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Scientific breakthroughs by mavericks

  1. Oct 29, 2004 #1


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    This has puzzled me for days [short term memory is kicking in]. When was the last time a career crackpot suddenly got it right and resurrected that pet theory with a stroke of brilliance? My unscientific survey indicates that virtually all great discoveries have emerged from people who worked hard, respected their peers, got it right the first time, and had to be coaxed to go public with them.
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  3. Oct 29, 2004 #2


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    Well, Wronski (that is, in the Wronski-determinant) was, for most of his life justifiably considered a crackpot.
    He lived back in the 18th century.
  4. Oct 29, 2004 #3


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    Wegener's floating continents idea was disdained by geologists until it was cleaned up and introduced as plate techtonics, but that was AFAIK after Wegener's death.
  5. Oct 29, 2004 #4
    Tesla's most important ideas where considered lunacy- only the slightly insane ones like AC and TV came to fruition [as of yet]- he died penniless

    One of the most important minds in Psychology- Wilhelm Reich- had excellent ideas/results concerning his Orgone- he died in prison as a HERETIC in 1950,s "free" America

    Stanislav Grof and Timothy Leary are considered crackpots today from political smearing and misinformation- in a few decades these people will be in high school psychology textbooks [and not social studies textbooks]-

    James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis is essentially correct- and accepted by many in Biology- but is considered crankish by others- same with Systems Theory-

    those who have even heard of gustav fechner think he was a mystic loon- they don't even realize that it is thanks to him that we could uncover the mysteries of the human brain-

    Halton Arp is considered a crackpot by most in the Scientific Community- yet his contributions to astronomy are peerless

    David Bohm's Holographic interpretation of QM is quietly allowed to persist becasue of his "pedigree"- but ignored by physicists- yet it is clearly a superior model- and is constantly being borne out by new work- Hooft and Beckenstein have never- as far as I know - given him credit for the basic idea of holographic emergence [they are of course wholly different Holographic ideas- but the core concept of spacetime emerging/unfoding it's metric and properties from more fundemental relationships is the same]

    Bucky Fuller was considered just a jolly and bright pranckster- even a crackpot- when his ideas are crucial to the future of human civilization-

    currently scientists/inventors/thinkers like Eric Drexler and my heroes Ray Kurzweil and Marvin Minsky are considered on the fringe [they do at least get some respect and are not labeled as crackpots- but very on the extreme fringe- which still baffles me- as I see their ideas as axiomatic]-

    everyone thought that my generation of computer scientists were living nerd fantasies to think that normal folks would EVER use computers or networks-

    I can go on- these people I consider the foundations and pillars of modern science/technology and our understanding of the world- but they are all considered freaks and cranks- AC electricity- the environmental movement- the fields of psychology and neuroscience- and the internet- all came from them- the "mainstream" only ran with their ideas [ignoring the really important ideas for the ones that could bring in the quick buck]- they can't get the credit for the ideas
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2004
  6. Oct 29, 2004 #5


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    I wouldn't say they all got it right the first time (a development period is perfectly normal), but one thing that sets apart the good scientists from the bad is a willingness to accept their own mistakes. Einstein and his cosmological constant are a good example.
    I wouldn't go that far. There was somewhat of a rivalry between Tesla and Edison and obviously Tesla won the important battle (AC power). Obviously, AC power was not considered lunacy, otherwise it wouldn't have been adopted.

    I always get the impression that Tesla is portrayed as more of a crackpot than he really was in an effort to show other crackpots are at the same level. The same goes for Einstein - the fact that he was a patent clerk is played up to (erroneously) show that he was a layman or, at least, outside the "establishment."

    And the jury is still out (to be generous) on many of the others you have there.
  7. Nov 1, 2004 #6


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    Is there not a danger in labelling people too readily? Labels are a shorthand way of identifying who to take notice of and who to ignore. However, we need to look beneath the labels and examine their ideas.

    If genuinely 'crackpot' they can be quickly recognised; however, genuine "thinkers outside the box" are much harder work and their ideas may well be ignored, not by the savant but by the lazy. Science sometimes advances by small increments and sometimes by paradigm changes. Invariably the paradigm change is introduced by a 'crackpot' [EDIT: alright 'maverick'] thinking outside the standard theory box.

    Last edited: Nov 2, 2004
  8. Nov 14, 2004 #7
    Fourier was strongly criticized by his colleagues on his theory of heat.
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