Human nature is wonderful.
We’re all creative, curious people interested in knowing how the world works and how to make it work in our favor.
This ever-lasting curiosity has led to most of the scientific discoveries and technological advances. From the first fire to the last satellite in space, we’re innovation lovers through and through.
However, some breakthroughs have been a lot more significant than others.
Most of the most important ideas that changed the world were the result of several people working through the years, sometimes centuries. Others were simple moments of understanding in a new way.
Do you want to know how these inventions changed the world? Read on!
1) Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity
E=mc2. You probably have this mathematical formula from somewhere: it’s the most famous equation in history.
Albert einstein came up with this, and thanks to him, we know now that minimal amounts of mass can turn into –possibly– unlimited energy. It’s the equation behind nuclear power plants, for example.
The theory of relativity paved the way for a lot of the research going on to this day. Although some of its uses are controversial, the truth is that the impact of this knowledge changed the world as we know it.
In the future, we might stop relying on coal and oil to have energy in our homes!
The applications for the military also go beyond what we all know. Nuclear weapons are not the only thing that came out of the theory of relativity. The GPS, for example, is also linked to this equation.
So, next time you’re lost on the road and trying to turn your GPS on to orient yourself, you can thank Albert Einstein!
2) Gutenberg’s printing press
Sometimes, a good idea is right there, but it’s not popular until someone applies it at the right moment.
Before Gutenberg’s famous printing press, democracy and the development of different ideas of the world were not as easy. He, inspired by the development of paper, eyeglasses, and the printing block, created the first printing press.
He saw the potential, and he changed the world!
After him, the production and distribution of books became a lot easier. Created in 1440, the printing press was responsible for 200 million new books barely 150 years later.
Professions like journalism were born thanks to him, and it also sparked the age of enlightenment. Revolutions, religious upheaval, and scientific discoveries could now be distributed to a larger number of people, and so the world changed.
As Mark Twain would write centuries later, “What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg.”
3) The first wheel
Think about transportation, commerce, and trading.
It would be a lot more difficult if we didn’t have vehicles, right? And most of the vehicles have one thing in common: wheels.
Yes, even airplanes rely on wheels to land!
Before inventing the wheel, humans couldn’t carry or transport a lot of things. And even after its invention, getting it right was another issue. But once that was solved, the world changed yet again.
Wheels might be pointed as the spark that initiated agriculture and the first sedentary settlements. They’re as essential now as they were back then.
4) The number zero
Before the Moorish conquest of Spain, the number zero wasn’t a concept in Europe. After that, it spread, and like Fibonacci made it popular.
The Arabic numerical system changed the world with only one number: zero.
It set the foundation for disciplines like physics, engineering, calculus, and theories of finance and economics.
It allowed us to understand our universe better and how it works.
5) The discovery of penicillin
This can be considered one of those flashing moments of understanding.
Alexander Fleming was responsible for it, in 1928, and he was a very, very happy accident.
In a nutshell, he’d not closed his Petri dish correctly. The dish was full of bacteria, and when Fleming looked at it under the microscope, he discovered that some mold had killed it.
That mold later became penicillin, and it saved millions of lives. It changed the world, and it saves us, even today, from a lot of infections and diseases that could’ve ended us less than a hundred years ago.
6) Magnifying lens
Now it’s not likely that you think this was a great discovery, but it did change the world when it was invented.
Thanks to magnifying lenses, today we’re able to look at distant stars and galaxies…and we have a whole classification system for bacteria and other microbes.
Starting first as an aid for people with eyesight problems, magnifying lenses quickly benefitted the sciences. The microscope and the telescope are still very important tools, and there are renowned scientists both in medicine and spatial explorations that use them daily.
Now, we can count on the Hubble Space Telescope and also the electron microscope. These are only a few of the areas that benefited from the magnifying lenses. It also helps a plethora of other sciences.
7) The first compass
A compass is an invaluable tool if you want to orient yourself without many references around. It might mean the difference between life and death, even today.
