Monday, May 02, 2011

Super Heroes

Sometimes when I think about current events and the future of humanity, I get pretty damn depressed. Our natural resources are steeply depleted. We're overpopulating the globe. The weather just keeps worse. Sometimes I think that the future can only be a terrible god-awful hell, an apocalyptic wasteland full of bandits pillaging the earth for water and fuel. So ... basically Mad Max.

But the truth is that our world would already be in a state of war, starvation and hunger if it weren't for the brains of one man:

Fritz Haber.

Because he invented a process that would bind nitrogen from the atmosphere so it could be added back into soil, we were able to reinvent agriculture, radically increasing productivity. The agricultural boom has provided for the massive growth of the human population--population thinkers suggest that one-third to one-half the human beings currently alive on this planet would not have anything to eat without the Haber-Bosch nitrogen fixing process. By stretching our nitrogen resources, we have pushed back the some of pressures which lead to fighting and misery in animal populations.

[Yes, I'm aware of the military applications of Haber's work. But I think his fertilizer work has probably had a larger effect on more people.]

In many portions of the world today, people lead better lives than they did in the Dark Ages. There's much less violence, especially in First World nations. People live longer. People have more opportunities to explore their world and to be creative. And that's not because we have more resources. It's because we've had more education. We've drawn on the brilliant ideas of scientists like Haber. We've nurtured thinkers of all stripes to create a cultural climate of innovation and curiosity. It takes experts in the arts and the sciences and the humanities to make a culture that can create a new future.

Our world is better because of the work of an elite team of Heroes. Super Heroes. Super Thinking Heroes. They're scientists and writers and painters and philosophers and other folks who are committed to feeding ideas, nurturing thought, and stimulating the world around them to be a better place.

Here are pictures of some of my favorite core members of this remarkable League of Extraordinary Thinkers. Can you name them all?










1. Jane Austen

2. Albert Einstein

3. Karl Marx

4. Charles Darwin

5. Jules Verne

6. Rachel Carson

7. Beatrix Potter

8. Benjamin Franklin

I'll put up the answers tomorrow. In the meantime, just imagine: who are the thinkers today working to change the world? Do you know them? Are you one of them?

Edited 5/6: I've had some problems with the answer post, so I'm just adding the answers here:

a-5, the pioneering SF & adventure writer Jules Verne, whose imagination has stimulated generations of explorers and dreamers ; b-2, Albert Einstein, the man who gave us the General Theory of Relativity, one of the fundamental underpinnings of contemporary physics ; c-Beatrix Potter, whose illustrated children's books have been urging children to love nature and reading for more than a hundred years ; d-3, Karl Marx, a political philosopher whose realizations about the co-evolution of society and the economy led to the creation of the postmodern outlook--oh, and Communism; e-8, Benjamin Franklin, inventor, political philosopher and US Postal pioneer ; f-6, Rachel Carson, a marine biologist whose writings about pesticides' affects on the natural world challenged human ideas about the environment and our responsibilities within it; g-Jane Austen, a writer whose witty romantic novels skewered the social mores and structures of her times ; h-4, natural historian Charles Darwin, whose writings on natural selection changed our understanding of individuals within their environments ; i- .

No comments: