First, let's define our terms, according to the Cambridge dictionary, a renaissance man is defined as:
noun [C usually singular]
a man who does many different things very well:
He's a writer, politician, musician and athlete - a real Renaissance man."
To some people this sounds like an impossible task, something that was only possible back then, when technology and science was not as advanced as today, and that's the problem, that it sounds plausible, like a great excuse for not living to your fullest potential, but I am here to advocate for the minority position, yes, renaissance men are cool, and yes, even today, you can become a renaissance man, but you have to focus and get to work.
So, let's go over a list of skills or virtues that you need in order to become a polymath.
1. Deep Fundamental Knowledge
As its name indicates, knowledge that serves as the foundation for entire fields is a must for a neo-renaissance brain, this means going to the root of a field of study and acquire some level of proficiency, for instance, instead of spending 20 years studying the metabolism of athletes in south arizona, go to foundational human biology and consume the knowledge that serves as the starting point for all of that.
Similar examples could be given on the field of technology, specially computer science or inventing new devices that can be patented, where is common that the best and most brilliant hackers or inventors are the ones who have a more profound knowledge of the field they are in, for instance, some hackers started by learning from scratch how hardware works, even getting to the point of building their own rudimentary hardware, and this helped them along the way, same with some inventors, fundamental knowledge will automatically put you in the 1% of a field, but is just requirement number 1, let's move on.
2. Pattern Recognition
If you are able of spotting patterns in everyday life in your field of work, you would save so much time, recognizing patterns allows you to skip ahead, to eliminate redundant stuff, to get out of loops who are going nowhere. While one scientist might be doing a 3 year experiment that is slowly failing without realizing it, you would be able of noticing the red flags early on provided that you have enough experience or read sufficiently about the experience of others, and thus, this trick alone can make your moves be worth multiple life times while others waste away waiting for results patiently and blindly.
3. Decent Memory
Nothing will work if you cannot make memory your faithful servant, you need to consume knowledge and experience strategically, but if you cannot retrieve that data semi-efficiently you might as well give up now.
Understand how important is to have decent memory and act upon that knowledge, train your memory with scientifically sound methods, they are available online.
4. Have "Old" Ideas
Humanity has always being capable of bad ideas. Scams, frauds, cults, perversion, everything has been done, which in turn means that an idea is as valuable as it is in itself, and not because is old, plenty of terrible ideas had been around for thousands of years and still refuse to retire.
When I point out at "old ideas" as something desirable, I don't mean the historical "oldness" but rather, how old the idea is,... in itself.
Let me explain:
Let's just imagine that I want to create a robot that picks up food from a farm, in order to do this I need a fair amount of technological breakthroughs, which is hard, but still not crazy hard.
But now imagine that you live in the XVI century and STILL want to get to the same goal, well, for starters, since the idea of a robot is rare and outside of the cultural conversation altogether, you need to laid out ideas that get you closer "to even begin to conceive the possibility of a robot"
You might start with mechanical machines, manually operated, and move up to rudimentary hardware, etc.
Any great and useful invention is just the sum of a large-enough chain of good-enough ideas.
And that's the point, is the idea, who needs to be old, not you.
Just make one idea, take it to the bleeding edge of itself and then upgrade the idea itself, as if it was software.
"Yeah, mechanical machines that pick up tomatoes are neat, but how do I make this machine semi-automatic,... well I guess I need a copy of my mind as the controller, how that could exist?"
Perhaps you think that having ideas so old that they are centuries ahead of the general population is not possible, so I feel the need to provide 3 examples:
Da Vinci's Helicopter
Leonardo Da Vinci's Plans for a Helicopter is probably the most famous of the series of technical drawings that were produced by the Italian Renaissance artist during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries
As with many of Da Vinci's technical drawings, the plans have been endlessly looked over, discussed and reinterpreted by modern observers, many of whom are keen to show that Da Vinci's plans pre-empted the invention of many modern tools.
The Air Screw isn't the first historical example of a device designed to allow humans to fly. Achieving flight has been a goal of humans for thousands of years and the ancient Chinese are known to have produced plans for devices which are aesthetically similar to the modern day hot air balloon. Da Vinci's design is notable because it does not include any bird like features, which were commonly seen in early flying machine designs.
Bl. Raymond Llull and the World's First Computer
"Ramon Llull (c. 1232 – c. 1315/16) was a mathematician, polymath, philosopher, logician, writer and mystic from the Kingdom of Majorca. He is credited with writing the first major work of Catalan literature. Recently surfaced manuscripts show his work to have predated by several centuries prominent work on election theory. He is also considered a pioneer of computation theory, especially given his influence on Leibniz. (...)
With the discovery in 2001 of his lost manuscripts, Ars notandi, Ars eleccionis, and Alia ars eleccionis, Llull is given credit for discovering the Borda count and Condorcet criterion, which Jean-Charles de Borda and Nicolas de Condorcet independently proposed centuries later.
One of the most significant changes between the original and the second version of the Art was in the visuals used. The early version used 16 figures presented as complex, complementary trees, while the system of the Ars Magna featured only four, including one which combined the other three. This figure, a "Lullian Circle," took the form of a paper machine operated by rotating concentrically arranged circles to combine his symbolic alphabet, which was repeated on each level. These combinations were said to show all possible truth about the subject of inquiry. Llull based this notion on the idea that there were a limited number of basic, undeniable truths in all fields of knowledge, and that everything about these fields of knowledge could be understood by studying combinations of these elemental truths.
The method was an early attempt to use logical means to produce knowledge. Llull hoped to show that Christian doctrines could be obtained artificially from a fixed set of preliminary ideas. For example, the most essential table listed the attributes of God: goodness, greatness, eternity, power, wisdom, will, virtue, truth and glory. Llull knew that all believers in the monotheistic religions—whether Jews, Muslims or Christians—would agree with these attributes, giving him a firm platform from which to argue.
Some computer scientists have adopted Llull as a sort of founding father, claiming that his system of logic was the beginning of information science."
The invention of the graphic interface, mouse, email and hypertext, 40 years before scheduled.
Okay, so having old ideas (sometimes centuries old) is possible, but if so, why people don't try to have those? I speculate the following:
Lack of curiosity: Mechanical machines are neat, period.
Lack of desire: Mechanical machines are ALL we need.
Fear of isolation: No one will understand me, guess I better self censor my brain
If we could have old ideas in design, economy, politics, voting systems, just imagine how interesting the world will it be.
Just be willing to have an idea, upgrade it, then upgrade it again, and again, and again, do the idea-equivalent of starting with a hammer and ending up with an automatic farm, with an idea that has 300 upgrades or more.
Are you starting to realize that you don't need to know everything or being a specialized niche scientist? just have old enough workable ideas and you are already in the top 20% of the top 10% of thinkers (guesstimate)
5. Ideas With Idea-Children
This is the other (necessary) side of the coin for "old" ideas, ideas that produce children of themselves.
Now, you might think that this is just an idea being upgraded, but is not, let me explain.
An idea upgrade makes that idea better, wiser, more practical, a children-idea has a father and a mother, (sort of) and is a new idea.
Now, think this quick.
The father is the fundamental idea about currencies and the mother is cryptography, and decentralized proof of work, what's their children? Bitcoin.
Now the father is Bitcoin and the mother is judicial contract law, and turning complete software, what's their children? Ethereum.
In this little example the fundamental ideas about currency now have a children-children, which makes the original idea a grandpa, (sort of) now imagine a set of ideas that have great-great-great-great grand children.
Obviously this is just a metaphor, since most idea-children have more than one parent, which is not exactly the same as with us, humans.
Now, let's make this even more interesting.
Grandchildren-economic idea meets grandchildren design idea, what is their children? I don't know, but it sounds interesting, if you combine old ideas, with idea children, that come from different families, now we are talking.
Software + comedy + food = ???
Philosophy + security + politics = ???
Before you know it your ideas will be producing such weird combinations as to be able to dazzle you for a while, giving you "I have never thought of that" moments constantly, which is fun and gives you a ton of options.
Curiosity is fundamental, is the fuel to get very old ideas, despite the previous ones being "good enough" if you don't have this, is over.
7. Tools, tools, tools
All renaissance men of history had tools, whether it be libraries, the ability to speak multiple languages, journaling or alone time, all of them had tools to enhance their work, similarly, you should do that as well, never forget your tools, use them constantly and you will produce more useful knowledge.
Renaissance men were aristocrats, their full time work was to be renaissance men, sometimes they had patrons who paid for their research projects or paintings, which enabled their lifestyle.
This means that wage slaves are basically automatically disqualified from this race, even if they are high powered lawyers or programmers, their mind cannot get to a place which produces breakthrough after breakthrough, which is the bread and butter of renaissance men.
So, if you wish this lifestyle, make sure to have someone paying you to think (without being your boss) or a business that gives you passive income.
The renaissance happened in Europe, and most widely recognized renaissance men were either traditional Catholics or heavily influenced by it.
Humility is an enabler, it frees your mind of the shackles of deluding yourself with the misguided conclusion that you know it all, or that you know more than everyone, so common amongst prideful academics nowadays.
Embrace, foster and enhance intellectual humility, and if all the other points are also there, you have a good shot at becoming the next Leonardo Da Vinci.
Don't you think?
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Becoming such a man will take time. But it's better to try to become a better person