"[The Active Intellect's] relation to our souls is that of the Sun to our vision."

— Avicenna [Ibn Sīnā] (c. 980-1037)

c. 1016-1021
"[The Active Intellect's] relation to our souls is that of the Sun to our vision."
Metaphor in Context
[The Active Intellect's] relation to our souls is that of the Sun to our vision. Now, just as the Sun is actually visible in itself and through its radiant light (nūr) it makes actually visible what is not actually visible, so likewise is the state of this intellect vis-à-vis our souls. [That] is because when the intellectual faculty reviews the particulars that are in the retentive imagination, and the aforementioned Active Intellect radiates its light into us [and] upon them, the things separated from matter and its concomitants are altered and impressed upon the rational soul. ["Being altered" is here] not in the sense that [the particulars] themselves are transferred from the compositive imagination to our intellect, nor [is "being impressed"] in the sense that the connotational attribute immersed in the [material] concomitants—which in itself and with regard to its very being is separate [from matter]—makes something like itself. Quite the contrary, ["being altered" and "being impressed"] are in the sense that reviewing [the particulars] prepares the soul in order that the thing separate from matter [coming] from the Active Intellect [that is, again, the intellectualizing forms] emanates upon them. Discursive thought and selective attention are then certain motions that prepare the soul to receive the emanation. [This] is like [how] middle terms prepare [the soul] to receive the conclusion in the most convincing way, although the first is according to one way and the second according to another, as you will come to know. So when a certain relation to this form falls to the rational soul by means of the Active Intellect's radiant activity, then from [the relation] there comes to be in [the human soul] something that in one way is of the genus of [the form] and in another way is not. Just like when luminous light falls on colored objects, it produces from them an impression on the visual system that is not in every way [reduced] to their sum, so likewise the images that are potentially intelligible become actually intelligible—not themselves but what is acquired from them. In fact, just as the impression of the sensible forms conveyed by means of luminous light is not itself those forms, but rather something related to them that is engendered by means of the luminous light in the recipient facing [the light], so likewise when the rational soul reviews those forms in the retentive imagination and the radiant light of the Active Intellect comes into a type of contact with them, then they are prepared so that from the luminous light of the Active Intellect they come to be the abstract version of those forms free from [material] taints within [the rational soul]
(Psychology, V.5, 234.14–236.2).
Reading Jon McGinnis's Avicenna (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010): 131-2.
Avicenna. Shif, a-abyt, Kitb an-Nafs (Psychology). In Avicenna’s De Anima (Arabic Text): Being the Psychological Part of Kitb al-Shif. Edited by Fazlur Rahman. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.