A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, "having learned much"; Latin: homo universalis, "universal man") is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of subject areas, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.
In Western Europe, the first work to use polymathy in its title (De Polymathia tractatio: integri operis de studiis veterum) was published in 1603 by Johann von Wowern (de), a Hamburg philosopher.
Von Wowern defined polymathy as "knowledge of various matters, drawn from all kinds of studies [...] ranging freely through all the fields of the disciplines, as far as the human mind, with unwearied industry, is able to pursue them". Von Wowern lists erudition, literature, philology, philomathy and polyhistory as synonyms. The related term, polyhistor, is an ancient term with similar meaning.
Polymaths include the great thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment who excelled at several fields in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. In the Italian Renaissance, the idea of the polymath was expressed by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) in the statement that "a man can do all things if he will".
Embodying a basic tenet of Renaissance humanism that humans are limitless in their capacity for development, the concept led to the notion that people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. This is expressed in the term "Renaissance man", often applied to the gifted people of that age who sought to develop their abilities in all areas of accomplishment: intellectual, artistic, social and physical.
The term entered the lexicon in the 20th century and has now been applied to great thinkers living before and after the Renaissance.
"Renaissance man" was first recorded in written English in the early 20th century. It is now used to refer to great thinkers living before, during, or after the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance man, a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination".
Many notable polymaths lived during the Renaissance period, a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th through to the 17th century that began in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spread to the rest of Europe. These polymaths had a rounded approach to education that reflected the ideals of the humanists of the time. A gentleman or courtier of that era was expected to speak several languages, play a musical instrument, write poetry and so on, thus fulfilling the Renaissance ideal.
The idea of a universal education was essential to achieving polymath ability, hence the word university was used to describe a seat of learning. At this time, universities did not specialize in specific areas, but rather trained students in a broad array of science, philosophy and theology. This universal education gave them a grounding from which they could continue into apprenticeship toward becoming a master of a specific field.
When someone is called a "Renaissance man" today, it is meant that rather than simply having broad interests or superficial knowledge in several fields, the individual possesses a more profound knowledge and a proficiency, or even an expertise, in at least some of those fields.
Some dictionaries use the term "Renaissance man" to describe someone with many interests or talents, while others give a meaning restricted to the Renaissance and more closely related to Renaissance ideals.
Aside from "Renaissance man" as mentioned above, similar terms in use are homo universalis (Latin) and uomo universale (Italian), which translate to "universal man". The related term "generalist"—contrasted with a "specialist"—is used to describe a person with a general approach to knowledge.
The term "universal genius" or "versatile genius" is also used, with Leonardo da Vinci as the prime example again. The term is used especially for people who made lasting contributions in at least one of the fields in which they were actively involved and when they took a universality of approach.
When a person is described as having encyclopedic knowledge, they exhibit a vast scope of knowledge. However, this designation may be anachronistic in the case of persons such as Eratosthenes whose reputation for having encyclopedic knowledge predates the existence of any encyclopedic object.
Although polymathy and similar constructs like multipotentiality and multiple talents have gained wider coverage in the popular domain, polymathy, as a field of scientific study, is still at an early stage of development, with some researchers calling for more studies to further advance this construct and shed new light on topics such as creativity and education (e.g., Shavinina, 2013; Sriraman, 2009). At present, researchers studying this topic come from backgrounds as diverse as psychology, physiology, mathematics, management and education. Although incipient, the extant studies can already demonstrate the importance of polymathy as a concept that can help enhance our understanding of human diversity and of the elements that underlie one of the most human of traits: creativity. This section presents an overview of the contributions of six contemporary scholarly authors to the understanding of the phenomenon of polymathy. The criterion to choose the authors included in this article was the existence of publications in academic outlets focusing on the concept of polymathy itself (and not, for instance, on the biographies of specific polymaths).
Robert Root-Bernstein is considered the principal responsible for rekindling the interest on polymathy in the scientific community. He is a professor of physiology at Michigan State University and has been awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, known as a "Genius Grant", a prize awarded to those who have shown "extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" and are citizens or residents of the United States.
