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Thread: Greatest Physicist of All Time

  1. #1 Greatest Physicist of All Time 
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    Who in your opinion is the greatest physicist of all time? Some canditates:







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  3. #2 Re: Greatest Physicist of All Time 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellatha
    Who in your opinion is the greatest physicist of all time? Some canditates:





    Physicists are not linearly ordered. One can make a list of great physicists, but to name a "greatest" is a fools errand.

    If you want the one physicist whose work had the greatest impact, that is pretty easy. And the answer is a mathematician -- Newton. It is simply the case that Newtonian mechanics and gravitation is the basis for virtually all of modern technology and the basis for the progress in physics that followed his work.

    But there were many other great physicists who made contributions without which neither modern physics nor modern technology could exist.

    A few are:

    Kepler
    Maxwell
    Heaviside
    Bernoulli
    Lord Kelvin
    Marie Curie
    Gibbs
    Einstein
    Dirac
    Bohr
    Pauli
    Schrödinger
    Fermi
    Wigner
    Landau
    Schwinger
    Tomanaga
    Feynman
    Weinberg
    Salam
    Glashow
    Gell-Mann
    Wilson
    Wheeler
    Chandrasekhar
    Oppenheimer

    The jury is still out on string theory as a theory of physics, but if it pans out then Ed Witten will definitely go on the list.


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    Dr. Rocket,
    I wasn't trying to linearly order the greatest physicists of all time, but rather naming some potential individuals. I believe this confusion may have occured because you naturally have a mathematical mind--not too sure though. I agree with you however, Isaac Newton (in my opinion) is the most contributing physicist of all time (and not only limited to the ramification of science known as physics, but to the apex branch of science itself).
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    I know all in picture except last one. Who is he?
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    That is James Watt. His work on power was a major contribution to the steam engine, in addition this led to the Industrial Revolution.
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    Lots of great scientists above. However with an emphasis on 'Physics' I'd go with Einstein and Heisenberg.

    It will be difficult for any individual to surpass these two. There will incredible discoveries in the future but these will be more of team efforts
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellatha
    Dr. Rocket,
    I wasn't trying to linearly order the greatest physicists of all time, but rather naming some potential individuals. I believe this confusion may have occured because you naturally have a mathematical mind--not too sure though. I agree with you however, Isaac Newton (in my opinion) is the most contributing physicist of all time (and not only limited to the ramification of science known as physics, but to the apex branch of science itself).
    You misunderstand.

    When I say that physicists are not linearly ordered my intent was to say that there is no meaning to "the greatest physicist", although there are many great physicists. In short, given two physicists it does not follow that one is necessarily greater than the other.

    Newton was a mathematician. The physicists can't have him. :wink:
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    Dr. Rocket,
    In that case I agree with your order of the physicists; my main point in creating this thread is so that it increases activity level on these sub-forums (that is, physics and math).

    I'd consider Newton much closer to an astrophysicists rather than a mathematician (actually, in the book "Physicists" by [I believe?] David Abbott, Newton is said to be arguably the greatest physicist along with Archimedes and Einstein). Newton described physical conceps (the laws of motion, for example) however and a principle of Cartesian dualism often associated with his work (his combination of analytic geometry to the invention of calculus and its applications to classical mechanics, for example, calculus itself being used seemingly as much in physics as in pure math).
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellatha
    Dr. Rocket,
    In that case I agree with your order of the physicists; my main point in creating this thread is so that it increases activity level on these sub-forums (that is, physics and math).

    I'd consider Newton much closer to an astrophysicists rather than a mathematician (actually, in the book "Physicists" by [I believe?] David Abbott, Newton is said to be arguably the greatest physicist along with Archimedes and Einstein). Newton described physical conceps (the laws of motion, for example) however and a principle of Cartesian dualism often associated with his work (his combination of analytic geometry to the invention of calculus and its applications to classical mechanics, for example, calculus itself being used seemingly as much in physics as in pure math).
    Nope. Calculus is pure mathematics (I am quite serious on this point). Newton was a mathematician, even though he did show the physicists a thing or three. They can't have him. :wink:

    I may be a bit prejudiced. I am a mathematician by education. On the other hand Newton was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.

