December 9th, 2012


What if X wasn't born?

OK, it's alternate history month. So here's a question. Do certain brilliant and/or remarkable persons bear crucial significance for the various twists and turns of history, or do they just happen to be the right people showing up at the right time? I mean, if there's a certain set of processes going on in a society, is the emerging of a great leader, or great thinker, or someone else who changes the course of history in a profound way, just an inevitable consequence? Or does it really take an extraordinary combination of genius, a nose for doing the right thing, and the charisma to make lots of people believe you and follow you - to steer events in this direction or the other? Or maybe it's a combination of the two - in that case, what's the ratio?

There's this fascinating BBC series for example, which looks at the history of the greatest human endeavor that is science, in a way that is different from the commonly spread notion that the evolution of science is all about geniuses having sudden eureka moments. Instead, it argues that there are complex factors piling up over large periods of time, and when a Galileo or a Newton inevitably appears on the scene, this is more like an end product of all those processes. In other words, when "the time is ripe" for something to happen, it will happen eventually.

On the other hand, I'm sure we could think of many events that didn't happen, even though the processes and factors were there. It's just that, maybe, the right person never appeared at the right place and time?

Anyway. It's a broad topic, so let's boil it down to the following question:

Imagine one of these influential persons of history were never born. The absence of which of them would've affected history in the most profound way?

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