the world. Coexistence with pre-Enlightenment people in a world where technology gives individuals so much power of different kinds simply is not possible.


I think the crusades weren't as bad for Islamic development as we like to believe. The Mongol invasions which happened around the time of the last serious Crusades in the Middle East probably did more lasting damage.

The cultured Islamic states were basically conquered by nomadic pagan hordes, while at the same time being battered by the crusades. For instance, look at the sack of Baghdad by Genghis Khan - a major center of science and learning at that time.

Eventually the nomads - Mongols and Turkic tribes - eventually settled down and converted, but a lot was lost and the focus on discovery and science never reached the same level again.

(Note: this is not historical revisionism where I'm trying to minimize the evil that were the crusades. I'm not saying the crusades weren't really really bad, they were. I'm just saying the Muslims were capable of repelling the Christian invasions and retake lost territories without being damaged beyond repair. At the same time, a lot of those who fell to Mongol expansion were wiped of the map for good or reduced to tributary kingdoms.)


> Catholics murdering them with terrible savagery

I see what you're trying to get at, but you make it sound as though the Islamic world was brutally traumatized by the Crusades. The savagery was no more terrible than any war of that time. And they didn't really "seal themselves off from the world". They did, however, seal themselves off from Europe culturally and intellectually. Politically and economically there was still plenty of engagement.

What the Crusades did do was to further hamper the adoption of European ideas in the Islamic World. While the Crusaders were happy to adopt both goods and knowledge from the Middle East, Arabs and Turks saw little reason to embrace any European customs and ways of thought. The Crusaders were invaders in their own lands and for that reason alone a typical Arab's perception of Europeans would've been much worse than a typical Frank's perception of "Saracens".

Amin Maalouf gives an example towards the end of "The Crusades Through Arab Eyes" (decent book, by the way, though I liked "Arab Historians of the Crusades" better). As the Crusades progressed and Europe entered the high middle ages peasants in the West started to gain more rights and privileges as the feudal system continued to weaken. However, none of this was seen in the Middle East, where local lords ruled their holdings with an iron grip and peasant rights barely improved.


"what happened was basically that the Islamic world came up against the Crusades, and with Catholics murdering them with terrible savagery..."

I think you mean the Mongols. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Baghdad_%281258%29


Islamic world was heavily based on trade. As such, it never sealed itself from customers.

My take is - their world was destroyed by railroads, mass production, steam ships. Their skill set at hauling wares using camels and bazaars was no longer in demand, and trade routes went elsewhere.


Another take on why Europe surged ahead economically:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Long-Divergence-Islamic-Middle/dp/...

"Timur Kuran argues that what slowed the economic development of the Middle East was not colonialism or geography, still less Muslim attitudes or some incompatibility between Islam and capitalism. Rather, starting around the tenth century, Islamic legal institutions, which had benefitted the Middle Eastern economy in the early centuries of Islam, began to act as a drag on development by slowing or blocking the emergence of central features of modern economic life--including private capital accumulation, corporations, large-scale production, and impersonal exchange."


How was it possible for them to seal themselves from outside world where they controlled territory much bigger than Europe?

I cannot agree with your attribution of Islam turn to itself to Crusades.

I think that it is an inherent property of Islam. The only science allowed is one that prove existence of Allah. As most sciences are not concerned with existence of Allah, they gradually get shut down and only theology remains.


Not really. The existence of God is a given. Science does nothing to prove or disprove His existence and probably never will. We are constrained after all by the limits of our universe. The purpose of science then is to help reveal the meaning of the Qur'an, (and the other religious texts) and by extension man's purpose.

So if we now know, for example, that the world was not created in 7 days, then what is it actually that the creation myth is trying to tell us? Moslem scientists were not afraid of these contradictions, they looked forward to them.

I'd say that what you're describing is a relatively recent western phenomenon. At some point western Christians fell into the trap of interpreting the Bible literally, and I think it's become an unwelcome distraction in recent times.


> The existence of God is a given. Science does nothing to prove or disprove His existence and probably never will.

That completely depends on what you define "God" to be. If you define "God" to be the being named as such described in the Quran then scientific knowledge most definitely contradicts with that.

> So if we now know, for example, that the world was not created in 7 days, then what is it actually that the creation myth is trying to tell us?

The problem is that the "What is it actually that the creation myth is trying to tell us?" is a textbook begging the question fallacy. The same fallacy that underlies all of the pseudoscience done under the theology umbrella. It is the wrong question to ask. Critical thinkers (which is a superset of scientists) should instead ponder the question "is the creation myth trying to tell us something in the first place?". Unfortunately, pondering that question is dangerous and answering it with "no" implies apostasy under nearly all religions. And every school of Islam teaches apostasy means death. I think that really does make Islam particularly unfit for being a good reference frame from which to openly engage in critical thinking. Note that nearly all forms of religion have a tendency to oppose critical thinking, but Islam has the additional problem of the threat of death.


>If you define "God" to be the being named as such described in the Quran

First thing do you know arabic? Second have you read the Quran translation if you don't know arabic? Third, have you gone through all the verses personally in the Quran that "define" "God"?

If you haven't done any these, how can you come to that conclusion. Doesn't that go against the scientific method which you seem to quote so much. For someone who claims to quote facts.. don't you have a fraction of shame.

The Quran has a precise description of people like you - though subjective, very eerily objective. It still makes much more sense than you. Rough english translation in the literal sense and also metaphorically "Deaf, dumb, blind.."


> First thing do you know arabic? Second have you read the Quran translation if you don't know arabic? Third, have you gone through all the verses personally in the Quran that "define" "God"?

Why do you ask me those questions? Why do the answers to them matter? Do you really think anyone believes that the details of Arabic change the interpretation so much that the general meaning of the text changes? Why would I have to go through all the verses personally? It seems one verse of a reasonable translation describing a general contradiction with scientific knowledge would be enough. I mean, if this truly was the literal word of an all-knowing being, a single verse disagreeing with real-world knowledge would bring into question the claimed origin of such a text?

> If you haven't done these, how can you come to that conclusion. Doesn't that go against the scientific method which you seem to quote so much. Just an obvious comical observation.

I find it rather comical that you are using such shoddy reasoning to attack a position I don't have. I only mentioned scientific knowledge once, I did not mention the quite distinct "scientific method" at all.

> The Quran has a precise description of people like you - though subjective, very eerily objective. It still makes much more sense than you. Rough english translation in the literal sense and also metaphorically "Deaf, dumb, blind.."

Well, good thing it's not really a good source for wisdom then :)


The Quran sure makes a lot of basic scientific errors for supposedly being the word of an infallible god: http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Scientific_Errors_in_the_Quran

> The Quran has a precise description of people like you - though subjective, very eerily objective. It still makes much more sense than you. Rough english translation in the literal sense and also metaphorically "Deaf, dumb, blind.."

http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Scientific_Errors_in_the_Quran#Non...


  > The existence of God is a given. Science does nothing to prove or disprove His existence and probably never will.

