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    Polymath (from Greek polymathēs, πολυμαθής, "having learned much"); a person whose great knowledge is not restricted to one subject area. Aristotle, Galileo, da Vinci, Jefferson, Goethe, Tesla.

    I've found that a defining trait of learning in the information age is the lack of specialisation. I do not spend my free time drudging through reports and essays relating to a particular selected interest or field. Instead I get lost in wikipedia, following interesting links as I get bored with the articles which contain them. In an hour I can go from ancient mound-building cultures, to hydrology, to environmental engineering, to noise pollution, to noise rock. I don't sit there and take notes, I sit there with dilated pupils, unblinking, my mind bent on devouring this information, because I found it, I sought it out under my own power and for my own internal advancement. It doesn't matter if what I learn is incomplete because I will never be tested on it directly and will never need to use it in the workplace.

    I think this way of learning can genuinely be called 'self-directed' in the sense that it's the method thats in control, not me. I don't really 'choose' what to click on, I just can't help my self. My knowledgebase grows like a Stromatolite in zero gravity; tendrils of interest at play, sprouting outwards in every direction, depositing the solid waste of experienced information. My mental movements follow the lay of the land and the landscape before me is defined by where I've been; theres a kind of feedback going on there.

    I like the Stromatolite analogy I used a few seconds ago. Another good one is the growth of our living spaces. The traditional approaches to education can be compared to traditional approaches to city planning. A grid is laid down and parcels are designated for specific purposes. Math, history, science; Residential, commercial, industrial. The result is a neat, easily navigable structure.

    There is another way to build cities. Want to see some amazing space-filling algorithms in action? Open up google earth and zoom in on Mumbai, India. If you look closely you may see that the orderly gridded sections of planned city are surrounded by this sort of brown/grey mass, it squishes its self into every unclaimed nook and cranny. This mass is made up of corrugated sheet metal, stolen or salvaged construction materials and garbage, placed there by poor but innovative men and women. It is where they live their lives. Slums, or squatter cities, follow the lay of the land. Noone grades the earth flat before the shanties are built, noone imposes a template to follow. And so it is with self-guided education.

    Back to my original statement, the polymath. What really makes a 'Renaissance Man' or 'Renaissance Woman'? If one learns everything to know about chemistry, and everything there is to know about biology, does that make one equal to a single chemist plus a single biologist? I think this is where it gets interesting. The synergy of the cross-disciplinism will take the individual to a greater level than two mere specialists. It's 1+1=3, more than the sum of parts. I think the exponential nature of synergy is where genius really comes from.

    However, no one learns everything there is to know about a field of knowledge by surfing the web, lets not fool our selves. Instead you learn a lot of little tidbits from a vast array of topics. But think... Could there be a threshold at which the synergistic wisdom brought on by the diversity of aquired knowledge surpasses in usefulness the type of tightly focused education reccomended to us by the institutions of the past?

    I'd like to put all this in the context of the world we're moving into. The temporal speed at which we move now already requires constant adaption. We can't think the same way about next month as we did about last month. To make things even more interesting, the speed of advancement is doubling, regularly. No one has seen anything yet. It is my view, or hunch that the type of knowledge that I have described will be immensley useful for an individual living in this new world. If you know a little about everything you have a lot of built-in redundancy, you can take set-backs, survive. Diversity makes a system dynamic, flexible and prosperous.

    So, renaissance people of the new world, prosper!
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