The Last Days of the Polymath

The Last Days of the Polymath.

Isaiah Berlin once divided thinkers into two types. Foxes, he wrote, know many things; whereas hedgehogs know one big thing. The foxes used to roam free across the hills. Today the hedgehogs rule.

An article remarking on the lack of polymaths in modern society, a topic near and dear to my heart. The author, Carl Djerassi, distinguishes polymaths by their breadth of knowledge (in contrast with monomaths) and a demonstrated capacity to “do” (as compared to dabblers).

Dabblers might have a health smattering of knowledge across many subjects, but lack a demonstrated ability to contribute to multiple disciplines. Monomaths, on the other hand, will typically have a deep well of knowledge in a single subject, but won’t know much about disciplines far from their own. Our current academic climate has favored monomaths, creating huge towers of highly specific knowledge in one field, and in some way has made the world a more difficult place for polymaths to come into existence.