Who is the most influential person of all time?

I read this last year when it was first released. But there seems to be 2 notable exceptions especially as far as influencing our current culture goes. Given the influence tv and telephone have on our societies does it not seem to follow that John Logie Baird and Alexander Graham Bell are the most influential ppl of all time?

Huh. Lotsa dead white guys on that list. I guess throwing Muhammed in at #3 gets them a ‘get out of jail’ card or something.

OK, that list is crap. The very top is someone we can’t even prove existed (though a very strong candidate if he did). Shakespeare at #4? Only if you studied recently. His works needed a strong marketing boost int he 1800s to get the influence they now have.

Hell, where are the poor bastards who invented agriculture. Or writing? Any of those sets of people (likely not a solitary individual) would nuke anyone else on the list.

Hell, where’s the Buddha? 52? That’s below Freud and Grant? Confucious isn’t on the list at all.

Feh. More masturbating for magazines.

I don’t think agriculture could be described as being invented. If not for writing we wouldn’t know who most of the people are. If not for TV and phone we wouldn’t be able to read the list online at all.

Muhammed is pretty much as much a white guy as the rest of them.

When you make that kind of sweeping accusation, though, you have to keep in mind that most of our history WAS made by white guys, most of whom are dead. Finding a few token examples of women and non-whites doesn’t change that. (Nor does pointing to someone still living whose contributions are miniscule compared to, say, Galileo.) That doesn’t say white guys are da bomb; it says white guys have always been in power.

It’s still the case in some fields; note that only 3 on the list are women. So…

[li]Name five significant women painters before 1900.[/li][li]Name five significant women composers before 1900.[/li][li]Name five of either 1900-1975, for that matter.[/li][li]Name a second great woman military leader in any era.[/li][li]Name a significant woman statesman NOT a queen before 1900.[/li][/ul]

I wouldn’t disagree, but I think your counterarguments are equally weak in that you’re sort of fighting on their level - just saying it’s all dead white guys doesn’t invalidate the choices, for example.

It doesn’t matter if he was real or completely a confabulation of Paul 200 years later - there is no valid way to discount Jesus as the most significant figure in history. I am utterly unreligious, but trying to imagine a world without 2000 years of shaping by Christianity leads directly to science fiction.

The most important people of all time are, arguably, ancient people whose names we don’t even know.

Who was the first human to make fire?

Who was the first human to tame and ride horses?

Who was the first guy to think up irrigation for agriculture?

Who was the first guy to smelt ores and make tools/weapons out of metal?

Who was the Chinese guy that invented gunpowder? And who was the first guy to take gunpowder and use it to make effective firearms?

All of those guys, wheover they were, shaped human history profoundly.

Even if it were true that Paul simply made up the figure of Jesus out of whole cloth (which seems an unutterably silly and pointless theory to me) it certainly was not 200 years later. On Paul’s account (and all the other relevant accounts), Paul and Jesus would have been contemporaries, although they did not meet during Jesus’ natural lifetime. Standard dating puts Paul’s Epistles at about 20-30 years after the crucifixion.

Or are you saying Paul is a fictional figure too, made up by someone else a couple of centuries after that? (I would roll my eyes, but so far as I can see, this is no more absurd than the theory that Jesus himself was fictional.)

But anyway, yes, Jesus is a pretty good candidate to head this list (whether one believes him to have been the son of God, or a prophet of God, or just an itinerant Jewish heretic and cult leader), and after that the list and its ordering get very silly.

Related to that, if we could identify the guy that invented beer we could settle this, as there is evidence that figuring out how to do that was an incentive to get into larger groups, and that was a big part that led to cities, agriculture and civilization.

If you argue that way, though, some monkey who decided to come down from its tree, was more important still. Or maybe some fish who decided it might be a good idea to come out of the water in order to struggle its way to a bigger mudpool, or …

Apparently this isn’t a list of “most influential” but of “most cited as being influential.” Or something like that…

Anyway, we here at the SDMB already decided this. Our top 3:

  1. Aristotle
  2. Gutenberg
  3. Newton

Quick, everyone, let’s flood Wikipedia with the name Cecil Adams !!!

In the linked list, Ronald Reagan is ranked ahead of Gutenberg, Galileo, Confucius and the Buddha. He also ranks ahead of James Clerk Maxwell, Qin Shi Huang, Copernicus, Lavoisier, and Genghis Khan. Any further comment would be superfluous.

That’s why such lists specify “historic” person.

[del]BTW, SDMB did a thread to pick “most influential person” in The Game Room 4 years ago. I think Isaac Newton won, with Gutenberg 1st runner-up.[/del] Ninja’d by JohnT

One possible definition of “influential” is that the world is a much different place than it would have been if the person had never existed. By that standard, some inventors, scientists, etc. wouldn’t rank particularly high because the time was ripe for their inventions/discoveries, and if they hadn’t developed them, someone else soon would have.

Which is an argument that I largely disagree with, though I can see some limited applicability to it, especially in regards to secondary scientific or natural discoveries.

In answering this question, one can’t assume that something would have happened anyway and everything would have turned out the same. If Columbus didn’t sail, and America was “discovered” 60 years later by the British, large swaths of (our) future history just got erased. On the other hand, the fact that Balboa “discovered” the Pacific is of far lesser import and there would have been little change to (our) future development.

In the aforementioned Game Room thread, I defined “influential” as…


As for Bell being the most influential, because everyone today uses a telephone, did you know that Bell got the patent for the telephone because he submitted the patent earlier ON THE SAME DAY that Elisha Gray submitted his patent?

If that doesn’t convince you that some ideas are ripe for discovery and are pretty much inevitable once the preconditions are there, I don’t know what would. The idea that if not for Bell we’d still be using Morse code and telegraphs is nonsense.

Yes, some inventions or ideas are startlingly original. Others are just ripe and if you shot the canonical inventor in the head, you might delay progress in the field by a year or two. There are lots of examples where inventors or scientists are in a race to publish their ideas because if they don’t move quickly someone else will beat them to it.

Plus a lot of ideas were never “invented”. Nobody sat down and invented agriculture. Hunter-gatherers used certain plants, and deliberately improved the environments for those plants. They came to depend more and more on those plants, and expend more and more effort in making sure those plants were productive, until eventually we could say that they were now farmers who sometimes hunted and gathered, rather than hunter-gatherers who sometimes improved wild plant environments.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t influential people. Maybe Germany was ripe for authoritarian government after WWI, but the fact that Hitler became dictator of Germany rather than some other asshole made a huge difference. Get a guy more like Francisco Franco and Germany might become a fascist dictatorship but there might not have been a WWII. Same with Columbus, eventually somebody would have sailed west, or been blown off course and returned, but it might have been decades later and with vastly different results.

But that list is, indeed, crap. How can you rank Theodore Roosevelt higher than Augustus Caesar? Or George W. Bush higher than Constantine? Seriously?

Yes. Recently (i.e., since, say, 1650.) There was no “race” to the printing press, no “race” to sail east to Asia. The Bell phenomenon gets cited in every thread like this precisely because it was so unusual (and with such a transformative invention, too), not because it is an everyday occurrence at that time.

And you’ll find those you described rarely on serious lists of this sort (of which the OP’s link is not. At all. Our list was better, but even it was hindered by the fact that it was somebody else’s selections.)


But some inventions and discoveries are so transformative that the person or person’s who achieved them deserve to be on this list as much as any warlord or political leader. As you noted, Bell might or might not deserve to be on a “most influential” list, but Gutenberg definitely does (as does Cai Lun, inventor of paper.)

Your post argues strenuously against points I didn’t make, here. :slight_smile:

I meant that the major rise of Christianity dates from around 200 C.E., stemming more from Paul’s PR campaign than from much else in the apostolic era.

I love these message boards for this reason. Technically if we go by the bible then the 1st ppl picked apples. There’s no need for agriculture to pick apples. We might have improved their growth rate and yield through agricultural improvements but it’s not a thing which was invented.

It’s like fire… Fire existed b4 humans… We didn’t invent fire but we learned how to make it and control it.

I suppose the most influential person of all time would therefore be the person who picked up a stick and a stone and sharpened the stick with the stone since they invented tools and without tools we wouldn’t be were we are now.

Wouldn’t you put Jesus (#1 on the list) and Mohammed in the same ethnic group?

Or, was Jesus “white”, but Mohammed was “brown”?