Here is a list of my heroes, sorted chronologically.
Born sometime around 470 BC, Socrates is often credited for being one of the founders of Western philosophy. But what strikes me most about Socrates is his death, and how unafraid of death he was. Tried for his clashing ideologies with Athenian society, he was found guilty of impiety and corruption and was sentenced to death. When given the opportunity to escape his sentence, he chose to stay. I think we can all learn that death is nothing to be afraid about from Socrates’ tragic story. Rather, not living life by your principles is far scarier. A noble sacrifice for the betterment of mankind, or at least my own ideologies.
Arguably mankind’s first particle physicist, Democritus was born around 460 BC. Whereas the more popular Aristotle believed a piece of cheese could be cut in half infinitely with a sufficiently sharp enough blade, Democritus believed the world was composed of building blocks called atoms, meaning “uncutable” or “indivisible” in Greek. While chemist John Dalton jumped the gun on his “atom” (hydrogen atom), particle physicists have since been searching for these building blocks, leading to the very informative and productive standard model (the physicists’ periodic table of elements).
Sir Isaac Newton was born on January 4th, 1643 and forever changed the scope of the educational landscape. If you hated your AP Calculus class, blame Newton. Moreover, we learn Mechanics in the same manner Newton discovered it himself, starting from kinematics and forces and working our way up to energy and momentum. Had Newton discovered energy and momentum first, then the way introductory Physics courses are taught would be radically different. Despite his achievements, he remained humble, being remembered for: “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants,” probably referring to other great scientists such as Galileo Galilei. Considered one of the most influential scientists of all time, Newton no doubt understood the essence of science when he wrote: “Plato is my friend–Aristotle is my friend–but my greatest friend is truth.”
Frederic Chopin, born on March 1st, 1810, is my favorite solo piano composer. Headstrong-ing the Romantic era Beethoven began, his greatest achievements include the beautifully simple Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, his rhythmically furious “Fantasie” Impromtu (Op. 66), and my personal favorite: the haunting, the soaring, the immortal Ballade No. 1. Even at my peak, I found the song too difficult to play at certain parts. Listening to the song should reveal these sections obviously. I guess you want what you can’t have, or in this case, what you can’t play. Chopin likely admired those more famous than him, such as Mozart and Beethoven, but sometimes the student surpasses the master.
Born on June 13th, 1831, James Clerk Maxwell boldly entered a field that was considered to have no practical application at the time: electricity. May this story deter those who wish to claim theoretical science as useless. Electricity and magnetism were considered to be two different physical phenomena at the time, and with Maxwell’s equations, he mathematically united the two forces as one force called electromagnetism, or a force with dissociative identity disorder. This would be extremely useful in explaining the propagation of light, be very reminiscent of Einsteinian energy, and lead modern physicists to pursue a unified field theory (one force with many split personalities to describe every observed force generated by a single, unified vector field).
Believe or not, Einstein published everything you probably know about his contributions to science before he clocked in 40 years after he was born on March 14th, 1879 (pi day). Without question, the most genius of all men, except maybe Nikola Tesla. Could have been a great engineer/inventor if he wanted to; could have been a great experimental physicist if he wanted to, but decided to make his (much needed) contributions in theoretical physics. Best known for his famous mass-energy equivalence equation E = mc^2, the theory of special relativity, the theory of general relativity, and Brownian motion, the Nobel Prize committee couldn’t decide which one of his contributions to award and decided to go with his photoelectric effect. Oh, and Einstein might not like it if I didn’t say he proved Isaac Newton almost completely wrong and his search for the theory of everything is currently mesmerizing theoretical physicists today (string theory). No big deal, he adds.
World champion for ten years reining from 1975 to 1985, Anatoly Karpov was born on May 23rd, 1951 in Russia, a country that churned out grandmasters during the time of the Soviet Union. At first drawn to the crazy sacrifices of Mikhail Tal, I found Karpov’s nonsensical style of chess to be subtly beautiful. Like Tigran Petrosian who constructed unbelievable defenses against hostile attacks, Karpov rarely left his king unsafe without calculated counterplay. Underrated in my mind, I would frequently ask myself: what would Karpov do in this situation?
Although Zinedine Zidane’s personality is unstable (a strange hallmark of almost all geniuses), his soccer play is impeccably solid. Born on June 23rd in 1972, Zidane played center midfielder for half a decade on one of Europe’s premier clubs, Real Madrid, and brought home (France) a world cup in 1998. His first touch is unparalleled, and his vision on the field is tres magnifique. Because of Zidane, I tried to convert my admittedly flashy dribbling habits into a more well-rounded, creative passing attack but with little success. Often mimicked but never replicated, Zidane played soccer like a dying art.