Yes, satellite and a good GPS might be excellent, but technology tends to fail, and it’s always best to have more than one way of locating yourself and your surroundings. Early explorers relied on the compass to get to a lot of the places they wanted to see!
Like many other history-changing inventions, the compass was first created in China. It quickly replaced astronomy as a means to navigate. The sailors and explorers now had a much easier tool to not get lost in their travels.
The age of discovery was possible thanks to the compass, and it allowed many cultures to trade and get closer to each other.
8) Human rights
Now granted, philosophers have been arguing and debating about human rights for centuries, so we can’t say this was a “eureka” moment for humanity.
However, the UN’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” was a milestone for all humanity and, without a doubt, changed the world. It was created after humanity witnessed the horrors of two world wars in the same century.
Since then, it sparked a lot of international initiatives, like Amnesty International. To this day, many organizations are responsible for watching that human rights are respected all around the world.
9) The telephone
This invention was also the result of several other systems of messaging created before. For example, the telegraph pioneered instant communication between people.
However, the telephone was a breakthrough, and we owe it to Alexander Graham Bell. He was awarded a patent for the telephone even before other inventors, who’d been doing similar work, could complain.
His first call was to his assistant, and it proved the device worked perfectly.
His family was the main influence behind the invention of the telephone. His mother was a musician, and his father taught deaf people to speak. Later on, Bell himself married a deaf woman.
The invention quickly revolutionized the world.
10) The unconscious mind
We owe this one to Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. He researched and concluded that we can’t always explain why we do the things we do. Sometimes we do things that are against our interests.
When he noticed this, he realized that we could be curious about our minds, and we don’t always know what’s going on. Then, the term “Freudian slip” suggested that the subconscious mind can express itself in accidental turns of phrases in certain situations.
Much of what we know today about relationships and the workings of the mind is thanks to him.
How and why do ideas change society?
Yes, ideas can change the world, and they do to this day. Science, religion, art, and culture all originated in ideas first, and then they took root in the world.
The energy of humanity lies in ideas.
It becomes a reality when people do something with them, and they’ve sparked infinite changes in society throughout history.
Think of the french revolution, which sparked several revolutions in the entire American continent. Think of Marx’s work, to this day debated and the spark that generated wars and changed societies forever.
All it takes is one idea and collaborative action. We can do anything with those two things!
Ideas that are changing the world right now
1) Re-engineering waste
Trash isn’t useless: we can convert it into something else! These are just a few examples:
- Trading trash: In some countries, like Indonesia, you can trade valuable trash for access to healthcare. This can help us tackle the multi-faceted problem of contamination, poverty, and health issues.
- Using it for heating for buildings: Australia buys trash from Italy, and then they burn it and turn it into electricity for houses and buildings.
- Paving roads with it: India is spearheading the change in this. They use plastic trash and process it. After that, they get a material useful for paving roads.
- Using rubbish for infrastructure for trains: wagons made from a mix of old, unusable tires and concrete last longer and produces less noise.
In biology and botany, we’re not short of inventions that change the world. Super plants can:
- Rejecting plagues and pests: if we mix the most common food crops, like corn, with some wild varieties that are still found in some places on earth, farmers don’t need to use lots of pesticides.
- Prevention and reduction of wildfires: plants with thick barks and quick growth can be used as a natural barrier against wildfires, providing refuge for birds and allowing the soil to recover faster.
- Treatment for several different illnesses: there are more than 28 thousand plants that are, in one way or another, medicinal. Unfortunately, less than 13% of them are cited and used in scientific studies. However, China has been working on including traditional Chinese medicine with western scientific practices. This way, they hope to take advantage of the best of both worlds.
In a nutshell,
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in a world like ours, in which technology has hastened the rhythm of scientific and social discoveries. However, the kind of breakthroughs that we talked about are not usual, and they don’t happen every day.
The world is still progressing, still better than only a few years ago. Think of the advancements in human rights, equality, and technology. Dream big, and most importantly, remember that we can all change the world in different ways!