The Polymathic Life

3 minute read

[2022-02-23 Wed 18:11] - 7968

A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal human”) is an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

For the past 2 years, I’ve begun exploring several domains simultaneously, maintaining a generic enthusiasm and curiosity for most of them. Here are some thoughts on what I feel now, actively pursuing polymathy.

The Polymathic Gamble

The age-old adage of “Jack of all trades, King of none” does get to one’s head. Over the two years, on several occasions, I’ve felt so. Someone who began out parallelly in a particular domain will likely progress faster in the immediate future, given specialized efforts. This is the premise of the gamble.

Another presentation of the gamble, which I would term as the polymathic polylemma, matures as follows: I’ve been swayed several times by several attractive choices over how to spend my nights and week-ends - simply a manifestation of one’s ravenous intellectual appetite. Albeit, the extent of intellectual discipline required to maintain sanity and tip-toe around the paradox of choice is huge. You definitely don’t want to be a thirsty, hungry donkey placed exactly at the midpoint of food and water - dying of both, thirst and hunger.

The Polymathic Edge

a.k.a. The Pseudo-Polymathic Fallacy

The polymathic edge, I hypothesize, arises from a certain set of revelations - ones that I seem to be in the process of realizing.

A weaker set of assertions that one might start out with could be:

With high likelihood, any two domains share a significant epistemological core.

For a collection of domains, as the number of domains increases, the chances of chancing upon an epistemological region that belongs to a single domain decreases drastically.

Finally, a strong assertion that one could benefit from having faith in would be:

All domains - with certainty - share a huge, generic, insightful epistemological core.

The pseudo-polymathic fallacy, is then to treat all domains with extreme rigidity and forbidding inter-domain linkages. The pseudo-polymath can only progress in one domain at a time.

The pseudo-polymathic fallacy, is then to believe in uni-dimensional tests to be the sole judge of progress. Pragmatic problems, I hypothesize, parallelly, and exclusively, test one over multiple domains. Note that I’m not rejecting the validity of uni-dimensional tests as an indicator of progress, but simply conjecturing that they are incomplete. Even a collection of uni-dimensional scores misses out on prominent aspects - explicitly capturing the interaction of those scores (averaging, I feel, is still very primal).

The pseudo-polymathic fallacy, is then to be discouraged by the same age-old adage mentioned in the polymathic gamble - to use that as an excuse to not try “novel” (novelty is subjective - recall the strong assertion) things, to fear the short-term epistemological lag, to curb your intellectual appetite instead of devouring all that awaits, your devouring. The polymath is aware that any piece of knowledge forwards several frontiers simultaneously.

The polymathic path, seems to be slow at first, with most of the progress going undetected, with your peers visibly progressing faster in that one domain, with you feeling that you’re a pseudo-polymath, a dilettante.

Eventually, however, grasping new domains is easier and the snowball gets rolling.
Eventually, greater returns follow albeit the polymath never asked for them - simply tending to the intellectual appetite all the while.

Therefore, I conjecture …

The pseudo-polymathic fallacy leads to the polymathic edge.

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