The discovery that life evolves to fit it’s environment in the East and the West. (Source: informationisbeautiful.net)
In the West, we tend to suppose that all of the best scientific discoveries happened in Europe or North America. This is inaccurate, for while Europe was in the dark ages the Islamic Caliphates were enjoying a golden age of scientific progress, cultural achievements, and economic growth.This golden age lasted almost 700 years and influenced every field of scientific discovery. It was promoted by lots of funding for the arts and sciences and refinements in the scientific method combined with better communications between distant scientists.
The golden age ended after the destruction of Bagdad by the Mongols and a general turning of interest away from science between the 13th and 14th centuries. Right as the Islamic Golden Age ended, the Renaissance began in Europe. With the help of Greek and Roman texts the Islamic world preserved, Europe would ultimately reach the heights of Arabian science and later surpass it.
It didn’t happen overnight though, here are ten things the Islamic world discovered first and how long it took the West to figure it out afterward. Many dates and details are taken from this infographic at informationisbeautiful.net.
The Heliocentric Model
Attempts to explain solar eclipses prompted the first heliocentric models. (Getty Images)
While the Ancient Greeks knew the Earth went around the sun, the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe came to prominence during the Roman Empire. This worldview was dominant until the 17th century.
However, during the golden age, several Arabic astronomers began to suggest that the sun was the center of the solar system. In the early 11th century the Iranian Al-Sijzi argued that the Earth rotated on its axis and his contemporary Alhazen wrote a book criticizing parts of the Ptolemaic view of the universe.
It wasn’t until 1453 that Copernicus made the same suggestion in Europe, using a model of planetary motion that was similar to one that the Islamic world had already developed.
In 813 a Persian mathematician named Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was the first Islamic scholar to use Hindu numerals in his work, including zero. He also explained that a person should put a zero in places with no value, such as the tens place in the number 101, to “keep the rows.” Given how cumbersome previous methods of expressing zero were in Arabic, this was a huge step forward for mathematics.
It was another 150 years before Europe used what we now call Arabic numerals. They first appeared in Codex Vigilanus, a collection of Church documents. However, the zero was not included. Getting a number to represent nothing, a major conceptual issue for many mathematicians of the day, would take a few centuries more.