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The 7 Greatest Ideas in History

2012 June 17
by Greg
the_thinker

We all have ideas all the time.  Some are good, but rather ordinary, (like spontaneously buying flowers for your wife on the way home), some are bad (like buying her a knife set for her birthday) and others, like Google’s PageRank are unquestionably great.

Just a few stand out above all the rest.  They change the course of history and affect the lives of millions who aren’t even aware of them.  Amazingly, they are often the work of a single person.

Those ideas are truly great and seven really stand out.  To make my selection, I applied three criteria:  Longevity (i.e. they survive a long time without being amended or surpassed in any significant way), impact (i.e. they greatly affected the lives and work of others) and authorship (i.e. they can be traced to one person).  Here’s my list, see what you think.

Aristotle’s Logic

In terms of longevity, only Euclid’s geometry (which doesn’t make the list because of fuzzy authorship) can rival Aristotle’s logic.  Any time we say someone is being “illogical” or that an argument is valid, we are referring to Aristotle.  Amazingly, it sprung forth from his mind seemingly without precursor or precedent and lasted for two millennia.

As late as 1781, Immanuel Kant wrote:

That logic has advanced in this sure course, even from the earliest times, is apparent from the fact that, since Aristotle, it has been unable to advance a step and, thus, to all appearance has reached its completion.

That’s pretty amazing, two thousand years and nobody had been able to find any flaws or improve on the idea in any significant way.  At the core of Aristotelian logic is the syllogism, which is made up of propositions which consist of two terms (a subject and a predicate).  If the propositions in the syllogism are true, then the argument is true.

There are, of course, more complexities as you delve deeper, but what gives logic so much power is the simple concept that we can judge the validity of statements by their structure alone, even when stripped of their content.  If you follow the rules of logic, every statement you make will be valid (i.e. internally consistent).

Today, two thousand years later, Aristotle’s simple idea stands at the core of the information technology that runs our modern world.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems

Alas, all good things must come to an end and by the late 19th century logic’s seams began to show.  People like Frege and Cantor were among the first to try to patch up the system, but Russell’s paradox showed that those solutions too, were flawed.  Then David Hilbert came up with the idea of logic as a closed system and logic lived to fight another day.

That was until 1931, when 25 year-old Kurt Gödel killed it for good with his incompleteness theorems.

He created an incredibly innovative method called Gödel numbering to prove that all systems are either incomplete or inconsistent.  No matter how they are constructed, they will eventually end up with a statement that is both true and not true by the rules of the system.

It’s a seemingly small idea that has enormous consequences.  It means that every logical system will fail and every computer program  will crash, it’s just a matter of time.  You can never fix the system, because systems themselves are necessarily broken.

Gödel isn’t very well known, but he was clearly a genius of historic proportions.  He is interesting in another light as well, the amazing story of the friendship he struck up with Einstein.  You can read more about it in Palle Yourgrau’s excellent book, A World Without Time.

Newton’s Physics

In 1665, the great plague swept through Great Britain, eventually wiping out over 100,000 people, including 20% of London’s population.  As a safety measure, Cambridge university closed its doors in order to prevent further spread of the disease.  It remained shut for two years

One of the students, 23 year-old Isaac Newton returned having filled notebooks with the ideas that would eventually be published as Principia Mathematica.  In it, he laid out the principles of his laws of motion, gravity and calculus.  In two short years, he laid out the basic structures which formed the basis for modern science and engineering.

Centuries later, other men have built on the foundation that Newton created.  The buildings we live and work in as well as the bridges that we cross, owe a large debt to that extended summer vacation and stand as a testament to the power of one man’s mind.

Darwin’s Natural Selection

It’s unfortunate that Darwin is so controversial in some circles these days and that over half of Americans say they don’t believe in evolution.

In reality, whatever your religious beliefs, if you go to a modern hospital, take antibiotics, use the term meme, send things by UPS or even shop at Wal-Mart, you are, in some sense, showing an implicit belief in Darwin’s idea.

