Intellectual Genius in the Islamic Golden Age: Cross-Civilization Replications, Extensions, and Modifications

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This investigation continues a series of inquiries into why creative geniuses in world civilizations tend to cluster into Golden Ages separated by periods of relative creative inactivity. The specific focus is the hypothesis that the development of eminent creators depends on the intergenerational availability of domain-specific role-models, and thus, generational time series representing weighted counts of creative activity should exhibit positive autocorrelations. Where previous studies tested this hypothesis on Western, Chinese, and Japanese civilizations, the current study examines Islamic intellectual history. The inquiry began with a significant sample of 1,283 eminent thinkers who were active between AH 60 and 1119 (CE 679–1707) and who made major contributions to 17 achievement domains (mathematics-astronomy, physics, chemistry, natural history, medicine, geography, philosophy, mysticism, theology, jurisprudence, traditions, linguistics, scholarship, commentary, translation, history, and biography). These historic figures were aggregated into 53 consecutive 20-year periods and then subjected to generational time-series analysis, including trend, autocorrelational, and factor analyses. Using stationary series, some domains displayed the expected autocorrelations, but many other domains did not. In particular, where the expected clustering appeared for important mystics and for major contributors to the rational sciences, significant contributors to the religious sciences were randomly distributed across time. The latter result led to a discussion of what happens when certain key thinkers are considered foundational; thus, serving as influential role-models across extended periods of time rather than having their principal effect on the immediately succeeding generation. Illustrious theologians and jurisprudents apparently occupied this central role in Islamic intellectual history.

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