A surprising Google Doodle has greeted users of the search engine in the UK. The image celebrates the 1038th birthday of Persian polymath Ibn Sina. For many in the West, this may be the first exposure to the polymath from the Islamic Golden Age. That’s a plus in following one of Google’s goals for dispersing information through their Doodle’s, but it has also spurred a couple of questions.
The most popular is probably who is the man honored in the Doodle? The drawing by Cynthia Yuan Cheng is meant to represent Ibn Sina and his accomplishments. In the West, this accomplished intellectual is often called Avicenna. He was born in 980 AD in a village in modern day Uzbekistan and was a self-taught polymath who first took the initiative to learn mathematics from an Indian grocer.
The scholar had a passion for knowledge and after studying math, he went on to explore astronomy, physics, philosophy (reading Aristotle in his teens), and medicine. While adept at all the fields, Ibn Sina found his calling in the medical profession, which he began practicing at the age of 18. Some have even called him the father of early medicine. (A title he shares with Hippocrates.)
Avicenna (Ibn Sina) I- socialist art. (Night Eulen/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 ) This is a picture taken in the Ibn Sina Museum in Afshana, close to Bukhara in Uzbekistan.
He’s been credited with writing at least 130 books, the most influential being Al Qanun fil-Tibb , ‘The Canon of Medicine.’ This five-volume medical canon was translated to Latin in the 12th century and used as an important text in European medical courses until the 17th century. Avicenna’s was the first known medical encyclopedia to identify tuberculosis, and it provided insight on contagious diseases spreading through water and soil. It also provided a basis for topics such as anatomy, pediatrics, and gynecology.
Drawing of viscera etc., Avicenna, Canon of Medicine. (Wellcome Images/ CC BY 4.0 )
Another of his popular works is Kitāb al-Šifā, ‘The Book of Healing’, sometimes called ‘The Cure’. Despite its title, the healing was not meant to be physical this time; this is a text meant to help cure problems of a spiritual nature. It’s Ibn Sina’s most well-known philosophical work with a smattering of science. Scholars such as 13th century Thomas Aquinas looked to this work for inspiration.
Ibn Sina died in 1037 in Hamadan, Iran at the age of 58. He’s still considered an iconic figure in many places today, Tajikistan has bank notes bearing his image and Azerbaijan and Iran still portray his likeness on monuments today.
Avicenna – Ibn Sina sculpture in a park in Tehran. ( CC BY 2.0 )
As you can see, Ibn Sina does seem to demonstrate, “a life devoted to education and the spirit of learning for the betterment of humankind” as Google writes on their page describing the Ibn Sina Doodle. But how did the Ibn Sina Doodle come to be presented in the UK, north Africa, and the Middle East (except Iran, where Independent points out, Google doesn’t operate its search engine because of US sanctions), but nowhere else?
While it’s somewhat uncertain how Google goes about choosing where to present specific Doodles honoring famous people, some of the designs are unquestionably region specific – such as national holidays. It’s worth noting that not all the Doodles you see while searching Google are the same ones as are seen by everyone else in the world!
An early concept design for the Ibn Sina Google Doodle. ( Google Doodle )
In December 2017, The National looked into why specific Doodles are only available in certain places and they found that, “Doodles can be targeted at single nations, groups of nations or the entire world – and even individuals; sign up to Google and on your birthday you will receive your very own “personalized” Doodle.”
The Google design team has created over 2000 Doodles and “receives hundreds of requests every day” from users around the world for new designs. Google explains that the idea for Doodles came about even before they incorporated the company. They write , “Doodles are the fun, surprising, and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists.”
And the Ibn Sina Doodle certainly provides both a surprise and well-deserved insight into the life of a historical person who may not always get the credit he deserves.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna). ( Public Domain )
Top Image: The August 7, 2018 Ibn Sina Google Doodle. Source: Google Doodle