  That completely depends on what you define "God" to be. If you define "God" to be the being named as such described in the Quran then scientific knowledge most definitely contradicts with that.
Yes, I was referring to God as described in the Qur'an, but He's not described as a "being" and He's not really "defined" at all because He's beyond definition. The nearest thing you get to a definition is: "God is greater". The Qur'an is probably most explicit about this but the theme is current in all Abrahamic religions. The Holy Trinity, for example, is a deliberate paradox.

I think part of what makes these discussions hard is that the nature of God is misunderstood. If you think that current scientific knowledge contradicts the existence of God then I think you are one of those who misunderstand. What experiment can possibly be performed to determine the existence of a presence that has no measurable attributes?

I don't see how physics is going to get us there. Neuroscience might insomuch as we might determine the nature of our perception of God, but I doubt even this would resolve anything. For example, if we discovered that belief in God is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, atheists would say that it proves that belief is just a freak of evolution, whilst monotheists would claim that freaks of evolution, like everything else, are God's creation and a part of His purpose.

  The problem is that the "What is it actually that the creation myth is trying to tell us?" is a textbook begging the question fallacy. The same fallacy that underlies all of the pseudoscience done under the theology umbrella. It is the wrong question to ask.

  Critical thinkers (which is a superset of scientists) should instead ponder the question "is the creation myth trying to tell us something in the first place?"
Why not ponder both? I personally have no issue with this.

  Unfortunately, pondering that question is dangerous and answering it with "no" implies apostasy under nearly all religions...(and the threat of death from Islam)
I take your point here. Personally I think this is more about societal control than about Islamic teaching, mostly because the verse that provides justification for death for apostasy just makes no sense when read out of context (at least I don't get it).

It is important to realise that many of the Qur'anic texts are referring to specific groups of people in a particular time and place. If you try to interpret them without that context you'll find yourself at best mislead and at worst tied in a tangle of contradictions.

With all that said, it's pretty obvious that this is one of the first wildcards that is reached for whenever someone wants a good slaughter. Around the world currently, Moslems are using it as a way to justify killing other Moslems.

That said, you can find justification for genocide and oppression everywhere, and not just limited to the religious. You should read what Darwin had to say about Negros sometime. It makes uncomfortable reading, and it was all backed by science.


So I have studied this stuff a great deal, and I am a convert (for full disclosure).

Beyond your biased opinion, I would love to see examples specific to Islam (which is casting quite a wide net; I am fairly controversail in arguing that Islam is not a uniform religion and no "Muslim" culture, notice I did not say Islamic, is not the same, not even during the Crusades).

I would say more accurately, as I have seen in my childhood and young adulthood in the US, that all science and knowledge-building is co-opted for political purposes, and religion is one of them, and perhaps the most common and obvious. This true of any socio-political movement, religion or not.

See global warming, abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage. Frequently a vocal minority of US society (which is, if you want to go with your unified bloc mindset, a Christian majoirty country) says that facts conflict with what they devine from God's message, and it is wrong, regardless of scientific endeavor involved. Does that mean all American culture, and all Western culture denies scientific progress because God says so? Of course not. They are minority groups of, in my biased opinion, idiots who drag society, all of it, down.

I point this out because I, in my short life, have seen people paint Islam with a brush that is really a reflection of the elements of their own society they are oblivious to. And this is not a comment about you in particular, but all people. It is trend. So I say, rhetorically, look in the mirror. Islam is foreign to you and these kinds of observations, sadly, are you seeing yourself in high contrast because of the foreigness in your face. Sorry.


> I point this out because I, in my short life, have seen people paint Islam with a brush that is really a reflection of the elements of their own society they are oblivious to. And this is not a comment about you in particular, but all people. It is trend. So I say, rhetorically, look in the mirror. Islam is foreign to you and these kinds of observations, sadly, are you seeing yourself in high contrast because of the foreigness in your face. Sorry.

Don't try to paint criticism of Islam as irrational, because that is what you seem to be attempting here. Claiming that criticism of Islam happens because it is "unfamiliar" or "foreign" avoids proper discussion. You have minced your words, sure, but you are still calling people ignorant. And calling people ignorant without backing up that claim is incredibly rude. It is the exact same justification that underlies people screaming "Islamophobia" at legitimate criticism.

Let me identify a number of problems in your argument. It is an unfair comparison. You are taking United States society as an example of western culture - but you'd have to be looking much harder to find problems of similar magnitude in many European countries or even some east Asian countries.

Secondly, you assume that people do not criticize the idiots in their own society. This is so incredibly false that it almost feels insulting.

Thirdly, you somehow equate the idiocy that happens within "Western" society to the idiocy that happens in "Islamic" society. The problem is that only very few idiots in Western society think that we should upturn society and live under early medieval law because their religion says so. This is much less of a fringe opinion in the "Islamic world" and even among Muslims in the Western world.

Lastly, because Western society also has its fair share of problems does not disallow anyone from identifying problems in other societies. Hypocrisy or even claimed biases, despite being bad intentions, do not make the arguments made bad arguments by themselves. You still have to show a hypocrite or a biased person to be wrong after you have made an ad hominem about their intentions (justified or not).

If a Westerner identifies problems within the "Islamic world" argue with him or her based on facts, and please do not be rude and attribute it to ignorance. If such criticism is truly ignorant, presenting facts should make enough of a difference. Imagine identifying problems in African societies and being called a racist for it.


> Don't try to paint criticism of Islam as irrational, because that is what you seem to be attempting here. Claiming that criticism of Islam happens because it is "unfamiliar" or "foreign" avoids proper discussion. You have minced your words, sure, but you are still calling people ignorant. And calling people ignorant without backing up that claim is incredibly rude. It is the exact same argument that underlies people screaming "Islamophobia" at legitimate criticism.

No, I did not say there is no such thing as "rational criticism of Islam." I quote your words because it depends on what you mean. Are there reasonable criticisms of Islam, not based in fear-mongering or stupid biases that largely based on political agendas? Of course there are. But again, to be fair, I do not think there is some rational method, in a scientific sense, that proves one element of any religion right or wrong. In my view (meaning this is me, trying to be objective), religion is not rational. There is no proof of God. There never will be one. You either believe in it or not, and looking for pseudo-science to get there is a fool's errand.

As for your secondary comment, I am not claiming he (the OP) is ignorant. I pointed out I, and all others, are guilty of frame of reference problems. The entire point of my response was what incited me to reply: the premise of the OP saying Islam does not encourage any science that does not support the notions of Allah and the tenets of the faith. My immediate response was: can you give proof of that? I showed examples how in American culture, outside of what many conceive to be Muslim (there are plenty of Muslim Americans, even if not a majority) science is co-opted and subjugated for an agenda. I would love to see a part of the world that does not have this problem. Later on, you mention Asia and Europe. Do you honestly believe, regardless of scale, that human endeavor does not see a repeat of this problem for a reason? I would have loved to meet the fathers of the European Enlightenment, because I am sure they would have a lot to say about this. If you disagree, that is fine. But if he were alive, Galileo would have loved to talk to you about how the Church ruined his life. Or how Turing eventually committed suicide because his contributions to society were not enough? Should we say Europe only tolerated science when it followed God, or positivist secularism? I think you would laugh at me.

Islam has problems. So do other religions. But if Islam has special religion status and special problems that proclude it from issues other religions avoided, I would love to hear them. I am not asking sarcastically. Try to explain them rationally. You will see how bleak that looks. I belive we have a name for that discipline though, it is anthropology. Humans are fun.

> First up, let me identify a number of problems in your argument. It is a false equivalence. You are taking United States society as an example of western culture - but you'd have to be looking much harder to find problems of similar magnitude in certain European countries or even some east Asian countries.

That is my point. I was giving counter-examples. And I doubt I would have to look very hard to find people biasing science in the name of religious politics in Europe, Asia, or Africa. This is not a localized phenomenon, and I have read one book (ironically in its Arabic translation), that goes into the phenomenon of why increased religiosity at the expense of other socio-cultural dynamics and why people embrace it. [1] I am not the only one who notices this stuff.

> Secondly, you assume that people do not criticize the idiots in their own society. This is so incredibly false that it almost feels insulting.

Take however you want. But if you said that idiot is an idiot because he is a moronic Christian, a rabid Jew, or terrorist Muslim, can you not see why slighting the individual for the group or vice versa was the source of my comment?

> Lastly, you somehow equate the idiocy that happens within "Western" society to the idiocy that happens in "Islamic" society. The problem is that only very few idiots in Western society think that we should upturn society and live under early medieval law because their religion says so. This is much less of a minority opinion in the "Islamic world" and even among Muslims in the Western world.

Case in point: there is no Islamic society. I encounter this viewpoint often. There is no Wetsern society. They are all societies that people decide to group together, or self-identify as. As someone on both sides of th line, I get it from all sides, politely or rudely, on a daily basis. And yes, in American society (if we want to falsely scope out that large for the sake of argument) there are definitely people who argue for such things, and they are on the fringe. Now, if you want to pretend the whole of Muslim society (and that is a lot of people, even the parts of it in the US) want to "live under early medieval law because their religion says so", I would love for you to show me where it says so. Lest you look ignorant, by your own definition, because I have yet to see a Quran citation from you. You can search many translations and present them to me. Everything outside of the Quran is irrelevant, and many Hadith are controversial. If you cannot provide me a quote beyond "because US news says so", you are proving my point. I am sure you are educated, but your bias shows. Shows me some facts or accept you have a bias, just like me and everyone else.

> If a Westerner identifies problems within the "Islamic world" argue with him or her based on facts, and please do not be rude and attribute it to ignorance. If such criticism is truly ignorant, presenting facts should make enough of a difference. Imagine identifying problems in African societies and being called a racist for it.

Trust me, the "Islamic World" has problems, but again, no one has shown me any problem to be unique to said world. Societies and cultures just stack and reorganize the same garbage elements of humanity.

You are not a racist, just misguided. I am misguided in a lot of stuff to, but dictating to me how the Islamic world is, as someone who lives in what you might traditionally consider this Islamic world, is the kind of insulting pejorative bullshit. It is why very needed help from "the West" goes unheeded. It is not the offer of help, guy. It is the tone of people like yourself who "know better" and are "not rude and ignorant, just know better than you and demand facts ironically I cannot provide."

I will not respond after this, because we are going down into a flame/troll scenario. But I hope you can accept both of us are right and wrong at the same time. I am confident you will not, but oh well.

[1] It is called Holy Ignorance. Sorry I had to go around looking for it on a bookshelf, couldn't find it, and my translation of the book's title into English was not good enough to find it on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Ignorance-Religion-Culture-Columb...


I have to say that by now you have insulted me, decent conversation, and reason by many things in your reply. You have great talent for making arrogance and ad hominems sound polite and subtle, which is something I can strangely appreciate in a twisted sense. Well played.

I will respond to some things you have asked from me. I do not expect a response, but will leave them here for others to read.

> But again, to be fair, I do not think there is some rational method, in a scientific sense, that proves one element of any religion right or wrong.

There are many with that capability. The quintessential one is Kantian ethics. One other method I will mention simply because I happen to have read it recently, is outlined in "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris.

> How, if you want to pretend the whole of Muslim society (and that is a lot of people, even the parts of it in the US) want to "live under early medieval law because their religion says so", I would love for you to show me where it says so.

I did not claim that the whole of Muslim society wants this, and I find it insulting that you put those words in my mouth. I was pointing out that opinions on upturning society are an important opinion in Muslim (sub)societies, as evidenced by opinion polls [1].

> Islam has problems. So do other religions. But if Islam has special religion status and special problems that proclude it from issues other religions avoided, I would love to hear them. Try to explain them rationally. You will see how bleak that looks.

I'll just leave the general argument as to why Islam does a particular bad job as a reference frame from which to perform critical thinking.

First up: do not interpret what I'm saying next as any sort of defence of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism. Religion is a bad place to start building a society from in the first place. I'll limit my commentary to mainstream religions as they tend not to affect geopolitics.

Islam does a worse job of building an effective critical-thinking society than other mainstream religions. Some things that are uniquely combined Islam are the following:

- Islam has a text that is the literal word of God; not "words inspired" by God as is the case in many others. Since the word is taken to be literal, it is easier to commit apostasy as it is more difficult to hide behind interpretation.

- The penalty for deviating thought is death in all schools of Islam. Other holy texts also claim this, but certainly not all schools of other religions claim the same.

- No school of Islam has emerged that takes back on these opinions. The best of enlightenment you get is people claiming that people should get a second chance, but thought crime still leads to death.

Because of these issues, mainstream Islamic thinking is less open to deviating opinion, critical thinking, sensitivities, or at least the open discussion of topics. These issues make it easier to justify totalitarianism or elements thereof in an Islamic context. There is no "Reformed Judaism" version of Islam that is openly and widely practiced. And that appears to be a burden for every Muslim who wants to be a critical thinker and wants to build a society on freedom and progress.

[1]: A link directory that admittedly is focused on making a point (but that by itself does not make the point invalid): http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/opinion-polls.htm


(Part 3)

> - No school of Islam has emerged that takes back on these opinions. The best of enlightenment you get is people claiming that people should get a second chance, but thought crime still leads to death.

There are five schools of Islam (technically speaking, there are four, until the Jafriyyah School of Shi'a Islam, as recognized by the prominent scholars and figures in the Sunni schools in modern history quite late at a date I do not recall, which is an interesting political gesture by itself). I am not sure what you are referring to, but if it is bida'a, I somehow doubt that they have a consistent view on this. They are all hundreds of years old, and specializing in one of them is an academic lifetime all to itself. I assume some, probably the Hanbalist as you guessed from earlier, would demand death. The others, probably not. But I cannot be sure and that ironically is not easy to research in a short period (I just tried, haha). But rest assured you have a point: there orthodox bigots in Islam, just like fudamnetalist Christians and hardcore Orthodox Jews.

