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Within a few centuries after the life of the 6th-century prophet Muhammad, the Muslim empire extended over an area greater than the Roman Empire at its furthest extent. While Europe wallowed in intellectual self-desecration, the Islamic world kindled the candle of knowledge with advances in science, mathematics, and medicine. Arabic philosophers attempted to reconcile selective teachings of their Greek and Roman counterparts with Islam.
The knowledge of anything, since all things have causes, is not acquired or complete unless it is known by its causes. ~ Avicenna
Avicenna (980–1037) was a child prodigy. He had memorized the Koran by the time he was 10. In his adolescence Avicenna absorbed Aristotle’s Metaphysics. By the time he was 20 Avicenna was considered one of the best Arabic physicians.
Avicenna authored books on numerous subjects, including medicine, mathematics, logic, astronomy, Muslim theology, philosophy, and linguistics. His medical book The Canon was employed in European universities for over 5 centuries.
In addition to the 5 external senses, Avicenna postulated an ascending hierarchy of 7 “interior senses”: 1) sensory synthesis (common sense): making sense of the external senses (perception); 2) memory of sensory synthesis; 3) compositive animal imagination: via memory and generalization, learning what to avoid and what is desirable; 4) human imagination: creativity, such as imagining the fantastic (for example, unicorns); 5) estimation: the innate ability to make judgments about objects; 6) the ability to remember previous outcomes; and 7) the ability to apply the memory of experiences.
Avicenna’s hierarchy of internal senses was an elaboration of Aristotle’s 3: common sense, memory, and imagination.
Avicenna departed from Aristotle in his take on active intellect. Aristotle took active intellect to be understanding universal principles that could be ascertained via empirical observation. This was Aristotle’s ersatz version of Platonic forms. For Avicenna, the active intellect had immaterial abilities: to comprehend the cosmic plan and enter into an abiding relationship with unitary reality – such was the ultimate attainment of the intellect. In this Avicenna espoused the wisdom of sages since time immemorial.