Throughout recorded history, humans have tried to form hordes, tribes, communities or villages, societies and subsequently civilizations. The concept of nationhood is relatively new if you factor in the vast stretch of time that has passed ever since the first human evolved from its predecessors till the birth of the first nation as we know it today. Kingdoms have been around for a long time too but they were more fluid than modern nations, expanding or contracting depending on the reign of the king or emperor. Whenever people have come together, there has been a tendency to develop what is known as herd mentality, also referred to as pack or mob mentality.
Let’s face it – majority of people are often wrong about their ideas or their heads are filled with misinformation. They don’t know how to research for facts. It takes ONE person in a generation to come along and teach humanity how to think. How to ask questions and how to be bold enough to give answers that people might not be receptive for. These are the people that we call The Disruptors. They attempt to shake the foundations of society and are often unsuccessful and relegated to a page in some obscure book. Yet, it is due to the convictions of the others that we have progressed in leaps and bounds.
We are lucky to be living in the information age where every Jack with an opinion gets to be heard. But that was not the case, say, 20 years ago. Things were much worse 100 and more years before that. But there were always brave people who simply didn’t give a damn about authority and some who were scared of it but nevertheless made themselves heard because they believed in the greater good of humanity.
Humans are conditioned to think alike. There are rules of law that one must abide by. There are preconceived notions and instilled beliefs that hold back the natural tendency of the human mind to take flight. We live in a much freer and more liberal world today than some of the greatest personalities throughout history who have had to fight against great odds. As recent as around half a century ago, one of the most brilliant people to ever walk on the planet was humiliated, persecuted and eventually compelled to commit suicide and this was despite his monumental contribution to saving millions of lives during the Second World War. Alan Turing remains one of the pivotal reasons why you have the luxury of accessing this piece on the device you are using.
Homo sapiens would have remained a primitive, perhaps uncivilized and definitely a technologically ignorant species, had it not been for some disruptors who questioned our beliefs at those specific junctures in our evolution and provided fitting answers. Many of these disruptors were ridiculed, some were convicted, a few were executed, most were persecuted by the church or the prevailing rules of the land and yet all of them were vindicated in the end. It is these disruptors who challenge the common perceptions and rightly so that drive us forward, pave the way for a better tomorrow and lead to significant advancements as a species.
Nicolaus Copernicus challenged the prevailing perception that the Earth was at the center of the entire universe and everything revolved around it, including the sun. Copernicus came up with the theory of heliocentric solar system. Of course it was an undeniable fact but people rejected his scientific reasoning and the church was not pleased. A Polish by birth, Copernicus studied at Kracow University and University of Bologna. He specialized in mathematics, law, medicine and the Greek language. He lived from 1473 to 1543. Copernicus was not the first one to come up with such an observation. Almost eighteen hundred years before him, Aristarchus came up with the concept of the sun being the center of our known universe and Earth revolving around it. At least he was the first one in the west. Aristarchus was a mathematician and astronomer in Ancient Greece. One would think Copernicus would find a more receptive world since it was already the fifteenth-sixteenth century but it was still medieval Europe. The modern era was yet to start. Even the first telescope was not invented until sixty six years after the death of Copernicus.
De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium or On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, the most distinguished of works of Copernicus, changed the world forever. He explained that the planet we call Earth rotates on its axis and it happens every day and the blue rock revolves around the sun once a year. This came to be known as the heliocentric system. This directly contradicted and deflated the prevailing Ptolemaic theory or geocentric system. Copernicus started writing this in 1517 and completed it in 1530 but it did not get published till 1541. He did not live long enough to see the change he had ushered in. In fact, he got his first copy on the 14th of May in 1543. That was his last day on the planet.
Such was the dominance of the church and its unscientific beliefs at the time that the publisher wrote a preface stating that the work is not a theory or any evidential finding but a hypothesis. The work and revelations of Copernicus were declared forbidden. The work was actually listed on the Index of Forbidden Books. It remained listed from 1611 to 1835. The Roman Catholic Church regulated the Index determining immoral, dangerous or impious works. Anyone accessing works listed on the index were subjected to excommunication.
Portrait of Galileo Galilei –
By Justus Sustermans – http://www.nmm.ac.uk/mag/pages/mnuExplore/PaintingDetail.cfm?ID=BHC2700 (originally; archive); see also http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14174.html, Public Domain, Link
Galileo Galilei was born twenty one years after Copernicus died. The Italian was born at Pisa in Tuscany. He was educated by monks at Vallombrosa monastery and later studied medicine at University of Pisa. He also studied science and mathematics and became a leading scientist of his time. After the invention of the telescope in 1609, Galileo wanted to build one for himself. He became the first one to use telescope to study astronomy. He viewed the craters on our moon. It should be noted that till then the moon was not believed to have any craters. It was thought to be smooth on the surface. He viewed the spots on the sun, discovered four satellites of Jupiter, observed the distinct phases of Venus and also viewed the rings of Saturn. Telescopes made by Galileo became popular across Europe as his lenses were deemed fitting for astronomical studies.
