Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Smartest Person Who Ever Lived

Who was the greatest genius in human history? Einstein? Newton? Mark Zuckerberg? (Hint: not Mark Zuckerberg). My vote goes to someone who probably died about 3000 years ago on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Consider this fact: it's likely that every alphabet in use today descends from the Phoenician alphabet. This includes not just the familiar ones used by the major languages of the world: the Latin alphabet, Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, but also languages much farther afield. Mongolian? Their alphabet derives from the Aramaic alphabet, which goes back to Phoenician. The Cambodian alphabet? It's descended from the ancient Indian Brahmi script, which is also an offspring of the Phoenician alphabet.
Hey, what are you gonna do after you invent the alphabet?
I'm going to Disney World!
It looks like the alphabet was invented one time in human history, and then spread over the rest of the planet like a dandelion. Syllabic alphabets, in contrast, seem much less difficult to create -- they've appeared independently in many different places.

So my vote for the greatest genius of all time goes to that anonymous alphabet creator from 3000 years ago. I suppose the alphabet could have been a gradual development by several people over a long period, but no one wants to talk about "the smartest committee members who ever lived."


Kathy said...

What about exponential notation.

It's a far more recent development, but it's in universal use now.

Robert Scherrer said...

On the math side of things, I guess I would vote for the inventor of "zero". I have no idea if that invention is "unique" or was discovered in multiple cultures.

Kathy said...

Interesting question.

Other than the current Indo-Arabic numerals we use, I do know the Maya had a symbol for zero. Although it was mostly a symbol to indicate nothing, so not like the current use of zero.

futuria said...

Zero, wonderful topic! I have studied 1,800 year old texts where one smart person of India did work on zero by examination. He used propositional logic to develop his treatises (more than one), which was not well developed at those times. Using dialectical reasoning, Nagarjuna would examine crucial expressions including language. So he was not an inventor but a thorough examiner, perhaps unsurpassed to date. As a result everything reduced to zero, which at that time many civilizations did not employ. In recent decades his works are in English and available in academic libraries.