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3 Brilliant Polymaths, and the Advice They Left Behind

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

H was the father of the High Renaissance style. Da Vinci made contributions to many other fields: urban planning, mathematics, botany, astronomy, invention, history, sculpting and cartography.

  • He introduced the idea of painting with aerial perspective (painting faraway objects less distinctly and with less vibrant colors).
  • He was also interested in anatomy. He used his skills as an artist to create the Vitruvian Man, a study on body proportion and an exemplar of the intersection of math and art common in the Renaissance era. 

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3 Brilliant Polymaths, and the Advice They Left Behind

3 Brilliant Polymaths, and the Advice They Left Behind

https://bigthink.com/stephen-johnson/historys-greatest-polymaths-and-the-advice-they-left-behind

bigthink.com

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Key Ideas

Leonardo Da Vinci on how to be successful

  • Action: It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
  • Experiment:Experience does not ever err. It is only your judgment that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments.”
  • Goal-setting:Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”
  • Time prioritization: “Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”
  • Focus: As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.”

Advice from Bertrand Russell

  • Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  • Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  • Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  • Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  • Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  • Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  • Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Polymaths and mastery

Polymaths manage to achieve mastery across multiple industries, arts, or fields of study. What sets them apart? The willingness and drive to learn new.

Aristotle (382 BC–322 BC)

A polymath that made fundamental contributions to diverse fields of study, including logic, rhetoric, ethics, physics, story, poetry, government, metaphysics, geology and zoology.

Aristotle believed that we should strive to live a life of moderation, nurturing the virtues within ourselves and avoiding the vices on either extreme end.

Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)

British Philosopher, logician, mathematician, writer, historian, political activist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell made many contributions to the academic world, particularly within mathematical logic and analytic philosophy.

He's perhaps better known to the general public as a social critic, speaking with unflinching clarity on moral issues ranging from warfare to Jesus Christ. 

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

The polymath
  • Wide interests make him truly rounded, perhaps even multi-specialised. 
  • He can add value to any conversation, either through his familiarity with a particul...
The Renaissance Mind

Cultivating a broad range of pursuits was once seen as the richest way to live, and the surest path to Great discoveries. 

Even today, in a time where the model of efficiency via hyper-specialisation has shifted our focus from ideas to output, the envelope-shifters we most look up to are polymaths. (Steve Jobs and Elon Musk spring to mind.)

Curiosity for cultivating your inner polymath
  • Start by reading magazines and blogs to get to grips with new fields;
  • Sign up to a course in something new. It will help add extra dimensions to your life experience.
  • Pick a new sport – a true polymath cultivates his physique. 
  • Give up the myth of the One True Calling and establish a polymath life working around your many interests. 
The real master has no tools

He/She has a endless power to improvise with what is to hand.

The more fields of knowledge he/she covers, the greater his/her resources for improvisation.

Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville

"Nothing tends to materialise man, and to deprive his work of the faintest trace of mind, more than extreme division of labour."

Invention fights specialization

To come up with new ideas, you need to know things outside your field.

The further afield your knowledge extends, the greater potential you have for innovation.

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Early History

The connection between genius and possible insanity was first documented in 1891 in the Italian physicians’ book The Man Of Genius.

In 1869, this was taken up by the cousin of Charles Darwi...

Genius and Heredity

In a 1904 study by English physician Havelock Ellis, a list was made of 1030 individuals through extensive research, examining thoroughly the intellectual distinction people had by the various factors like heredity, general health, and social class.


These works established that genius minds are often hereditary.

Genetic Studies Of Genius

A body of work of Stanford psychologist Lewis M. Terman, was an in-depth multi-decade study of gifted individuals, and an attempt to improve the measurement of genius and its association with the degradation of mental stability. This also included an enhanced version of the French IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test.

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