Galileo published his works but those came in direct conflict with the professors and philosophers of his time. The heliocentric solar system, as explained by Copernicus, did not find acceptance and was against the biblical scripture. Galileo was denounced to Inquisition by the Dominican preachers. The Catholic Church compelled Galileo to recant. He was under house arrest for his entire lifetime since then. The Church allowed people to start reading his work around a hundred years after his death in 1642. It was not until 1835 that the Church accepted its wrongdoing and conceded that Galileo was right. Pope John-Paul II admitted in 1992 that the Church had wrongly persecuted him. The works of Galileo’s were also listed on Index of Forbidden Books.
Portrait of Charles Darwin –
By Julia Margaret Cameron – Scanned from Colin Ford’s Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, ISBN 1855145065. Originally from Royal Photographic Society., Public Domain, Link
Charles Robert Darwin was born on the 12th of February in 1809 at Shrewsbury in Shropshire. Hailing from a wealthy family and born to a successful physician father, Darwin had illustrious ancestry with his grandparents Josiah Wedgwood who was a famous potter and Erasmus Darwin who was a doctor and poet. Darwin attended Shrewsbury School, Edinburgh University where he studied medicine and Cambridge University for preparations to become a part of the Anglican Clergy. Darwin embarked on a voyage aboard HMS Beagle. He wanted to explore the world so signed up as a naturalist, albeit unpaid. He spent five years with a substantial span of time in South America. He observed and collected specimens and wrote down exhaustive records of his findings.
After returning to England, Charles Darwin came up with his famous but also controversial book at the time called On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This serves as the foundation of Darwinism, also known as Theory of Evolution and Theory of Natural Selection. Simply put, the theory illustrates how the evolution of life is a natural process. Much like the findings of Copernicus and Galileo, Darwinism came in direct conflict with the preaching of the Church. Darwin was one of the earliest vocal advocates of free thought and scientific reasoning. He had consciously avoided writing about religion and confined his works to science so he did not have to offend the religious beliefs of people or invite the wrath of the Church. Today, Darwin stands vindicated, like Copernicus and Galileo.
Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander and a pupil of Plato. One of the most celebrated scientists and philosophers ever was born before Christ. He predates Christianity and other religions that came after. A biologist and zoologist, political scientist and ethicist, someone who had an understanding of physics as well as metaphysics and a champion of logic and rhetoric, Aristotle is considered to be one of the forefathers of western philosopher. Many of his scientific findings did not resonate in Ancient Greece, albeit he was considered to be a great thinker and was respected. He inspired generations of thinkers, much like Plato. Even today, Aristotle is deemed as a godfather by many of those who work in technology, especially internet, social media and eCommerce.
Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton was another amazing personality who was hounded by prevailing laws of the Church. Born at Woolsthrope in England, Issac Newton came up with his theory of gravity. He would later come up with the law on gravitation. A not so bright student at school, he was fonder of windmill models and mechanical toys. Newton explained gravitation and invented calculus to illustrate the theory, he revolutionized mathematics and rationalized why tides occur, invented reflecting telescope and formulated many other theories that became the Newton’s laws of motion.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not live during the middle ages that were perennial harsh on rationalists and yet he had to fight an uphill battle. As recent as in the fifties and sixties of the bygone century, Martin Luther King, Jr. was actually deemed as an enemy of the state by J. Edgar Hoover who was then the directory of the FBI. The champion of civil rights who spearheaded a nationwide movement and became a global icon was mistreated in a myriad of ways. He was eventually assassinated for asking for some rights that were nothing but quintessential. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not celebrated by his opponents until much after his death. He became a hero for all in due course of time, after it was established that he had no ulterior motive to destabilize the United States of America and that he had no specific agenda other than the welfare of the common folks.
There is no dearth of such brilliant minds throughout history who changed the course of the world. Archimedes, Michael Faraday, Thomas Alva Edison, Marie Curie Sklodowska, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla are just some of the many who contributed to our leapfrogging understanding of science, the world we live in and the universe around us. Wright Brothers were once called Lying Brothers because the military and government of the United States were skeptical about their claims of having made an airplane. America actually squandered the opportunity of being the pioneer in this and the aviation revolution happening in many other parts of the world coalesced with the acknowledgement of the achievement of Wright Brothers. Fritz Zwicky was laughed at when he said that everything in our universe that cannot be observed must be dark matter. This was just a century ago. Scientists today agree that there is indeed dark matter, as in contrast with ordinary matter. There is also dark energy that we do not really understand, yet.
Robert Goddard was lambasted by the press for his talks on multistage rocket. He had made the first liquid fueled rocket, something the Germans did use during the Second World War. Goddard did not see his dream come to fruition as he died fifteen years before the manned space programs of the United States and Soviet Union. Less than a decade into the space war, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Josiah C. Nott theorized that mosquitoes caused yellow fever and malaria. It was then believed that bad air caused the diseases. He was later vindicated but he had already died by then. Alfred Wegener propagated the idea of the continental drift. No one believed him then but now his theory has been proven to be true. Gregor Mendel founded genetic inheritance or science of genetics. He discovered how to identify the different rules that determine heredity and how some traits are passed down to subsequent generations. His work did not get the recognition it deserved during his lifetime. His theories were only appreciated sixteen years after his death and almost thirty four years after the works were first published.
We are forever indebted to the works of the disruptors.