Book of Ingenious Devices

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pages: 322 words: 88,197

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson


Ada Lovelace, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Book of Ingenious Devices, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, colonial exploitation, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Drosophila, Fellow of the Royal Society, game design, global village, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, HyperCard, invention of air conditioning, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Landlord's Game, lone genius, megacity, Minecraft, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres, Necker cube, New Urbanism, Oculus Rift, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, pattern recognition,, placebo effect, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Oldenburg, spice trade, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, talking drums, the built environment, The Great Good Place, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, Victor Gruen, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, Whole Earth Catalog, working poor, Wunderkammern

In the first years of the House of Wisdom, al-Manum commissioned three talented brothers, now known as the Banu Musa, to write a book describing classical engineering designs inherited from the Greeks. As the project evolved, the Banu Musa expanded their brief to include their own designs, showcasing the advances in mechanics and hydraulics that surrounded them in Baghdad’s flourishing intellectual culture. The work they eventually published, The Book of Ingenious Devices, now reads like a prophesy of future engineering tools: crankshafts, twin-cylinder pumps with suction, conical valves employed as “in-line” components—mechanical parts centuries ahead of their time, all represented in detailed schematics. Two centuries later, the Banu Musa’s work inspired an even more astonishing project, written and illustrated by the Islamic engineer al-Jazari, The Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanisms.

Float valves that prefigure the design of modern toilets, flow regulators that would eventually be used in hydroelectric dams and internal combustion engines, water clocks more accurate than anything Europe would see for four hundred years. The two books contain some of the earliest sketches of technology that would become essential components in the industrial age, enabling everything from assembly-line robots to thermostats to steam engines to the control of jet airplanes. Pages from the Banu Musa’s The Book of Ingenious Devices These two books of “ingenious” machines deserve a prominent place in the canon of engineering history, in part as a corrective to the too-frequent assumption that Europeans single-handedly invented most modern technology. But there is something else about these two books that doesn’t quite fit the standard account of groundbreaking scientific work, something that is immediately visible to the nonengineer flipping through their pages.

The question of why the Homo sapiens brain possesses this strange hankering for play and surprise is a fascinating one, and I will return to it in the final pages of this book. But for now, we need to establish just how far those playful explorations took us. The bone flutes must have sounded enchanting to the early humans of the Upper Paleolithic. But they were just the beginning. — The Banu Musa—those brilliant toy designers from the Islamic golden age—earned a permanent place in the pantheon of engineering and robotics with their Book of Ingenious Devices. And yet the brothers omitted from that collection what may have been their most ingenious device of all, a machine that would introduce one of the most important concepts of the digital age more than a thousand years before the first computers were built. Evidence of their design lies in a separate treatise, transcribed by a scholar in the twelfth century and discovered a hundred years ago in a library at Three Moons College in Syria.


pages: 467 words: 114,570

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science by Jim Al-Khalili


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, Book of Ingenious Devices, colonial rule, Commentariolus, Dmitri Mendeleev, Eratosthenes, Henri Poincaré, invention of the printing press, invention of the telescope, invention of the wheel, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Joseph Schumpeter, retrograde motion, Silicon Valley, Simon Singh, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, trade route, William of Occam

Indeed, his book Astral Motion and the Force of Attraction shows clear signs that he had a crude qualitative notion not so far from Newton’s law of gravitation.11 But the brothers are probably best known for their wonderful inventions and engineering projects. Two of them, Muhammad and Ahmed, were put in charge of canal projects to provide water for the still growing cities of Baghdad and Sāmarra to its north. Most famous of all was their Book of Ingenious Devices (Kitab al-Hiyāl), published in 850. This was a large illustrated work on mechanical devices that included automata, puzzles and magic tricks as well as what we would today refer to as ‘executive toys’. Many involved complicated water devices making use of clever valves and levers that remind me of the sort of imaginative contraptions devised by the American cartoonist Rube Goldberg (and, certainly for those of my generation, most likely to have been encountered in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, in which the villain, the Hooded Claw, always insisted on trying to kill the heroine through some highly complex series of mechanical steps).