Many people think that Darwin came up with the idea of evolution, which he didn’t. What he really did was formulate a simple algorithmic process that explains an amazing array of natural phenomena:

If entities are subject to varying conditions;

and

If resources are limited, resulting in a struggle for survival;

and

If characteristics of individuals are passed to future generations;

Then a process will occur in which entities adapt to become more fit for the environment in which they need to survive.

In over 150 years, no one has found a flaw in the argument (although creationists argue that the first proposition doesn’t hold, thereby nullifying the argument’s force with respect to evolution).  Without Darwin’s theory, we couldn’t do modern epidemiology or create the genetic algorithms that make logistics systems run efficiently or lots of other things.

Very few ideas have been as powerful or been applied so widely to so many good ends.

Einstein’s Miracle Year

Much like Newton, Einstein brilliance sprung forth in a single burst of creativity.  In 1905, now known as his miracle year, the unknown patent clerk unleashed 4 papers of major significance and two of those ideas changed the course of science.

The first was the special theory of relativity, which I have described before, but the basic concept is that time and space are relative measures, not absolute quantities.   It sounds wacky, but GPS is corrected for his equations, so every time you use your car’s navigation system you are inadvertently proving it all over again.

He later added an appending note to his relativity paper when he realized that one of the ramifications was mass-energy equivalence, which he expressed in his famous formula:

E=mc2

The second paper of historical consequence was on the photoelectric effect, where he theorized that light was made up of discrete packets of energy he called quanta (although now known as photons).  Ironically, the idea led to the quantum mechanics, which he could never accept and spent the rest of his life trying to disprove.

Good thing he didn’t.  Most of modern electronics is based on that paper.

Shannon’s Information Theory

Much like Gödel, few people know of Claude Shannon.  He was a quiet, quirky sort, who liked to juggle and ride his unicycle around Bell Labs.

He spent most of the war years working on cryptography for the military, which is where he probably got the idea for his 1948 paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which created the field of information theory (interesting, that was the same year his colleagues invented the transistor).

The basic idea was that information can be broken down into quantifiable entities he called binary digits (or bits for short), which represented two alternative possibilities, much like a coin toss.  Add up all of the coin tosses, and you arrive at the total amount of information that you need to communicate.

Not since Aristotle has such an important theory sprung forth from one man, seemingly out of thin air, which emerged full and complete and that had such enormous historical impact.  It touches everything we do in the digital age, from storing files on a disc to talking on a mobile phone to compressing videos so that we can watch them on YouTube.

Unlike many other geniuses of historical significance, Shannon wasn’t all about theory, he liked putting ideas into practice.  Most notably, applying his formidable mathematical skills in the stock market, where he made a fortune.

Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web

When Tim Berners-Lee was working as a systems administrator at CERN in the 80’s, he noticed a problem.  Physicists would come from all of the world, spend months peering into the mysteries of the universe, but could not communicate what they found with each other in an effective manner.

The problem wasn’t the hardware, the internet had been around for a while by then. Rather, the difficulty lay in that everybody was using different systems and could not easily display their information on a platform where everybody could find and access it.  He saw the need for a electronic filing system where ideas could be universally displayed.

So in November of 1989, he created the three protocols that make up the modern Web, HTTP, URL and HTML.  He continues to embellish the original idea at the World Wide Web Consortium, but those three pillars remain at the center of not only his creation, but allow us to so easily access all the great ideas that came before it.

As Isaac Newton once said, we truly do stand on the shoulders of giants.

– Greg

56 Responses leave one →
  1. June 17, 2012

    Could be true from a secular point of view.

