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Thread: Game Changers in Science

  1. #1 Game Changers in Science 
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    Hello

    I'm working on a few proposals for broadcasters. In using the now ubiquitous term 'Game Changers'- I'd like to ask the forum, what they consider to be the biggest game changers in the history of science, and how they have shaped the world.

    It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. It's the unexpected that fascinates, so the invention of something that seemed almost irrelevant, but had profoundly positive impact on the way we live. And how this discovery/invention created a web of understanding and change.

    A little like the classic 'connections' series on Discovery..

    Hoping to spark a discussion..

    cheers
    OF..


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  3. #2  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Euclid and Newton seem two obvious choices to me.


    Leszek. Pronounced [LEH-sheck]. The wondering Slav.
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    Thanks for the reply.. I didn't specify, but I think we could get a more worthwhile discussion if we concentrate on specific discoveries/inventions as opposed to the scientists themselves..

    I wonder how such discoveries have shaped the modern world.. Like the kettle in your kitchen, the ipod, the shoes you wear, and the comb for your hair..

    Be great to keep this broad, as I've read some really interesting opinions throughout the forum, and wouldn't want to stifle creativity..

    The connection TV series
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connect...28TV_series%29

    Was great for showing how scientific discoveries/inventions are connected in an almost counter intuitive way.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Well the two guys I mentioned made very specific inventions: Euclid created geometry and Newton created physics.

    As for other inventions or discoveries: the wheel, the taming of animals (dog, horse, cow, pig), various metallurgical processes that gave us bronze and then steel, sources of energy or means of transmitting it: fire, the water wheel, the sail, the windmill, gunpowder, steam, the internal combustion engine, electricity...

    Inventions and discoveries that help keep us well fed and healthy, from the plough to MRI.

    Then means of communicating: the spoken language (arguably a defining feature of being human), writing, print, photography, various kind of telegraphy from semaphore to wireless, the movies, AM radio, FM radio, TV, internet...

    I mentioned AM and FM separately because FM gave us the option to choose between many more stations than we could in AM, which had serious cultural effects (not necessarily good, as people receded into their cultural niches).

    More materials: Woven cloth, paper, glass, brick and mortar...

    Means of transport...

    Means of production: the potter's wheel, the lathe, the drill, the saw.....

    Weapons for hunting, self-defence, law enforcement, and war.

    In particular, the machine gun. Yes it is a homicidal monstrosity, but on the positive side it makes it possible for armies to take - and keep alive - large numbers of prisoners of war, guarded by a handful of sentries. Before that, refraining from slaughtering your defeated enemies meant setting aside almost as many of your own troops to guard them, reducing your power in the battlefield. In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the Geneva Conventions came a (bloody) decade after the Maxim 08.

    Institutions: various forms of leadership and government. Religion. Marriage. Law. Commerce. Money, and then banking and stock exchange.

    Hope you will find some of these useful.

    Cheers, L.
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    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    I found the Connections series to be rather annoying, simply because it always seemed arbitrary which connections Burke would decide were the important ones. If you wanted to find a connection between anything in the present world and anything else a hundred years earlier, no doubt you could, and you could dress it up as a TV show, and say "isn't it amazing". But it's not. As somebody once said about history, it's just one thing after another.

    But as for "game changers", I propose the invention of steam power. Nothing humans have ever done has had as significant an effect on the entire planet as the massive addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and this was initiated by the switch from manual labor to the use of machines driven by burning coal to produce steam.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leszek Luchowski
    In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the Geneva Conventions came a (bloody) decade after the Maxim 08.
    That is a fascinating speculation. I have no idea if you are right or not, but I find it a very imaginative and insightful suggestion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    I found the Connections series to be rather annoying, simply because it always seemed arbitrary which connections Burke would decide were the important ones.
    I never had the sense that Burke was claiming the connections were important, simply that they were there. The resultant string could just as easily - though not in a TV format - have been developed into a multi-dimensional matrix. And that was the underlying thesis - everything is connected. It's why when an idea whose time has come it will pop up simultaneously all over the place, with subsequent arguments over precedence.
    For me it was just delightful to follow his eclectic mix of personalities and discoveries.

    [quote"OctoberFilms"]In using the now ubiquitous term 'Game Changers'[/quote]I need to get out more. I've never heard the term before.

    Now as to possibilities:
    William Smith, who produced the first geological map and helped launch the revolution that led to Darwin and modern geology. However, I think there has already been a documentary on him based on the book The Map that Changed the World.

