What do you understand by the word polymath? Is it even the best word for someone who isn't a specialist and isn't a generalist? (who, unless polymathic, is usually just a manager of specialists, half in the dark himself, good with jargon and that's about it).
For years I considered the term to be reserved for the few like Da Vinci who excelled at so much. More recently I have become happier with the idea that it refers to those with a broad range of competence. Primarily because after years of trying to find out what I was really good at I discovered that I was really good at being competent to rather good at a very wide range of things. I think it could be very valuable to get more people to think like this. Especially the type of young people I teach who don't think they're good at anything when actually they're rather good at a lot of stuff. The trouble is that the system they're in (and to a degree, trendy ideologies like those of Sir Ken Robinson) are somewhat blinkered through obsession with the idea of 'element'.
I've just checked this Ken Robisnson at Wikipedia, so forgive my ignorance of the bulk of his theories --but ''the element'' (the special talent or vocation, the ''calling'' particular to every individual) doesn't seem to me to be something we can dispense with. Actually, finding this calling seems to be quite an important task (probably ''the task''). Then, if it flourishes --given certain necessary conditions-- it'll bring along other things and interests, like a flowering tree. But you need one central point around which everything else revolves, in my view.
what does it mean..? i think we are discovering this as we go...i know starting out in construction i have leaned towards art...or creativity in general as a balance. polymathy seems to offer freedom or hope or something of that nature. to move in direction quite different from ones conditioning...
We tend to talk about polymathy as something special because it is not yet the cultural norm while specialism is. If cultures developed whereby polymathy was the norm, nobody would think it that out of the ordinary and it would seem bizarre to hear anybody discussing it as either something special, unrealistic or unnatainable to all but a few 'gifted' people. Nobody would boast of being a polymath in such a culture; they would hopefully be sympathetic to the small section of reptilian brained humans who could only manage to develop one specialism. There would be no need to talk of starting an institute of polymathy. At this moment in time, the word polymath could be used to describe a stage on a journey towards a society where we no longer need to speak of polymathy.
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