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Top 10 revolutionary scientific theories
April 10, 2015 – 02:34 pm
Gold s Explosive Genesis

Most scientific fields have been made over with a revolutionary theory at least once in recent centuries. Such makeovers, or paradigm shifts, reorder old knowledge into a new framework. Revolutionary theories succeed when the new framework makes it possible to solve problems that stymied the previous intellectual regime. Here are my favorite revolutions. I’m hoping for more before I die.

10. Information theory: Claude Shannon, 1948
It’s not exactly the most revolutionary theory, since there really wasn’t a predecessor theory to revolutionize. But Shannon certainly provided the mathematical foundation for a lot of other revolutionary developments involving electronic communication and computer science. Without information theory, bits would still be just for drills.

9. Game theory: John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, 1944 (with important embellishments from John Nash in the 1950s)
Developed for economics, where it has had some successes, game theory didn’t quite completely revolutionize that field. But it has been widely adopted by many other social sciences. And evolutionary game theory is an important branch of the study of evolutionary biology. Game theory even applies to everyday activities like poker, football and negotiating for higher pay for bloggers. There is also even such a thing as quantum game theory, which is bound to revolutionize something someday. John Nash won a Nobel Prize for his contributions to game theory, and his troubled life inspired the excellent book . But don’t expect to learn anything about game theory by watching the movie version.

8. Oxygen theory of combustion: Antoine Lavoisier, 1770s
Lavoisier did not discover oxygen, but he figured out that it was the gas that combined with substances as they burned. Lavoisier thereby did away with the prevailing phlogiston theory and paved the way for the development of modern chemistry. It was a much safer revolution for Lavoisier than the political one that soon followed in France, so revolutionary that Lavoisier lost his head over it.

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