    But so was Hawking, and Hawking is definitely a physicist. Really a cosmologist. But not a mathematician.

    Penrose, on the other hand, who collaborated with Hawking on several occassions is a mathematician. He also showed the physicists a thing or three. :wink:

    Am I cherry picking ? You bet. But I know which ones I want to pick.

    The real demarcation is the rigor with which one uses mathematics. Mathematicians are very careful and precise. Physicists tend to be rather sloppy, and get away with it because the real arbiter of the validity of a physical theory is experiment. Sometimes by being sloppy one can make progress faster. And sometimes it gets one into serious trouble.
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    DrRocket, I disagree, I think that Newton understood calculus like a physicist, not like a mathematician. Of course, that's not his fault--there wouldn't be any such thing as "rigorous" calculus until, I think, the 19th century. But still, if we're going to classify people by the way they approached problems and by the types of problems they were interested in, I think it makes more sense to classify Newton as a physicist. I mean, ask yourself this: do you think Newton cared more about the definitions of mathematical objects or about the laws of nature?
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    Nope. Calculus is pure mathematics (I am quite serious on this point).
    I didn't disagree with this, however, I believe Newton deriving calculus was done for physics reasons, not mathematical ones (finding instantaneous velocity through derivatives, and so on). Newton's work on mathematics doesn't seem to go much farther than calculus (which is not to say it isn't prodigious in itself). His work on optics and mechanics as well as universal gravitation all seem to have more emphasis put on them than other such works in pure mathematics (in that book I mentioned earlier, it was even suggested Newton spent much of the rest of his life staying away from mathematics, although the problems given to him by Leibniz and Bernoulli were solved within the first day he saw them).

    This was the problem that Bernoulli and Leibniz sent to Newton if anybody is interested:

    "`To find the curve connecting two points, at different heights and not on the same vertical line, along which a body acted upon only by gravity will fall in the shortest time'. "

    The solution is here: http://www.math.purdue.edu/~eremenko/bernoulli.pdf
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ellatha
    Nope. Calculus is pure mathematics (I am quite serious on this point).
    I didn't disagree with this, however, I believe Newton deriving calculus was done for physics reasons, not mathematical ones (finding instantaneous velocity through derivatives, and so on). Newton's work on mathematics doesn't seem to go much farther than calculus (which is not to say it isn't prodigious in itself). His work on optics and mechanics as well as universal gravitation all seem to have more emphasis put on them than other such works in pure mathematics (in that book I mentioned earlier, it was even suggested Newton spent much of the rest of his life staying away from mathematics, although the problems given to him by Leibniz and Bernoulli were solved within the first day he saw them).

    This was the problem that Bernoulli and Leibniz sent to Newton if anybody is interested:

    "`To find the curve connecting two points, at different heights and not on the same vertical line, along which a body acted upon only by gravity will fall in the shortest time'. "

    The solution is here: http://www.math.purdue.edu/~eremenko/bernoulli.pdf
    That problem is an example of the calculus of variations, which simply demonstrates the breadth and depth of Newton's genius.

    Basically Newton was intrigued by Kepler's laws of planetary motion and set out to understand them from a more fundamental viewpoint.

    To make a long story short he needed the theory of differential equations to formulate the laws of motion. So he invented differential equations. That of course, required first inventing calculus. That is a very big deal, and it is most certainly mathematics, not physics.

    Newton did lots of things. He ran the English treasury for quite a while.

    But make no mistake. Newton was first and foremost a mathematician.
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    How dare you not mention Lorentz!!??
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    Was it not Newton himself who said "If I have seen far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants"? (paraphrased into modern english)

    By that rationale, the most modern physicist is the greatest one, simply by building on what has gone before. Greatest contribution? This is 50% a popularity contest. Then I vote Einstein just because he looks like a loon with his hair like that.

    oh, and the E=MC^2 thing...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Waveman28
    How dare you not mention Lorentz!!??
    Lorentz also gets mired in the physicist/mathematician tug of war. Someone like Ernest Rutherford in a Physicist/Chemist debate.

