Monday, January 31, 2011

The Modern Polymath

As I've noted previously in this blog, I have a wide variety of interests.  These interests vary from programming and piano to drawing and martial arts.  As I thought it over a bit today, this sounds like the path to becoming a polymath.

A polymath is someone with a great deal of knowledge and understanding in many fields.  They are also known as a Renaissance Man.  Traditionally, a polymath should have detailed knowledge and practice in the sciences, the arts, music, philosophy, the humanities, poetry, and athleticism, amongst others.  Not only that, but they were supposed to show a certain 'sprezzatura', or effortlessness, when demonstrating their knowledge and abilities.

This 'ideal' man becomes more difficult with each successive decade, as humanity's knowledge base and awareness dramatically increases.  Who has time to read the classics, both old and new?  Who has time to learn enough biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc?  Or playing one or more instruments, let along music theory?  Or showing skill in drawing, painting, sculpture, or architecture?  What about modern abilities, such as programming, web design, digital animation, or filmmaking?

What, then, makes the modern polymath without sacrificing the Renaissance ideal?  Here are my thoughts.

Basic Principles
When a skill is learned, or a subject tackled, then the polymath should be more skilled or knowledgeable than 90% of the human population.  This number is a crudely drawn line, but the line must exist.  Out of each of the following categories, a modern polymath needs to be skilled and/or knowledgeable in eight or more subjects taken from the following list.  No more than two subjects should be taken from any category, but one must be taken from each.

Art/Music - including digital animation, filmmaking, architecture, and claymation
Science/Technology - including programming, plumbing, and the various branches of engineering
Mathematics - including statistics and probability
Athleticism - including martial arts, running, sports, consistent gym attendance, and such
Philosophy/Spirituality - including ethics, logic, theology, yoga, meditation, and epistemology
Writing - such as poetry, comic books (double counts!), and blogging
Humanities - including history, psychology, sociology, business, and geography

In addition, I would expect a modern polymath to be knowledgeable in music theory, first aid, design, three or more languages (at least one not Roman or German based), and have a wide vocabulary.

Is this definition of the modern polymath even possible?  I give a hint to my answer in the list:  comic book creation would count as a form of writing as well as art.  It would also lend to design knowledge.  Creating several well-regarded video games would count toward art, music, technology, mathematics, and writing, if not more.  Calligraphy is art as well language, especially if it's Chinese or Japanese.

How would I approach becoming a polymath, even at the age of 30?  I'm already a programmer, though my skills need work.  I've started on Japanese and piano.  I will start on first aid and drawing within a year.  I'll spend time on this in detail later.

Most would probably balk at the language requirements, especially Americans.  Keep in mind, though, that a great many Europeans speak three or more language fluently.  Many Chinese and Japanese, especially though in more urban areas, speak English.  Many, again focusing on Americans, would balk at the wide range of requirements in general.  I blame apathy, which will likely become its own post fairly soon.  Personally, I think anyone could become a modern polymath, with enough time and effort.

Do I want to become my definition of the modern polymath.  Those who know me would regard that as an obvious yes.  Those who don't know me could read my blog and say maybe.  I'm going to give it a tentative yes for the moment.  I just started thinking about this and need to consider the plans I already have in motion.

For the moment, what do you think?  Am I being too strict?  Not strict enough?  What would you include on the above?  What subjects would you personally focus on?

No comments:

Post a Comment