From Ibn Al-Haytham to Kepler:
The Contribution of Medieval Arabic Science to Optics

Prof. Anne Davenport

The direct transmission from Ibn al-Haytham, who dramatically advanced optics in Xth century Egypt, to Kepler and Descartes, vividly illustrates the propensity of scientists to communicate across spatial, temporal and linguistic borders. I will first discuss the importance of Ibn al-Haytham's work for Kepler's landmark discovery that the eye is a lens and Descartes's discovery of the law of refraction. I will then raise the idea that mathematicians have long formed a distinctive community and culture, characterized by a special sense of camaraderie and transcending, to a remarkable extent, the vicissitudes of human strife. Finally, I will point out that, because of Euclid, Ptolemy, Apollonius and Archimedes, Alexandria deserves special recognition as the symbolic cradle of this fraternal and irenic culture.