Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Abū Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī (Arabic: أبو يوسف يعقوب إبن إسحاق الكندي‎) (c. 801–873 CE), also known to the West by the Latinized version of his name Alkindus, was an Arab Iraqi polymath: an Islamic philosopher, scientist, astrologer, astronomer, cosmologist, chemist, logician, mathematician, musician, physician, physicist, psychologist, and meteorologist. Al-Kindi was the first of the Muslim Peripatetic philosophers, and is known for his efforts to introduce Greek and Hellenistic philosophy to the Arab world, and as a pioneer in chemistry, cryptography, medicine, music theory, physics, psychology, and the philosophy of science.
Al-Kindi was a descendant of the Kinda tribe which is a well known Arabic tribe native of Najd (present day Saudi Arabia). He was born and educated in Kufa, before pursuing further studies in Baghdad. Al-Kindi became a prominent figure in the House of Wisdom, and a number of Abbasid Caliphs appointed him to oversee the translation of Greek scientific and philosophical texts into the Arabic language. This contact with "the philosophy of the ancients" (as Greek and Hellenistic philosophy was often referred to by Muslim scholars) had a profound effect on his intellectual development, and led him to write original treatises on subjects ranging from Islamic ethics and metaphysics to Islamic mathematics and pharmacology.

In mathematics, al-Kindi played an important role in introducing Indian numerals to the Islamic and Christian world. He was a pioneer in cryptanalysis and cryptology, and devised new methods of breaking ciphers, including the frequency analysis method. Using his mathematical and medical expertise, he developed a scale to allow doctors to quantify the potency of their medication. He also experimented with music therapy.
The central theme underpinning al-Kindi's philosophical writings is the compatibility between philosophy and other orthodox Islamic sciences, particularly theology.

Al-Kindi was a master of many different areas of thought. Although he would eventually be eclipsed by names such as al-Farabi and Avicenna, he was held to be one of the greatest Islamic philosophers of his time. The historian Ibn al-Nadim (d. 955), described him as:
The best man of his time, unique in his knowledge of all the ancient sciences. He is called the Philosopher of the Arabs. His books deal with different sciences, such as logic, philosophy, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy etc. We have connected him with the natural philosophers because of his prominence in Science.
The Italian Renaissance scholar Gerolamo Cardano (1501–1575) considered him one of the twelve greatest minds of the Middle Ages. According to Ibn al-Nadim, al-Kindi wrote at least two hundred and sixty books, contributing heavily to geometry (thirty-two books), medicine and philosophy (twenty-two books each), logic (nine books), and physics (twelve books). His influence in the fields of physics, mathematics, medicine, philosophy and music were far-reaching and lasted for several centuries. Although most of his books have been lost over the centuries, a few have survived in the form of Latin translations by Gerard of Cremona, and others have been rediscovered in Arabic manuscripts; most importantly, twenty-four of his lost works were located in the mid-twentieth century in a Turkish library. The Theology of Aristotle, a paraphrase of parts of Plotinus' Six Enneads along with Porphyry's commentary, seems to have been edited by Al-Kindi.

As an Islamic psychologist, al-Kindi was a pioneer in experimental psychology. He was the first to use the method of experiment in psychology, which led to his discovery that sensation is proportionate to the stimulus. He was also the earliest to realize the therapeutic value of music and attempted to cure a quadriplegic boy using music therapy.
He also dealt with psychology in several other treatises: On Sleep and Dreams (a treatise on dream interpretation), First Philosophy, and Eradication of Sorrow. In the latter, he described sorrow as "a spiritual (Nafsani) grief caused by loss of loved ones or personal belongings, or by failure in obtaining what one lusts after" and then added: "If causes of pain are discernible, the cures can be found." He recommended that "if we do not tolerate losing or dislike being deprived of what is dear to us, then we should seek after riches in the world of the intellect. In it we should treasure our precious and cherished gains where they can never be dispossessed...for that which is owned by our senses could easily be taken away from us." He also stated that "sorrow is not within us we bring it upon ourselves." He developed cognitive methods to combat depression and discussed the intellectual operations of human beings .

Cryptography and mathematics
Al-Kindi was a pioneer in cryptography, especially cryptanalysis. He gave the first known recorded explanation of cryptanalysis in A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages. In particular, he is credited with developing the frequency analysis method whereby variations in the frequency of the occurrence of letters could be analyzed and exploited to break ciphers (i.e. cryptanalysis by frequency analysis). This was detailed in a text recently rediscovered in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul, A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages, which also covers methods of cryptanalysis, encipherments, cryptanalysis of certain encipherments, and statistical analysis of letters and letter combinations in Arabic. Al-Kindi also had knowledge of polyalphabetic ciphers centuries before Leon Battista Alberti. Al-Kindi's book also introduced the classification of ciphers, developed Arabic phonetics and syntax, and described the use of several statistical techniques for cryptoanalysis. This book apparently antedates other cryptology references by several centuries, and it also predates writings on probability and statistics by Pascal and Fermat by nearly eight centuries.
Al-Kindi authored works on a number of other important mathematical subjects, including arithmetic, geometry, the Indian numbers, the harmony of numbers, lines and multiplication with numbers, relative quantities, measuring proportion and time, and numerical procedures and cancellation. He also wrote four volumes, On the Use of the Indian Numerals (Ketab fi Isti'mal al-'Adad al-Hindi) which contributed greatly to diffusion of the Indian system of numeration in the Middle East and the West. In geometry, among other works, he wrote on the theory of parallels. Also related to geometry were two works on optics. One of the ways in which he made use of mathematics as a philosopher was to attempt to disprove the eternity of the world by demonstrating that actual infinity is a mathematical and logical absurdity.
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