> Because of these issues, mainstream Islamic thinking is less open to deviating opinion, critical thinking, sensitivities, or at least the open discussion of topics. These issues make it easier to justify totalitarianism or elements thereof in an Islamic context. There is no "Reformed Judaism" version of Islam that is openly and widely practiced. And that appears to be a burden for every Muslim who wants to be a critical thinker and wants to build a society on freedom and progress.

Maybe in the sense they do not have a name. But there are many progressive Islamic scholars (I use that term as someone specializing in religion, not any academic of Muslim background). Tariq Ramadan comes to mind (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariq_Ramadan), and he is very well-known in MENA and out. There are others as well. The difference is Islam, because of perceived attack, encourages believers to emphasize unity and not discuss differences. The schools of Islamic law you mention are academic mainly, and any believer would not be concerned as it barely impacts their belief or praxis. In terms of practice, the only real dividie is between Sunni and Shi'a, and almost people when question about which one they are get cagey and will tell you they are Muslim, for the reasons they described. You are not supposed to make the difference between you and others a big issue. Only zealots, for political reasons, encourage this crap and you see the civil war it causes in Iraq and Lebanon. Many open people talk about it, but largely in Arabic, and I suppose you do not know it.

This has been a cool discussion though. I am sorry if you think I am ignoring your comments are being insulting in my dealing with you, but I am glad someone questions and asks. Without it we all accept the status quo and learn nothing.


(Part 2)

> I'll just leave the general argument as to why Islam does a particular bad job as a reference frame from which to perform critical thinking.

Ok. But I am sure we are not going to enjoy where this is going.

> First up: do not interpret what I'm saying next as any sort of defence of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Hinduism. Religion is a bad place to start building a society from in the first place. I'll limit my commentary to mainstream religions as they tend not to affect geopolitics.

Haha. So Christianity Judaism Islam Buddhism and Hinduism do not cause geopolitical issues? I point to the Middle East (Judaism and Islam: Palestinian conflict is unavoidable in any issue of any size in geopolitical negotations in the region, and has been so since the 50's), South Asia (Islam and Hinduism, specifcally Kashmir, beyond the whole Parition and Pakistan-Indian aggression at large since the partition), Buddhism (Japan, Aum Shinrikyo for specific example, but I will admit Buddhism has far fewer occurrences and I have always been intrigued if there is a really observable reason as to why beyond my bias, I am sure someone here has better examples) off the top of my head. Do you know of any place where religion is no co-opted that does not cause geo-political instability? Because, again, I believe that is the shitty nature of hunanity rearing its ugly head.

> Islam does a worse job of building an effective critical-thinking society than other mainstream religions. Some things that are uniquely combined Islam are the following:

That is not Islam, that is the respective governance and culture of the regions where Islam is the majority faith. I can go into the history of the regions, specifically the Middle East (you do remember the Wikipedia article that this discussion is tied to, yes?) but the "Islamic Empire" (and I mean when it defined itself as a such, during the Ummayad, Abbasid, etc. Caliphates) saw great strides in intellectual development. The bulk of education you likely received is built on critical thinking you honed through Phillenic knowledge inherited and improved upon by Caliphate's acquisition and funding of foreign scholarship and translation. But, I digress.

> - Islam has a text that is the literal word of God; not "words inspired" by God as is the case in many others. Since the word is taken to be literal, it is easier to commit apostasy as it is more difficult to hide behind interpretation.

This is not a definitive thing. As a matter of fact, the reactionary nature of post-modern Muslim socieities is rooted in rediscovering the people (Hanbalis) who followed Ibn Hanbal, the guy who asserted it was the direct word of God, and that reasoning about it or analyzing theologically was heresy. The other view, that of 3lm-al Kalam, Science of Discourse (notice the name) were the dominant camp supported by the Abbasid Caliphs when he came to being. Hanbal and company were able to find themselves politically convenient and then removed any Kalamist opposition.

I will let you guess what happened to the Kalamists politically and socially over time as they were targeted by the politically expedient Hanbalists? As you might guess from my opinions of religion and politics mixing, this was detrimental and lead to serious decay in Kalamist and Mutazlite scholarship on Islam.

This is historical, of course. You will say it does not matter. My point is that this is a majority view, and was not always. Political circumstances allowed people in power to change the popular view in religion and then interpretations changed and you see the reactionary Islam you are familiar with in the Gulf and with nutjobs in Iraq and Syria. That is a problem. It was not always that way, and I hope this brief history analysis will clear some of that up. If you do not care for it, it is ok. But you should read about the Hanbalis and Kalamists if you want to know what happens when politics controls intellectual endeavor. Spolier alert: it is a sad read.

> - The penalty for deviating thought is death in all schools of Islam. Other holy texts also claim this, but certainly not all schools of other religions claim the same.

Do you mean bid'a when you say deviation? Deviation from what? These terms were not made concrete way outside the scope of the Quran and this is all based on socio-political developments that are far more about Arab and Turkish history than specifically with the religion.

Again, you need to read the texts. The Quran, the one that matters, does not mention the word from a quick search. Also Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bid%E2%80%98ah) has a citation needed point on the page of this concept in Islam, but no citation in the Quran can be offerred. With any treatise on Islam, no quote to the Quran = dead end. I would not even read it, personally, as I know the source is iffy at best. I understand if that is not good enough for you, but this socio-political manipulation of the religion at its best. Bidah was ued to shut people up, and it worked. This is not only a universal thing, Wikipeda also hints that no one group can agree on what it is, what it means, and how to handle it.


(So this will have to been in parts, as I have easily exceeded the character limit, so below is part 1).

> I have to say that by now you have insulted me, decent conversation, and reason by many things in your reply. You have great talent for making arrogance and ad hominems sound polite and subtle, which is something I can strangely appreciate in a twisted sense. Well played.

Ok, I am not trying to play you, but I have to be honest, I do not see how you find so much offense with my general tone here. You flat out called me rude the first time around. I would usually not engage in such games, but I think it is fair to talk to you because you are putting a lot of time or effort into this. I do not think I have attacked you, but I guess I am coming up much ruder than you meant. So, ok. Sorry. I would rather take this as a good conversation, instead of turning it into a flame.

> There are many with that capability. The quintessential one is Kantian ethics. One other method I will mention simply because I happen to have read it recently, is outlined in "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris.