    Cheers -

    [Reply]

  2. June 17, 2012

    Awesome blog post. Organizing data like this brilliant.
    Would u be open to sharing this couple of articles on blog. Let me know.
    Thanks

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Sure. Let me know which ones.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  3. Don Crockett permalink
    June 17, 2012

    Interesting choices. I’d argue that ideas like “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, “Treat others as you wish to be treated”, etc. should be considered if you just went by the title. Given your selection criteria I like most of the choices except for Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and Berners-Lee’s www. I don’t think Godel’s theorem has “greatly affected the lives and work of others” but maybe I’m uninformed. As far as I know it’s certainly not in the same league of productive impact as the other choices. (I also don’t think the theorem implies that all computer programs will crash, it says you can’t build a program that can determine whether all input programs will crash or not.) I think that Berners-Lee’s www is different in kind from the other choices in that it is not a theory or idea about the world, instead it is an invention. There’s an idea behind the www about how to share information but the www is just one implementation of that idea. Because of this I think the www’s longevity will be short-lived compared with the rest of the choices. Will the www (html, url, http) still be with us in 20 years, 50 years, 100 years? If you include the www shouldn’t the lightbulb and the telephone also be included?

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Don,

    This site focuses on the intersection of media, marketing and technology and part of the rationale for the criteria was to make sure the discussion focuses on those topics. I have no interest in discussing the relative merits of political systems, the bible, the koran, etc.

    While different people can have different opinions of Kurt Gödel’s impact, I think you are confusing the incompleteness theorems with Turing’s 1936 paper on computability, which utilizes Gödel numbers in its argument and proves exactly the notion which you described. As for me, finally settling the half century debate on the possibility of a coherent logical system has serious consequences for the modern digital world.

    My rationale for including the World Wide Web and not the telephone or the lightbulb was that the World Wide Web was truly a new idea and one which sprung forth from the mind of one individual. The lightbulb and the telephone were both strong engineering accomplishments that greatly affected the lives of millions, but weren’t really conceptually new. In truth, they were improvements on earlier technology.

    Thanks for you comment.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

    Don Crockett Reply:

    What is your thinking as far as the authorship criteria, why shouldn’t ideas stand on their own merits independent of authorship?

    I’d vote for Turing over Godel as a later comment suggests based on actual impact. As far as Turing basing his work on Godel, “On shoulders of Giants”. Crediting Godel for error checking seems a bit of a stretch. If Godel’s theorem means all programs will eventually crash, error checking is a waste of time :) . Can you provide a reference that demonstrates that Godel’s theorem means all programs will crash?

    [Reply]

    Don Crockett Reply:

    Maybe this is a more direct way to get at my point about your all programs will crash statement. Explain to me using Godel’s theorem how a well written tic-tac-toe program for Windows or iOS will crash eventually?

    Greg Reply:

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, there are some conditions (see some of the other comments from computer scientists as well).

    – Greg

    Greg Reply:

    Don,

    The rationale for the author was twofold. First, I felt it was helpful in narrowing down the list by eliminating political systems, religions (which I don’t want to discuss here) and things whose origin we know very little about, like agriculture and the wheel.

    The second was that I think it’s much more instructive and interesting when an idea comes from a single person. Usually, they leave behind an account of how they came up with it, what drove the to it etc. People are always more interesting than institutions.

    You are probably right that Turing had more practical impact (Gödel was in incredibly impractical man – he starved himself to death), but like I said, Gödel provided much of the foundation for Turings work on computability, was amazingly original and was of greater historical significance.

    That’s no shot against Turing, who is incredible in his own right, but Gödel really shook the world at the time.

    I guess you can argue with the “all programs crash statement,” because it applies to full logical systems and some other conditions.

    – Greg

  4. Nathan Schor permalink
    June 17, 2012

    I’ve been reading your blog forever, first attracted by advertising/marketing content but soon realized there is a lot more going on here than that, as evidenced by this blog among others. Another commentator’s question about re-blogging this post made me realize your blending of conceptual and practical is a useful voice that deserves wider recognition. Did you ever consider guest posting on TechCrunch or Venture Beat . That is not an exclusive list. I mention those two because I’m in San Francisco where they are as well, so am most acquainted with them. Also your ‘blended’ approach reminds me of John Battelle’s postings, both for their content and for having a loyal following for good reason.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Nathan,

    Thanks for your continued support.

