Thought for the month
“You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand.” Leonardo da Vinci, Italian Renaissance polymath (1452 – 1519).
Friday, 2 August 2013
Monomaths or polymaths?
Last month I visited Westminster Abbey, I viewed the tablet in memory of Thomas Young and walked on the stones covering the mortal remains of Isaac Newton. Not quite standing on the shoulders of giants but as close as I will ever get. Both Young and Newton were polymaths. I worry that we are in an age of over concentration on monomaths. Specialists have the time and focus to drill down to establish new scientific knowledge but are we creating silos, imposing barriers and missing opportunities? Whilst the depth and complexity of modern science probably precludes recreating the historical polymath the development of human thought is not the sole preserve of the specialist. Innovations often come from a fresh eye from another discipline. For example, the marriage of physics and biology showed how nerves work and DNA is structured. Are we in an age of overly preaching intellectual monogamy when we would all benefit from a dose of intellectual polygamy?