    What is revealing is just how broad in scope these nominees all are in theoretical science. One reason I opted for geology (not the main reason) was that I was 'good' at math but by no means 'great'. I could and have worked on fundamental research in geology... but I have trouble wading through even the simplest theories on the quantum, etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by salsaonline
    DrRocket, I disagree, I think that Newton understood calculus like a physicist, not like a mathematician. Of course, that's not his fault--there wouldn't be any such thing as "rigorous" calculus until, I think, the 19th century. But still, if we're going to classify people by the way they approached problems and by the types of problems they were interested in, I think it makes more sense to classify Newton as a physicist. I mean, ask yourself this: do you think Newton cared more about the definitions of mathematical objects or about the laws of nature?
    I think that if you take that tack then there would be no mathematicians prior to Cauchy. Until Cauchy there was not a clear concept of the modern useage of "function", and the standards of rigor were somewhat different.

    Also, during the time of Newton and probably through Gauss, it was possible to, and there were people who did, understand all of science and mathematics. Gauss was probably the last. Newton was such a person. He also understood other things and spent a term as Chancellor of the Exchequer for England. The lines between the branches of science and between science and mathematics were not so clear then. There were not very many scientists and mathematicians either.

    But, bottom line -- we don't need any waffling in the ranks. Check your badge. Newton was a mathematician. The physicists can't have him. He is ours. :wink:
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    Newton was a first and foremost a Physicist. He started doing his experiments on motion as a young boy, years before he developed the maths to explain them fully.

    Newton was a physicist. The mathematicians can't have him. He is ours.

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    Also, Dr Rocket, you say that you are by education a mathematician, yet you seem to post alot in the physics section.

    Are you a theoretical physicist? If so, what field?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sox
    Newton was a physicist. The mathematicians can't have him. He is ours.
    Nope.

    Newton was a mathematican. He held the Lucasian chair in mathematics (though in recent times that chair has been held by physicists). His direct academic lineage consists of mathematicians, including me.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sox
    Also, Dr Rocket, you say that you are by education a mathematician, yet you seem to post alot in the physics section.

    Are you a theoretical physicist? If so, what field?

    Physics is becoming too difficult for the physicists. -- David Hilbert
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    So you're a mathematician... what do you mean by "His direct academic lineage consists of mathematicians, including me."

    Can you trace your academic family tree to him directly?

    Also, what areas do you research in?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sox
    So you're a mathematician... what do you mean by "His direct academic lineage consists of mathematicians, including me."

    Can you trace your academic family tree to him directly?
    Yes
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    Nice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sox
    Nice.
    It pleases me but it would probably appall Newton, so it is good that he cannot comment.
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    I would have to say no one of these great men can be said to be better than the other but i do think Einstein was the most helpful he was the father of probably the most tricky bit of intellectual pursuit there is, quantum physics. I would say newton but a lot of the things he theorized were wrong or could be built upon by other scientists, the majority of Einsteins could not be built upon or proved wrong because they had such unique and horribly complicated thought.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamesboleman
    I would have to say no one of these great men can be said to be better than the other but i do think Einstein was the most helpful he was the father of probably the most tricky bit of intellectual pursuit there is, quantum physics. I would say newton but a lot of the things he theorized were wrong or could be built upon by other scientists, the majority of Einsteins could not be built upon or proved wrong because they had such unique and horribly complicated thought.
    1. The special theory of relativity would probably have been found by Poincare, Lorentz or someone else had not Einstein formulated it. There was quite a bit of work leading in that direction prior to Einstein.

    2. Einstein's contribution to quantum mechanics was primarily in the explanation of the photoelectric effect. This was excellent work, and for it he was awarded his Nobel Prize. But it is not particularly tricky from a mathematical perspective.

