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Influences in the header image June 22, 2010

Posted by Ian in Miscellaneous.

As promised earlier, a list of the people in my header image and why they are there.  The images are in no particular order in the image (I don’t think it would make sense to order them really) but they are listed below left-to-right:

Carl Sagan 

Astronomer, skeptic and wonderful science educator.  The biggest lesson Sagan offered me as I discovered my way into skepticism and science was that the world is fantastic without fantasy.

Ludwig von Boltzmann

The tortured genius regarded as the father of statistical thermodynamics.  His integration of the work of atomic physicists with the thermodynamicists that preceded him (Joule, Carnot, Kelvin etc) really set up our modern understanding of thermodynamics with the micro explanation for thermodynamic laws.  Further he was one of the very first  to recognise the significance of the second law as a driver of dynamic systems.  His grave bears his famous equation S = k log W.

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

Slightly obscure but he one of the fathers of ecological economics, and one of the first to make the connection between the economy and one of the only empirical measures of value, entropy.  His book The Entropy Law and the Economic Process is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  The depth and clarity of the ideas within this volume are startling.  It took several decades before his work permeated the mainstream but its slowly taking hold.

Bertrand Russell

The first great atheist and a hero to those that follow in his foot steps.  He was also a first rate logician and mathematician.  His inspiring book Why I am not a Christian is inspiring, logical and thorough.

Charles Darwin

Biologist and naturalist.  It is somewhat of a cliché to acknowledge Darwin but his contributions to man’s understanding of the world cannot be overstated.  He didn’t present us with a finished product but rather kick-started a revolution in man’s view of the world that is still having a powerful effect today.  His ability to break from the accepted dogma of the day and to observe the world as it is, not as it was “supposed” to be was a sign of a true thinker.

Richard Feynman

While his contributions to quantum physics were significant, Feynman inspires me for other reasons.  His insistence that knowing more about something can only add, but never detract from the beauty of something is something that I live by.  Also his arguments for education that teaches people to think rather than what to think (rote learning) underscore my philosophy as a teacher today.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Another slightly obscure one.  The father of systems thinking and general systems theory in particular, von Bertalanffy gave the world the tools and language to express the complex dynamic systems we see around us.  Much of the way I view the world today ultimately traces back to his work.

Update:  I figured I’d add in some people not shown above who were also influential:

Honourable mentions

Stephen Jay Gould – especially for the book Life’s Grandeur
Douglas Adams – for simply getting the world, and for making me feel better being perpetually behind with everything
John Gribbin – for the 20+ books of his on my bookshelf that taught me science, with a special nod to Deep Simplicity
Jacob Bronowski – for The Ascent of Man
David Attenborough – for all his work, especially the Life series.
Richard Dawkins – especially for Unweaving the Rainbow



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