The Expert Generalist: Why the Future Belongs to Polymaths

from Medium

Some of history’s greatest contributions have come from polymaths.

Aristotle practically invented half a dozen fields of study across philosophy. Galileo was as much a physicist as he was an engineer when he helped kick-start the scientific revolution. Da Vinci might have been even more famous as an inventor than an artist if his notebooks were ever published.

Even in the last 100 years, we have had people like John Von Neumann and Herbert Simon who have made breakthrough advances across fields as diverse as computer science, economics, and psychology.

That is, of course, not to detract from the specialists who have pushed our progress forward. In fact, until now, these specialists have far outnumbered the polymaths in both their historical ranks and their contributions.

After all, it takes a lot of time to master the depths of a specific field so that you can eventually add something that pushes it ahead. From this point of view, it makes sense that polymaths have been as scarce as they have been.

More here.

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One Comment

  1. Considering that certain fields of study and academic disciplines have been being cultivated for thousands of years, if one intends to make any significant contribution or advancement to a specific field it requires the utmost education and practice of that respective science. Such people who do so frequently have doctorates in their field and are celebrated by their peers, and rightly so. However, the article in references provides a different perspective on such matters. It states that polymaths are actually better disposed to learning and producing that and individual who specialized in a specific discipline. Of course, the word polymath conjures images in the mind of the geniuses of history, such as Aristotle or Leonardo Da Vinci. These men were geniuses and would probably qualify for the highest academic accolades in a variety of fields, even by modern standards. Success is certainly obtainable to men like them. Nonetheless, according to the article, genius is not necessarily a prerequisite for being a polymath. Limiting yourself to one type of science will make the mind accustomed to understanding forms of that science, but it will be less adaptable to others. For example, a lifelong linguist may master the grammar and paradigms of say Latin, and then will easily recognize these patterns in other romance languages and learn them all the easier. However, when they apply themselves to say, mathematics, they will be less malleable to its laws than a primary school student. Whereas a polymath from an early age will have better cognitive abilities than most because of the variety of learning they undertake to themselves, even if he or she cannot claim master over any individual subject or discipline. Such ability (and well-rounded education) will allow the polymath to ply their skills to a variety of career paths and will never want for job opportunities. Consequently, the future will be dominated by polymaths.

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