“When so many scholars in the world are calculating, is it not right that some, who can, dream?” – René Thom
Rene Thom was a creative leader because he was the first to bring out a mathematical treatment for ‘complexity’ a ‘wicked problem’ that evaded us for long.
Thom was the spiritual leader in the development of catastrophe theory, used to study and classify phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small perturbations, that is, a mathematical treatment of continuous action producing a discontinuous result.
It was extremely useful and is now the basis of further development in this new and interesting study of the phenomenon of complexity.
Although Thom introduced the theory in the late 1960’s it didn’t appear in book form until 1972 with the publication of Christopher Zeeman, who named the theory, brought it to the attention of the general public and pioneered its application to the biological and behavioral sciences.
The motivation for its development was laudable since the need to develop appropriate mathematical tools for use in the biological, behavioral and social sciences is not disputed.Ian Stewart in Life’s Other Secret (1998) wrote: “…it completely revolutionized bifurcation theory. It was a bloodless revolution, accomplished under an assumed name (singularity theory), and it took place largely within mathematics, so hardly anybody noticed.” Catastrophe theory paved the way for the more influential chaos theory.
But some critics claimed catastrophe theory was little more than an intellectual fad. Thom reluctantly announced its demise in 1990: “Catastrophe theory is dead. For as soon as it became clear that the theory did not permit quantitative prediction, all good minds … decided in was of no value.”
Does that not remind us of Galileo Galilei who was forced to retract his support for the ‘heliocentric’ view under the pressure of the church and of Giordano Bruno, the fine mathematician and philosopher, who became a martyr at the stakes for propagating free thought and modern scientific ideas?
Creative leaders who lead the path less taken usually suffer when their ideas are far ahead of their times and the ignorant society rejects them.