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Modern Renaissance Man
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fishpit Offline
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Post: #1
Modern Renaissance Man

Do you think it is feasible for someone today to become a polymath or renaissance man, that is a person who is knowledgeable in a wide variety of fields? And I don't mean people okay at several things, I mean people who are experts in more than one field. Da Vinci, who showed great skill at painting, engineering, science, anatomy, among other things, is an excellent example. But today, fields like math and science have expanded into so many different areas making it impossible for one acquire a broad understanding that was possible hundreds of years ago. It is easier to choose to focus on something like visual arts and some narrow field in science.

Also, the modern system of giving out degrees favors specialization of a subject. Of course, being very specialized and great at one field is very often better than being crap at many fields but that's an extreme example. Becoming good at another field would one give multiple perspectives on solving a problem. Then again, today's specialists of different fields can combine their brain power and work on a problem together. So another question arises: what is the value of becoming a polymath, that is it worth it in today's society to become experts at multiple fields?

Personally, I think today's world looks down on generalists. The economy is more productive when specialists populate the workforce. However, I enjoy working with art, computing, music, and math. I doubt I'll end up like da Vinci but I don't want to narrow my focus to just one subject. I might end up being mediocre at several subjects but I'll have fun doing so. I don't know what will happen when I go to college (if I go to college) as I would have to choose a field (double major = Bigeek ) but I do hope I can continue to advance my knowledge in the various fields I'm interested in.
01-23-2011 03:26 PM
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Vatman Offline
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Post: #2
Re: Modern Renaissance Man

On some level I can't help but envy the image of "the renaissance man"...ever aloof, able to contribute in any subject imaginable. But sadly I don't think the term really applies in our more modern world. Not that there aren't people who cross fields and adore the general. But it is undeniable fact that our knowledge lies on a vastly different scale from when Da Vinci first dazzled us.

Any of those subjects you have listed are wildly more advanced then they were at the time. Hell, even anatomy! Cell's were still not discovered for another hundred years.

I believe it absolutely possible to be an expert in more than one field...but I highly doubt we will see another person quite as prolific as Da Vinci in as many subjects as he dominated.

Some cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.
01-23-2011 04:32 PM
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rosslebossserd Offline
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Post: #3
Re: Modern Renaissance Man

I don't think generalists are looked down upon, they're just not the norm because most people are schooled and therefore don't have the initiative for learning a variety of skills and pursuing a broad range of interests and hobbies on their own. Specialization exists because there's so much information and so little time. In spite of this, "eggheadedness" is generally disdained by employers, whilst demonstrating interdisciplinary understanding impresses. Indeed, knowing how your field relates to everything else, "the big picture", is essential if you want to excel as a professional. Being qualified for more than one position would definitely help nowadays. For example, I really want to work in libraries, but in case there aren't any positions open for lib techs, I will make sure I'm also qualified to work with computer systems, networks, and databases.

I would recommend you check out a certain author's books on generalists and career ideas for Jacks-and-Janes-of-all-trades, masters-or-mistresses-of-none, if I could only recall her name. Barbara something, I think it was.
01-23-2011 10:27 PM
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SoulRiser Offline
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Post: #4
Re: Modern Renaissance Man

Depends on your definition of 'expert'. If to be an expert means that you satisfy some criteria of external people (like having a degree in something), then fuck that shit... that doesn't necessarily mean you're actually good at it or know anything useful about it.

If it just means being really good at several different (unrelated) things, then yeah, that's totally feasible. I think just about anyone can 'contribute' in several different subjects if they'd just allow themselves to be curious about many different things and not think that they somehow have to concentrate on just one thing and ignore everything else because they "don't have time" to do everything they want to.

Quote:Da Vinci, who showed great skill at painting, engineering, science, anatomy, among other things, is an excellent example. But today, fields like math and science have expanded into so many different areas making it impossible for one acquire a broad understanding that was possible hundreds of years ago.
Is any of the stuff he knew back then obsolete or wrong now? No, it's all still useful and perfectly valid, even if nobody knew about cells and shit back then... in order to do the stuff he did, he didn't need to know about cells.

So, now if you want to be like Da Vinci, you'll just have to be more specific... instead of having great skill at painting, engineering, science, and anatomy, you'd have to say something like "great skill at (digital) painting, (computer) engineering, (some sub-category of) science, (muscle/skeleton/whatever) anatomy"... the specific ones I mentioned are just examples. They may or may not be somehow related enough to be useful together.

Like how some programming and some art and some psychology and some aspects of marketing are all useful for making and running websites. Seemingly unrelated things, but you don't need to know everything about each one, just enough to do what you do.

Da Vinci used what he knew about those different subjects to do things, like make things and paint things. He didn't have all that knowledge just for the lulz. So if you want to invent stuff or paint stuff, it's only natural that you'll acquire knowledge about the anatomy of what you're painting, and whatever engineering and math/science you need to make the stuff you're inventing. Back in Da Vinci's time that may or may not (I don't know) have been pretty much everything humanity knew about those subjects at the time, and now it's just a small percentage.

So the entire premise of this argument is based on comparisons of one person's knowledge compared to the total knowledge of humanity now compared to back then. Yes we know more now. Yes Da Vinci knew a lot compared to people back then. But knowledge isn't really useful unless you're actually doing something with it. So there's no point in acquiring tons of knowledge just so you can be Mr. Modern Renaissance Man and be smarter than everyone else... just do whatever you want and you'll learn about related stuff that you need in order to do that. That's probably all Da Vinci really did anyway. It just happened to look impressive to other people as well. So what.

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01-24-2011 12:13 AM
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