I think maybe I was confusing in what I mean. I think anyone, Kant or otherwise, can go around saying religion X or Y is right or wrong, or any elements of belief structures independent of that structure. That does not make it empirical, scientific, or rational. There will never be a mathematical proof that God exists, there is a heaven, that the rape is bad, usury is bad, etc. Should I stop being ethical in light of my belief there is mathematical proof for religion? No. But I notice you refer to ethics. I am not interested in ethics when discussing this topic. I mean beliefs, ideas, and religious prescriptions. I mean proving scienfically whether or not sleeping with another man's wife is the will of God or not? I understand I can reason about this, but I am putting a higher burden on myself (when thinking of reason) than "because it is bad." Even addition requires a proof in mathematics, and that is rigorous and difficult. Some people claim they have done so, but I do not see this as reason or rationality or whatever they call it. You can believe if you choose; that is OK. But I do not think ethicists are scientists with a rigorous scientific platform. That is why it is philosophy, and philosophy and theology are not part of the sciences. They work differently, and I oppose in Western history the Divine Watchmaker Theory (creation is so perfect, like a well-constructed watch, so there must a divine being, the Watchmaker/God, who created it) like I am disgusted by people who have told me years ago, before I even was interested in Islam, that the Quran refers to certain scientific facts well-established now that were certainly yet to be determined by contemporary science and therefore the book is divined from God. I think Kant might be more advanced with his proof of God (I studied it in college stateside years ago, and I do not remember it so well), but there is something silly about the whole process. There is no science or rationality to faith, why must me prove it exists with rationality or scientific analysis? You seem to be insulted by this notion, but that is just my opinion I suppose. I thought it was more common, but when I was taught about proofs of God (ironically I went to a Catholic university that taught a whole freshmen seminar on the topic called Problem of God), I thought I was not in the minority to see such endeavors as well-intentioned but pointless. Maybe I am out of touch. I do not mean to offend you, but I guess I misunderstood my position is not common like I believed it to be.

> I did not claim that the whole of Muslim society wants this, and I find it insulting that you put those words in my mouth. I was pointing out that opinions on upturning society are an important opinion in Muslim (sub)societies, as evidenced by opinion polls [1].

Yes, it is important. But that is my point. A radical minority opinion should represent the whole faith? I am not intending to put words in your mouth, but I rountinely encounter people, in the US and elsewhere like expats who live in the MENA region, that believe everyone thinks this. Not everyone does. Ironically, I live in a country in the Gulf that is one of the few that tries to put this into practice. Maybe the local community, ironically greatly outnumbered by Muslim and non-Muslim expat population that holds the country together, routinely complain about and disapprove of it. That is anecdote. But to me, polling information shows me people talk about, and some want it. Is all of America murderous because some of them support the dealth penalty? I know you, by now, are pretty clear you dislike my analogies. But drawing these kinds of lines is not reason with me.


The Enlightenment is a direct consequence of the Protestant Reformation that preceded it a few centuries prior. The key ideas of Protestantism was that faith should be a) based on reason and b) involve a direct communion with God, without intervening priests, ritual or hierarchy.

If this sounds appealing to you, you are basically a Protestant, possibly a post-God Protestant aka "atheist"/"agnostic"/"secular". In Catholicism, as with most religions, God (or gods or spirit) is intertwined with every aspect of life. The idea that religion is purely about beliefs is a Protestant idea - for most people, their religion is about community, ritual, and accessing deep emotions or altered states of consciousness. Protestantism rejected most of this in favour of a purely 'rational' faith, from where it's baby steps towards giving up faith entirely in favour of pure reason. (Evidence: atheism flourished in the traditionally Protestant countries of Northern Europe and the Anglosphere).

"People are going to have to choose to believe that their religious beliefs are "just religious" and have no serious relevance to the material world (the exact notion their religion decries as the ultimate heresy) and join the modern world"

Has no relevance to the material world === "not real"; in other words, people are going to have to give up their religions.

"Those ideas are absolutely and totally required to support the idea of coexistence of peoples of different faiths."

I.e., for people of different faiths to co-exist they have to give up their faiths (in favour of 'secularism' or 'moderate-ism' aka Protestantism).

Much more on this idea here: http://unqualifiedreservations.wordpress.com/2007/09/26/how-...

Related point: the West has 'Protestant-ised' several world faiths (in fact the concept of 'world religion' is arguably the creation of 19th century Protestant missionaries and scholars).

e.g. Buddhism: http://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/protestant-buddh...

And Hinduism: http://mitrailleuse.net/2014/08/08/the-westernization-of-hin...


When you talk about protestantism what exactly are you referring to? There are many, many variations/denominations. Some are rational like you describe, others are nuts. Same goes for any religion and even the people within a religion. There is a broad spectrum of catholics. Some rational, some nuts.

In my experience people of protestant denominations tend to be more irrational/faith focussed than catholics who tend to question more. An example is that in my country the people trying to prevent gay marriage are protestant and believe homosexuality an abomination (because of bible teachings) whereas the catholics (and some more rational protestants) want to legalise it (obviously not priests/bishops etc. but the politicians involved in the decision making).

I guess my point is that when it comes to religion every single person has slightly different beliefs or puts slightly more emphasis on some beliefs over others.


He is talking about lutherianism and calvinism (scnadinavia, north germany, early «pilgrims»).

And this is an essay about capitalism and protestantism that can be paradoxal (how believing in predestination makes you fight against the odds). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Sp...


Thanks for that angle, my fathers family is protestant, as most are in the north of The Netherlands, and I never identified much with any religion at all. I feel this held me back when trying to convey my belief system to theists.

With the angle of protestant beliefs I can perhaps just convince them of their value, and let them figure out the rest on their own.


You may find John Gray interesting. His view is very roughly that secular humanism and the ideals of the enlightenment, especially the idea that moral and intellectual progress should correlate, are extensions rather than disownments of religious dogma.

Here's a taste of his kind of take on things - http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2009/12/past-decade-world-...

I would strongly recommend his book Straw Dogs, though it is very polemic in style.


I think that you're describing a history that is very peculiar to the west. I don't think other faiths (even other Christian denominations) have this problem.


I think Rene Descartes would take great issue with you.


I see where you're coming from, but your conclusion is incorrect. Monotheistic religions, atleast the unfabricated, do not profess the idea that this material world is wholly bad. It professes balance, between the material and the spiritual, and that if you lose balance and become too materialistic (as what we see in today's 'depression' cases) you will fall astray.

I think this idea is very true, and we see that both religious people and non-religious have tipped the balance too far on either side.


> Monotheistic religions, atleast the unfabricated

Ummmm.

Are there any unfabricated religions?


I think the majority opinion is that there is exactly one unfabricated religion.


And on the sixth day, God fabricated man.


> And in that seclusion they missed out on the most important development in human history - The Enlightenment.

Two wrong conclusions in one sentence. Neither were the islamic world secluded (they were expanding beyond spain even after the crusades) nor did they 'miss' the so called enlightenment. In fact it can be argued that the european enlightenment was a result of the interaction of the dark age europeans with golden age of islamic spain (and other centers of learning during this time in the islamic world).

So instead of religion being a hindrance to the "light of enlightenment" to the human race, religion had everything to do with it. Especially if enlightenment is given a broader meaning than just ways of acquiring material capabilities and means of pleasure.


> Two wrong conclusions in one sentence. Neither were the islamic world secluded (they were expanding beyond spain even after the crusades) nor did they 'miss' the so called enlightenment. In fact it can be argued that the european enlightenment was a result of the interaction of the dark age europeans with golden age of islamic spain (and other centers of learning during this time in the islamic world).

