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The Ideal Polymaths - Leonardo Da Vinci, Alexander Von Humboldt, Athanasius Kircher, And Joseph Leidy






     By definition, a polymath is someone whose knowledge spans a considerable number of various subject areas. In layman's terms, they are people who know a whole lot about a lot. The word is closely related to the common term Renaissance man, since the latter is one who is educated or who does extremely well in a broad variety of fields or subjects. On the other hand, because polymath is an ancient term, the meaning ascribed to polymaths in this day and age is substantially different than in olden times.

How is this so? For starters, in those early days of civilization, science was yet to be divided into its specific fields such as chemistry, astronomy, zoology, etc., for the reason that these labels were not yet created. Back then, science was unified, and its sole purpose was to build and organize knowledge about the entire universe. The result would be that there were no such things a specialized scientists (no chemists, no zoologists) - maybe an astronomer or an artist, though. So it would be completely natural for a scientist of such stature as Copernicus to be a physician, a mathematician, and an astronomer at the same time, since all these involved the construction of knowledge about the universe. Consequently, this would make Copernicus as well as Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon polymaths today.

Centuries ago, there were many significant polymaths, but there is no other polymath who is as celebrated and revered as Leonardo da Vinci, the archetypal Renaissance man. Even today, Leonardo da Vinci is usually referred to as the most talented man to have ever walked the face of this planet. Say this in one breath: he was an architect, anatomist, botanist, engineer, cartographer, geologist, mathematician, scientist, musician, painter, sculptor, inventor, and writer. Not only did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa or drew the Vitruvian Man, he also conceptualized the calculator, helicopter, solar power - inventions that were only feasible one or two centuries ago.

Alexander von Humboldt is known as the last Renaissance man in civilization. He is known to have significantly contributed to every field of the natural sciences from botany to geology to zoology - Alexander von Humboldt also created the field of meteorology. But the most important contribution made by Alexander von Humboldt was his theory that all these varied scientific fields were interconnected, meaning that every living thing is connected to every part of nature.

Athanasius Kircher was a 17th century scholar, who was also known as "the master of a hundred arts." As a scholar, Athanasius Kircher is sometimes referred to as the father of Egyptology, since he was one of the first people to not only interpret hieroglyphic writing but to also relate it to other ancient forms of writing such as the Coptic languages. He was also a geologist, and probably the first person to scientifically understand the effects of microbes and microorganisms. The magnetic clock, the automaton, and the megaphone are inventions attributed to Athanasius Kircher.

Joseph Leidy was the first paleontologist to successfully excavate a complete fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur. Other scientific fields which were of interest to Joseph Leidy were parasitology, geology, and mineralogy. But the fame of Joseph Leidy rests on him becoming the first person to utilize a microscope in order to finally solve a murder case. A lot of people now refer to him as one of the founding fathers of forensic science.

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Posted on 2012-12-15, By: *

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