Who, in all of human history, has had the greatest impact upon modern society?

I will freely admit I stole this question from Reddit, and because of that, I’ll cite it here. But I’m honestly curious what the great minds here think about the query.

Well, the first question is who to exclude. Because, of course, Uggh, who invented fire, Aaagh, who invented the wheel, and Og, who invented Gods, win.

Hm. Okk, who invented the lever, making the first spear-thrower, is right up there too.

Yeah, what he said. ^

Impact multiplies over time. You can’t accept any Christians because that acknowledges that Jesus was himself more important, since he produced the society that the Christian worked in. But you can’t accept Jesus because his impact was itself a product of product of Roman culture which was a product of Etruscan culture which was a product of the Alexandrian conquests which was a product of Aristotle who was a product of Plato who was a product of Socrates… and so ad infinitum.

The person with the greatest impact must have been the person who changed their world at the earliest point. Thus the person who invented agriculture or the wheel or fire or something like that has to be the person who has the greatest impact, since every thing that occurred after that was the direct result of their action.

If you want a named person, then you are really asking for the name of the earliest historical figure, a subject that has been covered in numerous other threads on this board.

So far it’s Aristotle. But Jesus is gaining on him.

Louis Pasteur

I vote for Alexander the Great. Western civilization achieved dominance because of him.

You can argue if that is a good or bad thing (something to be said on both counts to be sure) but when it comes to greatest impact on modern society he probably had the broadest effect.

Gavrilo Principe. He set the spark that started WWI, of which most of the worldwide conflicts going forward are rooted, thru today. Modern society is shaped by these conflicts.

It’s Aristotle. It’s Aristotle! But wait, Jesus is coming around on the inside. He’s picking up speed! Can he do it, YES! It’s Jesus by a nose!!!

I was going to come in to say Newton, but I think this is one of those questions that has no real answer. Of course, it could be Maxwell, too, since the modern world runs on electricity.

I’d say the guy who invented the idea of one god and a monotheistic religion thereafter.

It still baffles me what a profound change that has been across the world and still is, to this day. Not that the change is good or bad. In my opinion, overall it was bad as it pushed aside rich heritage of ancient Greeks that was only discovered later on and served as basis for Enlightenment.

It set humanity back at least 2000 years.

But those guys didn’t really change anything. They discovered stuff.

Make no mistake, they are brilliant and certainly we owe them a lot but if it wasn’t them it almost certainly would have been someone else. The world might have had to wait some years or decades but pretty sure it would have gotten there anyway.

FTR I have loads of respect for them (even if Newton was a nutcase he was a brilliant nutcase) and not trying to diminish what they achieved. Truly remarkable stuff.

Huh, no it didn’t. What history are you going on there? It’s a well debunked myth that history was set back 2000 years during the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. This period was somewhat unfairly labeled the “Dark Ages” by Renaissance Europeans.

However modern scholarship finds time and time again that genuine technological progress happened throughout this period, invention and development of things more advanced than the Romans or Greeks had. Some things were lost, like the secret to Roman concrete or the ability to construct unsupported domes.

In any case, the apparent backwardness of Europe after the fall had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with a period of very lengthy and massive political instability which caused a huge fracturing in European society and basically cut up all of Europe into very tiny little communities with very little interaction. Trade was minimal, exchange of ideas was minimal, you didn’t have large centralized kingdoms so the big movers of things like art, monument building, architecture and et cetera (wealthy and powerful nobles, merchants, rulers etc) were not around.

Christianity can probably most be blamed for fucking up human society after the Protestant Reformation, when it became one of the important causes of a long period of extremely destructive warfare with effects lasting to the modern day. In the modern day Christians are also working against technological progress in various fields, but I don’t really think you can lay the dark ages on them or an abandonment of Greek philosophers.

For one, during the Dark Ages it wasn’t like no one was reading the old Greek thinkers, people in the Church did and you better believe the people in the Eastern Roman Empire / Byzantine Empire (which persisted and was still a major power until 1000-1200 AD) were well aware of Aristotle and etc. If abandoning Greek thought is really why humanity got set back “2000 years” then the Byzantine Empire would have been some 500-1000 years more advanced than any of its neighbors, but that isn’t what happened. They were larger and more centralized up until probably 800-900 AD than any other Christian power (probably even til the 1050-1100 period), so they built bigger monuments and had a more literate upper class, but in most regards they were no way near hundreds of years more advanced than Western Europeans.

Edited to Add: A rebirth in serious and widespread study of Ancient Greek thinkers was a major part of the beginnings of the Renaissance, not the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment grew out of the Renaissance and actually started developing all kinds of new moral theories and science vastly beyond anything the Greeks ever dreamed.

Thomas_Midgley,_Jr., the inventor of CFCs and tetraethyllead.

“Modern” society?

Not Napoleon. You could predict a gifted, hyperactive opportunist rising out of chaos like he did.

Not Gandhi: India couldn’t be liberated by the warrior caste that had lost the Mutiny; and, as Gandhi’s own early career showed, the British would never fully respect a dark man wearing their clothes and using only their values. You could predict someone from India’s ancient spiritual culture to do the job.

Hitler, Stalin and Mao: simple gangsters. If it hadn’t been them, it would have been some other assholes.

The most influential, unexpected personality of the modern era was Charlie Chaplin.

This is something I’ve considered a few times, though never really done a great deal of research into. From my point of view, scientists and other ‘discovered this’ or ‘invented that’ tend to be out of the running because, if general knowledge and society were at the point where something could be discovered by one person, if that person had never existed, someone else would undoubtedly have made the same discovery within a reasonable period of time (it may be significant on the short scale, but any given theory or invention is very likely to be come up with by someone else within 50ish years even if the original inventor never existed).

So, the guy who invented fire, the wheel, etc are pretty much excluded on the face of it because someone else would have done it within a similar timeframe. Indeed, most of those discoveries were probably made numerous times over the course of history.

My personal thought on this: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, better known as Augustus Caesar. Without him, Rome likely would have crumbled within a few years of Julius Caesar’s death. The post-Republic Roman Empire has probably had more influence on the world than any other civilization in history, and without the existence of Augustus Caesar, there’s a good chance it would not have existed. Whether the world would be better or worse without him, I have no idea, but I am reasonably certain that it would be completely different than it is now.

Probably someone who’s name, if they even had one, has long since been to history.

Yeah…we don’t know her name (if she had one) but ‘Mitochondrial Eve’: Mother of All Humans might be a good candidate.

Gutenberg. The printing press has probably done more to change history than anything else. No cites, though.

Seconded. The movable-type printing press was a data revolution only third behind writing and speech itself.

I think the one thing that has had the greatest impact on modern society is the concept of the scientific method. The idea that things are explainable, explanations can and should be rigorously tested and superstition and magic be forsworn in favor of evidence-based theories is what makes a society modern.

Nobody. Think about it this way, would the world be any different if your choice never existed at all? No, someone would have just taken his or her place in history.