Monday 15 October 2012

The Next Great Polymath

I was wondering the otherj day about Renaissance men. Not all men from the Renaissance, in fact not men from the Renaissance at all, but those that have shown the qualities that make up a Renaissance man. I have been getting tired of writing “Renaissance” so I will use the term “polymath”. A polymath is a person who excels in many different disciplines. Not only is the person a genius, but he or she is a genius in more than one field of endeavour.

I suppose that Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous polymath of all time and I would be the least famous. Okay, it is possible that I’m not a polymath at all. I did a search of modern polymaths and came up with this list from Wikipedia.

If you notice, there hasn’t been a decent polymath since Pavel Florensky died in 1937. Kind of makes you wonder what is happening to our polymaths doesn’t it. I suppose that as the world gets more and more complex, we are having a difficulty mastering more than one discipline. I can remember when you weren’t allowed to use a calculator in school; I think the reason was that it was cheating somehow because you haven’t memorized all of the different formulas that are necessary to solve the equations. Now, the belief is that in order for our students to master more and more complex theories, they only need a rudimentary understanding of the basic principles. Hmmmm…I don’t know about that, but then I’m not a polymath.

Do you think that our society has become too complex to allow for true polymaths? It seems to me that most of the polymaths on that list were either very wealthy on their own or they had wealthy benefactors that enabled them to focus on their many different fields of study without the mundane worry about a roof over their heads or how to get food in their bellies. Society has changed and although there are many people and organizations that support artists, scientists and literary geniuses, they tend to support just one activity. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the different world governments have co-opted these men and women to create weapons of war or theories that can be used to benefit their particular country.
Da Vinci created a machine gun, cluster bombs, scythed chariots, a barrage canon, a tank, a wall defence, a fortress, catapult, dismountable canon, helicopter, an armoured vessel a giant crossbow and a siege weapon. Perhaps the next da Vinci is working for the Canadian government. No, there doesn’t appear to be any geniuses in the Canadian government.

Could it be that we are no longer able to produce da Vincis, Franklins, Imhoteps or Michelangelo’s? I’d like to think that they are out there but for some reason they aren’t making a very big splash. Perhaps their genius will be recognized only after they are dead. Maybe in our world we can only excel in one or two specialties, or maybe the powers that create these amazing people are just taking a break from their labours.

Who knows, maybe the blog or tweet that you read today came from the next great polymath. Let’s hope so.

No comments:

Post a Comment