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Ask HN: Who is the most positive impactful person you know?
75 points by legionof7 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments
I help out with a positive news podcast at my high school and we're looking to interview people that have made a positive impact! We've currently interviewed people like Austen Allred and TurboVote.

You can find the podcast here, https://anchor.fm/somethinggoodhappened

Please give interview suggestions!

Leonard Susskind, a theoritical physicist at Stanford.

He has open, free video lectures that cover an entire 4 year cirruculum of a physics degree in his personal website called Theoritical Minimum.

Yep, he has an extremely charming personality judging from his videos. Something similar is about Robert Sapolski, also from Stanford. Love watching these guys lecture. Natural born teachers.

I suspect our Youtube accounts are doppelgangers. o/

My high school physics teacher. She taught me the importance of being a good human being. And that being kind and empathetic to others is the best thing a person can do. That honesty and integrity are more important than winning. And she also taught me elementary physics.

How is Stallman a redirect to RMS's page? Shouldn't it go to a disambiguation or name page?

Bill Murray.

Netflix has a new release about him, named "The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man."

Highly recommended.

Sal Khan from Khan Academy.

I still remember his video on fractional reserve lending and how banks effectively up printing money doing so.

Will MacAskill[1] for his contributions to launching the effective altruism movement, which has gone on to inspire many other people to take a much more rigorous and active perspective on doing good.

[1] - Many others were involved, but I know the most about his contributions.

For anyone not familiar with EA or Will MacAskill, I highly recommend these podcasts:

Tim Ferriss: https://tim.blog/2015/11/22/will-macaskill/

Sam Harris: https://samharris.org/podcasts/being-good-and-doing-good/

Joe Rogan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buyBzK5yM-s

Also, short Economist article on EA: https://www.economist.com/international/2018/06/02/can-effec...

John Carmack. First, by making one of the most memorable game of my childhood. Second, by inspiring me and a few of my friends via Masters of Doom [1], with his tweets, videos, by being a Craftsman, the embodiment of a great programmer. Masters of Doom helped one of my colleagues to ignite his passion for coding again, after a long exposure to mind-numbing corporate work.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_of_Doom

Prabhu Ramachandran [1], author of Mayavi [2]

The amount of high quality work he does, all the while being positive, cheerful and friendly is a trait to imbibe and admire.

I am privileged to have him as a mentor, friend, philosopher and guide.

[1] https://www.aero.iitb.ac.in/~prabhu/

[2] https://github.com/enthought/mayavi

I'm going to change it a little to the people I've met that have had a sizable impact on the world.

I've met Sam Altman briefly last year. His involvement with YC the past several years and co-founding OpenAI have directly and indirectly touched thousands of jobs.

I've also met Michael Seibel. His involvement with YC the past several years has directly and indirectly touched thousands of jobs. His co-founding of Junstin.tv allowed it to exist, it is now evolved into twitch.tv which has allowed some creators and gamers to actually earn a living streaming and has created tons of micro-communities for video games and table top fans to both play and watch.

Aside from them, I don't really know (nor have I met) anyone else that I feel has directly and indirectly had as much of an impact on society as those two although...

I have very casually known, but never met, Kate Bornstein since our mutual participation in the Save Caprica campaign. She's certainly been a bastion of hope for many LGBT persons. She's semi-active on various social media. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kate_Bornstein

Richard Feynman. You could pretend to ask him questions and play sound bites of his interviews/lectures :)


Kent Beck and Andrei Alexandrescu.

Andrei is quite amazing to me...

Clearly capable of writing code that is wonderful... and incomprehensible to mortal man.... but wonderfully focused on not doing that.

On making it comprehensible, and producing facilities that are friendly and nice and doing so with a kindly attitude.

Kent, in addition to the stuff he has done on the TDD front... https://www.infoq.com/presentations/self-image/

Bill Gates

At the moment I am readig Factfullness from Hans Rosling [1].

He is very positive about the changes of the last (100) years.

Bill Gates is one of those people who contributed a lot to these positive changes.