Diagram of a solar eclipse from an eleventh-century manuscript of al-Karkhi (also known as al-Karaji) 24. The little-known location of Ibn al-Shātir’s sundial on an outside ledge of one of the minarets of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. 25. A map from the Book of Routes and Provinces, composed by Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Istakhri, showing Iraq, the Tigris river, Kufa, Baghdad and Persian Gulf. 26. The Banū Mūsa brothers’ self-trimming lamp, as described in their Book of Ingenious Devices. 27. The famous Elephant Clock of al-Jazari. 28. The inner workings of the Elephant Clock. 29. Diagram of a system for pumping water into a basin, from the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, by al-Jazari, 1206. 30. Photo of al-Birūni’s mountain from which he measured the circumference of the earth. 31. The newly opened campus of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Jeddah.

Timeline: The Islamic World from Antiquity to the Beginning of the Modern Period Index Abbāsid Empire Baghdad 3, 7–9 buildings 253–4n5 coinage 27 defeat of Umayyads 26–7, 190 downfall 13 medicine 139 origin of name 255n4 scholarship 33–4 technology 42–4 translation movement 35–48 Abd al-Malik 25–6 Abd al-Rahmān I, amir of Andalusia 27, 190 Abd al-Rahmān II, amir of Andalusia, patronage of science 191 Abd al-Rahmān III, Caliph of Andalusia 192 Abū al-Abbās 26–7 Abū Bakr 23 Abulcasis see al-Zahrāwi, Abū al-Qāsim Adelard of Bath 201, 223 Ahmed ibn Mūsa 73, 74 Albatenius see al-Battāni Albumasar see al-Balkhi, Abū Ma’shar alchemy 51, 54 al-Kindi 134 and chemistry 54–8 Umayyads 25–6 see also chemistry; Jābir ibn Hayyān; transmutation Alexander the Great 45–6 Alexandria Bibliotheca Alexandrina 69–70 Library 69, 77–8; Eratosthenes 85 Alfraganus see al-Farghāni algebra 111–15 al-Khwārizmi 73, 77, 110–13 Diophantus 113, 115–17 Ibn al-Haytham 166 rhetorical 120, 121 symbolic 121 syncopated 121 use of zero 106 algorithm 73, 102 Alhazen see Ibn al-Haytham, Abū Ali al-Hassan Alhazen’s Problem 166 Ali ibn abi Tālib 24 Ali ibn Sahl 45, 144 Allāh, in Islam 21 Almanzor see al-Mansūr, Abū Āmir Alpetragius see al-Bitrūji al-Amīn 6, 10 conflict with al-Ma’mūn and death 11–14 anaesthesia 197 Andalusia philosophy 199–201 Taifa kings 194–5 Umayyad caliphate 189–94 Andalusian Revolt 198 Apollonius of Perga, Conics 166 Arabia, cultural identity 19 Arabic language xxiv development of 19 Arabic names xxii–xxiv Arabic science xxv–xxix Archimedes, criticism of Aristarchus of Samos 207–8 Aristarchus of Samos, heliocentrism 207–8, 219–20 Aristotle Categories, translation 61 concept of zero 105 cosmology 130–31, 208–9, 212 elements 51–2, 64 History of Animals 76 introduction by al-Kindi 75–6 optics 159, 160 philosophy 129–31, 132 vision by al-Ma’mūn 16, 37 arithmetic work of Abū al-Hassan al-Uqlīdisi 107–9; The Book of Chapters on Hindu Arithmetic 107, 108 Āryabhata 100, 210, 211 Arzachel see al-Zarqāli Āshūra 24 assassins see Hashashīn Asshab al-Mumtahan see Companions of the Verified Tables astrolabe 41, 198, 255–6n9, 259n5 astrology, and translation movement 40–42 astronomy 45, 47, 80 al-Haytham 166–9, 211–12 al-Tūsi 215–16 Copernican revolution 205 first observatory 80, 81–4 importance in Islam 206 India 41, 210–11 Ptolemy 80–83, 167–8, 206–7, 210 atmosphere, height of, Ibn Mu’ādh 164–5 Avempace