I think you are confusing the Renaissance (for which that is a fair description) with the Enlightment (which was several centuries later, and for which that is not a really a fair description, except insofar as the Renaissance laid critical groundwork for the Enlightment, and the Renaissance was, as you say, largely a result of interaction with the Islamic world.)


'Catholics' didn't murder anyone, since they didn't exist yet. The third crusade was hundreds of years before the protestant reformation. The Crusaders were simply Christians.


Seems like they have been going for the last 700 years.

Which makes me feel that the feelings of pride my Muslim friends feel are unjustified as they have very little in common with the world that made al-Jazari. Or perhaps more importantly, the rest of the world has advanced in 700 years, but they have staid behind.


Generally, I don't completely get why do humans feel pride for things they didn't have anything to do with? Probably has something to do with ego.


“Nationalism teaches you take pride in shit you haven’t done and hate people you’ve never met.”

You can probably substitute any us-and-them term for “nationalism”.


I once had a friend who was routinely incorrect in his football predictions tell me that I, who won about 85% of the office pools during my time there, didn't know anything about the sport because my team had never won a Super Bowl. I then informed him that he must know five times less than everyone else in the room, given that he was a Bucs fan and virtually all of our coworkers were Cowboys fans.

We'll talk over the phone periodically about football, and my predictions about his team are usually spot on for the season. When he asks me how I'm so good at predicting what will happen with his team given that I really don't follow them all that closely, I just tell him that the Saints finally won a Super Bowl, and hence my knowledge was greatly enhanced.


more about tribalism. "I share in the glory of every member of my tribe".


That's what we call "Halo Effect", as well.


Also known as "Teamwork". The basic mechanisms of tribalism are the same whether the scale is a world religion, a country, a ship's crew, a basketball team or whatever.


Being part of the team that achieved something versus vicariously enjoying a victory of ancestors you never knew is not really the same thing.


One would like to think, along with the slow disintegration of Western Rome, that it might serve as an object lesson to people who naively assume that progress is inevitable and will solve all our problems.


Of equal importance to HN readers is work by both Ibn Khaldun [1] and Ibn Rushd (Latinized as Averroes) [2]. There are more accessible to Western readers, as both were champions of Aristotelian (analytic) philosophy. Ibn Khaldun is rightly being labeled by some as the founder of systematic sociology.

One of the great Muslim intellectual rivalries was the one between Averros and Al Ghazali [3], one that I won't spoil for anyone but it's a sublime look into efforts by Averroes to inject pure rationality and reason into discussions of the theological.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_Khaldun [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Averroes [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ghazali


The Banū Mūsā brothers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ban%C5%AB_M%C5%ABs%C4%81

"The most popular of their publications was the Kitāb al-Ḥiyal (The Tricks Book), which was mostly the work of Aḥmad, the middle brother, was a book filled with one hundred mechanical devices. There were some real practical inventions in the book including a lamp that would mechanically dim, alternating fountains, and a clamshell grab. Eighty of these devices were described as "trick vessels" that showed a real mastery of mechanics, with a real focus on the use of light pressure. Some of the devices seem to be replications of earlier Greek works, but the rest were much more advanced than what the Greeks had done."


We need vcs/git fork graphs for historical inventions and improvements, including tracking of multiple "upstream" candidates when origins are disputed. HN members in different cultures could help curate the dependency graphs on github.

Related: Project Gitenberg, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8214564


There are numerous number of Muslim scientists who contributes a lot to modern mathematics.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%E1%B8%A5ammad_ibn_M%C5%ABs%C...


Please continue posting such links. I know some people would like only links about "hacking" (i.e. coding), but such articles really make me understand the "we are standing on the shoulders of giants" quote.

Especially about lesser advertised cultures such as the Islamic one.


> Especially about lesser advertised cultures such as the Islamic one.

The idea of a singular entity called "Islamic culture" is something very recent in History though, Pan-Islamism. That's from the 19th century at best.


I highly recommend picking up a book covering the history of invention and thought rather than waiting for such posts to hit meme status at random moments on HN.


Who said that I don't read those? Your reply is a bit condescending. The stages of learning include total ignorance, when you don't know that you don't know something (or that the thing you don't know would interest you). We're social animals for several reasons - one of them is that we can teach each other. HN is quite a knowledgeable community, so the advice/pointers are in general more useful than just random Google searches or sifting through Amazon reviews, for example.


What alphabet is used for the letters in the diagrams[0]? It's not Arabic, and it looks sort of like Greek (or maybe Phoenician), but different.

0. Such as this one: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/06/Al-jazari...


It is Arabic, Islamic calligraphy[0] can be confusing, I'll reckon that.

0. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_calligraphy


He's asking about the symbols against the diagram itself, not the preface.


I have no idea. While searching for an answer I found this which is too interesting to not post. Especially the "table of alphabets". Perhaps some of the "old Hebrew" characters fit?

http://www.gentlewisdom.org/qaya/academic/hebrew/Phoenician....


It is Arabic, for example "من بین الحوضین" on the beginning of the first line means "between the two tanks".


I don't mean the caption at the top. I'm referring to the letters on the diagram itself: http://i.imgur.com/Bj31AxJ.jpg


aha, well it does look like Old Turkic Alphabet[0], I am not sure.

0.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Turkic_alphabet#Table_of_ch...

Edit: Some characters don't seem to render properly, an Image seems more practical. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Turkic_alphabet#mediaviewer...


Do you know why he didn't just use Arabic characters? Based on a brief survey of the Arabic Wikipedia, it looks like Latin letters are standard for variables in math these days, but what was the reason for using non-Arabic characters back then?


It is odd, given that other scientists did use Arabic characters to notate their diagrams (notably, Al-khwarizmi and Ibn Al-Haytham). Perhaps it's because of his roots.



I think they are numbers, more specifically showing device dimensions & others may refer to some formulas .

The Arabic notation for numbers as we know it now (1,2,3 ..etc) wasn't yet formed! i suppose!!

You will find most of the mentioned symbols in this image showing the developing of numbers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabic_numerals#mediaviewer/Fil...

Note: (in the image the development in vertical, first line lists numbers from 1 to 10)


In the gold old days, Tricks science was what we know now as Mechanics. This was a smart naming for this new science field, so people won't link it with Magic, which is forbidden in Islam.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avicenna

The first to use Cannula to help a choking patient. Also contributed to the foundation of Unani (Greek-Arab) Medicine system.


Avicenna is awesome, the equivalent of the greatest of the ancient Greeks. His name comes up these days mostly courtesy alternative medicine woo pushers, which is way worse than he deserves.


For some reason, this guy never gets any love.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_al-Shatir


Yes, I know of him due to Tusi Couple, which I briefly read about when I was going through Copernicus's work.


Oldie but goodie: http://people.sc.fsu.edu/~dduke/models.htm

The Tusi couple is like halfway down and the link right above it allows you to compare and contrast models.