[1] ISBN: 978-12-50-12381-7

Would love to hear your definition "impact". On a personal level? On a business level? On a global level even? I think it is really difficult to define what impact even means. Sometimes impact is realized even long after someone has died, think F. Scott Fitzgerald (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Gatsby#Legacy_and_mo...)

Derek Sivers

Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen - His company saved the lives of about 10 million people (my wild ass guess) with approximately one million water purifiers and something like 1 billion mosquito nets distributed in Africa. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vestergaard_Frandsen)

Steve Gleason, former NFL player & ALS survivor & Congressional Gold Medal recipient: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-360/0ap3000001010997/Steve-Gle...

Milton Friedman. Remarkable economist and very bright person. A noblr prize winner. Defender of the free market. What is remarkable about him is the simple way to argue bringing natural human behavior and historical examples.

Alon Geva: He has really practical and straightforward questions for spiritual awakening: https://www.youtube.com/user/awakeningrightnow

Kevin Adler of Miracle Messages. They reunite long lost homeless people with their families. I'm sure Kevin would be happy to do your podcast.


Christopher Hitchens. His impact on me is so powerful that for the last 4 years I have my ringtone and sms alert tone set to him saying "There are no final solutions. There is no absolute truth"

“there is no absolute truth” sounds awful like a statement of absolute truth

The urban landscape is changing from auto-centric to human-centric (pedestrian areas, bike-lanes, light-rail). Jan Gehl and Janette Sadik-Khan are two prominent examples, but there are many others.

Murray Gell-Mann

Scott Hanselman

Dawa Tarchin Phillips -- he teaches mindfulness and leadership skills in schools and around the world.

Read the question and was about to suggest Austen Allred when I read the rest of your post. :)

Ocean Whitehawk: Spiritual teacher who has completely changed the lives of her students.


Tim Ferriss


It won't be anyone that uses the word 'impactful'.

J. R. R. Tolkien

François Chollet

Really? Sell me on this one. Keras is great, but socially he leads people to be careless about AI safety, which is hugely negative.

Jocko Willink

Robin Hanson

The sex redistribution guy?

Ok, I found Hanson’s view on “sex redistribution” in his blog http://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/04/two-types-of-envy.html

Mad world: It is ok for the US president to pay prostitutes, restrict sex-redistributing websites and it is ok for the first lady to sell body. What is not ok is to advocate more liberal sex policies for scientists.

If that's all you know him by you should definitely read his actual blog and work, since he's super interesting and actually a really wonderful person.

i'm not sure what you are talking about. You should try to google him. I like his views about the future and it is good to talk about futarchy now as topic starter mentioned TurboVote

Tom Bilyue from Impact Theory.

My parents.

Paul Graham

Elon Musk

This will be a controversial answer for some reasons I think are misplaced. In my opinion Elon Musk seems like he has a potent toxic side to his personality, and he doesn't seem to have a very good grasp of certain things. He also legitimately seems delusional at times.

However in terms of bringing awareness, optimism, and a willingness to actively work on engineering solutions to long-term existential threats to humanity I think his impact on our culture is often understated.

If someone has a historical record of making delusions become reality, then I think they aren't really delusional.

Mr Musk's company SpaceX has brought down the cost to orbit by a factor of three. That's a big deal. Not as big as Edward Jenner & Louis Pasteur (vaccines) or Isaac Newton, but still pretty big.

Positive and delusional are different things.

It can be a fine line.

George Washington

Sir Isaac Newton

Alan Watts

1) John Carmack


I kinda like Warren Buffett

Edward Jenner & Louis Pasteur (vaccines)


Steve Jobs

His availability for interview is greatly exaggerated.

oh man, I miss him almost every day

Jordan Peterson

This is a 'brave' answer...

It's a fine answer. He spends his time railing against Marxism, Postmodernism, SJW culture and telling people to take responsibility. His main messages seem to boil down to become resilient and don't destroy the world.


I can sense political and ideological disagreement between you and JP.

So you're saying that people having different opinion on politics, gender, identity can't have a positive impact on someones life?

