Definition: A person of wide knowledge or learning.
The word comes from ‘polumathes’—a 17th-century Greek word that means ‘having learned much’.
Polymaths are usually associated with the explosion of art, creativity and critical thinking that happened during the Renaissance. One example was Leonardo da Vinci—a great painter, sculptor, cartographer and writer, who may have invented the helicopter in his spare time.
These days, the internet makes knowing stuff about lots of stuff easy. In fact, it’s impossible to keep up.
Edward Carr in Intelligent Life magazine calls polymaths an ‘endangered species’—arguing that the greater volume of information available to more people means that society values specialists (‘monomaths’) over generalists.
Try telling that to an unemployed PhD graduate.
Maybe these days, being a polymath is not about how much you know—but about how you apply what you know to solve a new problem. A group of mathematicians have started what they loosely call the Polymath Project, where unsolvable maths problems are put out there for anyone to solve.
Then again, that’s a project—not a person.
Does the internet make us all polymaths? Or are polymaths really extinct?