    Arthur Holmes
    Aha! Only three of you have heard of him. Yet 'everybody' knows Wegener, the 'father' of continental drift. Continental drift was ignored by the establishment, mainly for political reasons, until the 1960s, by which time the evidence was too strong to ignore. Yet from the late 1920s forward Holmes not only spoke in favour of it, but offered an enhanced version that had the elements - subduction, sea floor spreading, convection cells - that form the basics of plate tectonics. He receives insufficient credit for this.

    Yet this was not Holmes's major contribution. Holmes did not invent dating by radioactivity, but he placed it on a solid scientific footing and - combining it with a fearsome gut instinct for what was 'true' - produced the first comprehensive, accurate table of ages for the various geological epochs.

    Neither of those change the way a bacon sandwich tastes, or the punctuality numbers for commuter trains, but they had a profound effect on pour understanding of the dynamics of the Earth.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by Leszek Luchowski
    In my opinion, it is no coincidence that the Geneva Conventions came a (bloody) decade after the Maxim 08.
    That is a fascinating speculation. I have no idea if you are right or not, but I find it a very imaginative and insightful suggestion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    I found the Connections series to be rather annoying, simply because it always seemed arbitrary which connections Burke would decide were the important ones.
    I never had the sense that Burke was claiming the connections were important, simply that they were there. The resultant string could just as easily - though not in a TV format - have been developed into a multi-dimensional matrix. And that was the underlying thesis - everything is connected. It's why when an idea whose time has come it will pop up simultaneously all over the place, with subsequent arguments over precedence.
    For me it was just delightful to follow his eclectic mix of personalities and discoveries.

    [quote"OctoberFilms"]In using the now ubiquitous term 'Game Changers'
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    I need to get out more. I've never heard the term before.

    Now as to possibilities:
    William Smith, who produced the first geological map and helped launch the revolution that led to Darwin and modern geology. However, I think there has already been a documentary on him based on the book The Map that Changed the World.

    Arthur Holmes
    Aha! Only three of you have heard of him. Yet 'everybody' knows Wegener, the 'father' of continental drift. Continental drift was ignored by the establishment, mainly for political reasons, until the 1960s, by which time the evidence was too strong to ignore. Yet from the late 1920s forward Holmes not only spoke in favour of it, but offered an enhanced version that had the elements - subduction, sea floor spreading, convection cells - that form the basics of plate tectonics. He receives insufficient credit for this.

    Yet this was not Holmes's major contribution. Holmes did not invent dating by radioactivity, but he placed it on a solid scientific footing and - combining it with a fearsome gut instinct for what was 'true' - produced the first comprehensive, accurate table of ages for the various geological epochs.

    Neither of those change the way a bacon sandwich tastes, or the punctuality numbers for commuter trains, but they had a profound effect on pour understanding of the dynamics of the Earth.

    I am fond of Holmes and have several of his works, but I am working my way through Du Toit, "Our Wandering Continents"; 1937 as well. Old citations can be really tuff to track down. But, here is Holmes from 1929 "A Review of the Continental Drift Hypothesis":

    http://www.mantleplumes.org/WebDocuments/Holmes1929.pdf
    I'm sorry, my responses are limited. You must ask the right question.

    "The track of a glacier is as unmistakable as that of a man or a bear, and is as significant and trustworthy as any other legible inscription"
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    "From observations upon living glaciers, and from the known nature of ice, we may learn to recognize the track of a glacier as readily and unmistakably as we would the familiar foot-prints of an animal." G. F. Wright 1891 (108-109)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by Bunbury
    I found the Connections series to be rather annoying, simply because it always seemed arbitrary which connections Burke would decide were the important ones.
    I never had the sense that Burke was claiming the connections were important, simply that they were there. The resultant string could just as easily - though not in a TV format - have been developed into a multi-dimensional matrix. And that was the underlying thesis - everything is connected. It's why when an idea whose time has come it will pop up simultaneously all over the place, with subsequent arguments over precedence.
    For me it was just delightful to follow his eclectic mix of personalities and discoveries.
    Fair enough. Just put my generally negative reaction to Burke down to early-onset curmudgeonliness.
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  10. #9  
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    Personally, I think the turning point was the writings of Francis Bacon, who laid down the basic principles of science, and especially empiricism. Of course, Bacon was only one man, and lots of others were part of the movement towards proper scientific testing.

    I often think that the ancient Greek philosophers have much to answer for. They focussed on human thought, and taught that the way to progress was through logic and better thinking. If they had emphasized real world testing instead, humanity might have made more progress. In fact, the few people who worked with reality instead of the world inside the human head, often were discouraged by the teachings of such people as Aristotle.

