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  • 8/22/2009

Avicenna’s psychology


In Muslim psychology and the neurosciences, Avicenna was a pioneer of neuropsychiatry. He first described numerous neuropsychiatric conditions, including hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.

Avicenna was also a pioneer in psychophysiology and psychosomatic medicine. He recognized 'physiological psychology' in the treatment of illnesses involving emotions, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings, which is seen as an anticipation of the word association test attributed to Carl Jung. Avicenna is reported to have treated a very ill patient by ‘feeling the patient's pulse and reciting aloud to him the names of provinces, districts, towns, streets, and people.’ He noticed how the patient's pulse increased when certain names were mentioned, from which Avicenna deduced that the patient was in love with a girl whose home Avicenna was ‘able to locate by the digital examination.’ Avicenna advised the patient to marry the girl he is in love with, and the patient soon recovered from his illness after his marriage.

Avicenna's legacy in classical psychology is primarily embodied in the Kitab al-nafs parts of his Kitab al-shifa' (The Book of Healing) and Kitab al-najat (The Book of Deliverance). These were known in Latin under the title De Anima (treatises ‘on the soul’). The main thesis of these tracts is represented in his so-called ‘flying man’ argument, which resonates with what was centuries later entailed by Descartes's cogito argument (or what phenomenology designates as a form of an ‘epoche’).

In the The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna dealt with neuropsychiatry and described a number of neuropsychiatric conditions, including melancholia. He described melancholia as a depressive type of mood disorder in which the person may become suspicious and develop certain types of phobias.

Astronomy and astrology

The study of astrology was refuted by Avicenna. His reasons were both due to the methods used by astrologers being conjectural rather than empirical and also due to the views of astrologers conflicting with orthodox Islam. He also cited passages from the Quran in order to justify his refutation of astrology on both scientific and religious grounds.

In astronomy, he criticized Aristotle's view of the stars receiving their light from the Sun. Ibn Sina stated that the stars are self-luminous, and believed that the planets are also self-luminous.

 On May 24, 1032, he observed the transit of Venus. Soon after, he wrote the Compendium of the Almagest, a commentary on Ptolemy's Almagest. Avicenna concluded that Venus is closer to the Earth than the Sun. In 1070, Abu Ubayd al-Juzjani, a pupil of Ibn Sina, claimed that his teacher Ibn Sina had solved the equant problem in the Ptolemaic model.


In chemistry, the chemical process of steam distillation was first described by Ibn Sina. The technique was used to produce alcohol and essential oils; the latter was fundamental to aromatherapy. He also invented the refrigerated coil, which condenses the aromatic vapours. This was a breakthrough in distillation technology and he made use of it in his steam distillation process, which requires refrigerated tubing, to produce essential oils.

As a chemist, Avicenna was one of the first to write refutations on alchemy.

 Four of his works on the refutation of alchemy were translated into Latin as:

• Liber Aboali Abincine de Anima in arte Alchemiae

• Declaratio Lapis physici Avicennae filio sui Aboali

• Avicennae de congelatione et conglutinatione lapifum

• Avicennae ad Hasan Regem epistola de Re recta

Other links:

Who was Avicenna?

Avicenna: Short biography

Avicenna: Early life

Avicenna: Adulthood

Avicenna’s science

Avicenna’s philosophy

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