Interesting coincidence (?)...right now (6 PM PDT), "History 2" channel is showing season 3, episode 2 of "Ancient Discoveries", "Machines of the East": "Examining the inventions of Arab engineer Al-Jazari, who lived in what is now modern Turkey in the 13th century, whose designs included a water clock and a variety of geared mechanisms".


Ibn Tufail the writer of "Hayy ibn Yaqdhan", the first Arabic novel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayy_ibn_Yaqdhan

"Hayy ibn Yaqdhan had a significant influence on Arabic literature, Persian literature, and European literature, and went on to become an influential best-seller throughout Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work also had a "profound influence" on both Islamic philosophy and modern Western philosophy. It became "one of the most important books that heralded the Scientific Revolution" and European Enlightenment, and the thoughts expressed in the novel can be found "in different variations and to different degrees in the books of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant."George Sarton considered the novel "one of the most original books of the Middle Ages."


The medieval polymaths were a fascinating bunch! Hildegard of Bingen[1] was a contemporary of al-Jazari, and one of the most influential European women of the late Middles Ages.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church[2] – a title given by the Catholic Church to only 35 people over the past 2,000 years!

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildegard_of_Bingen

[&] http://www.hildegard-society.org/p/academic-sources.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_the_Church


But I don't see that she did any engineering, which is why al-Jazari is potentially interesting.

Regarding al-Jazari, the question is only how significant he really was, compared to the centuries older Greek engineers like those that produced, for example, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism


Importance is a matter of influence, I suppose. I'm sure there have been repeat discoveries in the past which have been lost to the ages due to a variety of factors. The ones that remained a part of stable civilizations are the ones we remember.


I am however suggesting that the Arabs and Turks haven't actually reinvented the art of engineering which was known in the antique times as they obviously invaded the exact places where that art was already present and that there must be some of them that found that art interesting who are the ones who preserved it in the times of religious fanaticism and destruction.


Another interesting Arab from that general period is Ahmad al-Tifashi [1]. He was a poet, writer, and anthologist, mainly known for his anthology "Promenade of the Hearts" of poetry, jokes, and anecdotes of an erotic nature or about sexual practices.

An English translation of the gay chapters is available: "The Delight of Hearts: Or What You Will Not Find in Any Book" [2]. I've got it, and it is an amusing, entertaining, and eye-opening read.

For a very very long time, I've had a little puzzle on my website. Someone is caught with the following items:

   1. A large needle and thread
   2. A roll of paper
   3. Three small pebbles
   4. A small bag of fine-grained dust
   5. A small empty waterskin
   6. A pair of scissors
   7. A canteen full of cream
   8. A fur cap
   9. A purse full of counterfeit coins
   10. A raw egg
What are they planning?

For the first time, I will give a hint: the answer is in "The Delight of Hearts".

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_al-Tifashi

[2] http://www.amazon.com/The-Delight-Hearts-What-Will/dp/094056...


In the same vein, Abu Nuwas did a lot more than clown around for Harun al-Rashid in the Arabian Nights

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Nuwas


Interesting, thanks for posting. I new about semi-automatons created for the Turkish rulers for entertainment but not about Al Jazari.

I would like to add that the Persian, Arab and Turkish empires benefited greatly from Chinese, Indian, Roman and Greek math, technology and science that had been developed much earlier. This frequently gets glossed over or completely ignored.


I wouldn't say it gets completely ignored. Pretty much everything I read about the subjects mentions how the Muslims translated into Arabic, expanded upon, corrected and were influenced by the work of earlier cultures.



Why does it lead by describing him as a Muslim? I don't see anything else in the article that refers to that - he's not noted as a Imam or a Koran scholar or anything similar. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply say he was from an area that today is Turkey?


Not sure what Turkey has to do with him. But it makes sense to attribute someone to country/empire at the time he lived in. Which is the Islamic Empire. So saying he was Muslim, is as much as saying a scientist today residing in the US is American.

Contrary to popular western belief, Islam is one of the main enablers for these great scientists... as many were "influenced by the Quranic injunctions and hadiths, such as "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr," that stressed the value of knowledge.'" But more than that, is the amount of government funding and salaries these guys would get (in some cases, what would amount to today's pro athletes'). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age


I think it's using 'Muslim' as an ethnicity, which is of course incorrect. This would explain why his religious stuff isn't noted anywhere else. I encourage you to amend the article :-)


There is a 13min video with Sir Ben Kingsley as Al-Jazari on Youtube "1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZDe9DCx7Wk


By this point, most threads on anything vaguely arab have descended into flame wars and what not. I can't believe Hacker News has managed to keep the discussion (over 87%) civil. I am in awe.


I remember learning all about Al Jazari (and all of the other Muslim scientists, philosophers and doctors at that time) back in primary school. As an Arab I can't help but feel both proud, of such achievements, and yet so sad, because of the state of decline the Islamic contribution to the scientific advancement has known.


I was reading Why Nations Fail, recently, and came across a similar sentiment:

> While the Egyptians were building the great pyramids of Giza around 2500 BC, the English constructed their most famous ancient monument, the stone circle at Stonehenge. Not bad by English standards, but not even large enough to have housed one of the ceremonial boats buried at the foot of King Khufu’s pyramid. England continued to lag behind and to borrow from the Middle East and the rest of Europe up to and including the Roman period.

So, the Great Pyramid of Giza: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pyramid_of_Giza, versus Stonehenge: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge.

Now it's completely different. The Middle East (largely), is far behind western civilization. What's happened since then? It's hard to comprehend how quickly nations and cultures can fall, as well how quickly they can rise.

The y-intercept generally doesn't matter. The slope does.

This reminds me of pg's Black Swan Farming: http://www.paulgraham.com/swan.html. Black swans (e.g. Gutenburg's printing press) are the driving force for advancement in society. Since black swans beget more black swans (since one black swan in a certain society -> society supporting more of them), the effect is cumulative, and societies can rise and fall quickly. What does that mean today? Will Africa have their own black swans? Will South America?


You can only connect the dots looking backward. How do we know that our society won't be viewed 500 years from now the same way we view the Roman empire or Egyptian kingdom?


I don't think it's entirely true that you can only connect the dots looking backward... certainly it is an order of magnitude more difficult to be objective about ones own time, but it can be done if approached correctly. For instance, we can look back at the past and realize that choices were made in certain situations that were flat out in opposition to reality, and in such a way that the people of the time KNEW (or had the tools to know) that it was the wrong choice. Looking at present society through this kind of lens, ignoring social convention and analyzing things objectively, is, I think, helpful. For instance, it would not surprise me if within 100 years our current culture is looked down upon for being extremely oppressive and prejudiced against adolescents, harming them tremendously by denigrating them during a very formative period of their lives. It follows the pattern of every form of prejudice we have overthrown in the past. We view ourselves as superior, construct very poor scientific arguments for that superiority, and go about enacting great oppression, controlling the group 'for their own good' while expecting the worst of them (humans react poorly to oppression, so this expectation will be met).

