What’s the difference between polymaths, people who have deep knowledge in multiple fields, and people who have an incredibly broad knowledge base?



What truly determines a polymath (and why are they mostly Renaissance?)

Also is there existing terminology for the other two?

Note: above mentioned knowledge base is significantly larger than the average person. You’d probably think they swallowed an encyclopaedia.

This is a personal debate I’m having with my partner. We need answers! 😂

In: Other

In order to be counted as a polymath you would need to be considered an expert in a number of fields. Somebody with a broad level of knowledge would be considered to know a lot about various topics, but wouldn’t be considered at the level of being an expert in them (or in enough of them to be considered an polymath)

The Renaissance produced the most polymaths because it was a period of time where living a life that consisted primarily of academic pursuits was a lot easier to do. It was also a period when getting a rounded education (i.e. studying multiple fields of study) was more commonplace that the current social trend of specializing in one particular field.

It was also easier to become an expert in a lot of fields in the renaissance compared to the modern era. For example – there was a lot less known about physics so it was easier to learn the bulk of what was currently known about physics and be considered an expert in that field.

The notion of a ‘polymath’ – at least in the modern day – is more marketing than reality.

Actual experts have extremely narrow sub-specialties of knowledge. Outside of that sub-specialty, they can only reference the received wisdom of others. While many intelligent people are good at separating legitimate inquiry from bullshit, they’re relying on this ability rather than deep knowledge in the field.

In most cases, anyone you hear called a ‘polymath’ is actually an expert in nothing. They’re just a reasonably intelligent, educated person who can read the opinions of experts.

Anyone who describes themselves as a polymath probably isn’t one. If other people are assigning the label to someone, they might actually be one.