Modern einsteins

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matthewhaworth
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Modern einsteins

Postby matthewhaworth » Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:05 am UTC

Do you think anybody has made a contribution to science as big as einstein since einstein?

Who do you think we'll be looking back on in about fifty years saying "wow, they were amazing", that's around today?

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:11 am UTC

matthewhaworth wrote:Do you think anybody has made a contribution to science as big as einstein since einstein?

Who do you think we'll be looking back on in about fifty years saying "wow, they were amazing", that's around today?

The problem is that it's hard to say what will get remembered and who will get what credit. Robert Hooke was a great rival of Newton's; today Newton is far better remembered (although Hooke is hardly obscure). That said, I don't think anyone quite matches up to Einstein yet.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Cobramaster » Tue Jan 12, 2010 12:54 am UTC

Well Hawking is pretty damn close to Einstein though he contributes to a narrower field since Einstein allowed for a re-write of physics Hawking has only done the weird and small.

Also Watson, Crick, and Pauling all made significant discoveries that changed things for everyone on earth to some extent. And to be honest discoveries on the scale of Einstein are a bit more common today only in fields that are ignored.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Tue Jan 12, 2010 1:12 am UTC

Hawking is not even close to Einstein. Sorry. He has done some impressive work on Black Holes, but it is hardly revolutionary stuff. He has not given us any new fundamental insights into the universe.

Physics at the moment seems to be somewhat stuck. The beginning of the last century gave us two great revolutions, quantum mechanics and general relativity, and pretty much all of the 20th century went into understanding the consequences of those theories. But we're reaching the limits of that. We know the theories are not complete, but we don't know what to replace them with.

The next Einstein will be whoever writes down a satisfactory theory of quantum gravity.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby hotnewrelease » Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:31 am UTC

In physics, I would say no one since Einstein is an Einstein.

The problem is that with fields which are mostly experimental, there's less of a chance to tie everything together with a nice theory like Einstein did.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby ecshafer » Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:20 am UTC

Feynman made a pretty big splash, quantum electro-dynamics was a pretty big step forward. Fermi was also a pretty big player. But as a previous post said, next einstein will be the one who gets quantum gravity done

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Syntax » Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:58 am UTC

Feynman.



/I hope Randall reads this and fumes





...but in all seriousness, Hawking. His results might not be as earth shattering or media conducive as Einstein's....But gosh darn it, he can only communicate with the outside world at 15 words per minute. AND his books got nerdy high-schoolers all over the world interested in physics.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Tue Jan 12, 2010 7:31 am UTC

Well you have a point there. Einstein was more than just a great scientist. He was a very inspiring one. In modern times, Feynman and Hawkins share this trait. And I'm sure both will still be remembered a thousand years from now (if the LHC doesn't turn earth into a black hole). But neither was as revolutiory as Einstein.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Username4242 » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:17 am UTC

Charles Darwin.

Oh wait...

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue Jan 12, 2010 8:57 am UTC

In modern times, Feynman and Hawkins share this trait.

That's Hawking. OTOH, I've often wished he'd do a version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You. Or maybe his Constipation Blues would be more appropriate. :)

Seriously though, Hawking's medical condition has made him attractive to the media because they are generally terrible with science & scientists, but with Hawking they can just touch briefly on the science & focus on the "human interest" angle.

I suspect that in 1000 years Feynman will be a bigger name than Hawking or Penrose. Black hole theory is important, but nowhere near as important as QED, IMHO.

I agree that a person who comes up with a correct Quantum Gravity theory would be the next Einstein, but I suspect that this unification will be a collaborative effort. OTOH, Einstein wouldn't have been able to formulate GR without the help of people like Minkowski, and some say that Einstein's first wife also made significant contributions.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Tue Jan 12, 2010 2:28 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:
In modern times, Feynman and Hawkins share this trait.

That's Hawking.

Whoops. Now I just need to write Feynmann and Einstien and I'll score a lot of points on the crackpot index :)

(Actually this one was just a typo. I spelled it correctly in my first post. Hawking is not that hard a name. I had a lot more trouble with Schwarzschild).

Seriously though, Hawking's medical condition has made him attractive to the media because they are generally terrible with science & scientists, but with Hawking they can just touch briefly on the science & focus on the "human interest" angle.

True. That's certainly the most important aspect. But it's not just that. He's also able to capture the public's imagination with his books. He can write in a way that is attractive to the general public.

Like Einstein, and Feynman.

I suspect that in 1000 years Feynman will be a bigger name than Hawking or Penrose. Black hole theory is important, but nowhere near as important as QED, IMHO.

Oh, absolutely. No doubt about it.

I agree that a person who comes up with a correct Quantum Gravity theory would be the next Einstein, but I suspect that this unification will be a collaborative effort. OTOH, Einstein wouldn't have been able to formulate GR without the help of people like Minkowski, and some say that Einstein's first wife also made significant contributions.

And Lorentz. And Michelson & Morley. And Eddington, Riemann, Poincaré, probably a dozen others. Einstein certainly didn't work in a vacuum.

But I agree with you that modern science is more collaborative than it was a 100 years ago. You rarely see papers with less than 4 authors these days. The field has become too complex and too big to be overseeable by one single person. So yeah, maybe we'll never see a true Einstein, a Darwin, a Newton, again.

On the other hand, even scientists need heroes. If there are no true giants, the merely huge ones will have to do.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jan 12, 2010 3:07 pm UTC

Syntax wrote:AND his books got nerdy high-schoolers all over the world interested in physics.

Well if we're talking about science popularizers, you can't possibly forget Carl Sagan. But while there have been people this past century who were perhaps even better than Einstein at inspiring other people into science, probably no single person is responsible for as significant a purely scientific breakthrough as he was.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Nintendon't » Tue Jan 12, 2010 5:43 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:no single person is responsible for as significant a purely scientific breakthrough as he was.


I agree; nobody has made any revolutionary laws that changed physics the way that Einstein has, I think it'll be a few decades before we get another one.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Ingolifs » Tue Jan 12, 2010 9:54 pm UTC

If string theory is ever vindicated, I'd expect to see Edward Witten's name up there. By all accounts the man has a phenomenal intellect, but if string theory hits a fatal problem, I think his name will be lost to obscurity.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Roĝer » Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:33 pm UTC

Some (including me) argue that string theory has been hitting a fatal flaw for the last 40 years: it has not produced a single prediction.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Jan 13, 2010 3:00 am UTC

Diadem wrote:And Lorentz. And Michelson & Morley. And Eddington, Riemann, Poincaré, probably a dozen others. Einstein certainly didn't work in a vacuum.

Sure. Lorentz had equations, but Einstein came up with a better interpretation of them. The other guys thought that length contraction & time dilation were related to electromagnetism (since the only relativistic particles they'd observed were charged), but Einstein showed that they arose from the properties of spacetime itself, and that was the big breakthrough, IMHO. I've read a little of Poincaré's work (in English), and I get the distinct impression that Special Relativity never really "clicked" for him.

gmalivuk wrote:Well if we're talking about science popularizers, you can't possibly forget Carl Sagan. But while there have been people this past century who were perhaps even better than Einstein at inspiring other people into science, probably no single person is responsible for as significant a purely scientific breakthrough as he was.

Speaking of inspiring popularizers, let's not forget Isaac Asimov. And I guess Arthur C Clarke & various other hard sci-fi writers like E.E. "Doc" Smith & H Beam Piper also deserve a mention for inspiring people to take up scientific or technical careers.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Ingolifs » Wed Jan 13, 2010 9:31 pm UTC

Roĝer wrote:Some (including me) argue that string theory has been hitting a fatal flaw for the last 40 years: it has not produced a single prediction.


