A researcher offers a comprehensive presentation of an ancient Islamic theory of time that has implications for modern cosmology and physics.
According to Haj Yousef (The Single Monad Model of the Cosmos, 2007), the medieval Islamic philosopher Ibn al-Arabi devised a cosmology that not only anticipates the emergence of modern quantum mechanics, but also provides solutions to its most vexing problems. At the heart of Ibn al-Arabi’s view of the universe is a dualistic conception of time. On the one hand, time is ontologically real if understood from the perspective of each moment. But the experience of time is always as a continuous volume—a perceptual distortion of the real world, an imaginary manifestation. The paradox of our observation of time is that we’re only ever encountering time as the past, the continual re-creation of each discrete moment ad infinitum. As a result, the world bifurcates into two states: a vacuum, the empty space that constitutes time in its reality, and the void, the phenomenal expression of time as we experience it. This division opens up the possibility of simultaneously existing dimensions, thereby creating the conditions for a monistic harmony of the psychical and the physical. Haj Yousef intends this volume as a sequel to his first book on Ibn Al-Arabi, expanded to be “more accessible to the wider scientific community.” This reworking includes an account of the history of cosmology, from ancient Sumerian and Babylonian versions to the present, and a thorough introduction to Islamic mysticism. The author’s command of the pertinent historical and theoretical material is breathtaking, with some of his conclusions peculiar but tantalizing. For example, he argues that ancient alchemy can actually be understood as a precursor to quantum mechanics, and that Ibn al-Arabi anticipates contemporary discussions of black holes. But Haj Yousef can sometimes enthusiastically overemphasize the explanatory power of Ibn al-Arabi’s cosmology. It surely seems like an overstatement to claim that “most, if not all, of the major fundamental problems of physics and cosmology are easily solved in this model.” Still, this remains a captivating study for those with a strong grasp of modern physics.
A historically illuminating account of an ancient but still relevant conception of the universe.