    3. Beyond the photoelectric effect Eiinstein was not one of the major formulators of modern quantum theory. In fact, Einstein never philosophically accepted the fundamental stochastic nature of quantum theory.

    4. Einstein's general theory of relativity, more than anything else, was a " bolt from the blue" and not anticipated by any preceeding work. Without Einstein the general theory might not have been discovered for many years, perhaps a century or more. It solved the problem of inclusion of gravity in relativistic mechanics, but there was no pressing unsolved problem in physics that would have driven anyone else to invent the theory. It is quite complicated from a mathematical perspective, sufficiently so that Einstein required quite a bit of help from his mathematican friend Marcel Grossman with the requisite geometry and tensor analysis.

    5. All of Einstein's work has been built upon since its inception. It was Planck, Sommerfeld, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli, Wigner, and Dirac who get most of the credit for formulating quantum mechanics. Feynman, Schwinger, Tomonaga, Weinberg, Salaam and 'tHooft and Veltman have made major strides since then.

    Einstein's special theory of relativity was enhanced markedly by the mathematican Minksowski who showed how it might be formulated as theory in dimension 4 with a specific metric.

    Einstein's general theory of relativity has been studied at length and reformulated more cleanly in the language of differential forms. Penrose and Hawking have extended it and proved deep theorems regarding singularities that can arise in certatin circumstances, notably with regard to black holes and the big bang.

    Elie Cartan developed a theory of gravity that dropped Einstein's assumption of zero torsion, and that is experimentally indistinguishable from general relativity with current measurement technology. This theory does not have some of the singuarities that come with general relativity.

    6. Like all theories Einstein's theories are in principle falsifiable, and therefore subject to experiment. Thus far his theories have been consistent with experimental data.

    A theory that cannot be built upon or falsified is useless. Einstein's theories are far from useless.

    7. Newton's theories were quite far from obvious at the time that they were conceived. His work took physics from the supernatural to a body of real predictive science. It is true that some of his ideas were wrong. Some of Einstein's ideas were wrong too, particularly his opposition to quantum mechanics. Any good scientist has wrong ideas. The best ones just have more ideas and know how to weed out the wrong ones.

    8. Some of Einstein's ideas were unique at the time, but they were not horribly complicated. In fact much of the beauty of Einstein's theories lies in the fundamental simplicity of them. There have been lots of guys just as smart as Einstein, but Einstein's accomplishments have had a more profound effect on physics than most. But not more than Newton.
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    Best all-round scientist was Kelvin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrRocket
    In fact much of the beauty of Einstein's theories lies in the fundamental simplicity of them.
    Couldn't agree more. General Relativity is unbelievably simple and elegent.

    I'd say Einstein is the greatest Physicist, simply because general relativity is so creative and yet so straight forward.

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    In terms of positive impact on the world it has to be Newton. The Enlightenment essentially began with Principia, published, not coincidentally just a year before England's Glorious Revolution. Science and democracy born* together and evolving as essential partners.

    *Reborn if you insist
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    Was it not Newton himself who said "If I have seen far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants"?

    Science is developing, progressing . We are now in better position, better equipped to know more, to continue the works they (giants of their times) have left behind. Thus, we are like Newton...


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    Quote Originally Posted by jsaldea12
    Was it not Newton himself who said "If I have seen far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants"?
    Newton wrote this in a letter to Robert Hooke, a major professional rival. Many think, since Hooke was a hunchback, that this was an ad hominem by Newton. (We should remember that Newton was a rather unpersonable character.)

    The phrase was likely not original to Newton, since a very similar thought was written in Latin by John of Salisbury in the 12th century.

    See more here.
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    Thank you for correcting. But it is true: we are actually standing on the shoulders of giants of science of their time, and, in this modern time, we are better equipped now, with our advanced technology, superior equipments, like Hubble telescope, LHC, even unbelievable internets, we are continuing their works, but respecting what they have done .without which we would still be groping.


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    There was some sort of poll done to find the 'greatest' British physicist.
    Out on top came Isaac Newton, and 2nd was Paul Dirac.

