9 folks who were way ahead of their time
These great thinkers remind us that taking an unpopular, bold stance might not be madness.
- Sometimes, people are so far ahead of the curve that it takes everybody else hundreds of years to catch up to their ideas.
- While many people are content to quietly sit back and flow with popular opinion, these nine thinkers let the world know what it was doing wrong, often with major consequences.
- These great thinkers remind us that taking an unpopular, bold stance might not be madness.
It's been said that when you're one step ahead of the crowd you're a genius but that two steps ahead make you a crackpot. In some cases, people were so far ahead of their time that they would seem progressive even today, despite hundreds of years of history slowly working to catch up to them.
Here, we have nine scientific and social visionaries who were well ahead of everybody else. The names of others like them have been lost to history, buried under the weight of popular opinion. These bold few are the ones we know about.
Dante, 1450, painted by Andrea del Castagno.
(Photo by: Picturenow/UIG via Getty Images)
The author of the Divine Comedy, Dante had more than his share of ideas that were well ahead of the 14th century.
The first and most famous part of the comedy, Inferno, slips a serious jab at Catholic teachings past the radar. In the story, sodomites are placed in the same circle of hell as murderers; in line with church teachings. Dante, however, expresses sympathy for the damned here that is absent in other chapters.
The sequel to Inferno, which features purgatory, also has depicts homosexual characters in a favorable light, implying that Dante didn't consider it a sin to be gay. Historian John Boswell called Dante's treatment of the subject "revolutionary" in comparison to theological consensus at the time.
Dante also wrote books on political philosophy which were a few centuries early. In De Monarchia he argued for separating secular government from religious authority and called for a universal monarchy to unite all secular governments in the interests of peace.
Hero of Alexandria
(Public Domain/Wikimedia commons)
An inventor who nearly touched off the industrial revolution two thousand years early, Hero has several fantastic credits to his name. He invented the windmill, the vending machine, and the automatic door.
He is best known for his description of an aeolipile, an early steam engine. It is a simple device and consists of a boiler with two jets. When heated, water in the boiler escapes and causes the whole thing to spin. The device, often called 'Hero's Engine' was described by him in the 1st century C.E., but may date back earlier.
The aeolipile was first used to demonstrate the power of the weather but was later used as a temple curiosity. While some historians argue Hero understood its possible uses, this is controversial. It wasn't until 1543 that we can confirm that anybody came up with the idea to attach the engine to something and do work with it.
Victoria Claflin Woodhull
Woodhull presidential campaign.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The first woman to run for the office of President of the United States, Victoria Woodhull's platform would seem radical even today. She also did this before any woman could have voted for her, though Susan B. Anthony famously tried.
Running for the Equal Rights Party, Woodhull campaigned for labor rights, progressive taxation, equal rights for men and women, free love, an international system of preventing war by arbitration of disputes, total employment through public works projects, and the end of the death penalty.
The Equal Rights party also nominated Fredrick Douglass for vice president; he never acknowledged it and campaigned for President Grant. Woodhull received a negligible number of votes and was too young to take office anyway, but still has the distinction of being the first woman to run.
Her progressive stances didn't end there; her personal life shocked the Victorian moralists of her day. She and her sister were the first women to be stock brokers on Wall Street. They ran a newspaper that discussed issues of sexual double standards, how long a skirt needed to be, vegetarianism, and other social problems. It also featured the first English printing of Marx's Communist Manifesto. While she later walked back on it, she was also a supporter of free love during her more radical years.
Christine de Pizan
Madam de Pizan giving a lecture.
An Italian poet writing in France during the 14th century, Christine de Pizan was a celebrity in her own time with big ideas. Simone de Beauvoir called her works "the first time we see a woman take up her pen in defense of her sex." She was the first professional woman of letters in European history.
Left without an income source after the death of her husband and father, she embarked on a writing career at a time when nearly all other female writers wrote under pseudonyms. She wrote love poems, biographies, and prose works.
Most noteworthy is The Book of the City of Ladies, a story of Christine using the achievements of famous women in history to build a city. In the book, she argues by allegory that men and women were both equally capable of goodness, a radical notion at the time. She also claimed that women should be educated and wrote an accompanying manual for it, another stunning departure from medieval practice. Her books remained in print for two centuries.
Ada Lovelace as depicted by Alfred Edward Chalon.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The daughter of Lord Byron, Lovelace was directed towards math and science by her mother out of fear that she would otherwise turn out like her father. While science didn't save her from an early death, it did allow her to become the first computer programmer in history.