    I’m very open to syndication and have never denied a request to report (although I do get annoyed when people do it without asking, especially when people don’t even bother to give attribution). I regularly syndicate on Kyiv Post and Innovation excellence. I’m a big fan of both Tech Crunch and venture beat, so would obviously love to post there.

    Big fan of John Battelle as well. His book on Google was excellent!

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  5. Juanita K Fentiman permalink
    June 17, 2012

    Just for the record, Darwin’s theory as stated in this article isn’t disputed by Christians, it’s the extrapolation that many have used. Christians acknowledge ‘evolution’, just not one species evolving into another one. Darwin’s finches evolved to survive their specific environments, making small changes to their physiology. That has never been in dispute. But, the finches did not change their physiology in any great degree…they still remained birds! They did not change into reptiles, or insects, or mammals (ie.-their ‘kind’ did not change). Christians acknowledge micro-evolution, but vehemently oppose extrapolating this as evidence for macro-evolution. The evidence for macro-evolution is sorely lacking and requires greater faith than believing in a Creator God.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Juanita,

    Please see my comment to Don above.

    With all due respect to both you personally and your religious beliefs, I have no interest in discussing them here.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  6. Abhishek Verma permalink
    June 18, 2012

    Very nice article :)

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks Abishek!

    [Reply]

  7. Chris Tompkinson permalink
    June 18, 2012

    You’re slightly misstating the consequences of Godels Incompleteness Theorems. You state that “No matter how they are constructed, they will eventually end up with a statement that is both true and not true by the rules of the system.”, but that’s not true, if a system is inconsistent then that applies. If it’s incomplete, however, it contains true statements which are not provable but definitely not false.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    You’re right Chris!

    I meant to refer to any closed system (i.e. Hilbert systems), but you are right. The way I stated it was not entirely accurate.

    Good catch!

    – Greg

    [Reply]

    Bobby Reply:

    Another thing people tend to gloss over about Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem is that it only applies to logical systems powerful enough to express addition over all integers. If, for example, I set a limit at some large number and say my system doesn’t tell me what the answer is when the operands exceed that number, then GIT doesn’t apply.

    Which is of course the case for finite computers.

    Philosophically, GIT is very powerful. Given that we only operate in finite systems, I’m not sure it has much practical application :-/

    Finally, on a totally different track, if you stop worrying about attributability, I would say “cooked food” should rank pretty high on the list of world-changing, long-lasting ideas.

    [Reply]

  8. June 18, 2012

    Broken Link: Aristotle’s Logic goes to Euclid’s Wiki Page.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks Tim. It’s fixed now.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  9. Anil permalink
    June 18, 2012

    Greg,
    I stumbled into this post from one of the news gathering sites. I really dont have anything to say about the list as it can vary a lot depending on where you stand. Nevertheless I am intrigued about your choice to include Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. Some one already pointed out but your reply wasnt clear to me. How it is relevant or more exactly are there any applications of this idea which are relevant. May be it solved a century long debate of some sort, but still I dont know how it made into this list.
    I am thoroughly uninformed here, so highly appreciated if you can shed some light !

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Anil,

    Yes, you’re right. That comment had multiple questions so I got a bit sidetracked. Sorry.

    The simple answer is this: Gödel set the limits of what computers can and can’t do.

    So, while people don’t wake up in the morning saying, “Thank you Gödel, because of you I can use my coffee grinder this morning!” he did establish the “round earth” of logic and, of course, digital technology runs on logic. So his ideas formed the theoretical basis for a bunch of other ideas (i.e. error checking) by which we make digital technology reliable.

    Historically, the significance is hard to overstate. To explain, let me add some context.