    Paul Dirac is a lot less known to the public. There is some recent biography on him.
    Recently I watched BBC documentary 'Everything and Nothing', part 2: 'Nothing.
    In this Jim al-Khalili talks about Dirac.

    Also seen Farmelo talking about him. Apparently Dirac married the sister of Eugene Wigner (another great physicist).
    When meeting people he would introduce his wife, not as 'this is my wife' but 'this is Wigners sister'.
    I wonder if he knew 'Wigners friend'?

    Among other greats of the 20th century were Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.

    On 'academic lineage':
    I did my research at Nottingham University, supervised by Dr. Alan Rose.
    Alan Rose's supervisor was Prince Louis deBroglie (of 'electron wave' fame)
    deBroglie's supervisor was Albert Einstein.
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    I watched that BBC programme too... On topic: The greatest physicist of all time is in my options....;human curiosity. It is what drives us to explore, discover, and learn. It is the thing that has set all physicists onto great things, and so I think that human curiosity should be thought the 'greatest true physicist'.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zesterer View Post
    I watched that BBC programme too... On topic: The greatest physicist of all time is in my options....;human curiosity. It is what drives us to explore, discover, and learn. It is the thing that has set all physicists onto great things, and so I think that human curiosity should be thought the 'greatest true physicist'.
    You're right. 'Curiosity'(not just necessity) is the mother of invention/discovery, in all fields of human endeavour. We can (and do) all contribute to that.
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    I believe that the question would be better asked, "Who is the greatest ACADEMIC..." as opposed to limiting to physicists, as all (whether intentionally or not) have crossed the planes of science and math in their studies. You truly cannot have one without the other. Also, to answer the question one should quantify and qualify the work/studies by how they DIRECTLY affect the quality of life and the stability of the building blocks for future generations. And why limit the possible answer to only well known scientists or mathematicians? Just because one may be relatively unknown, or their field of study is not as popular, there is no reason to disqualify them from the nominees. Again, if one's work directly affects the way we live and/or create a stable building block for future generations, then they should qualify as a nominee at the least. (Please forgive the run-on. Apparently I cannot post several seperate paragraphs at once.)
    Last edited by asuniqueasyou; April 22nd, 2013 at 12:03 PM. Reason: misspellings
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    We all know well about major physicists but mathematicians are not as popular as Einstein or Newton.
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    I'll give my vote for Newton for the great variety of his insights, experiments, and developments in physics, well ahead of his own time. As others have pointed out he spent much time alone and never developed good social skills of friendliness, or getting along well with others. As treasurer in England later in life, he probably had to reluctantly better learn these social skills

    Galileo might be considered the first true polymath experimental physicist and one of the most important historically, at the beginning of the Renascence.

    In more recent times Rutherford, physics/chemistry was my favorite and a fun guy and dilettante rounder, the opposite of Newton: "If you can't explain your physics to a barmaid it is probably not very good physics." Rutherford
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    I will choose from Einstein or Newton but difficult to chose
    But finally my vote is to Einstein as he thought much more difficult to think
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    The single greatest physicist of all time was a man named Herbert Dorffenberger.
    Dorffenberger united gravity with QM, solved the Dark Matter and the Dark Energy problem and mathematically proved beyond all reasonable doubt that 0.999~ does, in fact, equal 1 exactly.
    Sadly, Dorffenberger opted to keep all of this in copious notes and submit it for peer review all at once. The day before he was supposed to submit all of his theories, a knock on the door from Mormons changed everything.
    One condition of his salvation was he had to set fire to all his "Satanic Scribblings." He sunk into such a deep depression in the following months that his precocious death from a cocaine overdose (Kept baggies hidden in his holy underwear) ended any possibility of his reclaiming of his work.

    His widow received an odd phone call that showed up on her caller I.D. as "heaven" six months after his passing. He left her a voicemail telling her he was finally at peace- found the answer to what causes the Nuclear Force and that the one true religion was Hale-Boppism.

