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Publication Detail
Polymathy: The resurrection of renaissance man and the renaissance brain
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Garcia-Vega C, Walsh V
  • Publication date:
  • Pagination:
    528, 539
  • ISBN-13:
  • Status:
  • Book title:
    The Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity
Introduction: Whatever Happened to Renaissance Man? When people are asked to say what they consider to be the best example of human creativity, there are two common strands of responses. The first is to name the giants of history - Picasso, Beethoven, Shakespeare, etc. - who changed the world in a particular way, usually in the direction of an artistic domain, but this can apply to all fields, and Einstein and Newton sometimes get a look in. The second is to give a sigh and say something like “Well, people are not as creative as they used to be; will there ever be another Leonardo?" In preparation for this chapter we shifted our focus and canvassed people for their best examples of living polymaths, which we loosely defined as people who have made significant contributions in diverse fields of endeavor. The pickings were remarkably slim and we noticed two trends in their answers. Either our respondents found it difficult to name people, or they would argue that in the modern, highly specialized world in which we live it is not possible to master more than one field, and that such opportunities for polymathy were a thing of the past. These views are important to us because the scientific consideration of creativity not only depends on the current ways in which we parse the cognitive functions of the brain, it also influences how users of cognitive science (educators, policy makers, sports and business people, and the person surfing the net for information and inspiration) will interpret what is possible based on the research we present in the public domain. Of course, we also canvassed our scientific colleagues through the existing literature and asked two questions: What does current research on creativity tell us about polymaths? And, how does our current conceptualization of brain function influence how we might approach a cognitive neuroscience understanding of domain-general creativity? The state of play in cognitive neuroscience in general is reflected in the literature on creativity: we do not merely speak of “functional specialization” and “domain specificity”; rather, they are part of the intellectual fabric of our discipline.
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