see Ibn Bājja Avenzoar see Ibn Zuhr Averroës see Ibn Rushd Averroism 200 Avicenna see Ibn Sīna Avicennism 181 Bab al-Sharji 3 Babylonians sexagesimal system 95–6, 99, 102 use of zero 103–6 Bacon, Francis, Novum Organum 170 Bacon, Roger 159, 162, 226 Baghdad Abbāsid Empire 3, 7–9 Abū Nou’was Street 9 Bab al-Sharji 3 construction 27–32 destruction by Mongols 136, 233 first observatory 80, 81–4 hospitals 144–5 House of Wisdom 68–78 modern wars 9 population 253n4 Round City 12, 28–32 Siege of 12 Bakhshali Manuscript 96–7 al-Balkhi, Abū Ma’shar (Albumasar) 212 al-Balkhi, mapmaker 89 Banū Mūsa brothers 73–4, 77, 82 Book of Ingenious Devices 74 persecution of al-Kindi 135 Barmaki family 5, 6, 10, 46 al-Barmaki, Ja’far 7–8, 46 execution 10, 53, 254n8 al-Battāni astronomy 206 trigonometry 163 Bayt al-Hikma see House of Wisdom Berbers 194–5 Bibliotheca Alexandrina 69–70 billiard-ball problem 166 bīmāristān 144–5 biology, work of al-Jāhith 76 al-Bīrūni, Abū Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmed 42, 172–6, 177, 181–8 The Chronology of Ancient Nations 176 circumference of the earth 184–6, 187 cosmology 183 Determination of the Coordinates of Cities 87, 102, 178, 184 earth sciences 187 The History of India 178 The Mas’ūdī Canon 177, 178, 182 mathematics 181–2 theology 184 al-Bitrūji, Abū Ishāq Nūr al-Dīn (Alpetragius) 226–7 blood circulation, Ibn al-Nafīs 235–7 bloodletting 147–8 book production 43, 62 see also printing Brahmagupta 100 algebra 115, 117 astronomy 210, 211 Siddhanta 41–2, 100 Bukhtishū family, translation movement 46 Byzantine Empire 18–19 defeat by Muslim army 23–4 war with Abbāsid Empire 5 Cairo, Dar al-Hikma 155 calculus 182 calendar 262n7 Hijri 22 Jalali 123 camera obscura 161, 264n12 cartography 88–9 censorship 250 Charlemagne, trade with al-Rashīd 4–5 chemistry and alchemy 54–8 classification 63; work of al-Rāzi 65 early 51–2 etymology 55–6 experimentation 64 industrial processes 62–3 work of Jābir ibn Hayyān 52–66 Christianity conquest of Andalusian centres 195, 225–6 and translation movement 38–9 cleanliness, ritual 142 codices 43–4 coffee 227–8 Companions of the Verified Tables 84, 86 conic sections 166, 167 conservatism, religious 232 and modern science 244–6 Copernicus, Nicolaus De revolutionibus 205, 207, 219, 220 heliocentrism 218–20, 221–2 and the Marāgha School 217–19, 218, 221–2 Córdoba Berber seige of 194 growth of science and culture 191–2 library 192, 194 Umayyad caliphate 189–90 cosine rule 238–9 cosmology al-Balkhi 212 al-Bīrūni 183 al-Kindi 133 Aristotle 129–31, 208–9, 212 counting 93–109 creation doctrine 131–2, 133 creationism, modern 245–6 cryptography, al-Kindi 133–4 Ctesiphon 18 Dar al-Hikma 155 Dar al-Khilāfa 8 Dayr Murran Observatory 83 debating see kalām decimal fractions 107–9, 238 decimal system 95, 100, 102 Descartes, René Discours de la Méthode 170 Cogito ergo sum 180 Diophantus, algebra 113, 115–17, 119–21 Ditch, battle of the 22 diwan al-Arab 19 Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem 25 duodecimal system 95 Earth, measurement of circumference 84–8, 184–6, 187 earth sciences, al-Bīrūni 187 economics, Ibn Khaldūn 237–8 Education City, Qatar 248 Egypt mathematics 98–9 medicine 140 Egyptology, al-Ma’mūn 90–92 Einstein, Albert, relativity 220–21, 239, 240 elements, fundamental 51–2, 64 Elephant Clock 228–9 emission theory 159–61 