In 1842, she translated an article about an incomplete mechanical computer devised by Charles Babbage into English. At the end of the article, she added a series of notes which included the algorithms necessary for the machine to compute Bernoulli numbers, the first published computer program. In the same section, she argued that artificial intelligence was impossible, explaining that the device could only act as ordered.
In addition to being the first person to write computer code, she was the first person to realize how much computers could do. Computer historian Doron Swade argues that she was the earliest person to understand that the numbers a computer was crunching could represent anything, not just quantities. This jump, which nobody else at the time made, predicted our current use of computers as more than mere calculators.
(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A famous French scientist and philosopher, Descartes was also a few hundred years early on one of his inventions.
After reviewing an idea for improving vision pitched by Leonardo da Vinci, Descartes invented the contact lens. Consisting of a glass tube filled with liquid and placed directly on the eye, it was able to correct for vision problems. However, it was so large that it made blinking impossible. The first practical contact lenses would not be invented for another 250 years.
This was on top of Descartes successful career inventing modern philosophy, fusing algebra and geometry, and laying the foundations for the invention of calculus, which happened shortly after his death.
The last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome, Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher whose ideas on life and governance make for great reading.
His excellent rule was progressive on many fronts. His dedication to free speech was particularly noteworthy. He wrote in Meditations of the nobility of "the idea of a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed."
He practiced what he preached and ignored satirical depictions of him when he could just as easily have killed the people making fun of him. While he wasn't the only person holding this stance, he was one of the few people to allow such liberties before the modern era. His statement is held as one of the ancient origins of liberal political philosophy.
Jeremy BenthamJeremy Bentham
(Edward Gooch/Edward Gooch/Getty Images)
One of his first reform efforts was the creation of a better prison, the Panopticon. The design featured a single watchtower surrounded by cells, which were arranged in a circle. Bentham proposed that since every prisoner could be seen at any time, all prisoners would behave themselves. The building was never constructed, though Michel Foucault remarked that core concept spread throughout the criminal justice system and every other part of our society.
Bentham, convinced that the rejection of the Panopticon was caused by a conspiracy against the public, set his sights on reforming everything else. During his lifetime he argued for animal rights, women's rights, and law reform. A paper arguing against the criminalization of homosexual acts was published after his death, making him the first person in England to write an essay in support of gay rights.
He is still ahead of the UK on the issue of no-fault divorce, which he supported and they still haven't gotten around to.
Chanakya was an Indian statesman, philosopher, and economist in the 4th century BCE who was one of the architects of the Mauryan Empire.
His treatise Arthashastra, which was thought to be lost until the 20th century, and has been favorably compared to Machiavelli's The Prince. Unlike the European work, the Arthashastra encourages a king to rule justly and empower the people he rules.
Several points in the book would be considered progressive today. He argues for giving welfare to those who could not work, giving out land to the peasants if the landed elite weren't using it, a mixed economy, conservation, and giving animals which had worked their entire lives a comfortable retirement.
Privatized prison labor: Will you be on the right side of history?
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.
- Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Humans are destroying entire ecosystems to perpetuate destructive food habits.
- Understanding how to properly transition to a plant-based diet is important for success.
Richard Dawkins: No Civilized Person Accepts Slavery So Why Do We Accept Animal Cruelty? | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c09f23c34faacc8ec55aba054fae9c7c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_4SnBCPzBl0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Get your hands dirty—in the kitchen</h3><p>Quarantine offered an entire world the opportunity to get into the kitchen and put on a chef's apron. Complaints about "not enough time" are the biggest barriers to preparing home-cooked meals. Of course, pandemic fatigue has resulted in a number of recent chefs ordering out more. That said, this is the perfect time to try your hand at new dishes. With infection rates <a href="https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/10/11/21511641/covid-19-us-cases-update-testing-deaths-hospitalizations" target="_blank">increasing across the country</a>, stocking up on seasonal vegetables is a great idea. </p><p>Simple seasonal ways to begin your plant-based exploration include <a href="https://nomnompaleo.com/post/11136213353/roasted-kabocha-squash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roasted kabocha squash</a>, <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bombay potatoes</a>, and <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no-chop pumpkin soup</a>. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, <a href="https://www.thecuriouschickpea.com/masoor-dal-tadka/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Masoor Dal Tadka</a> will keep you warm into the winter months. A delicious <a href="https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a23362341/sweet-potato-salad-recipe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sweet potato salad</a> will never fail you. This <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/easy-meatless-monday-recipes" target="_blank">round-up of 25 vegetarian recipes</a> will keep you busy for a few months (or a month if you're ambitious). </p><h3>Educate yourself on the benefits</h3><p>Education is essential for beginning any endeavor. Weeding through propaganda and bunk science to find credible evidence of any diet is difficult, though many experts agree that for individual and societal health, a plant-based diet is key. </p><p>Even vegetarianism has its pitfalls. For example, <a href="https://michaelpollan.com/books/cooked/" target="_blank">one-fifth of all calories</a> consumed by Americans come from nutritionally-worthless white flour. If you're eating processed bread every day, you're missing out on the benefits of a rich and varied diet. </p><p>Many of the "<a href="https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet4.pdf?ua=1" target="_blank">diseases of affluence</a>," such as cardiovascular and obesity-related ailments, originate with a poor diet (and lack of exercise). Meat has been an essential component of the human diet throughout our evolution. Today, we eat too much of it—and too much of it is produced in factory farms. Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help cut down on carbon emissions and the aforementioned diseases. </p><p>Plants are full of valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants that support a <a href="https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/5-benefits-of-a-plant-based-diet.h20-1592991.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">strong immune system</a>. A (non-processed) plant-based diet reduces inflammation and offers plenty of fiber. It has been shown to reduce your risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. Those are all great reasons to transition. </p><h3>Begin your journey with a single step</h3><p>Going cold turkey rarely works for addicts. The same is true of diets. If you're interested in a plant-based diet, try to eat veg every other day for a few weeks. Notice how your body reacts on days you eat this way compared to other days. Gradually phase out meat products. Attempt meat-free weekdays and see if your craving for meat persists on the weekend. Try using meat as a garnish instead of the main course. </p><p>More importantly, have a replacement plan. Dropping all meat products to consume frozen dinners isn't the best course of action. Filling your cart with bags of foods you've never eaten before will overwhelm you. Prepare meals as you taper off of meat; arm yourself with a broad knowledge of healthy plants and vegetables. At some point, you might forget what you've been missing. </p>
Photo: anaumenko / Adobe Stock<h3>Start with foods you already love</h3><p>The good news is that you likely have a number of plant-based side and main dishes that you love. Transitioning into a new diet requires a certain level of enjoyment. Otherwise, you're going to loathe eating, and eating should bring some level of satisfaction. </p><p>Try a one-to-one ratio to begin. On one night, cook a meal you love. Then try something completely new the next night. Follow that up with old faithful. This way, you constantly have new dishes to look forward to yet don't get stuck in thinking you have to be creative every single day. You'll likely find some winners and decide not to repeat other dishes. Regardless, you'll have a broader menu to work from. </p><h3>Avoid ingredients you can't pronounce</h3><p>The produce section of your grocery store provides almost everything you need to survive. You can likely pronounce every ingredient in this section. There's a vast difference between food and foodstuffs. Plenty of plant-based companies offer too much of the latter. Potato chips are technically vegetarian, and some use simple ingredients, yet it's easy to fill your cart with foodstuffs. The health benefits of this are not only negligible but potentially dangerous. </p><p>Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/news/20191104/are-there-health-downsides-to-vegetarian-diets" target="_blank">explains</a>. "If you eat a vegan diet, but eat a lot of french fries, refined carbs like white bread, white rice, that's not healthy." He suggests "emphasizing fruits and vegetables. Not fruit juice but whole food. And nuts."</p><h3>Utilize the wisdom of the internet—but don't get indoctrinated</h3><p>There's a lot of terrible advice—and worse, propaganda—on the internet. While you likely don't want to eat eggs every day, they're not "toxic," as one popular documentary claims. Eggs are <a href="https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-eggs" target="_blank">one of the best</a> low-cost, high-value foods around. </p><p>Read websites like <a href="https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/scientific-benefits-following-plant-based-diet/" target="_blank">Everyday Health</a>, which uses clear language, like "may improve" and "may decrease," with links to credible studies. This way you follow the going science without becoming fanatical about a particular diet or being disappointed if it turns out the research doesn't hold up. Good science evolves with evidence. And right now, the evidence points to more vegetables in our diets. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Eastern traditions have complex views on how karma affects your life.
- Karma is not simple retribution for bad deeds.
- Eastern traditions view karma as part of a cycle of birth and rebirth.
- Actions and intentions can influence karma, which can be both positive and negative.
Thanga Wheel of LIfe
Credit: Adobe stock