Whither the polymath?


People who know a lot about a lot have long been an exclusive club, but now they are an endangered species. Edward Carr tracks some down … From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2009 (Intelligent Life seems to be related to The Economist.)

I always thought being able to know or do a lot of different things was Good. Apparently, it’s a waning phenomenon. Much the pity, if only because synthesizing from several sources tends to give us big new advancements.


About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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2 Responses to Whither the polymath?

  1. offdutydane says:

    Random person here! Thanks for posting this article. This exact subject has been on my mind a lot as I apply for grad schools and start asking myself if I want to spend a few more years specializing in a subject and if I will find myself mired in one field for the rest of my life. I don’t plan on it, though.

    You may or may not be interested in Arthur Koestler’s Act of Creation.

    • songdogmi says:

      Welcome Random Deviant! Oh wait, wrong website.

      I’m not sure what I’d think if I was in your position. (OK, I was in your position, once, and I didn’t apply to any. See where that got me.) As the article says, you almost have to super-specialize to go far in academia, yet not only does that reduce the chance of those big breakthroughs that come through synthesis from other areas, it could make one feel locked-in. Someone drawn to polymathy probably ends up following all those paths because he/she can’t conceive of not, I’d guess, even if some activities are relegated to spare time.

      Act of Creation… thanks for the tip. 🙂

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