equants 210, 211, 216 equations Pell 117 quadratic 114–15, 120 quartic 166 Eratosthenes, size of the earth 85–6 ethics, medical 145, 250 Euclid Elements: translation 48, 81, 107, 117; use of quadratic equation 114, 115 emission theory 159–61 Europe arrival of Arabic science 201–3, 224–7 Dark Ages 18 scientific development 229–31 evolution, work of al-Jāhith 76 al-Fadl ibn Nawbakht, translator 71 al-Farābi, philosophy 136–7 al-Farghāni 82–3 al-Fāthl ibn Sahl 11, 14, 15 Fatimid Empire 154 al-Fazāri, translation of astronomical texts 41 Fermat, Pierre de, Last Theorem 116 Fibonacci, Leonardo 100, 113, 226 floating man thought-experiment 180 Florence, Renaissance 229–30 fractures, Ibn Sīna 179 free will, Mu’tazilites 126–7 freedom, intellectual 249 Galen 141–3 criticism of by al-Rāzi 148 emission/intromission theory 160 On the Anatomy of Nerves, translation 75 On the Anatomy of Veins and Arteries, translation 75 On the Natural Faculties, translation 75 Geber the Alchemist see Jābir ibn Hayyān; Pseudo-Geber geocentrism 182–3, 207, 208–9, 211 geography 88–9 Gerard of Cremona 113 translator 202, 223 Gerbert d’Aurillac 202, 225 al-Ghazāli contribution to decline in Islamic science 232 criticism of Ibn Sīna 181, 232 glass-making 63 Greece mathematics: number systems 105: use of zero 105 medicine 45, 46, 141–3 science and philosophy, and translation movement 38, 39, 44–5 Hadīth 38, 126 al-Hajjāj, ibn Yūsuf 48, 117 al-Hakam, Caliph of Andalusia, Córdoba library 192, 194 al-Hākim bi’amr Illāh, Caliph 154–5 Hashashīn 213–14 al-Haytham see Ibn al-Haytham heliocentrism 182–3, 207–8, 212, 218–20, 221–2 Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium 23 hieroglyphs 91–2 Hijra 22 hikma 72 Hipparchus, astronomy 208, 209 Hippocrates 141, 147 Hisham, Caliph of Andalusia 193–4 hospitals, Abbāsid Empire 144–5 House of Wisdom Baghdad 68–78; destruction by Mongols 136, 233 Cairo 155 Hūlāgū Khan 42, 214, 215 Humanism, parallel with Mu’tazilism 231 humours 142, 148 Hunayn ibn Ishāq Ten Treatises on the Eye 75 translation 46, 48, 72, 74–5, 196 Hussein, grandson of Muhammad 24 Ibn al-Haytham, Abū Ali al-Hassan 153–6, 158–71 astronomy 166–9 Book of Optics 156, 158–64, 170, 226 criticism of Ptolemy 167, 168, 211–12 moon illusion 161–2 Nile dam project 154, 155 scientific method 170–71 Ibn al-Nadīm 54 Fihrist 16; on al-Rāzi 143, 150 Ibn al-Nafīs, blood circulation 235–7 Ibn al-Shātir 217–19 Ibn Bājja (Avempace) 168, 199 Ibn Battūta 89 Ibn Firnās, Abbās 196–7 Ibn Hazm 199 Ibn Khaldūn 89, 237–8 Muqaddima 237–8 Ibn Mu’ādh height of atmosphere 164–5 Liber de crepusculis 164 Ibn Rushd, Abū al-Walīd Muhammad ibn Ahmed (Averroës) 137, 199–200 defence of Ibn Sīna 181 Ibn Sahl, optics 156–8, 162–3, 163 Ibn Sīna, Abū Ali al-Hussein ibn Abdullah (Avicenna) 137, 172–4, 176–81 Book of Healing 180 Canon of Medicine 172, 177, 179–80 floating-man thought-experiment 180 light 164 philosophy 180–81 Ibn Wahshiyya, Egyptian hieroglyphs 91–2 Ibn Yūnus, astronomy 155, 206 Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) 198 al-Idrīsi, geographer 89, 202–3 Tabula Rogeriana 203, 226 Ilkhānī Tables 215 India mathematics 41, 45, 96, 99–100, 106, 133; The Book of Chapters on Hindu Arithmetic 107, 108 medicine 140–41 Islam xxvi–xxviii beginnings 20–21 decline of science 213, 231–5 growth 21–7 and modern science xxvii–xxviii, 241–51 Sunnism v.