Robert Root-Bernstein emphasizes the contrast between the polymath and both the specialist and the dilettante. While the specialist demonstrates depth but not breadth of knowledge, the dilettante demonstrates breadth but without depth. Thus, both of them lack the active engagement in multiple domains and the conjugation of avocations and vocations found in polymaths.
A key point in the work of Root-Bernstein and colleagues is the argument in favor of the universality of the creative process. That is, although creative products, such as a painting, a mathematical model or a poem, can be domain-specific, at the level of the creative process, the mental tools that lead to the generation of creative ideas are the same, be it in the arts or science. These mental tools are sometimes called intuitive tools of thinking. It is therefore not surprising that many of the most innovative scientists have serious hobbies or interests in artistic activities, and that some of the most innovative artists have an interest or hobbies in the sciences.
His research is an important counterpoint to the claim by some psychologists that creativity is domain-specific. Through his research, Root-Bernstein concludes that there are certain comprehensive thinking skills and tools that cross the barrier of different domains and can foster creative thinking: “[creativity researchers] who discuss integrating ideas from diverse fields as the basis of creative giftedness ask not “who is creative?” but “what is the basis of creative thinking?” From the polymathy perspective, giftedness is the ability to combine disparate (or even apparently contradictory) ideas, sets of problems, skills, talents, and knowledge in novel and useful ways. Polymathy is therefore the main source of any individual’s creative potential.” (R. Root-Bernstein, 2009, p. 854). In “Life Stages of Creativity”, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein suggest six typologies of creative life stages. These typologies based on real creative production records first published by Root-Bernstein, Bernstein, and Garnier (1993).
Finally, his studies suggest that understanding polymathy and learning from polymathic exemplars can help structure a new model of education that better promotes creativity and innovation: “we must focus education on principles, methods, and skills that will serve them [students] in learning and creating across many disciplines, multiple careers, and succeeding life stages” (R. Root-Bernstein & M. Root-Bernstein, 2017, p. 161).
Peter Burke, Professor Emeritus of Cultural History and Fellow of Emmanuel College at Cambridge, discussed the theme of polymathy in some of his works. He has presented a comprehensive historical overview of the ascension and decline of the polymath as, what he calls, an “intellectual species” (see Burke, 2012; 2010).
He observes that in ancient and medieval times, scholars did not have to specialize. However, from the 17th century on, the rapid rise of new knowledge in the Western world—both from the systematic investigation of the natural world and from the flow of information coming from other parts of the world—was making it increasingly difficult for individual scholars to master as many disciplines as before. Thus, an intellectual retreat of the polymath species occurred: “from knowledge in every [academic] field to knowledge in several fields, and from making original contributions in many fields to a more passive consumption of what has been contributed by others” (Burke, 2010, p. 72).
Given this change in the intellectual climate, it has since then been more common to find “passive polymaths”, who consume knowledge in various domains but make their reputation in one single discipline, than “proper polymaths”, who—through a feat of “intellectual heroism”—manage to make serious contributions to several disciplines.
However, Burke warns that in the age of specialization, polymathic people are more necessary than ever, both for synthesis—to paint the big picture—and for analysis. He says: “It takes a polymath to ‘mind the gap’ and draw attention to the knowledges that may otherwise disappear into the spaces between disciplines, as they are currently defined and organized” (Burke, 2012, p. 183).
Finally, he suggests that governments and universities should nurture a habitat in which this “endangered species” can survive, offering students and scholars the possibility of interdisciplinary work.
James C. Kaufman, from the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, and Ronald A. Beghetto, from the same university, investigated the possibility that everyone could have the potential for polymathy as well as the issue of the domain-generality or domain-specificity of creativity.