But that's not a fatal flaw though, is it? A theory producing a contradiction within itself or predicting something that goes against experiment would be described as encountering a 'fatal flaw'. Lack of evidence does not denote a fundamental flaw within the theory, it only denotes a lack of evidence. From what I've read, string theory does contain a few predictions, but as of yet these predictions require supercollider energies vastly exceeding what we can currently achieve. String theory can only be fatally flawed once it runs into something contradictory. Until then, it is more or less a conjecture.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Ventanator » Wed Jan 13, 2010 10:41 pm UTC

Ahem, since the whole 'science popularizers' thing is being discussed, I do believe that a man named Michio Kaku should be mentioned.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:00 am UTC

Ingolifs wrote:
Roĝer wrote:Some (including me) argue that string theory has been hitting a fatal flaw for the last 40 years: it has not produced a single prediction.

But that's not a fatal flaw though, is it? A theory producing a contradiction within itself or predicting something that goes against experiment would be described as encountering a 'fatal flaw'. Lack of evidence does not denote a fundamental flaw within the theory

Lack of provability however, does. I consider 'being unprovable' a pretty fatal flaw.

it only denotes a lack of evidence. From what I've read, string theory does contain a few predictions, but as of yet these predictions require supercollider energies vastly exceeding what we can currently achieve.

The problem is that they are not merely slightly out of reach of current collidors, but vastly out of reach, and as of yet we do not have a clue how we could ever make them within reach. That is perhaps not fundamentally unprovable, but in practical terms it is.

It's like right-handed neutrinos. Neutrinos observed in nature are all left-handed. Some theorists have speculated about right-handed neutrinos. In some of those models those neutrinos do not interact via the weak force. Since neutrinos do not interact electromagnetically or via the strong interaction either, that would make them prety much entirely undetectable. The only force they would feel would be gravity. But there's simply no conceivable way to detect them then. At that point you really have to ask yourself if you're still doing science.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Posi » Fri Jan 15, 2010 7:36 am UTC

Ventanator wrote:Ahem, since the whole 'science popularizers' thing is being discussed, I do believe that a man named Michio Kaku should be mentioned.

Bill Nye. Science Rules.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Zamfir » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:43 pm UTC

Posi wrote:Bill Nye. Science Rules.

Well, perhaps I am being rude now, but I am not sure Bill Nye is really in the same league as Einstein was. But in 1000 years, who knows what gets remembered?

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:17 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Posi wrote:Bill Nye. Science Rules.

Well, perhaps I am being rude now, but I am not sure Bill Nye is really in the same league as Einstein was. But in 1000 years, who knows what gets remembered?

He means as a popularizer of science, I'm sure, not a scientist himself.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Ventanator » Sat Jan 16, 2010 12:53 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:
Zamfir wrote:
Posi wrote:Bill Nye. Science Rules.

Well, perhaps I am being rude now, but I am not sure Bill Nye is really in the same league as Einstein was. But in 1000 years, who knows what gets remembered?

He means as a popularizer of science, I'm sure, not a scientist himself.



Please, you KNOW that Bill Nye ranks with Einstein. Honestly, he (and Dexter's Lab) are the only reasons I liked school as a kid...

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Jan 16, 2010 1:24 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:
Zamfir wrote:
Posi wrote:Bill Nye. Science Rules.

Well, perhaps I am being rude now, but I am not sure Bill Nye is really in the same league as Einstein was. But in 1000 years, who knows what gets remembered?

He means as a popularizer of science, I'm sure, not a scientist himself.

In a similar vein, we remember Euclid over 2000 years after his death. He wasn't a particularly great mathematician, but he was a brilliant organizer & teacher, and we are still in debt to him for his systemization of geometry, and in fact virtually all the mathematics that was known to his culture.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby rgwzlfw » Sat Jan 16, 2010 5:35 am UTC

I would say that the biggest advances in physics since the early 20th century have been in quantum field theory. So, if we are to go by Nobel prizes, we've got:
  • Lee & Yang (1957)
  • Feynman, Schwinger & Tomonaga (1965)
  • Gell-Mann (1969)
  • Glashow, Salam & Weinberg (1979)
To add to that, John Bardeen is a dual laureate (the only one in physics other than Marie Curie), but not in quantum field theory. Now, only a handful of these people are still alive, so I don't know if you can call any of them "modern", let along compare them to Einstein. I guess if I had to pick one, who is still alive, I'd go with Murray Gell-Mann. He's pretty smart. If dead people are permitted, Schwinger would also be in the running.