    Only when Bacon and his peers broke away from that approach, and real world observation and experimentation became popular, did humanity start to make genuine progress towards the science and technology of today. This heralded the scientific knowledge explosion of the last 400 years, including Newton and Galileo.
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    Einsteins general theory of relativity changed not only physics but the world as it was known. it started a vigorous interest in the universe and upended the absolutism of newton. we owe the current relativism and exploration of black holes etc. to einstein. also... what about davinci. he forged the way for many modern tools and his brain formulated ideas and principles that we still use.
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    The greatest discoveries change the way our civilization ( all mankind ) lives. The use of fire was certainly one as it allowed a more easily digested hi-protein intake. The 'invention of agriculture another that led to a change from hunter/gatherers to societal groups. Development of written language would be next as it allows the passage of knowledge through generatios and having to re-learn things each generation.
    Its a long stretch to the next, energy conversion, wether steam, combustion or electricity, it allowed for industialization, big cities and, after a while, improved living conditions. Computerization is next and is taking developed societies from industrial, manufacturing economies to information or knowledge based economies.

    All of these have allowed a reduction in the 'work' we do to survive, be it hunting, farming, re-learning or building things and allowed more free time for thinking and leisure.
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  13. #12  
    Forum Ph.D. Leszek Luchowski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MigL
    All of these have allowed a reduction in the 'work' we do to survive, be it hunting, farming, re-learning or building things and allowed more free time for thinking and leisure.
    It allowed more what?
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  14. #13 Re: Game Changers in Science 
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    Quote Originally Posted by OctoberFilms
    It's the unexpected that fascinates, so the invention of something that seemed almost irrelevant, but had profoundly positive impact on the way we live. And how this discovery/invention created a web of understanding and change.
    The human race owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to the mysteriously unknown individual who, at Gilbert & Bennett Mfg Co in Georgetown CT in early 1860s, invented wire window screens and screen doors. And, by not obtaining a patent, this allowed other manufacturers to make and sell them too.

    These incredibly simple devices allow sunlight and air to pass through while preventing flies, mosquitoes and other insects and animals to do so. These devices made being at home and at work bearable while keeping insect- and animal-borne parasitic diseases and annoyances away. They have consistently given billions of people enjoyable and refreshing night's rest during the hot, sweltering summers, allowing them to maintain their health and sanity and to attain peak efficiency the next day.

    To this enigmatic, long-ago champion of humanity and industry, you have our profound and everlasting thanks.
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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  15. #14  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I'd like to thank my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc for not emigrating to a land where a screen mesh door would be seen as an advantage. Thank you.
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    I often think that the ancient Greek philosophers have much to answer for. They focussed on human thought, and taught that the way to progress was through logic and better thinking. If they had emphasized real world testing instead, humanity might have made more progress. In fact, the few people who worked with reality instead of the world inside the human head, often were discouraged by the teachings of such people as Aristotle.
    Interesting observation. I hadn't thought on that before as an explanation. They were amazingly close to modern science on a bunch of fields but just didn't bring it together.

    Bacon certainly wasn't the first to pull together philosophy and empirical testing adn deduction--Biruni might get that credit but it didn't really spark to life like it did 500 years later perhaps because he found himself at the end of a revolution in Islamic philosophy and thinking while Bacon was at the beginning.

    --
    I'd nominate the transistor.

    --
    And MigL I'm pretty sure humans didn't discover fire--some knuckle dragging ancestor species gets that credit.
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  17. #16  
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    Claude Shannon: father of information theory. Low-power energy bursts, arranged properly, can do more work/organizing than high-energy transmissions. Effectively overturns the second law of thermodynamics.

    Jan Christiaan Smuts: Holism. Newton couldn't handle the "three body problem"; Smuts with his "fields of force" allowed for multiple interactions, which was the precursor for later "complex systems theory".

    Norbert Wiener: teleology in organic/non-organic systems.

    I have other "Personalities" of note (for me, anyway) listed here:

    http://adaptingsystems.com/personalities.aspx

    and would love to get feedback from others.
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  18. #17  
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    Also Niels Bohr. For two things. First, his electron shells broke open the atomic theory.

    Second, his idea of "complementarity" addressed the matter/energy conundrum quite succinctly, and broached the interplay between observer vs the observed.
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  19. #18 Game changers 
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    Jon von Neumann. Proposing the idea of self-reproducing automata. Along with Wiener, he pioneered he concept of "smart machines", which could not only work (shovel, axe, rope, etc) but which could think for us, as well.

    Alan Turing. Pioneered the idea of mathematical algorithms, logical command sequences of "if/then" messages which opened the way for machine language and computer programming; also his work on "mathematical biology and morphogenesis" remains provocative, sixty years later.

    One can only wonder what such a mind could have produced if left alone by the 'authorities'....Turing was one of the great tragedies of 20th century science, as well as one of the great stories.
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