    Coming into the 20th century, people generally assumed that the world was based on three things: Euclid’s geometry, Newton’s physics and Aristotle’s logic. Those things were what made up the “rational world.” By the late 19th century, some academics began to see that those things were not 100% true (i.e. there were important cases in which they failed to hold up).

    Einstein showed that Newton’s theories were, in fact, a special case that apply to the human context of things that aren’t very big or small or moving very fast and, to a certain extent, showed that non-Euclidean geometry (i.e. the idea that parallel lines do, in fact, intersect) developed by people like Gauss and Riemann had some practical significance.

    Gödel played very much the same role in logic. The flaws had been noticed a half century earlier and the debate among people like Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and David Hilbert (some of the smartest people at the time, Einstein’s paper on General Relativity beat out Hilbert’s by only about a week) was intense and far reaching.

    It was in 1931, that the 25 year-old finally settled the question with one brilliant paper. Rationality is not absolute, but bounded. That formed much of the basis for Alan Turing’s work and the conception of computer science. In my mind, that qualifies as one of history’s great ideas.

    I hope that answers your question. Let me know if it doesn’t.

    Also, I’ve written before about the importance of Gödel in greater context. Here are two if you want to check them out:

    Broken Logic, Uncertainty and Emergence

    Top-down vs. Bottom-up Strategy

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  10. Jack permalink
    June 18, 2012

    Meh.
    You list a bunch of outstanding scientific breakthroughs, and then a minor bit of engineering (the web). If you’d have said “the internet” it might be better, but that’s still not a major scientific/thought breakthrough.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jack,

    Well, first of all, the Internet wouldn’t satisfy the condition of “authorship (i.e. they can be traced to one person).” Secondly, I don’t think that the Web was really a engineering accomplishment (in fact it has been criticized in that regard.” Berners-Lee patched it together in a month and many people could have done it.

    For me, what really stands out was his concept that using fairly simple mark-ups and hyperlinks a universal medium could be created.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  11. Abdo permalink
    June 18, 2012

    The wheel

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Problems with authorship. We really don’t know who, if anyone individually, had the idea. So it doesn’t meet the criteria I set out at the beginning.

    Thanks for your comment.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  12. June 18, 2012

    There’s clearly a bias here toward 20th century ideas used in computer science. Not a single idea from moral or artistic spheres of influence, which is a shame because art and morality have had a far greater impact on humanity than any of the ideas you mention.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Patrick,

    As I mentioned in a couple of my comments above, this is a blog about the intersection of media, marketing and technology. While I recognize that issues of morality and faith are important, I do not care to discuss them here.

    Thanks.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

    Patrick Dobson Reply:

    Well your desire to avoid moral ideas is fair, as it doesn’t fit in with the topics in this blog, but to exclude great artistic accomplishments or “softer” scientific ideas in a blog that states its focus is in part on media and marketing is a rather large failure.

    It seems to me that Edward Bernays belongs on this list, being the first to apply Freudian principles to marketing:
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays

    And while we’re at it, Freud himself should probably have a spot here.

    Shakespeare belongs on this list, who was probably the first mass-market media mogul. Thespis too should make an appearance as a large chunk of our media is vastly different without him. Aristotle’s ideas about theatre would also warrant him being put on the list a second time. We would barely have any media at all if Gutenberg hadn’t applied entrepreneurship to movable type in the 1450s.

    The point of all of this is that your headline is link bait and intellectually dishonest. These 7 ideas may not even be the 7 best with regards to technology, but you present them here as the 7 best in history ( before qualifying them to media, marketing, and technology only).

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    I like the Gutenberg idea (although there too there are some problems with authorship, Printing was actually invented earlier in China and nobody really knows who did it).

    I do, of course, disagree that I am dishonest. If you feel that way, you are perfectly within your rights not to return.