It is absurd to compare Hawking and Sagan to Einstein. Hawking radiation is a great result, but as others have said it hardly revolutionised physics. And Sagan wasn't even really a physicist. If you're going to compare Carl Sagan to Einstein, you may as well also give Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson the same honour.

I think what sets Einstein apart from other great physicists is more his enduring status as a cultural icon than his discoveries as such. Special and general relativity were both huge revolutions, but so were quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. Yet Heisenberg, for example, is not revered by the public to anywhere near the same degree as Einstein. Are people very interested in the life and views of Newton? Newton was every bit as instrumental in the development of physics as Einstein -- maybe more so. Overall, other than Darwin, is there any other scientist who has become as iconic as Einstein?

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Cobramaster » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:05 am UTC

I once again must say Watson and Crick he did say science not Physics and to be honest the basic building block of life is a bit more world impacting than almost everything Einstein did that did not lead to nuclear weapons and energy.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby BlackSails » Sat Jan 16, 2010 6:12 am UTC

Cobramaster wrote:I once again must say Watson and Crick he did say science not Physics and to be honest the basic building block of life is a bit more world impacting than almost everything Einstein did that did not lead to nuclear weapons and energy.


They didnt really have any groundbreaking insight though. They interpreted a picture that many other people could have interpreted. I think that Avery or Khorana's work was more important.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:49 am UTC

rgwzlfw wrote:I would say that the biggest advances in physics since the early 20th century have been in quantum field theory. So, if we are to go by Nobel prizes, we've got:
  • Lee & Yang (1957)
  • Feynman, Schwinger & Tomonaga (1965)
  • Gell-Mann (1969)
  • Glashow, Salam & Weinberg (1979)

Your list is missing 't Hooft & Veldman, who got the Nobel prize in 1999 for dimensional regularization.

I want to nominate 't Hooft as greatest living physicist. Dimensional regularization is just awesome, and he's done a lot of other very important stuff as well. Especially if there turns out to be some truth in his holographic model of the universe. Besides he's from my university, but of course that doesn't play any role whatsoever in my nomination :)
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Zamfir » Sat Jan 16, 2010 1:44 pm UTC

rgwzlfw wrote:I think what sets Einstein apart from other great physicists is more his enduring status as a cultural icon than his discoveries as such. Special and general relativity were both huge revolutions, but so were quantum mechanics and quantum field theory. Yet Heisenberg, for example, is not revered by the public to anywhere near the same degree as Einstein. Are people very interested in the life and views of Newton? Newton was every bit as instrumental in the development of physics as Einstein -- maybe more so. Overall, other than Darwin, is there any other scientist who has become as iconic as Einstein?

I think you are underestimating how iconic Newton is, and especially used to be. For centuries, Newton was not just "the greatest scientist ever", but literally the icon of science itself. Einstein's status itself is largely as "Newton for the modern age".

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Link » Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:56 pm UTC

Posi wrote:
Ventanator wrote:Ahem, since the whole 'science popularizers' thing is being discussed, I do believe that a man named Michio Kaku should be mentioned.

Bill Nye. Science Rules.

In that vain you might as well add Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

Who knows, though - it's perfectly possible that some of the people simply labelled crackpots today are the great names of tomorrow. In particular, John Hutchison and Burkhard Heim come to mind as people who may have been on to something.

