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Monday, October 19, 2009

HoS Micropost: Polymaths are going extinct (update)

Posted by Darin Hayton on 10/19 at 01:53 PM

Edward Carr’s article on polymaths seems popular today (I mentioned it here). The attention doesn’t seem particularly flattering, nor too far off the mark.

Chad Orzel over at Uncertain Principles raises some issues with Carr’s overly simplistic dismissal of specialized languages and methodologies that disciplines develop. For Carr, these are scarcely more than exclusionary tactics. See Orzel’s “With Polymaths Like These...” for more.

The Abstracted Engineer attacks Carr on a different front. He rightly points out that Carr is prone to seeing the past in romantic terms (not too dissimilar from my “halcyonic lenses“ comment). See his post “Polymaths”.1


Notes—
1I would be remiss if I didn’t take exception his disparaging comment about historians: “But historians love to paint the past as way better than the present, and society loves to believe it.” In fact, practicing historians are often the very people who can’t see the past in romantic terms and rarely construe it as “better than the present.” Perhaps historical re-enacters or history buffs are liable to this charge, but most professional historians should not be so labeled. And for what it’s worth, Edward Carr, the author of the Polymath article, is not a professional historian.

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Comment posted by The Abstracted Engineer on 10/28 at 06:11 PM

Darin,
Point taken. Perhaps it is not the historians who paint the past as romantic, but the rest of us. Who doesn’t look at their grandfather’s generation and boldly assert that they were “The Greatest Generation?”
It is easy for us to paint the minds of the past as shinier than the minds of the present, but only because the full scope of past brilliance is viewable. Current polymaths are still works-in-progress.

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