Based on their earlier four-c model of creativity, Beghetto & Kaufman proposed a typology of polymathy, ranging from the ubiquitous mini-c polymathy to the eminent but rare Big-C polymathy, as well as a model with some requirements for a person (polymath or not) to be able to reach the highest levels of creative accomplishment. They account for three general requirements—intelligence, motivation to be creative and an environment that allows creative expression—that are needed for any attempt at creativity to succeed. Then, depending on the domain of choice, more specific abilities will be required. The more that one's abilities and interests match the requirements of a domain, the better. While some will develop their specific skills and motivations for specific domains, polymathic people will display intrinsic motivation (and the ability) to pursue a variety of subject matters across different domains.
Regarding the interplay of polymathy and education, they suggest that rather than asking whether every student has multicreative potential, educators might more actively nurture the multicreative potential of their students. As an example, the authors cite that teachers should encourage students to make connections across disciplines use different forms of media to express their reasoning and understanding (e.g., drawings, movies, and other forms of visual media).
Bharath Sriraman, of the University of Montana, also investigated the role of polymathy in education. He poses that an ideal education should nurture talent in the classroom and enable individuals to pursue multiple fields of research and appreciate both the aesthetic and structural/scientific connections between mathematics, arts and the sciences.
In 2009, Sriraman published a paper reporting a 3-year study with 120 pre-service mathematics teachers and derived several implications for mathematics pre-service education as well as interdisciplinary education. He utilized a hermeneutic-phenomenological approach to recreate the emotions, voices and struggles of students as they tried to unravel Russell’s paradox presented in its linguistic form. They found that those more engaged in solving the paradox also displayed more polymathic thinking traits. He concludes by suggesting that fostering polymathy in the classroom may help students change beliefs, discover structures and open new avenues for interdisciplinary pedagogy.
Michael Araki is a professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense in Brazil. He sought to formalize in a general model how the development of polymathy takes place. His Developmental Model of Polymathy (DMP) is presented in a 2018 article with two main objectives: (i) organize the elements involved in the process of polymathy development into a structure of relationships that is wed to the approach of polymathy as a life project, and (ii) provide an articulation with other well-developed constructs, theories and models, especially from the fields of giftedness and education. The model, which was designed to reflect a structural model, has five major components: (1) polymathic antecedents, (2) polymathic mediators, (3) polymathic achievements, (4) intrapersonal moderators, and (5) environmental moderators.
Regarding the definition of the term polymathy, the researcher, through an analysis of the extant literature, concluded that although there are a multitude of perspectives on polymathy, most of them ascertain that polymathy entails three core elements: breadth, depth and integration.
Breadth refers to comprehensiveness, extension and diversity of knowledge. It is contrasted with the idea of narrowness, specialization, and the restriction of one’s expertise to a limited domain. The possession of comprehensive knowledge at very disparate areas is a hallmark of the greatest polymaths.
Depth refers to the vertical accumulation of knowledge and the degree of elaboration or sophistication of one’s sets of one’s conceptual network. Like Robert Root-Bernstein, Araki uses the concept of dilettancy as a contrast to the idea of profound learning that polymathy entails.
Integration, although not explicit in most definitions of polymathy, is also a core component of polymathy according to the author. Integration involves the capacity of connecting, articulating, concatenating or synthesizing different conceptual networks, which in non-polymathic persons might be segregated. In addition, integration can happen at the personality level, when the person is able to integrate his or her diverse activities in a synergic whole, which can also mean a psychic (motivational, emotional and cognitive) integration.
Finally, the author also suggests that, via a psychoeconomic approach, polymathy can be seen as a “life project”. That is, depending on a person’s temperament, endowments, personality, social situation and opportunities (or lack thereof), the project of a polymathic self-formation may present itself to the person as more or less alluring and more or less feasible to be pursued.
