Archive for the 'Science Heroes' Category

The Wright Stuff: Wilbur and Orville’s Heroic First Flight

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

One of the most significant milestones in the history of life on earth occurred several hundred million years ago when the first living organisms took flight with wings.  Initially there were insects, who ruled the skies for at least 100 million years.  Then about 220 millions years ago the first flying dinosaurs, called Pterosaurs, appeared.  Roughly 70 million years later, the Pterosaurs were either joined by, or turned into, slightly different kinds of feathered creatures called birds.

Although there have been many significant human milestones, one of the most groundbreaking (pardon the pun) occurred when the Wright brothers ushered in the age of human airflight in 1903.  Not surprisingly, it was the brothers’ observations of birds that helped them construct an aerodynamically sound flying machine.  Birds, they noted, changed the angle of the ends of their wings to allow their bodies to roll left or right.  Wilbur and Orville realized that this was also a good way for a flying machine to turn.  A pilot needed only to lean into a turn like a bird or a person riding a bicycle.

As fate would have it, the Wright brothers’ expertise in bicycles played a crucial role in their ability to solve a variety of conundrums associated with air flight.   In December of 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright left their bike shop in Ohio to test their latest ideas about flying on the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  The first historic flight occurred on the 17th of December, an icy cold and windy day at Kill Devil Hills.  Bad weather had been a persistent problem and the brothers began that day nearly ready to give up and try again the next year.

After two failed efforts to fly their machine that day, Orville Wright was able to take the Flyer for a 12-second, 127-foot-long sustained flight into a 27 mph wind.  Although he never went higher than 20 feet above the ground, this was the first successful, powered, piloted flight in history.  Minutes later, another flight piloted by Wilbur traveled 852 feet and lasted nearly a minute.  Heroes were made on that day, and the world was forever changed.

The brothers knew that they had to make several improvements before their machine could be considered a practical airplane.  In October of 1905, they flew an airplane almost 25 miles in 39 minutes. Wilbur and Orville Wright had at last invented the world’s first practical flying machine. They continued to set new records in distance and duration of flight in front of astonished crowds.  In 1911, they flew the first plane to cross the United States. This flight took 84 days and had to stop 70 times.  By the 1920s, people began to recognize the importance of honoring the Wright brothers’ heroism.  On March 2, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge established the Kill Devil Hill Monument National Memorial on the exact spot at which the historic first flight occurred.

In previous blog posts, we’ve documented the remarkable accomplishments of other scientists and inventors who devoted their lives to making the world a better place.  These notable individuals include Marie Curie, George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale, Albert Einstein, and Mae Jemison, among others.  We add the Wright Brothers to this illustrious group.  The gift of flight has immeasurably improved the quality of countless lives.  People are now better connected through globalization, and the science of flight has put men on the moon.  We owe a debt of gratitude to the courage, genius, persistence of Wilbur and Orville, as well as to the many other early pioneers of aviation.

Below is a clip from NOVA’s tribute to the Wright Brothers on PBS.

Joseph Campbell: The Man Who Wrote The Book on Heroes

Joseph CampbellBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Ironically, the first published psychological analysis of heroism wasn’t completed by a psychologist.  In 1949, Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist who studied medieval literature and world religions, wrote a remarkable book called The Hero of a Thousand Faces.  The volume became one of the most widely read and influential books of the 20th century.

While studying hero myths from around the world, Campbell noticed a distinct pattern.  It didn’t matter where or when a particular myth was created; the world’s hero stories were all strikingly similar to one another.  According to Campbell, in these stories “a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”  Campbell proposed that this prototypical heroic journey, which he called the hero monomyth, consists of three parts: departure, initiation, and return.

The departure phase involves the set of forces that set the hero’s journey in motion.  The hero is thrown from the safety and comfort of the familiar world into a dark, dangerous place.  Joseph CampbellOften a guide or a sidekick offers assistance.  The initiation stage features a series of tests or challenges that the hero must overcome.  Temptations of the flesh, or a battle with a father figure who must be vanquished, are quite common.  Upon returning, the hero brings a great boon, or benefit, to the world.  Not only is the returned hero forever transformed, so is the society that receives the boon.

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses the psychological importance of the hero’s path.  He argues that the hero’s journey is a metaphor for the human experience.  All people undergo painful struggles and must muster the strength and cleverness to overcome adversaries and difficult circumstances.  The struggle defines us because it allows us to realize our full potential via triumphant redemption. “The adventure of the hero is the adventure of being alive,” noted Campbell.  “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.  HerculesWhere you stumble, there lies your treasure. Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”

Campbell suggests that we identify strongly with the hero story because it taps into an important part of our collective unconscious.  First described by psychoanalyst Carl Jung in 1916, the collective unconscious is a storehouse of latent images that have developed through human evolution.  Jung called these latent images archetypes, which can be activated, or made conscious, when something in an individual’s experience resembles the image.  Archetypes are based on our collective experience over the course of evolution, rather than individual experience.  Jung wrote, “There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life.  Endless repetition has engraved these experiences into our psychic constitution.”

The hero archetype, then, can explain the pervasiveness of the hero monomyth found in human societies across time and geography.  Human beings, in effect, may have a biological readiness to encounter heroes and to resonate to hero stories that fit the Campbellian monomythic structure.  George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, admits that he based the characters and plot of Star Wars on the hero monomythic structure he encountered in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.   Disney movies such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King are said to have been influenced by Campbell.  Musical artists such as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead have all produced work based on Campbell’s hero monomyth.

For his enduring impact on the way we think about human experience and the hero’s journey, Joseph Campbell is one of our intellectual heroes.

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  Please send your suggestions to Scott T. Allison (sallison@richmond.edu) or to George R. Goethals (ggoethal@richmond.edu).

 

Marie Curie: Trailblazing Scientist Who Paid the Ultimate Price

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Randy Pausch: The Hero Who Dared Us To Live Our Dreams

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Mae Jemison: Living Heroic Dreams

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Steve Jobs, the iHero – Innovative, Imaginative, Ingenious

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Sigmund Freud: The Vindication of a Battered Theory

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Christa McAuliffe: Lost Hero of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Florence Nightingale: The Heroic Lady With the Lamp

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it appears in our book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.

 

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

George Washington Carver: The Humble and Ingenious Hero

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals