People here might find this article interesting.
Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous polymath of all time and the model omni-competent Renaissance Man.
Leonardo da Vinci also didn’t know math. Issacson’s book details numerous episodes in which:
- Leonardo comes up with a million dollar business idea, later realizes his basic arithmetic was off by more than an order of magnitude.
- Leonardo claims to be a military engineer to gain acceptance at the Milanese court. In fact, he has never built any kind of weapon or siege device.
- Leonardo claims to have solved the ancient puzzle of doubling the cube. Except his “solution” only works if you can’t tell the difference between the square root of 3 and cube root of 2.
This last example is especially notable because Issacson himself doesn’t seem to catch it, instead uncritically praising Leonardo’s discovery. [Details in Appendix]
And yet Wikipedia writes:
…many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the “Renaissance Man” or “Universal Genius”, an individual of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination.” He is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history
Of course the inflation of his mathematical and engineering ability makes sense when you consider that the judges in question are predominantly art historians. Rather than as a Renaissance Man, Leonardo would be better regarded as an exceptional painter with various hobbies.
I recently saw this video called The Myth of Genius which is on a somewhat related theme.
The book Ultralearning also hints at similar things in its analysis of how “superlearners” like Van Gogh achieved what they did.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts.