1. Ibn Sina’s history, theory, material medica
Moderator: Dr. Johannes Mayer (Würzburg, Germany)
Ibn Sina achieved the first ever systematic survey of medicine in history, laid down in his “al-Qanun fi al-tibb” or “Canon medicinae”, as the Latin translation from the 12th century is called. This survey is based on the writings of Galen of Pergamon (died around AD 200), the most important ancient author of medical treatises besides Hippocrates. Galen had tried to create a didactic synthesis of the different medical schools in Greece, but failed to achieve a complete survey of Internal Medicine.
At the beginning of the “Qanun”, Ibn Sina defines medicine as the branch of science dealing with the composition and disposition of the human body, or, as he calls it, the perception of complexions. It is not restricted to theoretical observation; its practical part is curing and avoiding diseases. So Ibn Sina’s theory of medicine comprises theoretical knowledge – the afore-mentioned perception of complexions – and practical activity – the administration of cures in case of illness.
Health and illness respectively are based on four groups of conditions: 1. material conditions: the organs and fluids of the body; 2. external conditions: the quality of the air, nutrition, drink, climate etc.; 3. the so-called “shaping” conditions: the complexions themselves, consisting of a specified mixture of the four elements; 4. the so-called “useful” conditions: the “spirits of life”. Up to the 19th century the idea prevailed that organic functions necessarily have a spiritual component.
Therefore, the complexity of the human body is of central importance for health and illness. It results from the qualities of the four elements fire, air, water and earth: warmth, coldness, humidity and aridity respectively.
The ideal condition of the body is achieved by maintaining the qualities in a state of perfect balance and harmony. However, this ideal condition does not occur in reality. One part of the contrary pairs of warm/cold and humid/arid always dominates. Every people, every individual and every organ have their own complexion. The complexion also changes in the different stages of life. Getting old is understood to be a process of drying out, together with gradually losing strength. According to Ibn Sina the dynamics of dissolution eventually prevail, with humidity and warmth getting more and more reduced.
Dealing with the treatment of the four body fluids blood (sanguis), mucus (phlegma), yellow bile (colera) and black bile (melancolia), Ibn Sina does not only describe the functions of metabolism, he also takes a look at the causes of disease. He leaves the medieval conception of illness as a result of extreme domination of one of the body fluids far behind him, declaring that all body fluids are integral parts of the blood without any pathological quality. Only if a body fluid is not used in the process of metabolism for a certain time, a pathological quality can develop, for example by getting viscous, or rotten, or burnt. Ibn Sina specifies eight different pathological conditions of phlegma: raw, watery, and limy (causing irritations in the joints), salty, thin, acetic, piercing, and glassy. He deals with different conditions of yellow and black bile, too. By means of these sub-classifications, Ibn Sina achieved a much more refined diagnosis than the usual scheme of humoral pathology.
The body fluids can also be influenced by mental conditions and perceptions of the senses.
So Ibn Sina was one of the first to integrate psychological aspects in theoretical and practical medicine.
Ibn Sina’s al-Qanun fi al-tibb is arguably the most significant encyclopedia on medicine in medieval Islamic times. The work is firmly rooted in the medical tradition of its time, and the author relied heavily on the medical authorities from the past. Translated into Latin as early as the 12th century, the Qanun became the most popular reference text in the medical schools of medieval Europe and continued to wield wide influence until the 16th century.
2. Cosmos, soul and body – Healing in the context of Ibn Sina’s philosophy
Moderator: Dr. Detlev Quintern (Istanbul, Turkey)
Ibn Sina embedded natural sciences and in particular medicine meta-theoretically. The Qanun fi al-tibb and Ibn Sina’s comprehension of healing in general, including his approach to psychological therapy, are inextricably entwined with his philosophy. Ibn Sina’s ontology and epistemology follow the immortal and incorruptible soul, which unfolds natural bodies, be it plant (reproductive soul), animal (sensitive soul) or human, self-reflecting and imaginative consciousness (intelligent soul) towards the unity of life. Thus, to be in harmony with the constructiveness of communicative unity, ways of healing have to overcome dualistic approaches, e.g. man/nature. As healthiness is not to be seen “beyond soul”, Ibn Sina’s approach towards the dimensions of healing is of significant actuality.
Ibn Sina’s philosophy has enjoyed a long tradition of reception and critical debate. With the early translations from the twelfth century onwards, his cosmology, ontology and epistemology found also their way into European scholastic and/or mystic schools. In this context the œuvre of Ibn Sina is exceptionally suited for bridging cultures and time, strengthening endeavors for peace.
Book 2 and Book 5 of al-Qanun fi al-tibb describe over 700 simple drugs and compound medicines of plant, animal and mineral origin with their medicinal properties and instructions for their preparation. 1000 years ago, Ibn Sina gave examples of concepts like evidence based medicine, experimental medicine, clinical trials, efficacy tests, risk factor analysis, inductive logic (syndrome concept in diagnosis), dietary supplements, etc.
3. Potentials of the Qanun: Contemporary applications
Moderator: Dr. Amina Ather (Bangalore, India and Castrop-Rauxel, Germany)
Ibn Sina says: “The wellbeing of the whole person – emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally – is necessary for the believer to participate fully in life, fulfilling his or her duty towards a better society.” His approach to healing is a universalistic one that considers body and mind as a unit. In South Asian countries, Ibn Sina’s medicine has been gradually transformed into herbal medicine, and today an increasing number of patients prefer herbal substances over chemical-synthetic products, especially in complementary and alternative medicine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations recognize the significance of herbal medicine for the treatment of both physical and mental illness, especially in developing countries.
What was involved in the transformation process of Ibn Sina medicine as described in his Al-Qanun fi al-tibb, into today’s practices of herbal medicine? How do these practices work, what are the links with Ibn Sina, and who are the practitioners? Who are the main groups of patients that respond well to herbal medicine?
Saturday, June 22nd
Garden design in the historical Gülhane Park
Murat Çekin (İstanbul, Turkey)
On Saturday, the 22nd, a medicinal botanic garden, based on the materia medica of the Qanun fi al-tibb, will be exhibited in Istanbul’s Gülhane Park (Rosegarden). Linked to a long tradition which florished around the Ottoman palace (Topkapı Palace) for centuries, the Ibn Sina garden project aims to sensitise for current medicinal potentials of the materia medica described in the Qanun and to visualise the philosophy and medical theory inside the garden. As Ibn Sina classified the plants according to their qualities (hot, cold, dry and wet) in analogy with the four elements (fire, air, earth and water), the garden will have a corresponding lay-out. For instance, plants classified as ‘hot’ will be planted in one section. Corresponding to the four rivers of Paradise described in the Koran, the element water, the basis of life, will spread over four channels that form the main arteries of the garden. At the same time the channels function as irrigation channels. In a tea house, teas and tea mixtures from plants that are cultivated in the garden will be offered. Here the visitor will also have the opportunity to learn more about the herbs, their medicinal properties and their effects on the human body. The garden will thus invite people to enjoy spending time while offering a learning experience.