One of the most recent studies on the subject is Angela Cotellessa's doctoral Dissertation at George Washington University. In this work, she conducts a phenomenological study focusing on the lived experiences of modern-day polymaths. Her investigation focused on accomplished polymaths with careers spanning both the arts and sciences. The participants’ narratives provided insights regarding how they became polymaths and what their experiences as polymaths have been like (Cotellessa, 2018). Seven conclusions were drawn from her research: (1) to be a polymath, one must accept not fitting in the typical box and perhaps even embodying apparent contradictions; polymathy is being intrapersonally diverse; (2) polymaths are exposed broadly, think creatively and strategically, and juggle their many interests and obligations through effective time management; (3) being a polymath can make life richer, but it can also be quite difficult; (4) polymaths are excellent at being creative and solving problems creatively; (5) polymathy develops due to a combination of nature and nurture, and polymathy is maintained in adulthood by a willingness to continue to work to improve oneself through self-directed learning; (6) polymath identity is discovered from not fitting in; polymath identity can be difficult to fully own and to explain to others; (7) family and financial resources impact the emergency of polymathy.
Abu al-Hassan Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Amiri (Arabic: أبو الحسن محمد ابن يوسف العامري) (died 992) was a Muslim theologian and philosopher of Persian origin, who attempted to reconcile philosophy with religion, and Sufism with conventional Islam. While al-'Amiri believed the revealed truths of Islam were superior to the logical conclusions of philosophy, he argued that the two did not contradict each other. Al-'Amiri consistently sought to find areas of agreement and synthesis between disparate Islamic sects. However, he believed Islam to be morally superior to other religions, notably Zoroastrianism and Manicheism.Al-Amiri was the most prominent Muslim philosopher following the tradition of Kindi in Islamic Philosophy. He was contemporary of Ibn Miskawayh and his friend, and lived in a half century between Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. He was a polymath who wrote on "...logic, physics, psychology, metaphysics, ethics, biology and medicine, different religions, Sufism and interpretation of the Qurʾān, as well as of dreams."Acme, Pennsylvania
Acme is an unincorporated community in Donegal Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Mount Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, and Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania in the United States. The Acme ZIP code of 15610 extends well beyond the more densely populated part of the area, into rural parts of Donegal Township in Westmoreland County and Bullskin Township in Fayette County.Bose (crater)
Bose is a lunar impact crater that is located on the far side of the Moon, in the southern sphere hemisphere. It lies just to the northwest of the smaller crater Bhabha, and southeast of Alder.
The outer rim of Bose has become worn and the edges rounded by impacts, although the shape of the wall is still well-preserved. The small satellite crater Bose D lies across the east-northeastern rim, and a smaller craterlet has impacted on the inner southeast wall. The inner floor is level with a low central peak offset slightly to the southeast of the midpoint. There are several tiny craterlets marking the interior, including three to the east of the central peak.
The crater is named after an eminent Indian polymath, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, for his works on wireless communication.Churriana de la Vega
Churriana de la Vega is a municipality located in the province of Granada, Spain. According to the 2017 census (INE), the city has a population of 14,556 inhabitants. It sits on the Genil River and crossed by several smaller streams, providing the farmers around it with water and rich soil.
The first mention of Churriana de la Vega in writing comes from the 14th century Moorish polymath and writer Ibn al-Jatib. It was also the site of some of the negotiations for the final surrender of Grenada between the representatives of Boabdil and Isabella I of CastileEdward Marsh (polymath)
Sir Edward Howard Marsh (18 November 1872 – 13 January 1953) was a British polymath, translator, arts patron and civil servant. He was the sponsor of the Georgian school of poets and a friend to many poets, including Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon. In his career as a civil servant he worked as Private Secretary to a succession of the United Kingdom's most powerful ministers, particularly Winston Churchill. He was a discreet but influential figure within Britain's homosexual community.Hygrometer
A hygrometer () is an instrument used to measure the amount of humidity and water vapor in the atmosphere, in soil, or in confined spaces. Humidity measurement instruments usually rely on measurements of some other quantity such as temperature, pressure, mass, a mechanical or electrical change in a substance as moisture is absorbed. By calibration and calculation, these measured quantities can lead to a measurement of humidity. Modern electronic devices use temperature of condensation (called the dew point), or changes in electrical capacitance or resistance to measure humidity differences. The first crude hygrometer was invented by the Italian Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci in 1480 and a more modern version was created by Swiss polymath Johann Heinrich Lambert in 1755. Later in the year 1783, Swiss physicist and Geologist, Horace Benedict De Saussure invented the first hygrometer using human hair to measure humidity.
The maximum amount of water vapor that can be held in a given volume of air (saturation) varies greatly by temperature; cold air can hold less mass of water per unit volume than hot air. Temperature can change humidity. Most instruments respond to (or are calibrated to read) relative humidity (RH), which is the amount of water relative to the maximum at a particular temperature expressed as per cent.Ibn Firnas (crater)
Ibn Firnas is a lunar impact crater on the far side of the Moon. In 1976 it was named after Abbas Ibn Firnas, a polymath from Andalucia who, in the 9th century, devised a chain of rings that could be used to simulate the motions of the planets and stars.
Attached to the exterior of its southwestern rim is the prominent crater King. Only a few kilometers to the north, separated by a rugged stretch of terrain, is the larger crater Ostwald. This is a worn and eroded crater with small impacts along the northern and eastern rims. The satellite crater Ibn Firnas L lies along the inner wall to the southeast and covers part of the interior floor. Along the northern side, the small satellite crater Ibn Firnas Y cuts through the rim and overlays part of the inner wall. The interior floor is irregular along the northern and southwest sections where their shape has been modified by the large nearby craters mentioned above. Several small craterlets lie across the remainder of the interior floor.
Prior to 1976, this crater was known as Crater 213.Leonardo's fighting vehicle
Leonardo da Vinci's fighting vehicle is one of the conceptualizations of the revered Italian polymath and artist Leonardo da Vinci.Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari
Muhammad Zahid b. Hasan al-Kawthari (1296 AH – 1371 AH/1879–1952) was the adjunct to the last Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Empire, a Hanafi Ashʿari scholar and a polymath.Old Gorhambury House
Old Gorhambury House located near St Albans, Hertfordshire, England, is a ruined Elizabethan mansion, a leading and early example of the Elizabethan prodigy house. It was built in 1563–68 by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper, and was visited a number of times by Queen Elizabeth. It is a Grade I listed building.
The house was built partly from bricks taken from the old Abbey buildings at St Albans, then in process of demolition following the Benedictine priory's dissolution some 25 years earlier. It was used as a residence by his youngest son, the polymath (scientist, philosopher, statesman and essayist) Sir Francis Bacon, before being bequeathed by him to his former secretary, Sir Thomas Meautys, who married Anne Bacon, the great-granddaughter of Sir Nicholas.
The estate passed in 1652 to Anne's second husband Sir Harbottle Grimston, Master of the Rolls and Speaker in the Convention Parliament of 1660. The estate is owned by the Grimston family to the present day, having been passed via Harbottle Grimston's son Samuel, who died childless in 1700, to his great-nephew William Luckyn, who in turn became the first Viscount Grimston in 1719.
The surviving remains include a two-storey porch, chapel and clock tower.
The site is maintained by English Heritage and is free to visit.Pascal (unit)
The pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit of pressure used to quantify internal pressure, stress, Young's modulus and ultimate tensile strength. It is defined as one newton per square metre. It is named after the French polymath Blaise Pascal.
Common multiple units of the pascal are the hectopascal (1 hPa = 100 Pa) which is equal to one millibar, and the kilopascal (1 kPa = 1000 Pa) which is equal to one centibar.
The unit of measurement called standard atmosphere (atm) is defined as 101325 Pa. Meteorological reports in the United States typically state atmospheric pressure in millibars. In Canada these reports are given in kilopascals.Philomath
A philomath () from Greek φίλος philos ("beloved", "loving", as in philosophy or philanthropy) and μανθάνειν, μαθ- manthanein, math- ("to learn", as in polymath) is a lover of learning and studying. Philomathy is similar to, but distinguished from, philosophy in that -soph, the latter suffix, specifies "wisdom" or "knowledge", rather than the process of acquisition thereof. Philomath is not synonymous with polymath, as a polymath is someone who possesses great and detailed knowledge and facts from a variety of disciplines, while a philomath is someone who greatly enjoys learning and studying.Polanyi Medal
The Polanyi Medal is a biennial award of the Royal Society of Chemistry for outstanding contributions to the field of gas kinetics. The medal is presented at the International Symposium on Gas Kinetics after a plenary lecture given by the prize winner.