The problem with physics nowadays, IMO, is that the main theories really need more experimental data, which becomes increasingly difficult to obtain as the theories become more complex. I suspect that there will be more predictions and more accurate theories when things like the Higgs boson and the graviton are found - or, even more so, if they are not found in experiments during which they should be found. In the first case, physicists will be able to build on the idea that the current theories are correct. In the latter case, it could mean our understanding of the universe is really much smaller than we'd thought, and that some theories need to scrapped or rewritten entirely.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Ratio » Sat Jan 16, 2010 4:21 pm UTC

How about Paul Dirac? Since a lot of his work is still under heavy investigation, we might see some truely revolutionary ideas come from his work within the next few years, admittedly we're not seeing this impact from him in his lifetime, and he lived at the same time as Einstein, but he died quite a bit afterwords, so he might be "Since Einstein"

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Josephine » Sat Jan 16, 2010 7:05 pm UTC

Link wrote:Who knows, though - it's perfectly possible that some of the people simply labelled crackpots today are the great names of tomorrow. In particular, John Hutchison and Burkhard Heim come to mind as people who may have been on to something.

That would be the best headline ever.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby ecshafer » Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:14 pm UTC

watson and crick were good ones. And asa physicist I naturally go towards physicists. But thinking outside of physics, next "einstein" will probably be a biologist, a lot of things are getting done in the field, and its advancing quickly

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Talith » Sat Jan 16, 2010 10:44 pm UTC

How about the only physicist to ever win a fields medal. Ed Witten truely pushed string theory ahead when he introduced M-theory. If string theory ever makes predictions that are observed, I would think Witten would be the name that everyone remembers.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Sat Jan 16, 2010 11:25 pm UTC

Link wrote:Who knows, though - it's perfectly possible that some of the people simply labelled crackpots today are the great names of tomorrow. In particular, John Hutchison and Burkhard Heim come to mind as people who may have been on to something.

I don't think the latter deserves to be in the same sentence as the former.

Hutchison is a crackpot and a fraud. Heim was an eccentric but serieus theoretical phycisist. Heim was taken seriously in the scientific community. Not that they bought his theories, but his brilliance was recognizned. He's comparable to Wolfram I suppose.

Science needs a few eccentrics like that. Because research on the fringes of what is science is also important. Nine of out ten times it is simply utterly wrong. But occasionally it yields very unexpected results. Science doesn't grow by exploring only the right avenues. It grows by exploring all avenues and finding the right ones.

Zamfir wrote:I think you are underestimating how iconic Newton is, and especially used to be. For centuries, Newton was not just "the greatest scientist ever", but literally the icon of science itself. Einstein's status itself is largely as "Newton for the modern age".

Agree. Newton is generally seen as the greatest scientist ever. Followed by Einstein and Darwin. If I had to add a fourth I'd pick Aristotle.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby BlackSails » Sat Jan 16, 2010 11:32 pm UTC

Diadem wrote:Agree. Newton is generally seen as the greatest scientist ever. Followed by Einstein and Darwin. If I had to add a fourth I'd pick Aristotle.


Aristotle was a terrible scientist.

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby bigglesworth » Sat Jan 16, 2010 11:45 pm UTC

I'd say Sanger could be said to be Biology's Einstein, if I had to choose someone. Both incredibly important for big projects that came after: the atom-smashers and the Human Genome Project.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby BlackSails » Sat Jan 16, 2010 11:54 pm UTC

The human genome project didnt do anything groundbreaking though. Its the equivalent of taking very precise measurements of many stars - very useful and important, but nothing earthshattering

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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Diadem » Sun Jan 17, 2010 12:03 am UTC

BlackSails wrote:
Diadem wrote:Agree. Newton is generally seen as the greatest scientist ever. Followed by Einstein and Darwin. If I had to add a fourth I'd pick Aristotle.

Aristotle was a terrible scientist.

I suppose he wasn't a scientist at all. Science didn't exist before Aristotle. After Aristotle, well, saying it did exist would be too much praise, but he definitely laid the foundations.

His contribution is huge.

BlackSails wrote:The human genome project didnt do anything groundbreaking though. Its the equivalent of taking very precise measurements of many stars - very useful and important, but nothing earthshattering

Well I suppose it speaks to the imagination. So does taking very cool picture of many stars, so the comparison is not that bad. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is just fucking awesome.
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Re: Modern einsteins

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sun Jan 17, 2010 2:47 am UTC

Galileo deserves to be above Aristotle. Aristotle wasn't into experiment, so he doesn't count.
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