Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Polymath

Sketch of Leonardo da Vinci
It's sort of spooky when a theme keep reappearing in your daily life.  Lately the phrase "polymath" keeps coming up in my reading.  What's a polymath?  In simple terms, it's someone who has expertise in a broad range of topics and interests.  Da Vinci was a polymath.

Here are two polymaths whose names you may not recognize.  Do you know Sir Francis Galton?  I didn't.  In The Geography of Genius  I learned he was a 19th century scientist who coined the phrase nature versus nurture.  He introduced the questionnaire and statistical analysis, forensic fingerprints, and composite portraiture.  He was one of the first meteorologists.

Sir Francis Galton, circa 1850s

In The Invention of Nature:Alexander Humboldt by Andrea Wulf I'm learning about Alexander Humboldt, another relatively unknown polymath. He invented isotherms -- the lines of temperature and pressure we see on today's weather maps, discovered the magnetic equates, posited the idea of climate zones and the interconnected web of nature.

Portrait of Alexander Humboldt by Joseph Karl Stieler
I'm finding it fascinating to read about people who've made remarkable contributions to our society, yet whose names most of us don't know or, that I don't know.  It makes me think of all those master craftsmen who helped build and embellish  architectural masterpieces such as Notre Dame and the Vatican.  What about all those Roman aqueducts?  The pyramids?   I'm thinking also about the women in the movie, Hidden Figures, who most of us would most likely never read about had their stories not been told.  How many other people haven't see the spotlight?

So here's to the unsung heroes.  I'm raising a glass to you all.

Be well.


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