    – Greg

  13. June 18, 2012

    The author of the text is quite boldly stating the seven greatest ideas in the history of man. I think that he’s confusing ideas with hard-work.
    All people mentioned in the article achieved these great things by hard hard work.
    They didn’t have a eureka moment (they might have…but it only played a little part in their effort).

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    For his part, the author strenuously disagrees:-)

    Although, I do think you make a very good point. Great ideas are much more than a simple flash of inspiration. They take work to mature.

    Interestingly, at least two of the ideas mentioned (Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and Tim Berners-Lee’s Web), both had origins in fantasies the men had as children.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  14. Jason permalink
    June 18, 2012

    Like others I’m not persuaded by your choice or defense of Tim Berners-Lee. It would seem at a minimum to fail the longevity criteria. And while certainly clever it was nonetheless an extension of a basic problem in communication – a shared protocol. A hundred years ago Samuel Morse would have been a similar choice (and indeed might still be a better choice on the longevity criteria).

    Add to the list of overlooked candidates any number of folks from the 20’s and 30’s revolution in physics – I pick Heisenberg for the Uncertainty principle. Here is radical way of thinking of how the world works at the most basic level.

    Also, I would have chosen Turing over Godel. The idea (and proof) of general purpose computing machine has had more impact on people’s lives than the incompleteness theorem ever will

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jason,

    Fair points.

    My thinking on Tim Berners-Lee is that, although the idea of a shared protocol was not exactly new, combining it with hyperlinks was. Furthermore, he tried for a few years to evangelize the idea, but couldn’t get anybody to see the potential, so he went and built it himself, so it couldn’t be that obvious.

    As for longevity, I admit it’s a bit too early to tell, but in my opinion it will stand the test of time.

    I also see your point about Turing having more practical significance than Gödel. However, as he based his work on Gödel (i.e. Gödel numbering played a prominent part in his landmark paper of computabile numbers) I see Turing as somewhat of an extension of Gödel. I realize that others may have different opinions.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  15. johnson s. permalink
    June 18, 2012

    all the thinkers are wonderful, the world is driven by ideals wrong or right. What i understood is constructive argument by those great thinker create opportunity 4 reseacher to intensify efforts. Idea driven d world.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Yes. However, as Feynman said “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong”

    Check out this video (it’s one of my favorites)

    [Reply]

  16. June 18, 2012

    I think you’re mistaking the implications of the Incompleteness Theorems. Nobody ever uses a logical system that contains contradictions, so instead everyone settles for incompleteness. That doesn’t mean computer programs will fail or systems will break. It just means there are some theorems that can’t be proved within the framework of a particular logical theory. Change the framework and the unprovable statements may change. It’s a common joke among we mathematicians that non-mathematicians think the Incompleteness Theorems are something magical, but it’s really not all that crazy, and there are many many many different kinds of Goedel type theorems that are drastically different.
    Jeremy´s last blog post ..Streaming Median

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Jeremy,

    No, I don’t think I am mistaking the implications (although I don’t disagree with your analysis). Moreover, I freely admit that I glossed over some aspects of Gödel that are important, particularly for specialists (which, btw, I am not).

    However, in assessing Gödel, I think you would have to imagine what the world would have been without him. Would Turing’s or Minsky’s work have been the same? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Without Turing or Minsky, would computer science be the same? Again, I doubt it.

    In any case, the main purpose of including Gödel was to introduce him to non-specialists, the vast majority of whom have never heard of him, are unaware of the issues concerning logical systems, computabilility and so on.

    On a completely different note, I really liked your post on Kolmogorov complexity. I wrote a few posts on it a while ago which you can check out (and poke holes in if you want).

    http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-simple-dilemma/
    http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-mona-lisa-code/

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  17. June 18, 2012

    Interesting read, thanks!

    By the way, HTTP is a protocol, but URL and HTML are not.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Well, strictly speaking you’re right, but using a more broader definition (i.e. a set of customs and practices) I think they can be described that way. In any case, I didn’t think the distinction was important for the purposes of this post.

    Thanks for your comment.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  18. June 19, 2012

    Speaking as a woman who loves to cook, I’d much rather have the knife set, provided it’s of high quality.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Just goes to show you, man can never win:-)

    [Reply]

  19. June 22, 2012

    What about Rome? Still going today (USA/EU/ASEAN).

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    A bit fuzzy on authorship there…

    [Reply]

  20. June 24, 2012

    MEMO TO THE WORLD: Always wear your big boy brain when reading Greg Satell’s Digital Tonto, beautifully at the crossroads of media, marketing and technology.

    “The 7 Greatest Ideas in History” article, including reader’s comments and Greg’s replies, makes a wonderful digital reading experience.

    Greg, I like your list. I think it’s fine; hey, it’s your list.

    Near the upper half of my list (oh yea, I gotta’ list) would be Soupy Sales invention of White Fang, the kissinest dog in the USA.

    And I would include a slice of howard boatman’s right brain http://boatmanview.com/aldousboatman.htm , with permission of course.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks Dan. Have a great Sunday!

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  21. July 14, 2012

    Wonderful post; am going to pass it along to some teachers as a great way to start school year; have students list their top. Should promote reverence for these truly broad shoulders.

    If there is one I would add it would be The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (of course does not stand alone without the contributions of the all the quantum folks). It is the point in quantum mechanics that bridges the gap between classical western science and eastern philosophy: that we really cannot objectively know the universe around us.
    Grant Lichtman´s last blog post ..Flipping Our Minds, Not Just Our Classes

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks Grant! The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is interesting, but a bit narrow as far as Heisenberg’s work goes. I think the link to Eastern mysticism is something that other people read in later.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  22. Ron permalink
    December 30, 2013

    I don’t agree with your choice of Shannon. Did not George Boole come up with the idea of this logic before Shannon did in his Master’s thesis?

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Ron,

    Boole is an interesting choice, but no, what Shannon did was almost wholly original and goes far beyond Boolean logic.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

    Ron Reply:

    Greg, I’ve always thought Shannon’s idea is an extention of Boolean logic (0’s and 1’s). To say Shannon’s ideas sprung out of thin air seems not to be entirely true. Was Shannon aware or familiar with Boole’s ideas at all? If so then Shannon would be standing on ‘shoulders’ to see a bit further.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    No. That’s not accurate. Shannon’s insight was that information could be defined as the opposite of ambiguity and therefore could be measured as a series of “coin flips.” While this was obviously important for the application Boolean logic, the two are very separate and distinct.

    – Greg

  23. Ron permalink
    December 30, 2013

    Greg,
    It seems to me Boolean algebra became the foundation of practical digital circuit design; and Boole, via Shannon (with a nod to Shestakov), provided the theoretical basis for the computer age.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Everybody’s entitled to their perspective, but to be honest, I have no idea what cryptography and compression has to do with logic gates.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  24. Ron permalink
    December 31, 2013

    Not sure what you’re saying. Perhaps we should agree that Shannon was influenced by Boole and leave at that. As Guizzo said in his paper: The Essential Message: Claude Shannon and the Making of Information Theory, “nineteenth-century logic made possible today’s twenty-first century information technology”

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    I think your mixing things up a bit. It’s true that Boolean is essential for logic gates and the design of circuits, but Shannon’s information theory really didn’t have anything to do with circuits. He did certainly do important work with Boolean logic and circuits, but that was separate and distinct from information theory.

    btw. The statement”“nineteenth-century logic made possible today’s twenty-first century information technology” is certainly true, but doesn’t pertain only (or even primarily) to Boole. There’s a very direct line from Russell’s Paradox to Turing’s Universal Computer. If you’re interested, I wrote about it (and the relationship between information theory and Boole) here: http://www.digitaltonto.com/2012/the-improbable-origins-of-modern-computing/

    – Greg

    [Reply]

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