I’m leaving this comment only because I most often do not overestimate the value of my input and therefor don’t leave comments, but this seems the perfect place to deviate
Silence, digital or otherwise, is a fine spiritual practice. It’s not necessary for some...probably sorely needed by others...
Unless you have high confidence in your ability to grasp the subject, this can be considerably daunting to someone who isn’t blessed with high confidence generally. And one can at least infer that gaining that confidence may involve significant time and effort. Especially in a forum where existing contributions are:
- high volume
- scored by peers
- fast moving
- particularly accepting of critical feedback along some lines but biased against other kinds of critical feedback
This can be very discouraging. I know from my own experience that even as someone who has a tendency to challenge, I find myself constrained by my lack of experience on many subjects, my estimation of the time involved to become conversant, and my general feeling of limited time and energy. And... yeah, then I find myself more inclined to read others’ opinions, more confident than my own, and defer to trusting them unless I have a strong instinct otherwise.
That seems like a pretty normal reaction for someone with limited attention and study resources? Am I missing something?
People rarely bash others that express themselves modestly and sincerely.
I like the idea, but not sure how folks know which group they fall into.
It's just not feasible to follow the proofs of everything back to first principles for yourself, so at some point you need to trust an authority, at least to form a prior. The key is doing that in a logical manner.
As much as people like to throw around the phrase "critical thinking", you're describing people being lazy and depending on their impression of you rather than evaluating the validity of what you have to say. It's a shortcut we all take because we dont have time (or ability) to be experts in everything so we listen to people we perceive to know what they're talking about.
Think about what you have recently read and dump it!
If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email firstname.lastname@example.org and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.
I stopped reading at the point where JFK’s 1947 election was claimed to be purely due to wealth. Although JFK is today remembered much more for other historical events--
He was already a nationally known war hero before 1947. See, for example, this 1944 article in the New Yorker:
Can we even call this an article? It makes no sense. What is Applied Divinity Studies anyway?
Generalists are typically far better at motivating the relevance of a problem/situation and filtering out the important details from the unimportant. That clarity serves as a great platform on which to then incorporate the inputs of specialists from different fields relevant to the situation.
Of course, none of this is meant to defend or elevate people participation in random internet discussions, or generating “content marketing”, to “generalists”.
Couldn't agree more.
John von Neumann is a perfect example. His colleagues would often lament his unwillingness to adopt a narrow specialty, but I think it was his wide range that allowed him to maintain the passion that made him so effective. 
But most people are choosing between specializing in one or maybe two areas and having very-sub-specialist-level expertise in more. von Neumann's not an example of that kind of generalist.
A polymath is actually good at many things, not just has an opinion about them. This takes an unusual level of ability.
In other words a generalist is not a polymath, because the polymath is better at the generalised abilities.
That's what felt wrong about the article, it was conflating unusually talented polymaths with the ubiquitous averagely talented internet pundits :p
A "specialist" is somebody who has 2, a "generalist" is somebody who has 3
Caveat: The more eager you are, the likely more you'll be taken as a bullshitter.
No, it means confidently express spontaneous opinions and made up facts with a third party with in order to look more knowledgeable then you are and push for whatever you want to push for.
Bullshiting typically involves people who are not willing to learn about a subject.
... or have decided on recommending a result (eg to decision makers) without any understanding or due diligence having taken place (yet).
I think the value of polymaths is more 'synthetic', not necessarily 'analytic'. Many useful discoveries or insights are the result of an almost magical use of what C.S. Peirce called abduction: the process of generating hypotheses.
Knowledge in many domains, connected to the right problem, can lead to profoundly effective abduction. Sometimes this transfer can take the form of a persistent metaphor, or maybe an experience that makes itself known to you while you're thinking about something else, or simply your attention is guided to look at something in a particular light.
I feel like the post does a great job critiquing those high-status polymaths who emit an irresponsible amount of certainty. But there are plenty who use their wide learnings in a less concrete way, looking to add to their bag of tricks, and to put things together in interesting ways.
I think we, as software people, are susceptible to 2—software is successful in some cases because of this kind of cross contamination where it replaces the tools and methods of a separate field with its own, sometimes with great success (art, finance).
Software development does indeed beget an odd practice, in which practitioners can accumulate a large body of domain specific knowledge, almost by osmosis.
While I don't know if it can be seen as evidence of polymathematical competency, it does make me wonder if this 'skill', misconstrued, is what the article is attacking.
But the only way to make that clear, is to illustrate the difference between:
- People who happen to accumulate deep knowledge of different fields, in the pursuit of others goals (like software engineers).
- People who obtain competency in apparently diverse skills, that are obviously related (like the author's basketball player, a musician who can play many instruments, or a polylinguist).
- People who truly do have, or have developed, competency in two or more fields.
The last of which the article suggests is rare, but also muddies the definition by denigrating the most famous exemplar (Da Vinci).
Again, what would have helped, was a clearer, or alternative, definition of what we expect a polymath to be. Certainly, if the author is intent on ignoring Da Vinci (?), then you could possibly take Filippo Brunelleschi, or Descartes, and work backwards from there.
But this is just an idea...
They're experts in one field, and (most probably) dilettantes in other fields.
The trick however, is that they use their expert status from one field, to reach their audience. And then their followers will take that as domain authority, because they're perceived as authority in some other field.
I'm not going to name names, but this certainly fits the pattern of a lot of people in the VC-industry. Not that they brand themselves as experts (sometimes they'll explicitly state that they're not experts) - but their followers will assume that it's expert knowledge.
One thing I have found is that while not all generalist suggestions are good, they can at least provoke the specialists to think about the problem differently.
> We live in times of great disaggregation, and yet, seem to learn increasingly from generalists.
Most teaching is done by non-generalists -- be it in schools, on TV, in documentaries, in courtrooms, or basically anywhere of any import. There's quite a bit of irony in the author quoting Wikipedia though. On first reading, I thought that was some sort of punch-line.
> Having a variety of interests is no more a sign of generalized intelligence than being able to walk and chew gum.
This is a reductive oversimplification, and I really wish the author were more fair. There's something pretty incredible about someone contributing to multiple fields of study. It's rare, but it happens. The fact that some Twitter personality has surface knowledge about X and Y doesn't imply that there aren't people out there with actual deep knowledge about both X and Y.
In practice, no one has the time or the ability to be equally great in all fields of knowledge.
This paper : https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s00004-007-005... talks about what mathematics he did
> . The equation a^n + b^n = c^n does not have a solution in integers for
n > 2 . But this theorem had yet to be demonstrated. It was not before 1753 that Leonhard
Euler demonstrated that the equation a^3 + b^3 = c^3 does not have a solution. And the final
demonstration of the so-called “Fermat’s third theorem”, which is that the general equation does not have a solution for n > 2 , was given by Andrew Weil in 1993.
So its fairly impressive that Leonardo was on a path that leads to Euler and then to Weil. Of course, Euler himself was a 'mathematical polymath' as it were, with a wide range of proofs across a number of fields.
To critise Leonardo da Vinci for not being good enough at mathematics is a little like complaining about Euler's drawing skills.
That should be Andrew Wiles . There was a mathematician who did important work in number theory named Andre Weil . I wonder if they got him mixed up with Wiles?
Yeah, they probably did get Weil mixed up with Wiles. Another good example of the difficulty of trying to analyse a polymath's work.
So you believe K-8 teaching, the greatest amount of teaching by far globally in the modern era, is done by non-generalists? Who specializes in arithmetic (number theorists and spreadsheet wizards aside)? If you define “pedagogy” as a specialty, perhaps, but that’s not the generalist/specialist discussion here. Even high school teachers generally only require a Bachelor’s degree...two years of content study (Junior-Senior...first two years is general education) out of an adult lifetime of, say, 50 years. Any “working professional” in a discipline wouldn’t count that for much. The media and courtroom teaching...you’d have to expand that discussion a bit for me to believe it. Law school, media studies...well, that’s another matter.
It’s not that rare to contribute across multiple disciplines...the entire discipline of systems engineering is predicated on it.
BTW: Can anyone summarize the thesis? This isn’t a tl;dr situation. I’m too old to read articles that look like the argument, if any, hinges on semantics with evidence that is, at best, anecdotal. (Frankly, we all are.) And so I don’t.
PS: I really like the “>” indent style for quotations for block text in this UI.
I think you're smart enough to know what I meant (and I even made the "of import" qualification). You don't need to hold a PhD in mathematics to teach kids their multiplication tables.
Most people think there is great value in teaching people to read or learn simple maths.
The text I see may not be the same as you. I see this nonsense:
"It’s not difficult to imagine how this happened. The flip side of disaggregation is that each would-be expert is able to read broadly as well. The world of atomized content through hyper-specialization isn’t a stable equilibrium. We are all casual polymaths now."
It is bollocks. Complete and utter rubbish. It superficially looks like ... something but it is cobblers.
> “The Twitter account you followed to understand politics now seems more focused on their mindfulness practice.”
What a "hellscape" it is when you’re reminded that other people are people and not service-providing objects that exist for your one-sided extraction of value. Just because you pigeonhole someone as “the politics person” doesn’t mean they do that to themselves, and just because they tweet about mindfulness doesn’t mean any claim to being a polymath, and just because you want to "learn about politics" doesn't oblige someone to "know their place" in your life and stick to it.
I'm sure there's something more interesting and deeper to be brought up about how it fundamentally doesn't seem to matter if you know a lot or a little, outside the lense of maximising capitalist money acquisition, but it's too hard to get past the rest of it and get to it.
However, is a casual polymath any different than a blowhard with a bit of knowledge or a poser? It seems to me a true polymath, casual or otherwise, would value knowledge enough he would be careful not to make claims he was unsure of.
"We live in times of great disaggregation, and yet, seem to learn increasingly from generalists."
This is an experiment. The whole thing was probably written by kittens.
We are told in the form of a long, wordy blogpost on a blog that is called "Applied Divinity Studies", there is no author named, there is no "about" for the page at all.
Although at the bottom of the page is a link to another article that seems to be about free market capitalism and a previous one that's about the politics of secession.
What was that it just said about blogs that have lots of wordy, generalist opining from non-specialists ?
Yes. But where we got wrong is when the currency of celebrity is used as justification for worshipping their thoughts and ideas in other areas unrelated to their expertise/fame.
I suppose this simply human nature on our part. None the like, like other biases, we should be mindful of it siren-like power. We should guard against the influence of false gods.
Quick reminder-- this concept is an off-hand blurb from a sci-fi writer. It's no more based in research than the inkling that nation states should tighten their belts when the economy gets rough because after all, that's what a sensible hard-working family does. Or the notion that it's "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
Those last two are usually uttered by people who have an agenda and are not interested in doing serious, open-minded research into those topics.
If you're the kind of person who does enjoy learning from research papers, you might reflect in your free time on why you're repeating the inkling of a sci-fi writer, and perhaps even whose agenda that could be serving.
The author severely underestimates the universal genius of diCaprio.
More briefly, the venture notion might be re-construed as the belief that generalists who reliably and tirelessly execute win large returns because they have their eye on the big picture and can deliver aggregate value beyond component achievements. The patent world has long recognized this notion as something like a 'novel arrangement' of pre-existing components.
Another idea is that specialists, by virtue of the well defined discipline in which they hold expertise, are easily located and hired/consulted. Arguably rarer competent generalists therefore become the de-facto 'glue' to link the requisite fruit of those specialist domains.
Da Vinci himself was apparently against overt formalization of learning and rigid professional hierarchies: They will say that because of my lack of book learning, I cannot properly express what I desire to treat of. Do they not know that my subjects require for their exposition experience rather than the words of others? And since experience has been the mistress, and to her in all points make my appeal. - Leonardo Da Vinci ... via https://github.com/globalcitizen/taoup
Could all of the "claims" or "awards" better be seen if the person (doing the awarding or admiration) were only to ask - the critical question:
"How likely is this data (purposed solution) ?"
Not to side track the post, but I've seen time and time again in my daily life, how valuable this question is, even if you know nothing about the domain.
S.O buying an android phone for the first time and trying to move her "contacts and Apple life" to Android device.
The "only solution" she found was some "app for $50".
I simply stated (long time android user) , I can't believe that over the years that an APP of $50 is the only way to move from Phone-System1(Apple) to Phone-System2(Android)
Turns it it's not, there are many "free" ways todo it.
If the polymath claims expertise, I suppose that’s one thing, but he needn’t have expertise to have useful insights for himself.
Also, there was more 'low hanging fruit' in the past. No one is impressed now if you reinvent the calculus. So it used to be easier to have major discoveries in multiple fields.
Finally, the whole idea of different areas of knowledge is relatively modern. The 'sciences' used to include astrology, for example. Even the distinction between biblical studies and observation of the natural world was vague at some point.
Plus, there is also effect of us glorifying past people more then contemporary people.
(Interesting article though.)
We don't seem to live in a world where one can just trust prestigious institutions, but a world in which those prestigious institutions need to be built.
Reminds me of how people tend to conflate financial success with technical merit.
------------------ 8< ----------------------------------
"We live in times of great disaggregation, and yet, seem to learn increasingly from generalists.
In the past, an expert in one field of Psychology might have been forced to teach a broad survey class. Today, you could have each lecture delivered by the world’s leading expert.
Outside of academia, you might follow one writer’s account to learn about SaaS pricing, another to understand the intricacies of the electoral college, and yet another to understand personal finance. In economic terms, content disaggregation enabled by digital platforms ought to create efficienciencies through intellectual hyper-specialization."
"Aggregation" is centralisation, meaning centralising all information in the hands of a few - e.g. people who could only get an education from a religious school with a religion as well, or you must take every bit of advice from the local wise men and their ivory towers, or from the government, like buying all products from Walmart.
"Disaggregation" is de-centralisation, you can get information from many sources - e.g. theology from the Church, medicine from the doctors, happiness from the psychiatrists, education from the academy, like going to a baker for bread, a butcher for meat, a cheesemonger for cheese, instead of Walmart for everything, and get better quality bread, cuts of meat, cheese, from people who specialise in those things.
We live in times where small specialists can broadcast their information, freely, to people far and wide - the internet, social media - makes "going to" a specialist just as convenient as going to a central source. So you might expect people to do that, and get their information from many specialist sources, political news and ideas from someone who specialises in politics, gardening advice from a gardening forum. And yet, the author claims, we seem to congregate around popular people instead and try to get all information on all sources from them, somewhat paradoxically.
In the past, an expert in one field of Psychology might have been the only person available or accessible to teach many classes and the students would learn less well from the lack of expertise. Today, there are many more people, more specialists, and more options for remote education, they could have each lecture from a world expert on that topic, but we don't do that.
Outside of academia, a normal person might choose to follow many social media accounts on many topics, to gain specialist information in each area they are interested in. In economic terms, decentralising control of content and publishing ought to remove bottlenecks from running everything through a few people, remove problems such as only being able to access education if you also take religion and life advice from the same source, and create extra benefits because each specialist can go deep into their specialty.
The rest of the article seems (I skimmed it when I lost interest, so I could be wrong!) to be about something very specific: media outlets no longer relying on true domain experts, but rather outsourcing that expertise to the same group of rotating general-experts. The Daily Show had a running gag where the same set of comedian actors were used, but every time they were shown on-screen as Senior (Farcically Specific Domain) Expert. This is now reality as you see the same talking heads speaking authoritatively on whatever the important issue of the day is. That is a problem.
But yeah, the quote that starts this article reaches way beyond this specific problem and makes a bogus claim.
Very few are actually 'prepared' for Congress, and frankly, it's always been an elitist affair, and ironically when it's not, i.e. the 'Restaurant Server' gets elected, for some reason we tout that as positive?
JFK was not a lazy entitled 'rich kid'. From among an overly entitled class, he was probably the most deserving - he was very bright, educated, definitely had a vision for what public service should be. He was incredibly curious and intellectual. He was chronically ill with certain ailments but didn't let it affect him, he had most of the qualities we would want for that kind of office.
When JFK and Jackie were dating, he would have Jackie translate entire books on cutting edge French philosophy just so he could read them. Just fathom that again: 'Sweetheart, I really want to read Lyotard's latest book on Postmodernism, can you go ahead and translate an entire book for me just so I can read it'? And she did. Imagine what that says about the intellectual foundation of both of them.
In 2020 we have enough transparency to recognize that the foundations of many of the 'Sciences' and certainly private and public institutions are definitely frayed. 'Casual Polymaths' can provide a lot of ideation, insight, a kind of 'oversight', even sometimes facts about a particular subject that really can't be ignored.
COVID is a good example - it's fairly obvious from intently watching the various governing agencies public displays of knowledge (i.e. Dr. Henry in BC, Dr. Tam at Canada Federal level, the Swedish Minister etc. ) that there is an incredible amount of disagreement about various aspects of it, and that they are not always paying attention to one another. Especially where the science crosses public policy, economics etc. there's a lot of fodder for discussion. Dr. Henry, in BC, whom I admire, has not once in 6 months even hinted at the economic impact or social/health impact of any of the Province's policies, as if 'people's means of subsistence' didn't matter at all in light of the pandemic. It's probably exemplary of the worldview of an MD/Epidemiologist/Bureaucrat who thinks in other terms - which is fine, but it needs public voicing.
Particularly in the area of Social Sciences wherein the science is really difficult to shake out - and - individuals can have tremendous life experience that speaks to human behaviour - discussion should be had.
Yes, and so is affinity.
Please de-cloak and explain.
Generalists are good for some things, but why educate yourself on a topic from a generalist when you have access to the experts?
It's bollocks. Quite involved bollocks but really big, round and very, very hairy.
Probably machine generated.
My counterpoint to this article would simply be:
Beware of opinions of self-selecting experts, especially those with a chip on their shoulder.
As mentioned above in the discussion, you do really need specialists and generalists working together to solve the hardest problems. The specialists deserve no more credit for progress than the systems thinkers who choose to operate at the macro level and understand full well why this is essential.
The other articles on the website it should be noted, are written in a style that looks very different from the style of this article.
There are multiple tells to me which indicate that the article is not GPT or similar. Edit: I do agree there is word salad, but many writers/thinkers do that as good as any ML system ;-)
This could of course be curated GPT-3 content, but sufficiently curated GPT-3 output is indistinguishable from human writing, so there's little reason to criticize the article on those grounds.
edit: Well, inspecting the site some more, I agree that there's a moderate chance that this is a test run for a process or a program that uses some kind of novel technique to get GPT-3 or some other LM to produce more coherent essays. I'm still about 80% confident there's a human in the loop, though.