    Since he never was formally recognized, his name never made it into the history books.
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  43. #42  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Slight typo:
    Quote Originally Posted by Neverfly View Post
    mathematically proved beyond all reasonable doubt that 0.899~ does, in fact, equal 1 exactly.
    There's a jump, and then the numbers settle down to below one until 0.999999....
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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  44. #43  
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    No idea what you're talking about... I did not make that typo and I did not edit that...
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  45. #44  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    No I "edited" it.
    Think about it....
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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    Oh, ok. Still not following you...
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  47. #46  
    Genius Duck Moderator Dywyddyr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neverfly View Post
    Oh, ok. Still not following you...
    What would it do to mathematics if numbers really went 0.81.., 0.82.., 0.83.., 0.84.., 0.85.., 0.86.., 8.87.., 0.88.., 1, 0.91.., 0.92..., ... 1, 1.1...?
    "[Dywyddyr] makes a grumpy bastard like me seem like a happy go lucky scamp" - PhDemon
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    I'd think that any form of knowledge builds itself upon the shoulders of everyone that contributes to its knowledge base would be included as to the "greatest" of them all because without the knowledge that came before those who came after them, they wouldn't have the ability to keep advancing but only trying to find the original answers to begin with that started physics to begin with.
    Last edited by cosmictraveler; April 23rd, 2013 at 08:49 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    No I "edited" it.
    Think about it....
    Why did you edit it?
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  50. #49  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dywyddyr View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Neverfly View Post
    Oh, ok. Still not following you...
    What would it do to mathematics if numbers really went 0.81.., 0.82.., 0.83.., 0.84.., 0.85.., 0.86.., 8.87.., 0.88.., 1, 0.91.., 0.92..., ... 1, 1.1...?
    Well, I imagine that would confuse the hell out of everyone, even the rational numbers. The irrational ones would go stark raving bonkers and start equaling negative zero.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Neverfly View Post
    The single greatest physicist of all time was a man named Herbert Dorffenberger.
    Dorffenberger united gravity with QM, solved the Dark Matter and the Dark Energy problem and mathematically proved beyond all reasonable doubt that 0.999~ does, in fact, equal 1 exactly.
    Sadly, Dorffenberger opted to keep all of this in copious notes and submit it for peer review all at once. The day before he was supposed to submit all of his theories, a knock on the door from Mormons changed everything.
    One condition of his salvation was he had to set fire to all his "Satanic Scribblings." He sunk into such a deep depression in the following months that his precocious death from a cocaine overdose (Kept baggies hidden in his holy underwear) ended any possibility of his reclaiming of his work.

    His widow received an odd phone call that showed up on her caller I.D. as "heaven" six months after his passing. He left her a voicemail telling her he was finally at peace- found the answer to what causes the Nuclear Force and that the one true religion was Hale-Boppism.

    Since he never was formally recognized, his name never made it into the history books.
    I never heard about Herbert Dorffenberger
    Is there any source of his life on net ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by RAJ_K View Post
    I never heard about Herbert Dorffenberger
    Is there any source of his life on net ?
    Obviously there is- unless you read my post while offline.
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  53. #52  
    Universalis Infinitis Devon Keogh's Avatar
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    I will choose:

    1. Albert Einstein (For his theories of general and special relativity)
    2. Nikola Tesla (For his ingenious inventions and discoveries in electronics)
    3. Max Planck (For his numerous contributions to modern physics)
    4. Galileo Galilee (For his experiments on mass and other curiosities)
    5. Erwin Schrödinger (For his numerous contributions to physics)

    It is strange that most of the greatest physicists of all time were German, they seem to have a culture of great mathematicians and physicists.

    "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
    Sir Isaac Newton

    In my own opinion there is no greater mathematical Principle than that which is x - x = 0. This shows that matter can be created from nothing as long as the total product of the matter's mass & energy equal exactly zero.
    The only question is, "Where did all that antimatter go?"

    Favourite Elements: Sodium, Neodymium, Xenon
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