Downvoting someone just because he or she was moved by a person you don't like doesn't make you right.

And the debate about whether he is, or is not a pseudo intellectual has nothing to do with this. You don't have to be an intellectual to help others. To have a positive impact on people.

I love how people always think that positive impact comes from technology, or science. Yes, these things make our lives better, but does it help when people are immoral, corrupt and disregard their fellow human beings?

Someone wrote Steve Jobs in the comments. Coming up with better consumer electronics and then ruthlessly keeping prices high and boxing the consumer in their company ecosystem is not helpful to society. Will I downvote the guy? No.

I've noticed this really interesting phenomenon when people disagree with or dislike someone in academia to label them as a psuedo intellectual.

This happens for people on both sides of the divide. Look at the comments on any potentially controversial academic discussion and the phrase pseudo intellectual comes up an awful lot.

Now, I can't imagine both sides of a debate contain only psuedo intellectuals. Nor can I reasonably say I think the entire of Academia is filled with only so-called psuedo intellectuals.

So how do you delineate who is an actual intellectual vs. who is a psuedo intellectual?

What is your criteria? What is the criteria in general?


Because it seems to me this phenomenon manifests when people either disagree with or dislike an academics conclusions. As such I completely discount the opinion of anyone willing to use the phrase psuedo intellectual.

Jordan Peterson is a pseudo intellectual because he pretends to have a deep understanding of Marxism and postmodernism, but when pushed, he admits that he hasn't even read the people he criticizes. He uses his position as a professor to give himself authority but his ideas wouldn't last 3 seconds in an environment where people had any background in the things he's talking about. There are people who are criticized unfairly for being a pseudo intellectual but Jordan Peterson isn't one of them. Any set of criteria for what constitutes a pseudo intellectual will include people like JBP unless you exclude people with academic jobs.

As for whether I dislike his ideas, I can't really get too worked up about most of what he says. It's sort of trite and he seems to have a very mildy authoritarian personality and his views on gender seem to be pretty unimaginative, but this is true about a lot of people. He seems to have some helpful advice for young people (take responsibility for yourself, etc.) that some people say they really need to hear, so it's not all bad. But at the same time, he's also a charlatan when he talks about political theory.

Something I've been grappling with lately is that everyone basically pretends to have an understanding of everything to some degree.

Most of our models of things are hopelessly low resolution cartoon versions of the real thing, yet we feel like because we know what something is, perhaps how to operate it, and perhaps where/how to acquire it then we feel like we can explain it in much greater detail than we actually can. This is the so-called Illusion of Explanatory Depth.


I don't personally know if his models of Postmodernism and Marxism are ultra-low, low, medium, high or ultra-high resolution, but I would venture to say a well read University professor on the world stage talking about these Philosophies on a regular basis has at least read Derrida, Foucault, Marx and other primary sources. I'd be very surprised if he hadn't and if you could point to a an admission from him that would be appreciated.

For me, I came to learn about these ideas from him. His firebrand, sky-is-falling style of Rhetoric made it fun to listen to and ultimately I thought well I didn't understand it very well after listening to him for an hour, but I came away with a feeling it's important to dig deeper and do more investigation. I went away and got an alternative explanation of Postmodernism from Stephen Hicks who I thought explained it a lot better and clearer and I enjoyed watching that. I watched Thad Russell get into Postmodernism with Joe Rogan to hear it more from the Postmodernist side.

Ultimately a good professor sparks interest and debate and inspires people to get interested and learn. Peterson did that for me. I didn't necessarily take his version of things and just run with it but he made my ears prick up and he made me pay attention. I think that's really valuable.

Now the most legit criticism of Peterson is that whacky ancient snake paintings == DNA thing and he's justifying that belief purely just because he wants to and because an anthropologist got high on Ayahuasca, tripped balls and wrote a book. I'd expect more from an academic but hey... We're all human. Gotta take the good with the bad.

did you clean your room?

Unfairly down voted. I second this. Jordan Peterson

Edit: To all the people that cowardly down voting me: I also like Heather Mac Donald and Ben Shapiro.

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