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Is it impossible to be a polymath in the modern world?

  1. Nov 24, 2013 #1
    I mean in the traditional sense I know you can probably be a polymath in any variety of subjects. But I refer to those that are philosophy, mathematics and physics which naturally lead to engineering and probably computer science.

    Now I don't mean a complete expert in each of these fields but someone who is talented enough and can use what I mean in my opinion the nexus which is mathematics. Then extends outwards into the other fields slightly and can use this culminated knowledge to spot relationships, innovate or invent something.

    Or is there just too much knowledge in today's society for this to be possible. I am fully aware of the strengths of specialization but we got lots of specialization and it depends on how each of them specialists interect that stuff gets done. What about the glorified middle man?

    I suppose engineers are polymaths in a sense I mean they gotta extrapolate the practical applications of what the others discover.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 24, 2013 #2
    Seems to me like the polymaths back in the day were actually contributing to each of the fields they were attributed to being a part of. I think you'd have to pretty much pick one field to focus on now to contribute anything to it.
     
  4. Nov 24, 2013 #3
    If you consider the degree of subspecialization in many scientific fields, it's getting impossible to be a "monomath" with some active areas of research like cell biology or neuroscience.
     
  5. Nov 24, 2013 #4

    Ryan_m_b

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    What SW said. I'm a biologist and if you could plot graphically how much I knew about biology it would probably shock the layman. Specialisation is everything, today you can learn a lot about a little or a little about a lot. The latter is more useful for contributing to society in a research sense.
     
  6. Nov 25, 2013 #5
    What about chemistry, OP? That discipline is so underrated at this forum..
     
  7. Nov 25, 2013 #6

    Chronos

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    Chemistry is too hard.
     
  8. Nov 25, 2013 #7
    I know. I wish I had a mind for chemistry instead of physics. Then I would be cool and dangerous, instead of just another nerd.
     
  9. Nov 25, 2013 #8
    I was asking my physics professor about some various physics questions I had, and I was surprised how he knew less than me on some of these subjects.
    His focus of physics is nanotechnology and stuff like that, so questions of certain particle physics or astrophysics he didn't know. He directed me to the proper professor to talk to about that.
    But there's so much information in every field, that to focus on one subject is becoming more and more narrow.
    So contrary to what people may think, if you walk up to a physicist and ask them a physics question, there's a good chance they're not going to know the answer.
     
  10. Nov 25, 2013 #9
    Seriously I thought quantum mechanics was in a way chemistry? I was also under the impression that physics was harder....Damn my brother did chemistry I better not let him know this lol.
     
  11. Nov 25, 2013 #10

    WannabeNewton

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    Chemistry is definitely harder than physics :p

    It goes: biology > chemistry > physics > math ;)
     
  12. Nov 25, 2013 #11
    No it's not physics is hardest everything else is just stamp collecting.
     
  13. Nov 25, 2013 #12

    ZombieFeynman

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    "My discipline's phallus is bigger than your discipline's!!!!!"

    Please. Anyone arguing (sarcastically or not) over this needs to read More Is Different By P.W. Anderson.
     
  14. Nov 25, 2013 #13

    WannabeNewton

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    Stamp collecting is insanely hard.
     
  15. Nov 26, 2013 #14
  16. Nov 26, 2013 #15

    lurflurf

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  17. Nov 26, 2013 #16
    Yes it probably is.The actual quote was from Rutherford.
    No mention of how difficult it is to have a good collection but it is possible.
     
  18. Nov 26, 2013 #17

    ZombieFeynman

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    We should also recall Vladimir Arnol'd's famed quote:

    "Mathematics is the branch of physics where the experiments are cheap".
     
  19. Nov 26, 2013 #18

    WannabeNewton

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  20. Nov 26, 2013 #19

    Student100

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    That was pretty great. :tongue:
     
  21. Nov 26, 2013 #20

    lurflurf

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    Some experiments are cheap. If factoring a 1024 bit integer or million by million matrix are your experiments those are not cheap.
     
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