The award is named after the Hungarian-British polymath Michael Polanyi, 1891-1976, whose research helped to establish the topic of gas kinetics and reaction dynamics. His son, John Polanyi, received the Polanyi Medal in 1988.Polignac's conjecture
In number theory, Polignac's conjecture was made by Alphonse de Polignac in 1849 and states:
For any positive even number n, there are infinitely many prime gaps of size n. In other words: There are infinitely many cases of two consecutive prime numbers with difference n.Although the conjecture has not yet been proven or disproven for any given value of n, in 2013 an important breakthrough was made by Zhang Yitang who proved that there are infinitely many prime gaps of size n for some value of n < 70,000,000. Later that year, James Maynard announced a related breakthrough which proved that there are infinitely many prime gaps of some size less than or equal to 600. As of April 14, 2014, one year after Zhang's announcement, according to the Polymath project wiki, n has been reduced to 246. Further, assuming the Elliott–Halberstam conjecture and its generalized form, the Polymath project wiki states that n has been reduced to 12 and 6, respectively.For n = 2, it is the twin prime conjecture. For n = 4, it says there are infinitely many cousin primes (p, p + 4). For n = 6, it says there are infinitely many sexy primes (p, p + 6) with no prime between p and p + 6.
Dickson's conjecture generalizes Polignac's conjecture to cover all prime constellations.Polymath Project
The Polymath Project is a collaboration among mathematicians to solve important and difficult mathematical problems by coordinating many mathematicians to communicate with each other on finding the best route to the solution. The project began in January 2009 on Timothy Gowers' blog when he posted a problem and asked his readers to post partial ideas and partial progress toward a solution. This experiment resulted in a new answer to a difficult problem, and since then the Polymath Project has grown to describe a particular process of using an online collaboration to solve any math problem.Quatrain
A quatrain is a type of stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines.
Existing in a variety of forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China, and continues into the 21st century, where it is seen in works published in many languages. During Europe's Dark Ages, in the Middle East and especially Iran, polymath poets such as Omar Khayyam continued to popularize this form of poetry, also known as Ruba'i, well beyond their borders and time. Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus) used the quatrain form to deliver his famous prophecies in the 16th century.
There are fifteen possible rhyme schemes, but the most traditional and common are: AAAA, ABAB, and ABBA.Shahid Balkhi
Abul Hasan Shahid ibn Hussain Jahudanaki Balkhi (Persian: ابوالحسن شهيدبن حسين جهودانکي بلخی) (died, 325 AH - 935) was a Persian theologian, philosopher, poet and sufi. Famous Persian poet Rudaki has a poem in Balkhi's elegy. He was born in Balkh. Shahid Balkhi was contemporary to Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi and they had connections. He also had conversations with Zakariya al-Razi, the well-known Persian polymath and both had objections toward the nature of the pleasure.
He had poems both in Persian and Arabic languages.Thomas Young Centre
The Thomas Young Centre (TYC) is an alliance of London research groups working on the theory and simulation of
It is named after the celebrated scientist and polymath Thomas Young (1773–1829), who lived and worked in London and is known in the world of science for a number of important discoveries concerning the wave nature of light, the theory of vision, the elastic properties of solids, and the theory of surface tension. The participating research groups are based mainly at Imperial College London, King's College London, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and University College London (UCL), but there are also members at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. The aims of the TYC are to foster collaboration between TSM research groups in London, to provide a world-class source of graduate education in the field, and to address problems of major importance to industry and society. The current (2009) membership of TYC numbers about 80 research groups, of which six are led by Fellows of the Royal Society.Vinci, Tuscany
Vinci (Italian pronunciation: [ˈvintʃi]) is a town – officially a "city" (città) – and comune of Metropolitan City of Florence in the Italian region of Tuscany. The birthplace of Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci lies just outside the town.
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