The Empire of Reason

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Episode 2 of 3

Duration: 1 hour

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries.

Al-Khalili travels to northern Syria to discover how, a thousand years ago, the great astronomer and mathematician Al-Biruni estimated the size of the earth to within a few hundred miles of the correct figure.

He discovers how medieval Islamic scholars helped turn the magical and occult practice of alchemy into modern chemistry.

In Cairo, he tells the story of the extraordinary physicist Ibn al-Haytham, who helped establish the modern science of optics and proved one of the most fundamental principles in physics - that light travels in straight lines.

Prof Al-Khalili argues that these scholars are among the first people to insist that all scientific theories are backed up by careful experimental observation, bringing a rigour to science that didn't really exist before.

  • Clip: Scientific Method

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    Physicist Jim Al-Khalili suggests that medieval Islamic scholars were the first to introduce the idea of scientific method.

Credits

Presenter
Jim Al-Khalili

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