Similarly, it is very likely that we will find many of the general ideas we have about sexuality will be shown to be very destructive and unhealthy. Our research already shows that increasing sexual activity by any amount results in real measurable health benefits. And history can show us that we exist in the most non-sexually-active period in human history. We'll certainly correct that at some point, history pretty much guarantees it. Wherever our society is a freakish unique outlier on something as basic as that, I think it's safe to expect it to be shown to be folly later.


Would that be a bad thing? Unless you're referring to the current 'golden age' ending, wouldn't it be a good thing if modern day achievements are still that well regarded 5 centuries from now?

(I suppose you could say that the current phase of western civilization falling, eventually, would be a bad thing. But isn't it inevitable that any single civilization will end, eventually?)


Once we replace "Islamic contribution" with "Arab contribution", we will move forward.


This isn't a very fair or accurate statement given that many of the greatest scholars of Islam weren't Arab (a large number were Persian for example). There were multiple centres of scientific endeavor throughout Islamic history including (but not limited to) Baghdad, Damascus, Al-Andalus (i.e. Islamic Spain) and Africa.

Much of the Islamic scholarship at the time revolved around gaining a greater understanding of the creation of God as a means to draw nearer to God.

In addition a lot of scholars in the major Islamic centres weren't even Muslim. For example, the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula (welcomed by the local Jewish population) ushered in a Jewish Golden Age which produced Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the time.


Right, a Muslim scholar in Persia could be seen as a Persian scholar or a Muslim scholar. However, Arabs often end up looking at their contributions as Islamic Contributions, or rather Arab-Islamic dismissing non-Muslim Arabs. To your point, there were many non-Muslim Arab scholars.


My point isn't that there are many non-Muslim Arab scholars, it's that a lot of the greatest Muslim scholars at the time weren't actually of Arab origin. e.g. Ibn Sina and Al-Ghazali were both of Persian origin (although the lingua franca was Arabic).

Islam was the catalyst of change in the 7th century, I don't see how that could be denied. Yes, it was predominately Arabs that brought it outside the Peninsula but the scholarly achievements weren't Arab achievements, because, again, many of the scholars weren't Arabs. Heck, the most important book in Sunni Islam after the Qur'an was compiled by al-Bukhari, a non-Arab from Bukhara in modern-day Afghanistan.

If you look into it, Islamic scholarship didn't really kick off until the Abbasid Dynasty was established. Non-Arabs played a large role in allowing the Abbasids to come into power in the first place.

The jizya (tax on non-Muslims) was a higher fee than the zakat (religious tax on Muslims). As more and more non-Arabs started to embrace Islam, the Umayyads were getting less and less tax revenue because the new Muslims were playing zakat instead of jizya.

As such, they stated (against the laws of Islam) that non-Arab converts to Islam still need to pay the same amount as they were paying before they embraced Islam. Naturally, this led to a lot of resentment amongst the new non-Arab Muslims who would later support the Abbasid rebellion against the Umayyads.

The Abbasids would go on to employ many non-Arabs, especially Persians, into high positions in government.


"As such, they stated (against the laws of Islam) that non-Arab converts to Islam still need to pay the same amount as they were paying before they embraced Islam. Naturally, this led to a lot of resentment amongst the new non-Arab Muslims who would later support the Abbasid rebellion against the Umayyads."

First the Jizya was not a Tax payed because they weren't Muslims. It was payed for everyone who didn't participate in Islamic military. Think of it like a Latino living in the US and paying a fee (passport fees, green card fees..etc) for not participating in US military. Non-Muslim benefited from the same as Muslims in terms of public social help. Secondly, Zakat can be sometimes higher than the Tax paid by non-Muslims. Depending on how much you own.


The jizya was payable by non-Muslims dhimmis living in an Islamic state. I don't know of any requirements that had to do with participating in the military, as there were non-Muslims citizens who fought alongside the Muslims (e.g. Christians battling in the Ottoman armies). The only thing I've heard is that the jizya is to refunded if the Muslims fail to defend the non-Muslims paying jizya if they're attacked. Not sure how accurate that is though.


*Bukhara is in modern-day Uzbekistan


Maimonides was Jewish.


Sorry, typo. Had meant to write Jewish. That was sorta the point of the sentence. :)


That is not true. Can you give me the name of a scientist before Islam?


Any of the ones living in pre-islamic Egypt/Babylon/Sumeria/Persia? Unless you don't believe the Egyptians/Babylonians/Sumerians/Persians were scientists and their innovations required no science or mathematics.


They weren't Arabs...


Arab can be a very generic and overly used term in many conversations. Please define who you think are Arabs.

Also the link this whole thread is about on wikipedia is about a Scientist from Turkey, not Arabia.

> "Badi'al-Zaman Abū al-'Izz ibn Ismā'īl ibn al-Razāz al-Jazarī (1136–1206) (Arabic: بديع الزمان أَبُو اَلْعِزِ بْنُ إسْماعِيلِ بْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري‎) was a Muslim polymath: a scholar, inventor, mechanical engineer, craftsman, artist, and mathematician from Jazirat ibn Umar (current Cizre, Turkey), who lived during the Islamic Golden Age (Middle Ages)."


Arab is not really generic. It is an ethnicity. An Arab does to have to be living in Arabia. Cizre at that time, was inhabited by Arabs. Al Jazari was an Arab, living in Cizre (Jazeera Ibn Amr in Arabic). It happens that this city today is a Turkish city.


> It is an ethnicity.

I'm aware that it is, but many people seem to like to use it for an (incorrect) generalization.


Cizre is in modern-day Turkey very close to the current borders of both Iraq and Syria. A person born at that time and in that region could be from a multitude of different races.


You know what, it is. Also, Mohammad was a misogynist pedophile warlord. Ideas from medieval ages have no place in the 21st century.

(Down-votes from PC folks welcome)


"Please don't bait other users by inviting them to downmod you."

"Please avoid introducing classic flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say about them."

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

(Interesting that your only other comment on this profile was a suggestion to someone else to read the guidelines.)


Interesting that his only other comment on that profile was also a reply to a comment of mine.


I'm pretty sure we still find plenty of use in the ideas much older than that... Do we not still teach the ideas of Pythagoras et al?

I'm pretty sure what you're trying to say is religion has no place in the 21st century.

Also fun fact, the early days of Islam saw huge steps forward for women's rights, more so than pretty much any other culture at the time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_feminism#Early_reforms_...). I'm curious why you Mohammed was a misogynist and what that has to do with Islam?


What a hateful comment. How can one judge a man who lived in the 7th century by today's standards?! Objectively speaking, a warlord he might have been but a misogynist and a pedophile surely he wasn't.


Because he is the perfect example to follow for all humans according to Muslims?

He definitely was a misogynist and a pedophile according to Islamic texts. Would you like some links?


Please stop.


I await your similar frenzied expose of Richard the Lionheart with bated breath....


So was every single religious figure..


my brother, that is a bit out of context. Don't be sad about it. Success passes on to those, who work hard for the greater cause. One should have rivals, but no enemies ;)


great




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