The Unfinished Works of Great Thinkers

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Sometimes the unfinished works of great thinkers have the potential of being their greatest works. If only death had spared them just a little while longer, they might have been able to complete them. Unfortunately for everyone, this was not the case. And yet, there is hope: we are still left with remnants of works of staggering genius that hold the clues for future revelations. Here are a few. 

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1. Einstein's Unified Field Theory

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Towards the end of his life, Einstein worked feverishly to complete his "theory of everything," which he thought was a serious contender that would outmatch quantum physics (which he detested). In essence, what his theory was working out was all the probability that is inherent to a quantum mechanics model, the uncertainty of it all. Einstein wanted nothing to do with it. He thought that space-time being the fabric of our universe, there should be much more deterministic principles to how nature unfolded. Unfortunately, he died before he could complete the project. 

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2. Tesla's Long-Range Energy Transmitter

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In an attempt to use his principles of energy transfer on a much larger scale, Tesla began construction of the Wardenclyffe Tower in Shoreham, Long Island, a project that got major funding from JP Morgan. The tower was to be a massive source and sender of energy, but Morgan ultimately curtailed funding and the project miscarried.

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3. Bohr's Problem of Life

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Towards the end of his life, Niels Bohr was grappling with the problem of life ”” no easy feat. In particular, his article "Light and Life Revisited" (translated), in which he attempts to take on "life origin and evolution, quantum mechanics and life, brain and mind, consciousness and free will, and light as a tool for biology." That's certainly a tall order.  

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4. Davinci's Inventions

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Perhaps the most interesting thing about Davinci's inventions is that there's no evidence that any of his plans were ever put to the practical test. Imagine building up a veritable storehouse of potential toys, and never using them! 

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5. Faraday and Magnetism

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Towards the end of his life, around 1860 to 1862, Michael Faraday was working on some pretty trippy stuff. For instance, he was trying to uncover new relationships between magnetism and gravity, as well as magnetism and light. Smacks a little bit of Einstein's attempts at a unified field theory, no? 

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6. Boyle's Blood

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17th Century chemist Robert Boyle left unfinished some desultory and inscrutable work on Human Blood, in which Boyle was poking around different samples of blood and opining on them. Perhaps it's best that he never finished the work: It's some pretty weird stuff. 

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7. Wittgenstein's Investigations

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Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein left behind an unfinished, though still monumental, work Philosophical Investigations, in which he goes on about the difficulties of naming feelings and events, but once named, those phenomena are still imminent and eminent to us. Much of the work is intact, so it's definitely worth a read. 

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8. Newton's Fluxions

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When Newton's ideas were collated into the book The Method of Fluxions and the Infinite Series, the source materials that were drawn from were left unfinished. The title refers to Newton's derivation of calculus, which is arguably his greatest contribution (alongside Newtonian mechanics) to science. 

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9. De Broglie's Waves

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Sort of in the vein of Einstein, Louis de Broglie wanted to supplant funky probabilistic quantum functions with a predictable and causal wave function, a.k.a. the Pilot Wave Theory. The pushback from the reigning scientific community at the time (1927), however, restricted de Broglie's being able to do serious work with it, and so the papers were left unfinished.

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10. Fleming's Penicilin

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Many years after Fleming's interest with penicillin supposedly waned, science writers have synthesized the father of antibiotics' notebook to produce a different story: Fleming continued to work on the moldy stuff even after it proved a success. His unpublished notebooks showed that he was experimenting with other airborne substances to see if they yielded the same effects. Perhaps they could come in handy now that we have a multiplication of antibiotic-resistant superbugs?  

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11. Descarte's Rules

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Penner of the famous lines "I think, therefore I am," Rene Descartes left his Rules for the Direction of Mind unfinished at the time of his death. It was meant to be a didactic and explanatory work on how to apply the scientific method to most everything. Luckily, a vast amount of the great thinker's work still exists, and because of it, changed the course of history.  

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12. Leibniz's Politics

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Mathematician and philosopher Leibniz is famous (or infamous) for believing our world was the best possible world. He started a treatise called "Meditation on the Common Concept of Justice" that argued both heavenly justice and human social justice were good and right. It got kind of elitist

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13. Aristotle's Poetics

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Does this guy look funny to you? If so, funny how? He happens to be Aristotle, and he's famous for a lot of things ”” most notably his opposition to Platonism. But his most sought after lost work is the second book of the Poetics, dealing with comedy. It's not really an unfinished work...just unreadable, as of right now. 

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14. Looking to the Past, Looking to the Future

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What were these scientists getting at? What great realizations were they nearing? Their bodies might be committed to the past, but their works are still very much of the present...and the stuff of the future. 

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