Question of the Week: What Kind of Person Influences You?

May 20, 2014

This week's poll from the British Humanist Society includes the question, what kind of person influences your life choices: family, friends, celebrities, or politicians? What's your answer? Who should be influencing us? Let's discuss on the Richard Dawkins website, and the best answer will win a copy of An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, by Richard Dawkins.

Who influences you?

Written By: RDFRS

22 comments on “Question of the Week: What Kind of Person Influences You?

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson because he portrays Science in such an easy to understand and humorous way. He grabs your interest.

    His attitude to Religion seems to be of the ‘ok, if it does it for you, fine’ style -‘ but take a look at Science too – then make up your mind’!

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  • 2
    zorchman says:

    The late, great Christopher Hitchens… his witty and clever writing and live performances still hides a gem, every time I go through them after all these years. He inspires me to go on arguing for logic and science!

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  • 3
    b.e.stevens says:

    Anyone who advances ideals of fairness for all human beings on the world scale should influence us. It’s time to ‘clean up’–remove the Assads and Kim Jong Uns and get people working for people. The isolationism and elitism of the past aided leaders and those wealthy who would oppress and pillage their own countries–those days need to be over with; we can fix this, I think.
    Personally, I am most influenced by anyone reasonably well-known who also displays some good sense: authors, teachers, scientists, humanists of every sort who speak out for the greater causes.

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  • 4
    EmilyPond says:

    People like Douglas Adams and the Doctor. They are the easiest first steps towards broadening a mind and questioning what is. They take the rules and throw them out, just to make up a whole new set of rules and then throw those out when they don’t work, and they say “that’s ok, we can have different rules and it doesn’t make anything any less.” And they do it with humor and emotion. You don’t have to subscribe to a certain viewpoint forever, you can change it with new information and that isn’t wrong or bad or stupid. In fact, it’s the opposite. They tell you to question everything. And once you start to do that, you can turn to people like Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan and Lawrence Krauss and Bill Nye because they have done so much to publicly open up people’s minds, telling you to question everything (including them), while providing the sources and research and the facts to back up what they’re saying and giving you the opportunity to poke holes in it for yourself. They’re not asking you to “believe” in something, they’re asking you to use your mind and look for yourself, and find that there is so much more to delve into than what is perpetrated in mainstream society.

    These people challenge you, and ask you to challenge them, asking you to base your ideas in logic and reason, while at the same time showing you that thinking out of the box can still include those bases. Those are the influences that drive progress and change, and that is how I make the choices in my life.

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  • 6
    ChristopherLane says:

    I am influenced by those who use rational thought and the scientific method to determine the best way to proceed as a human being. Given that our lifespan is singular and finite, it becomes our responsibility to recognize that we are constituted from nature while simultaneously existing within nature. We must, during our time, enjoy life while we have it; laugh, love, share, learn, and most of all leave the world a better place (where it’s possible to do so) for the next generation.

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  • Yes, to name a few of today’s thinkers, I love them all. Mr. Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson and all such humans with kind heart and kindled reason. But here I would like to mention Shahid Bhagat Singh. He was a freedom fighter of India in British era and was sentenced to death. And during his time in the Jail, waiting for the death, he had written few papers on his view on faith and god and like, which is available in book form titled, ‘Why I am an Atheist’ by National Book Trust, India. He died at the age of 23. He, at the time waiting for the noose to fall around his neck, new that at such a moment it was easy to take recourse to God. As he put it: “To stand upon one’s own legs amid storms and hurricanes is not a child’s play.” I strongly suggest that every Atheist must read this book which is hardly contains 30 pages.

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  • Just some rambling thoughts. (I wish there wasn’t a contest attached to this) I’m influenced by family and friends. Also, lately I’ve been increasingly influenced by people I’ve met online. The Internet has expanded my circle and therefore also the personalities, ideas, thoughts etc I come into contact with. I’ve been influenced by friends and strangers online.

    I like all kinds of people. I don’t necessarily want to be influenced by only certain kinds of people or ideas or interests. I guess I will inevitably be influenced by people with similar interests. But I don’t necessarily want to draw any concrete forms of the people who may influence me.

    I also want to be mindful of the potential to over contribute to the influence of some. I don’t like exclusive clubs.

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  • 10
    Red Dog says:

    In reply to #7 by Paresh:

    But here I would like to mention Shahid Bhagat Singh. He was a freedom fighter of India in British era and was sentenced to death…

    It’s interesting how “freedom fighter” for some people can be “terrorist” for others. According to Wikipedia:

    “Seeking revenge for the death of Lala Lajpat Rai at the hands of the police, Singh was involved in the murder of British police officer John Saunders. He eluded efforts by the police to capture him. Soon after, together with Batukeshwar Dutt, he undertook a successful effort to throw two bombs and leaflets inside the Central Legislative Assembly while shouting the slogan of revolution. “

    I think Singh’s cause (independence for India from British colonialism) was a good one but I think his tactics were wrong. He does provide a data point though that you don’t have to be a Muslim to use terrorist tactics — and that it isn’t just Muslims who admire such people.

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  • 11
    Lookout says:

    I was raised with an appreciation of reading so I am a reader and developed curiosity about different subjects. I have been most influenced by authors of literature (Mark Twain), science (Aldo Leopold) and social studies (Thoreau). Being raised with an appreciation for the outdoors led me to focus on nature and environment (John Muir, Edward Abbey, Farley Mowat). I was also influenced by a close friend in high school to question religion although I was already on that path from a very young age, disbelieving bible stories in Sunday School and seeing religious hypocrisy with my own eyes everywhere as a teenager in the 1960s (war/racism/sexism vs. church piousness). And I must admit I was also influenced by television actors and stories and the role models and lifestyles that I connected with. As a child that was Disney films such as Bambi (anthropomorphic as it was) and other nature-based shows; later tv series with a social conscious (which leads me to worry about violent shows and games these days). In later life, of course, it has been thrilling and gratifying to read and listen to great scientists like Richard Dawkins, Paul Ehrlich, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc. And journalists like Hitchens and Carl Hiassen. There are also poets (Whitman, Dickinson) that can illuminate concisely and beautifully. The words and works of reason and beauty are out there. If only more people had a chance to be exposed to the wondrous world of nature and worthwhile ideas there might be hope for a better world.

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  • 12
    vizente2002 says:

    The person who influences me is Pope of Atheism, Dr. Richard Dawkins.
    Dr. Dawkins gave me a rational and scientific basis and prepared me not only to justify my disbelief, but also for keeping me in a personal relationship with reality, so I can formulate arguments to justify this position.

    Influenced so much that I wrote a book to refute the book “On Guard” by Dr. William L. Craig.
    Dr. Dawkins intervened in your Publisher in Brazil (Cia of letters) to examine my books on atheism. Thank you!

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  • 13
    abusedbypenguins says:

    Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Franklin Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, John F. Kennedy, Howard Zinn, the list is long.

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  • Family – My family being The Four Horsemen. The most influential and articulate group that I’ve ever encountered. Currently reading “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam. A must-read for anyone who despises organized religion. Hitch, I miss you every day.

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  • This probably sounds ingratiating and I can already hear the groans from certain quarters, but it has to be Richard Dawkins! I’ve read the listed candidates so far and agree with the inclusion of the ones I know. I could also add a few others yet to be mentioned, but I’m talking about THE most influential, so everyone else is an also-ran in my opinion.

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  • 16
    kollurusriharsha says:

    A person who asks not to believe in his authority but his rationality. The main reason many reasonable people get attracted to people like Dawkins/ Hitchens or any other scientists, secularists is , I think, because they are asking to receive the knowledge, reason, not commands or diktats. And honesty also an important reason although verifiability of it is a little difficult.

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  • 17
    Drakonte says:

    I was first influenced by Desmond Morris who offered a zoological study of human behavior.Then by Richard Dawkins with a more drastic position in The Selfish Gene: behavior is controlled at genetic level. When I tried to understand why it was so difficult to accept, I was influenced by Kurt Godel and his incompleteness theorems and by Alan Turing and the Halting Theorem, who showed me that there are problems that can’t be addressed by the mind or any computer. Then Benoit B. Mandelbrot and James Gleick influenced me to understand how is that simple systems can exhibit complexity and emergence and how the explanation to these phenomena lies just in this kind of unsolvable problems. Roger Penrose influenced me with The New Emperor’s Mind to understand that living beings are in fact information processors, and then Jackes L. Monod influenced me to understand that biology can be framed into a formal approach and Douglas Hofstadter influenced me to see how it can be done and how to understand biology as an inherent quality of this universe, to define life, its origin and behavior. Once again, Dawkins influenced me with the most beautiful metaphor of evolution in Rivers Out Of Eden (first 4 pages) that I readily programmed in a computer and allowed me to propose a formal statement for evolutionary dynamics (my M. Sci. thesis). Back to the brain functionality, I was influenced by Nikolas, my dog, who helped me to understand the brain, neural networks and the mechanisms of pain and pleasure much better than most neuro scientists, Then Frank Van der Velde and Moscoso del Prado influenced me to understand the brain as a dynamic finite state machine and not as a hyper computer as most people believe. Ludwig von Bertalanffy influenced me to understand that these models can be framed into a version of General System Theory. I used all of these to understand why the brain works in the way it does, Particularly interesting for this forum could be one particular result: beliefs in gods are universal not because these gods exist, but because the human brain is the only brain in the world with the ability of self-deception because of its large capacity to manage symbolic languages which easily promotes self-reference. Gods are needed to justify instinctive behaviors that the mind, in an attempt to explain its own existence, denies towards a mystical and intangible origin. This journey has lasted 25 years, and believe it or not… , it has been fascinating.

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  • 18
    Grant Reason says:

    I would have to agree entirely with Ayn Rand and most of her successors that in general the culture is most influenced by it’s reigning philosophers. But in my particular case as you did not stipulate living or deceased, I would say Aristotle, the first serious thinker to appreciate the gravity of life and then to articulate the first rational set of the rules of logic, Ayn Rand, perhaps the most original thinker in human history to put thought to pen followed by Dr. Nathaniel Branden, (“The Psychology of Self-Esteem”), Dr. David Kelley, (The Evidence of Your Senses”) and last but perhaps the most contemporarily significant is our own beloved Dr. Richard Dawkins. Having read most of his writings and viewed with awe his courage of his convictions in countless interviews and presentations, he has earned a top position on my heroes list. Have you ever noticed in all of the entire body of his work you have yet to hear a single contradiction? That’s an enormous accomplishment for any mortal to achieve. I might imagine that he would be too modest to acknowledge his being referred to as “The Greatest Living Thinker” but that is exactly how I shall consider him. My deepest and most sincere regards to you Sir.
    Grant Reason

    “The Wise man is always prepared to define his terms and to check his premise.” Grant Reason

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  • 19
    EmilyPond says:

    In reply to #4 by EmilyPond:

    People like Douglas Adams and the Doctor. They are the easiest first steps towards broadening a mind and questioning what is. They take the rules and throw them out, just to make up a whole new set of rules and then throw those out when they don’t work, and they say “that’s ok, we can have differen…

    Meant to say “perpetuated” not “perpetrated.” But there is no edit button. Drats!

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  • Dr. Fang, Shimin(aka. Fang Zhouzi 方舟子) makes science more accessible through science writing. He is the most famous fraud fighter in China. Through his persistent effort in exposing academic frauds, rampant false claims among supplement industry, and products based on pseudo science, people learn to use critical thinking. Dr.Fang is the most important critic of the cult religion, Falun Gong, new Christian expansion in China, and the faith-based Traditional Chinese Medicine. Recently he is also leading the fight against anti-science, anti-intellectual movements, among which, the most notorious are antiGMO, and anti-vaccine. His views and opinions are very closely related to day-to-day life of average Chinese people. His pragmatic approaches, and the practical values of his teaching, bought him millions of fans and supporters. And many join him to form the new Atheist Movement. They are having their 3rd Atheist Conference in July.

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  • 21
    Aureliano Buendia says:

    Every man who are contributing for the better world, where science and health reason would be free, without borders. For me, that is Richard Dawkins and his colleagues Neil Tyson, Lawrence Krausse, Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Howking……..

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  • 22
    Edmonstoned says:

    The person who influenced me was Bertrand Russell. When I was in my twenties I heard him speaking on the radio. He seemed the most clear thinking incisive person I had ever heard. He had written a book “Why I am not a Christian”. I wanted to read it and hoped it would give me a logical background to my recently acquired non-theism. However it was banned in South Africa and I only got my hands on it when I visited Australia in my sixties.
    To say I was disappointed in his book is putting it mildly. It was not a logical argument for his belief. It seemed like it was just a rant because a college in America would not consider it his application because he was an atheist. The disappointment did not cause me to lose my admiration for him. So now that I am in my nineties perhaps I should read the book again to see if I change my mind about it.

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