Avicenna and Ibn Tufayl on the emergence of the mind

Gül RUSSELL
Texas A&M University Health Science Center, College Station, Texas, USA


The principle of associative learning was first introduced by Ibn Sina (Avicenna; d. 1039) in Book VI of the Kitab al-Shifa (there is for example, no Artistotelan foundation). It was further developed in a unique narrative (Hayy ibn Uyakzan) by Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185).

Ibn Tufayl’s work provides a graphic exposition as well as an explanation of the emergence and development of the mind of a child (initially cast up on a desert island as a baby and fostered by a gazelle), solely by sensory experience, association, and reasoning, without innate ideas. It will be argued that Ibn Tufayl’s explanation is based on his creation of a coherent synthesis out of Avicenna’s psychological theories from three distinct areas.

The significance of Ibn Tufayl’s work is enhanced by the evidence both for John Locke’s familiarity with its Latin translation (the Philosophus autodidactus, Oxford, 1671), and for its importance as a major source for Locke’s early ‘drafts’ of the Essay on Human Understanding, also in 1671. (Russell, 1994: 2002).

A proper historical perspective on the evolution of the concept of "associative learning" will need to take into account Ibn Tufayl’s work along with Locke’s Essay.

*Russell, G.A., “The Impact of the Philosophus autodidactus: John Locke, the Pocockes, and the Society of Friends” in The ‘Arabick’ Interest of the Natural Philosphers in Seventeenth-Century England, G.A. Russell, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1995), pp.224-266.

Russell, G.A., “An Arabic Source for Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding: New Evidence” in the Abstract book, 38th International Congress on the History of Medicine (1-6 September, 2002), p. 329; also in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Basic and Cliical Perspectives, Vol. 11, No. 4, December 2002, p.414.


Session I -- The Developing Brain and Its Harmony
Sunday, 27 June 2004, 8:35 am

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada